We are publishing an interview of Mr. Jayanth Sharma, CEO & Co Founder, Toehold – The USP of this Bangalore based photographic startup lies in the wide range of products and services offered under a single platform.
About the founders:
Jayanth Sharma is Co-Founder and CEO of Toehold – India’s numero-uno Travel & Photography Company that provides photography and photography-oriented travel services in India. He is responsible for managing international Photography Tours, Camera Rentals, and the marketing and finance verticals of the company.
Born and raised in the city of Mysore, Jayanth had been introduced to the world of photography quite early in life by his father, Dr. Nagaraja Sharma – a reputed historian and photographer. Upon graduating from high school, Jayanth earned his degree in Mechanical Engineering (Tool and Die Making) from GTTC, and later went on to obtain a diploma in Information Technology.
Jayanth commenced his professional journey as a web designer in Mysore. In 2003, he moved to Bangalore, where he worked with Accenture as a Media Analyst. To further hone his skills, the ambitious photographer-businessman has also undergone training under IIM Bangalore’s Finance-for-Decision-Making programme for non-finance managers.
The 37-year-old has had an impressive career, which includes stints in reputed organizations like Accenture and America online, and conducting Photography Workshops as a freelancer. He eventually turned an entrepreneur and incepted Toehold in 2010.
Jayanth is one of the most highly reputed names in India in wildlife photography. He has been invited to many lectures and seminars, including TED-X talks and symposiums held across the country. Besides, he has also judged many photography-competitions and won several awards. For his contributions to the field of photography, Jayanth has been granted the prestigious ‘Associate of the Royal Photographic Society (ARPS)’ title as well.
A team player, Jayanth feels that employees contribute immensely to the growth of a company. He considers his business partner and COO, Sachin Rai (who’s an ace photographer himself), an excellent mentor, instrumental in handling Toehold’s India Photography Tours business.
Jayanth is a trained vocalist in Carnatic classical music, and has performed in many regional and national shows. When not working, he prefers to travel solo and explore new places.
What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
The USP of Toehold lies in the wide range of products and services offered under a single platform – including streamlined Photography-Workshops, world-class Photography Tours, a pioneering Camera Rental service and Personalised Vacations, apart from seasonal Kids Camps. In addition, as an ambitious venture, Toehold aims to fortify its position as the best provider of photography-related services through a combination of innovation; diligence in planning and execution; and building partnerships with the best resources to realise its paramount mission of delivering the ultimate customer-experience.
What is the uniqueness about your Startup?
Toehold is a destination for photography enthusiasts who also love to travel. Headquartered in Bangalore, Toehold was co-founded in April 2010 by Jayanth Sharma, seeking to help young professionals and photography enthusiasts improve their skills, equipment and experience by providing them with the best-in-class products and services.
The company’s vision is to serve exactly like a toehold – by being a critical support that can help one ascend towards one’s dreams, and to make photography accessible to everyone by equipping them with the expertise and tools required at every step of their journey. It also aims to be a catalyst of excellence by empowering customers with the requisite knowledge, tools and expert assistance to enjoy new experiences, and achieve their creative potential through the pursuit of travel and photography.
What is the revenue model? What is the logic behind it? What is the model you are following – Free / Freemium / Premium etc. ? Explain your thought process.
Toehold is a bootstrapped company, which has capital expenditure set aside for the Camera Rental division, while other services like Tours, Workshops and Vacations are rendered after advance payments by clients. It intends to expand to more cities while strengthening its presence in the current cities of Bangalore and Pune.
Who are the consumers that you are targeting? How is this going to affect them?
Toehold is for photography enthusiasts who also love to travel. Toehold acts as a support that can help one ascend towards one’s dreams, and to make photography accessible to everyone by equipping them with the expertise and tools required at every step of their journey. Apart from smartphones and skyscrapers, kids today have to get in touch with nature and its wonders, through the dream of photography toehold grabs the younger generation to experience journey in a better way.
What is the big picture of your startup? Will it lead to something bigger? If so, how?
Travellers have always been clicking pictures. However Toehold is an idea which has started working towards a day when people will travel in order to take pictures. All of our services are aligned with this vision of making photography accessible to many people and we foresee our camera rental division growing leaps and bounds along with our tailor-made vacation business unit while Photography Guided Travel is a unit which also has the possibility of growing a few folds at least with in India.
However, the big picture is when international travellers inbound, will actually evolve in utilising the domain expertise along with photographic expertise of our team in order to travel with a purpose. As of now the travel industry only speaks the language of rooms, flights, transport etc. But the big picture of Toehold will unfold when Photography Travel becomes main stream and in that context these are still early days. We are expecting a very positive change in the top lines of our company even as close as FY 18-19.
Photography is no more a hobby which is enjoyed by a section of the society. It is very possible that every household has a camera and a photographer. So we are just gearing up for the future where – the very thought of travel will mean a lot to do with photography. Being the pioneer in the field, we are probably well set to reap the benefits of being one of the first movers in this genre.
What is the success story of your startup in your own words?
When an idea unfolds in to a business, when a few people start contributing towards the vision of the founder/s and building a reputation in a few years as a business that is here to stay and sustain is how a start up starts seeing its success.
However, as years pass the ability to tweak the initial vision if necessary or to stick to it when found it is working well is definitely the hall mark of a company that’s here to play long innings. However, a start-up really succeeds when it scales its operations and sustains the same kind of delivery, quality and love by its customers. It’s a tough journey.
– Our experiences as a startup has been a great learning experience. As a founder of the company my purview of business has been more from the operations and domain expertise perspective so far but the challenge of learning the financial aspects of business, thinking about the big picture with respect to scalability and future has been a challenge and I have had to always struggle to keep up with the developments of the business. I had to educate myself in finance and learn a lot about the non-passionate parts of the business which are as important for the health and growth of the business as the core idea.
Man power and attrition is a challenge every business faces, but running a business without any major IP means being the best in the industry and always innovation becomes the key. As an ex-IT professional, I use every skill I have obtained over the last few years to help run my business. Be it web design and graphic design skills that I have to direct the company’s communication philosophy or the ace photography skills that I developed to actually run the core business and innovate or to quickly learn management skills that I didn’t know to be a reasonable leader, the most hard working person in the business needs to be you and that’s where I realised it’s a very highly demanding role and there will be good times and bad times, but the founder has to always focus on the long term goals.
I also realised how as the CEO of the company, I had to learn the art of delegation if we had to scale and today we have grown by positive contributions of many colleagues of the company. As a management team, we also make mistakes while recruiting key people, and sometimes they can offset months and years of hard work by not being efficient or smart working, but quickly learning from past mistakes will enable founders to find passionate people who not just can help the organisation but also help colleagues and peers achieve their individual goals and collectively contributing.
Re-educating myself with non-core skills of the business like finance, management and surrounding myself with people who are experts in fields like marketing, finance and business strategy is how I am continuously battling the challenges of our start up.
Any other information about your startup that you would like to share with us.
Toehold though is based in Bangalore and Pune, we have customers in various cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Cochin and smaller cities like Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Kolhapur, Mysore, Kolkata and many other smaller towns.
We service camera rental customers in Bangalore/Mysore, Pune and Mumbai from our Bangalore and Pune offices. We operate close to 75-80 Photo tours every year and 40-50 workshops every year across the country.
Thanks Jayanth. Best of luck!