SideFX Entertainment raises investment from DAS Star Capital: UP Close with SideFX ENT. Founder Amit Rathor

nullPune based SideFX Entertainment, the studio that’s getting a solid reputation as 2D and Flash animation specialist is hitting the ball right from the MIDDLE of the bat. The company is working on the International Animation Co Production of Iconic Literature, The Adventures of Jules Verne (TV Series) , has worked on Reliance Entertainment’s Krishna Aur Kans besides parallel being in the midst of developing its own gags based original show that’s being tuned to have universal appeal. Following up on its good performance at the recently conducted Annecy and Mifa 2012, where the company closed on a couple of big Orders, SideFX Entertainment has now successfully closed a deal to raise investment of around INR 5.5 Cr from California and Chennai based Das Star Ventures headed by Durga Das. Candle Acendo were the exclusive financial advisers to the transaction. SideFX currently produces 2D animation films and series for both Indian and European producers, which is a list of renowned clients, Reliance, Amar Chitra Katha, LuxVide and is also producing “Mati and Dada” television series of 25 episodes of seven minute each for Italian studio Achtoons. nullAmit Rathor, the founder of SideFX Entertainment has a reputation of a man whose super focused, respects creativity, believes in processes and is armed with very sharp business acumen. Co founder Anand Gurnani over a series of conversations at Annecy and in India got an insight into the vision and mission of SideFX Entertainment Founder Amit Rathor Congratulations on the recent spate of successes at SideFX Entertainment. First and foremost, we’d love to know more about the investment and about what the deployment plan broadly looks like? With these new funds from Das Star, SideFX will boost more focus on Services and IP. SideFX is very soon going to expand and set up studios globally with the first studio planned in US.  Also, we plan to establish a framework and platform in which we can deliver training and implement jobs to people in tear 2 to tear 3 cities, rather for the aspirants coming to SideFX Pune. nullSharing thoughts on Investing in SideFX, Durga Das, Founder, Das Star, stated, “The Team of SideFX is very awesome and promising with having a right attitude towards business. The prime goal of any business should be working passionately towards its projects, and I believe SideFX has this quality and having this quality, money will automatically follow. We are confident that our association with SideFX will take 2D Animation Industry to up one level.” Closing an investment deal for an Indian animation company in these times is not so easy. What were the USP and strong factors about your proposition that converted into a deal? The current market restricts itself from providing funds, and it becomes very tough to seek funds in this scenario. The prime factor of SideFX lies in the quality of work that we deliver within a proper deadline and a decent budget. Over the years, our company has focused on Services, IP and Co-Production. Most of the work at SideFX includes co-owning a product or delivering services with a respectable margin. Also, we have developed a strategic relationship with various producers, distributors and channels which give us an edge and I believe all these factors have made our studio chosen for this strategic investment. Does the investment S P  E L L diversification, or does it mean more scale, more aggression and a sustained focus on specialization as a 2D and Flash animation studio? Yes, it spells a little bit of diversification, but as you rightly said, we aim to be more aggressive with still keeping our focus on being a 2D and Flash Animation studio. Diversification would be in terms of doing more cross platform work and also deliver various kinds of services. Tell us more about yourself Amit, your background and how you came to start SideFX Entertainment? Well, I come from an IT background. Initial stages of my career were with Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Australia as a Head of Quality and then finally moved to Tech Mahindra for a short stint. After spending several years in the IT Sector, I somewhere felt the need to explore my other capabilities which would cater to the Entertainment Sector. I was very much keen on performing and writing during my school, college and job days and the medium of entertainment always impressed me and I chose Animation to make Animated Stars and decided to launch SideFX Entertainment with very capable partners Dhananjay and Milton who helped me turn this dream into reality. My personal cartoon favorites include Tom and Jerry, Finding Nemo, Lion King, Tales Spin and the Jungle Book. What’s the team strength? Who is the core team at the company? What’s the culture like? SideFX has grown from 5 to 200 plus members and there are some very crucial key members who at present are various leads in our company. At a Founder and Management level, it is me, Dhananjay and Milton whereas Sandeep is handling the entire Production and we also have with us Prakash Satam, Vijayendra Thakur, Somnath, Mihir Da and Ganesh. All of the mentioned people were very aptly supported by 35 other members who laid the foundation stone and most of them still continue to be with us building this great organization and I would like to thank them for being associated with us from the initial stages of the company and help us build SideFX from Scratch. From a culture perspective, we are an employee focused organization and we have a healthy culture. Side has an official Facebook page where everyone is welcome to share their feedback on us. Another noted aspect of SideFX is that every room at our studio has a glass door, which brings out a thought that we are transparent. Any employee can drop into my cabin and ask me about the company and its strategies. Apart from this, we take an all member meet every quarter wherein we brief our employee’s about the animation market, the competition and the growth plan. Could you tell us more about SideFX role in Jules Verne, Krishna aur Kans and Daaya Baaya? SideFX has always believed to be more of a partner than a service provider to our client. For Jules Verne, a 26 X 24 episodic series for Italian LuxVide Studio, we are handling the Storyboarding, Animation and Compositing areas whereas the client side is looking at sales, voices and scripts and there is lot of synergy between the two companies. We have developed certain processes due to which the load and in house cost of the client goes minimal and the same process has been carried out for Krishna aur Kans as well. Daaya Baaya is our own IP consisting of 104 episodes of 3.5 minutes each. We have done the entire execution starting from the script to the final output along with our co-production partner. Targeted for mass audience, the foundation of Daaya Baaya is very strong as its concept lies on a fight between the right brain with the tagline left right fight. Rather than giving a serious connotation to Daaya Baaya, we have chosen a very soft, gagged based fight between the brains and they always pull each other’s leg’s. Between Co Productions and Services, what does SideFX ENT prefer to work on? Why? SideFX works on Co-Production as well as Services and we shall continue to work in both these areas. Different projects bring across different thoughts and these thoughts change our approach towards the project. Some projects are well funded and so we opt to team up as a co-production partner in those projects whereas some projects that are extremely breathe taking are funded by SideFX. We definitely do co-production at a good level and are open for such kind of opportunities. Have you ever had downtime or idle time at the studio? How does a studio with 200 plus people ever deal with downtime / idle time? Yes! We’ve faced a downtime for around 3 months with employee team strength of about 50 people and I can proudly say that my team was very supportive and we passed this hurdle with ease. At times, there has been a delay in salary due to some financial issues but, my team has always stood strong with us. Also, at a point of time, when we were under financial stress, few key people decided to leave SideFX to support us, but we convinced them of our upcoming projects and they are now happy that they stayed back with us! A generic trend is for studios to develop original content during downtime, while some studios develop original content with a separate focus and team…how’s it for your studio? Well, At SideFX, we chiefly work on delivering services and have a team which takes complete care of IP. We have 11 assorted IP’s that we are currently working on keeping different focus and marketing plan in mind and we are already discussing three of the IP’S with numerous potential buyers.  Another plan in my mind is to develop a fresh team who will be contributing to increase the productivity of the staff by developing varied tools. Also, SideFX is very open to accepting concepts from anyone! If you feel your concept has a potential and if we feel excited about it then SideFX would surely take it ahead by partnering, producing, and distributing your concept and giving proper proportionate royalty in the product. What’s exciting about Indian Animation Business and what’s depressing? Exciting is to see 300 plus companies around. SideFX started with a team of 4 and it feels nice to share that, presently we are one of the top players in the animation business and in these times of immense competition SideFX is quite ahead and industry see value in us. Indian animation still has a good scope of doing services. We have cost benefit which we plan to provide to clients in Europe, Canada, US and the developed western market.  I believe, there is a lack of Eco-system for Animation Production in India as the primary potential buyers and channels have to be impressed to sell your content. I believe that over the past 2 years, SideFX has had good interaction over the channels and they are also happy to work with us. Nowadays, a producer is no longer dependent on one single medium to reach its end customer. There is Face book, Linked In, YouTube and every player is ready to look at the content. Animation doesn’t have any negative aspect, it is a global space with a bunch full of opportunities and it entirely depends upon way you make things work. The ‘entertainment’ word in your company name SideFX Entertainment hints at some plans you have rolled up your sleeve? Do you care to share some? As a dream, SideFX aims to have a large foothold in the complete entertainment space of 3D, live action, Vfx, Television, and Feature. Dreams are big for now, but we are going to be firm on a single area and keep focus on 2d animation and animated production. With your experience across both the fields, how different would you say is the animation business from IT? IT is specifically a business driven need and hence the client has a large budget. Coming to animation, the core is to fill in a particular slot on the television channel and there is a very close economy around this whole industry, so unless you are a part of economy, it is very difficult to sell your concept in animation business. IT used to have high and a good margin, but today some companies can make it and some cannot, so, this is the difference on the revenue side. If you view the staff strength perspective, India has put in a lot of fuel in IT and brought in extensive amount of educational opportunities and hence getting a professional for IT is very much possible. For animation, many animation players have started to deliver training ,but sadly the kind of employee’s we get after training are only software oriented and not aesthetically sound. They know hardly anything about animation. A good differentiation would be that, IT basically staffs people who are graduates and engineers whereas in animation you can hire people based on their creativity sense, understanding of drawing and animation and who are passionate people can come and learn. Hence, animation provides a good employment opportunity to someone who is not that good in studies, may not be a graduate, but stands out to be truly creative and we welcome such people in SideFX. What are the next milestones planned for SideFX ENT? We are spreading our presence in the US and European Markets and currently we have different IPs at different levels. We aim to bring our IPs very soon on the floor and let’s hope that in the coming 2-3 years we are one of the top and best studios in country. How was Annecy and Mifa 2012 for you? It was very first time at Annecy and Mifa and proved to be an awesome experience. I would like to mention the efforts taken by Anand Gurnani and team who got all the Indian studios together and organized pavilion meetings and gladly SideFX signed a contract at Annecy.