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Interview - Giri 'pickbrain' Balasubramaniam

By Sowjanya D Reddy

Q. Please introduce yourself sir.
Giri Balasubramaniam known as Pickbrain in the world of quizzing. CEO of Greycaps.
Education : MBA in Media Management | Masters Degree in Gandhian Philosophy and Thought
Career : Times of India | Walt Disney Corporation | Founder | CEO Greycaps

Q. What is your Company all about? What does it do? How many people are involved in it?
Greycaps is the country’s largest onstage quizzing and knowledge services company. We host over 150 quiz shows on TV, on stage and publish quiz books that have reached over a quarter million children so far. We are team of about 20 people passionate about what we do.

Q. What made you start this company? What first gave you this idea?
We were a bunch of passionate quizzers who were really driven by the challenge to revamp the way quizzing is regarded and how the way in which quizzes engage various audience.  We saw the importance of being informed in a knowledge economy and worked towards making quizzing more a mind sport than a nerdy activity based on recall of facts.
It was not an idea that was pursued to be a startup or a company, it was just good intention to host quiz shows in a more engaging manner that led to greater demand, feasible economics and therefore became a company.

Q. How difficult was it to start-up? Did you receive any set-backs? How did you deal with them?
It was difficult for a simple middle class family boy to take a call to quit a fairly rewarding career with an MNC and get into a business space that does not have too many companies to learn from.
Set Backs are part of any journey. I always tell college students, if you are on a path that has no problems, then you may well be on the wrong path. The resolve to not give up on what you want to achieve should be so resolute that you deal with the issues without making them seem larger than life.

Q. How did people close to you react when you told them you were going to start a company of your own? How did you feel?
I was a first time entrepreneur for my family and at the time of taking the decision I was working for Walt Disney and the transition was never easy. Infact, from all my B-schools batch mates that I would have spoken to at the time, half advised me to take the plunge, the other thought it was foolish to quit a cushy Disney job. The key is you need to back yourself sometimes and give yourself a chance – we in India have very few entrepreneurs because we just don’t give our own selves a chance!

Q. How have you mastered the art of quizzing ? Was is it an inborn talent or have you worked on your interests to get here?
I am a great believer that any talent can be cultivated. Everyone is born equal, it is what we make of our lives from the time allocated to us. For any profession to be a leader all that one needs is tremendous focus, discipline and passion. Once these three align and you set your sight on your goals any peak is scalable.

Q. How will your work affect the masses?
In a country like ours the only way to development and progress is education. There is also a great need to get equipped beyond what the curriculum offers us and that is where quizzing comes in as a powerful alternative tool for learning and development. The rural programs that we have created are a testimony to the mass effect that quizzing can have. Our Rural IT Quiz for the Government of Karnataka itself draws a participation of over 1.4 million kids each year.

Q. What were the sources of finance you could leverage?
None. To this day we not sought external funding. I am strong advocate of every entrepreneur not going the venture capital way till the business actually makes money to sustain itself. For us, at Greycaps, we have been able to manage our business and growth from what we earn so we are a self reliant model.

Q. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? What are your plans for the future?
We would like to see ourselves in every state of India in the next five years. We currently touch 20 states with our programs and products. We also see ourselves emerging in a strong way on the digital and mobile platform with what we do.

Q. How do you now see entrepreneurship? Some tips for upcoming entrepreneurs?
First and foremost is to think of yourself as the customer and honestly define what you would expect and what price you would pay. It tells you where you stand. If you are convinced you offering is great, the market is always there for it.

Patience is a great virtue in for every young entrepreneur. It is also very important to have a set of mentors or advisors who would call a spade a spade. Growth is always in the people you hire. The more capable your team, the greater the growth you achieve.

Start young for that is when you have least baggage and nothing to lose. India is today a fantastic ground for young entrepreneurs. The opportunity is like never before and it is global. 

I sometimes think as a nation we would do well with regular spells of recession. It forces youngsters to try their hands at the ideas in their minds and one leads to another and before you realize it you have an enterprise.  Easy campus placements and fancy salaries don’t help create entrepreneurs.

Q. Quizzing is an unique career option . What would you want to tell our future quiz masters ? Any suggestions or tips ??
Quizzing is becoming a big industry thanks to TV and the number of brands that look for meaningful events to connect with their customers. The quiz business is like planting mango trees. It takes a good five to six years to set its roots (read establish credibility) and then gives you an annual crop that keep you going.

Q. How many writers and editors does your team consist of? How easy was it to find these people?
We are team of 20 odd people. 50% of them would be part of research and product development. The youngsters these days are a lot more capable than we were when we passed out of school or college. The key is to get them to be passionate about what they do. Once they set their minds, they are brilliant.

Q. What do you look for in your employees that you take? Is it knowledge , creativity or sincerity etc.?
Apart from the skills required for the vertical they are joining we certainly look for the right attitude, a dash of humour, the ability to connect with others and a willingness to learn.

Q.  How was your college life? What are your favorite memories? What lesson do you think people should take from college?
It is certainly my college days that shaped my character in many ways. I was an active cricketer during those days and I think it is sport that taught me how to handle defeat and work with people as a team. The best think to take from college are your friends – mark my words they are the ones who know the ‘true you’ and will stand by you through rain and sunshine.

Q.  Who has been your inspiration and driving force since your childhood and throughout your career?
Cliché as it may sound, I draw a lot of inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and feel it must be made compulsory to have one subject on Gandhian Philosophy in our schools. Reading about Gandhiji and researching about him has been as valuable as the formal education I received.

Q. Any such belief as a “formula for success”?
Yes it is a one word answer: Hardwork.


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