School of Computing and Engineering alumnus started multi-million dollar animation company from scratch
After graduating from the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering in 1997, Rajiv Chilakapudi spent three successful years with Cerner and Telcordia Technologies.
But during his stay in the U.S., Chilakalapudi realized his dreams were taking him in a different direction.
After a fair amount of research and contemplation, he decided to leave his job as a software engineer to start an animation company in his native India. In 2001, he started Green Gold Animation with four employees.
Today the company has more than 250 employees in various departments of animation. Green Gold is the No. 1 Indian animation company, valued at more than $50 million.
The company has also produced six different television series on various children’s channels. “Chhota Bheem” is the most popular of the shows, with 34 million viewers. It first aired on Pogo in 2008.
Chilakalapudi returned to UMKC last month as a guest speaker. He has been awarded the SCE Alumni Achievement Award for 2013
Chilakalapudi was not reluctant to share how his company struggled at first.
“At least 20 times the company was on the verge of shutting down,” Chilakalapudi said. “It took me eight years to build it and be successful. The fortunate thing is that I didn’t give up. It is not about success or failure but it is the passion to carry it out. Everyone has ideas, but you have to know how to implement them.”
Chilakalapudi encountered mixed reactions from his parents when he struck out to do animation on his own.
“My mother supported me in the early stages, but my father said that it’s not a great thing to do,” he said. “He didn’t like the idea of me leaving such a good job and starting a company in animation. The Indian market condition was different back in 2000, [but when] I gave him a business plan, he liked it.”
Creating “Chhota Bheem” was a-trial-and error experiment. Pogo rejected the concept for three consecutive years.
Finally in 2008, his show was aired on the channel despite a fire in Chilakapudi’s studio that destroyed much of the company’s property.The show’s popularity has translated well into commercial success, and Green Gold Animation now produces children’s “Chhota Bheem” merchandise, such as beverages, food products and clothing.
“Chhota Bheem is like the Indian version of Mickey Mouse,” Chilakalapudi said. “I want to make Chhota Bheem similar to the way Mickey Mouse is today.”
After that show’s success, his company developed a business plan to market other products. “I believe that the most important part of my job is to make the kids smile and dream,” Chilakalapudi said. “All the great achievers in the world are dreamers. If we inspire kids to dream, they will automatically become achievers.”
Chilakalapudi supports programs to expose young people to his craft. He has enrolled 30 underprivileged teenagers in a free training program, and eventually hired 20 of them.
He also established 10 animation scholarships to support students with financial need in India.
“UMKC played a very, very important role in my life,” he said. “I learned to see things from different perspectives. In addition to technical skills, I learned the importance of networking and also developed my leadership skills to a great extent.”
But the vision for his ambitious undertaking seemed to come almost naturally for Chilakalapudi.
“Vision for me was not a problem, the vision was already there,” he said
“Executing the ideas of the vision is the toughest part . It’s fantastic to have a vision. but implementing the vision and facing the challenges [are difficult,] especially with Indian markets, which have completely diverse business ethics and execution methods compared to the U.S. It took me two years to get used to Indian business methods.”
For Chilakalapudi, venturing into animation was a lonely journey at first.
“I did a lot of research before stepping out into business,” he said. “I didn’t have friends who were interested, I was the only man out. Most of them were software engineers. But I had unique choices of my career; I felt animation had a bright future not only in the world but also in India, because the Indian television market was in a boom at that time, with the introduction of new channels. You would always win if you start a something for kids.”
But before Chilakalapudi could succeed, he needed to avoid going broke.
“I really struggled with finances,” he said. “Paying salaries on time was a nightmare. Financially it was a tough ride. Until 2008, we were not financially stable. Only after we had a successful product, everything changed for us”.
“When we started, we had to convince people that there is a market out there. Today we don’t have to convince, we just need to convince that the idea is good. It was completely different. The people’s skills are available now. If I look for 25 people, I find 200 people. Back then, it was so difficult. If I looked for 25 people, I used to find one person. Now animation is a career.”