Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Saurabh Says: How I ended up starting a company with Alicia Souza

( I figured that my mini team has a lot of great stories so I asked them to pen down things they'd like to add to the blog. Saurabh, my business partner, is first on the job! His story is below...)

My name is Saurabh Sharma and this is my story.

It was a regular day at the ex-office. I was aimlessly facebooking and happened to stumble upon Alicia Souza’s interview on yourstory. (Looking back – facebooking that day turned out to be life changing!)

Something about her, made me think. Instinctively, I felt like reaching out to her. I also thought – why would she even respond? I still wanted to try my luck and wrote to her on facebook. I mentioned that I work with a candle manufacturing company and wanted to discuss if she’d be interested to work on a range of doodled packaging.

She responded and gave me her email ID, asking me to share a detailed brief. I was truly elated!

I sent an email out to her and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Funnily enough, a line from my first email to her said: “Hopefully, we’ll be able to make this connection meaningful.

She got back saying she was excited about the possible outcomes of the project and suggested that it would be good to have a meeting. We met few months later in Bangalore.

One day, very randomly I sent her a list of ideas, of how she can make the most out of her talents.

Some ideas for Alicia – I wrote this email back in 2014:

  1. Start expanding into various product categories. Example: pillows, phone cases, t shirts, accessories.
  2. Get someone to handle the business side of things so you can focus on creating content. ( I had no idea this person was going to be me! )
  3. Get your products selling at major retailers.
  4. Develop a beautiful website for all your merchandise, find a company to whom you can outsource day to day operations and build a model where they report to you on the key performance indicators of the website/business.
  5. Find a link between doodled interiors and workplace happiness. Wall art, office space interior designing are some areas your illustrations can do wonders.

Looking back, the email sounds almost creepy! Most of what I wrote to her, has actually transpired into reality. In fact, just last week we launched our wall art collection and we are coming out with a range of decals for offices soon!

Just so you know – there were couple of other points in the list that I’d sent to her – one was about distributing products globally and the other about someday having her own retail store! Watch out! 😃

Coming back to the story, sometime in mid 2015, I had invited her to Tuticorin to see the factory. A small town in Tamil Nadu, where I used to work. She somehow made it!

The factory visit went well. We were out for lunch and I told her about my plans of quitting. I wasn’t enjoying the work and was feeling a bit too safe. Risking a safe secure job to pursue something I loved doing, seemed like the right thing to do.

She told me about how her career panned out after quitting a job. And how her life has been nothing less than rewarding. I was awe- inspired by this super human! She just said – “if you happen to be in Bangalore, do meet me and we will figure out something together.”

That’s me having the ultimate fanboy moment!

Far away from the safe sea shores of Tuticorin, I met her again sometime in July 2015. By then, we knew there was some scope of us working together. We agreed to risk our time and re-start her online store. No paperwork, no agreement and no plans for the future. Things just felt right. She thought we could close the online store post valentines day and just run it for few months a year. The response was overwhelming. And I knew this could be turned into something more bigger and more meaningful.

So after a year of running the store on an experimental mode, a ton of emails and multiple discussions, – we started Alicia Souza Studio Pvt. Ltd.

From just two of us, a year back, we are currently a team of 6 humans and two fur balls working towards spreading smiles and happiness all around.

If there’s one thing you would like to take back from this post, It is this – Life is all about the people we meet.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ask Alicia: A happy state of affairs

Email from ‘Awedowl’

‘warning : The following content is not from a cheese factory, so if you feel inclined to dismiss it as unreal, you can not. because you have to believe every word that I say :p

I have ordered from a lot of places, and always I have purchased objects. But from your beautiful store I ordered smiles and happiness, and Whoa! I got so much more than I ever wanted. You are an inspiration Alicia, and I admire you so much. 

Can I ask you something? I am stretching my limits as you have been so gregarious and warm. How do you deal with sadness? I really want to know. I am sure that there must have been moments when you just want to shut the World out and scream maybe. How do you come out of that zone? 

If I could I would've borrowed all the blessings the Planet has to offer and showered them on you :D'

Your email is the cutest ever! 

I loved your question because it’s so real. Like any human, I have a wealth of emotions. I don’t feel sadness as much as I get angry. I sometimes think my brain wires are a bit mixed up. Something bad happens in the world, someone passes away, horror stricken event, whatever the calamity, I tend to feel rage rather than melancholy. 

Having said that, I do have sad streaks. And unlike some artists and writers who can create beautiful works from those emotions, I don’t even remotely feel like drawing then. 

There are a few things I do when I get in this state: 

1) Do whatever I feel like doing- I would rarely feel like drawing but I truly enjoy just inking pencil sketches and would scout out drawings that are yet to be inked. This is my sort of ‘peace’ and ‘meditation’ that gets my brain almost still without thought. 

2) Play my favourite music- I ADORE country music and I sometimes listen to (wait for it…) old sappy country music when I feel crappy. I do admit that I also listen to country music when I’m happy but I think I don’t listen to upbeat ones when I’m sad because I just get annoyed. (I heard, or hope, this is normal. Almost like misery loves company, of sad songs) 

3) Confront the sadness- I don’t like leaving things in the air. If I had a tiff with the man, I would go back in there (in about five minutes) and clear it up. I also force-hug and force-kiss because that just makes things awkward and better. With people it’s easy to just take a deep breathe and confront the source of the sadness.

4) Time- And then there are things you don’t have control over that just need time to get better. Understand that things DO get better with time. (I have to throw in here that one of the most devastating moments in my life was when Cookie-brown, my dog, passed away suddenly. I thought I would never be able to get over her heart-wrenching loss, but time really did help. Nothing else, besides her being back here, would. Not even Richard Gere and I like to think he would make everything better.) 

5) A box of you- Another thing is knowing what you like and makes you happy. One of my dear friends watches horrid reality tv shows to make herself feel better. I sometimes like cleaning or baking. Maybe a box of fun photographs or mailing an old friend. Sometimes ‘Love Actually’ or just getting away for a while. Go for a pedicure.

5) Let yourself be- I think it’s ok to be sad sometimes. It’s even normal. Whether you need to shed a tear or two. Also, some situations call for it. It would be odd to NOT be sad at a funeral or when your friend moves away. Be nice to yourself and I think the worst thing would be to beat yourself up about being a little down. When you know it’s ok to be sad, you can let yourself be happy. 

PS: please note that sadness is very different from depression. I’m talking about general sadness that sneaks in every now and then. And that sometimes dutifully creeps in a few days before our periods. Thanks menstruation!

I forgot to mention, sometimes happiness is a sleep away. Literally, some days can just be a drag and understand that when you go to bed at night; so when you wake up the next day, the sun is shining brighter just for you! 

Ask Alicia: To draw and where to draw, that is the question.

Email from 'Feline Friend'

 I too am an artist who uses fabric as canvas...and I am writing to you in the same capacity. I want to talk and know about how you managed to do what you really like and create a niche workplace and business for yourself. I am not writing in hope to collaborate or find a job with you. I just want to resolve a conflict I am facing, where I feel I do not belong to a certain commercial industry because I want to work with various things, want to do non-conformative work that utilizes my skill as an illustrator. I have a job presently, but its just a job and not that something drives me. Its something that pays and keeps me out of home for major part of the day. That's all. I fill sketchbooks after sketchbooks with explorations..themes and patterns but cant decide an outlet for them. I just want some guidance and want to talk to someone who comes from a similar place as I do. Thanks!
-A Feline Friend

Hello hello Ms. Feline Friend, 

The best kind of job in the world is when you’re getting paid doing something you absolutely adore doing. I consider myself stunningly lucky in this regard, though part of every job includes bits that is not too fun to do. In my case, a lot of my job is NOT drawing. It involves talking to clients, accounts, working on briefs that are not always amazingly exciting, and sometimes even drawing when I truly just don’t feel like it. 

I think one of the things I realised early on is that I’m working as a commercial illustrator and not an artist. Though I use my heart, I have to also use my head when it comes to working with clients and making a brief work. I realised that it’s also a business and I need to make money for me to make this work as a job. Not only a job, but a career. 

Starting out is always a bit hard. I created a niche by just doing and doing a lot of it. I can almost compare it to digging a hole. When you start digging, it's too small to notice but if you keep at it, you have a hole that only you're standing it and more people can see it. I had to keep doing a lot of things that I wasn't too keen on doing, like talking about money or drawing things that arn't exactly my cup of tea. Same with the business/online store. I think I got lucky with the online store because I have a partner who keeps me on my toes. But it took a lottt of self-convincing because I really wasn't sure I could handle another responsibility. But I could! So sometimes taking risks also pay off. 

Lastly, is probably thinking about how your work can see the light of day. Some art is purely art and may not work commercially, but then perhaps you can work towards an exhibition. I’ve not seen your work so I can’t suggest but I truly think you’d be the best critic. Would your paintings look great on walls? Where can it extend beyond fabric? What’s next? Can you make money out of it? Is it a hobby or do you want it to earn an income? Will it be able to support you? (a little bit more in this AA response)

Just glazing through these in your mind and just taking the first step towards an outcome that you see fit, is the start. No one, or atleast I, don’t have big plans but have vague three year plans. That’s good so there’s something to aim towards. They change, almost always but having a goal in mind, always helps. 

I hope this did too and all the best!


Sunday, January 29, 2017

This is me.

Since the ringing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, I’ve not had the chance to write anything besides additional things to do in my diary. This makes me work on weekends and yet, can still say it’s a ride. Not bumpy but definitely a little worrisome.
Anyway, new products out on the store, and I’m on the fifth cup of coffee on this truly beautifully-weathered weekend. I’ve been meaning to do a #meettheartist for ages and well, here goes!
You can also add icecream, country music, Christmas, cartoons, beards, my mom's food, gross jokes and dull weather to my love list 😀

Monday, January 9, 2017

The who and what of Charles-Brown.

Charles-Brown Whimperbug Souza was, and is, my first dog.
He was picked off the street by a friend, who gave him to me when I least expected or even wanted a dog. I had just moved to India and everything seemed new and different. Besides, I didn’t know much about keeping dogs as I’ve only had small animals, like guinea pigs, growing up. But with those worrisome doubts,  I began my learning and loving journey with the furry face that I call 'son'.

He was about 6 months old, and the ‘nicest’ puppy you could ever get your hands on. He wasn’t a tubby, rolly-polly playful bugger, as puppies usually are. He was sweet, quiet, cuddley, and pulled on your heart strings in ways you never thought imaginable. I think that’s what dogs do really. Make you realise that there was more love in that crumbly old heart than you thought one could have.
And man, was he a smart cookie! He could learn tricks in an hour, and was school-boy obedient. I had only a few instances, countable on my fingers (which is a rare puppy-experience), where he destroyed my books and shoes. It’s been 6 years now since I moved to India and he’s been my constant sidekick, my muse, the love of my life, my boy.

I get asked about breed he is ALL the time. I used to get a little peeved when that used to happen, I guess like getting asked if you’re Indian if you have coloured eyes or are really fair and then people not believing you. But to be honest, I probably would have wondered the same thing if he wasn’t mine. I know my wonkiness stems from the fact that Indies don’t have the good rep they should have.

Indies or Indian Pariah dogs or Pyes are our beautiful Indian street dogs (well most of the street dogs are pariah dogs) and the breed is thought to be one of the oldest in the world! Though Charlie is almost certainly NOT a pariah dog, most streeties are now called lovingly Indies. I love that. I love knowing that Charlie is one of us. Funny thing is that for two years his fur was very normal Indie-like. I like to say that he got petted into his heavy coat. haha. He also had the cutest floppy ears that took two years to erect into his pointy fox-like ones that he has now. They erected one at a time.

Because of Charlie, I always encourage adoptions. And I try to sneak in my ‘adopt Indies’ philosophy a bit more, only because (I don’t even know how it’s possible!) they aren’t adopted as much. Everytime I see a litter of stray pups, I imagine Charlie as one of them and my heart breaks into a million pieces.

Oh, I didn’t even mention how he was when I got him!
Charlie was roaming an area where my friend worked and that area had an old pack of dogs. Packs usually don’t like stray dogs, especially males, into their territory for obvious reasons. So my friend picked him up and got him to me. He was oh so thin and frail. And in a few days, he was in the hospital because he was undernourished and had eaten wood amongst other junk. It was the first time in my life I had ever cried in public. He was so tiny and helpless and perfect. Anyway, in a few days, he was back to being him and though he’s got way more health problems than most Indies (Indies are known to be hardy and strong), I always say that he probably does because he knows he gets more love and cookies that way. Sly little bugger.

That’s about it really. I know I can go on about him forever but I guess that’s what happens when you’re in love huh!

Oh yes, and here’s just a few illustrated bits about Indies. (thank you Rajeshwari, Priya & Sandeep for the bits:)

And a bit of information about adoption etc.

Best website about stray dogs (a bit traumatic and so real):

CUPA: (they also have a shelter for abandoned older dogs) https://cupabangalore.org/
CARE (where Henry-oats was adopted as well) http://charlies-care.com/
BOMBAT DOGS (Facebook group for everything dog-related): https://www.facebook.com/groups/BombatDawgz/

TAILLOVERS COMPANY: (Favourite dog store in town) http://tailloverscompany.com/
Indra Pet Clinic (Charlie’s vet- Dr.Dheeraj): https://goo.gl/maps/pzWyoXpqwyK2

Out of Bangalore:
Adoptions in Bombay for a litter NOW: http://adoptthempuppies.in/

World for All (Adoptions and animal NGO in Bombay): https://www.facebook.com/worldforall/

(This is Charlie and Oreo. Oreo's mummy, Michele, used to take care of Charlie when he was little, and when I was out of town. She hence adopted an Indie, Oreo, who is Charlie's girlfriend (though Charlie is a terrible boyfriend and steals her cookies and chewies, and also her mother's love). They are our poster children for #adoptdontshop :)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas was here!

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! We got back a couple of days back from Mangalore and are off today to Cochin. So excited! Here's to a wonderful New Year ahead!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A random love note.

Just over a year ago, I told Saurabh, my now business partner, that we can open the store under two conditions. One is that it’s entirely his responsibility to operate and I will just give him the artworks and product direction. Two, that it’s purely a test run and that we’re going to be closing it in February, right after Valentines Day, which I figured is the last real ‘festive’ day post the season. February came and went and Saurabh convinced me to keep the store open, I also got a lot more work to do than just ‘send artworks’ and I truly didn’t know how it was possible then, but I just got a lot more happier. (maybe also a lot more tired). A lot more smiles for a few more dark circles is great barter deal, I reckon. 

Today I went to see the ‘office space’ we’re renovating. An office. Me. An office. The first time I went there, which was just a week and a bit ago, I got a mild attack of ‘what the hell am I doing taking on this much responsibility’ but I comforted myself know I’m following my rule of always doing things that make me mildly uncomfortable, because then I know I’m doing something new and different. This works because I have a very ‘loves-routine’ sort of personality and here’s where I can be the only person to admit that I always wanted a 9-5 growing up. Sigh! 

So, coming back, I went to the office and Saurabh had saved a bunch of notes from customers. Beautiful, handwritten, loving notes. My eyes may not have shed tears but my heart actually melted. You know that extreme love you feel when you see a puppy playing with another and you, kind of, just want to die because god! how am I living after seeing this cuteness! No? Am I the only one with these extreme feelings? (I’ve been told yes, I’m the only one, but I forbid to think that I am) Anyway, the notes are on my desk now and I realise everyone even taking a second to see my work, is everything to me. Everyday is a birthday celebration with the niceness that you’ll shower, even thorough sometimes crappy courier service, late deliveries, unanswered calls. So much niceness! I feel like maybe the newspapers got it all wrong. Life is truly beautiful and the world does have so much of heaven!

I don’t know where I was going with this but I feel a bit too loved. Always more than I feel I deserve and I just felt like saying thank you randomly. So, well, thank you.