Had issues trying to tell your stylist precisely how to have your hair done? Ever ended up buying a coveted compact online just to realise it doesn’t suit your skin tone at all? Well, that’s where software’s developed by Vasan Sowriraja comes in. Founded in 2005 VDime is a software developing company that specialises in image processing solutions to Saloons, Cosmetic retailer’s and you name it! A one stop destination to informed choices for the same.
Here is his story from that academically oriented techie to a coveted entrepreneur. The journey has been long and lessons well learnt. This is what this 2005 MTech CS alumni, very affably shared with us at IIT Madras Research Park
Excerpts from the interview.
You’ve been incubated at IITM Research Park, quite close to the institute. Could you share with us few memories of your campus life?
There are lots of changes happening in the institute today. New departments, new places to hang out, few new hostels too have come up! CS department in those days was not as large as it is today both in terms of faculty and funding. The changes in the department are quite evident for me.
A fond memory of those days are attending Prof. Pandurangans’s lectures. One could get so absorbed with them that, at times the lectures moved us to tears.
While others were keen on solely academic arenas, I ventured on to do projects under professors. Eventually they did help me gain an impetus; particularly with Prof Sundar onSpatial Image Processing Project. That’s when I first got hooked to the area of Image processing.
You worked for quite a number of years before going ahead with your own company. How was it that you left plush jobs abroad and settled back to the country?
Life after IIT Madras was a pretty picture, good salary and all perks of being a software engineer abroad. But, I wasn’t exactly contented. It was too perfect. I wanted a life with more challenge and excitement. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to innovate and start something on my own. Everything in the US presented to me possibilities to mirror them back here. Then, Humecons happened. We kept asking ourselves why smileys were 16X16px. Emoticons with a personalised twist! I could now send snaps with emotions. But I realized that my idea had no market.
Around that time, I was helping out a cousin of mine to edit a picture of hers’ and that’s when the idea behind 1000lookz popped up. Ladies- Cosmetics- Make over- Virtual choices! I began connecting the dots.0
What were your challenges in this journey of becoming an entrepreneur?
For a person from a technical background it’s a hard transition. But all the while it’s a huge learning curve. It could be the slightest differences in perceptions that stall you. For us, to get beyond RGB values to emotions that run at the depths of the industry took two years. We started 1000lookz in 2010, and rebuilt in 2012 after getting a lot of feedback from the consumer.
(Vasan had a brief training stint with hair stylists and as a door to door salesman during the process of starting up).
The transition is happening again. Now from an entrepreneur to a CEO. I’m learning all the while. One thing which could have speeded up the process was if we had gone on-ground much earlier rather than iterating and coming up with new ideas. Unless your product has what the market is looking for, it won’t sell.
How was it like interacting with the big names in the industry?
I realised that the greatest challenge that we faced while approaching the big shots of the industry was the TRUST factor.. we got our break when we were certified by the Unilever. We began as a consumer oriented company to an enterprise. This was a crucial transition. Right now we have tie ups with Lakme (Unilever), Schwarzkopf(Henkel), Wella (P&G), Lenskart, Nykaa, etc
One thing that has honestly helped me a lot is the brand-IIT. The reach is beyond what we grasp. Conversations with fellow IITans inevitably open up with hostel news, insti happenings, this eventually helps build firmer pan business relations. At least it opens doors to first levels of communications in most cases. The network which comes along with being an IITian is amazing. We could get through to high net-worth clients via alumni referrals.
I worked over the first two years after starting up, bootstrapping VDimes. But I later quit the job once the company ran operationally positive.We are a completely bootstrapped company from family , friends, savings, and customers.
(Grinning) Well, my wife hasn’t gone to the courts yet..!
What were the factors that helped you along the journey?
Well, I’ve been blessed with some powerful mentors throughout the course of the journey. Mr. Ram Srinivasan – Venture Partner , Wellington Partners, Mr. Raju Venkatraman’s (CEO, MedAll) , Prof. L.S.Ganesh, Prof, C.Pandurangan, words guided me a long way. Time, knowledge, Money, Focus were according to him the 4 key principles one was to follow if he/she was to succeed.
I’ve never hesitated to knock. To ask. I believe that people are willing to help you. When you knock on 10 doors, at least one might turn out positive. It is important to remember that people genuinely want to help, but you need to ask ruthlessly.
These are few factors that have helped me along.
What has been one crucial lesson?
Product design and inception are just 7% of your work. The rest 93%, that huge crucial chunk, is the part that marketing, design, team, logistics et al play. You have hundreds of project designs floating about at any point. The real challenge is the work beyond that, that 93%.
Another great lesson learnt was Humility. Hailing from one of the prime institutes of the country, we tend to bear that pride on our name. But, the world out here whittles it down. I learnt this while looking at the countless seldom thought of make up artists and stylists across the country, who are most often least acknowledged and thought for occupational group.
Did you have any mentors?
Of course, we had many mentors who came forward to help at various points in time.
Ram srinivasan – Venture Partner
Raju Venkatraman, CEO of MedAll
Prof. L. S. Ganesh, Dean (Students) of IIT Madras
Where do you see yourself in three years?
I strongly feel that VDimes is here to make a real change to the beauty industry and people’s perceptions of it. There are so many misconceptions and inadequacies in it. Even the mildest and subtle aspects like respecting makeup artists and stylists are far from a reality in the country. We wish to bridge that chasm.
We are now going international. Our main focus is on Europe and U.S. We will be happy to receive any kind of assistance from your side.