When guest speakers visit the Action Learning classes, they often share relevant business experiences and discuss topical problems and solutions with the students. A virtual session of India Lab in early April featuring Sriram Emani, MBA ’14, co-founder and CEO of IndianRaga, and Shahil Patel, MBA ’19, co-founder and CEO of BollyX, was no different—at least until the final 15 minutes of class when Patel excitedly led everyone in a BollyX workout.
Emani and Patel, who founded IndianRaga and BollyX respectively while they were enrolled in the MIT Sloan MBA Program, discussed their ongoing efforts to scale-up their startups. They shared their stories with the students and workshopped potential business strategies for overcoming their current challenges over the course of an hour and a half.
Of the many classes, labs, and clubs they participated in during their time at MIT Sloan, Emani and Patel were especially inspired by New Enterprises, the popular course taught by Bill Aulet, SF ’94, (Professor of the Practice, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management; Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship) that gives students the tools to start their own technology-enhanced companies.
“I was working on a dance app idea, but when Bill found out I had done Bollywood dancing on America’s Got Talent, he called me into his office,” said Patel. “He asked me about the dance app at first, but quickly switched to America’s Got Talent. So, I told him about my experience on the show, Zumba, and how there was a big market for similar things. That’s when I realized there was more to my idea than a simple dance app—and that’s how BollyX got started.”
With over three billion fans worldwide, Bollywood is the most popular form of dance and music entertainment in the world. The Indian Hindi-language film industry produces over 1,000 movies every year, and each one contains at least 30 minutes of dancing. Given these numbers and the global reach of Zumba, Patel set his sights on the alternative fitness industry with BollyX, a Bollywood-inspired dance workout program that combines dynamic choreography and music. Since 2013, the startup has created a library of over 1,000 routines, developed several B2B and B2B2C subscription models, and featured on an episode of Shark Tank.
Emani, meanwhile, took a more pedagogy-centric approach to the Indian entertainment space. At MIT Sloan, he served as co-president of the Entertainment, Media & Sports Club, organized several entertainment business conferences and panels, and led a study tour group to Japan and South Korea to meet with executives from Dentsu, Disney Japan, and other creative companies. He also enrolled in the Media Ventures course taught by Joost Bonsen, SB ’90, MOT ’06, who encouraged Emani to draft the first business plan for IndianRaga, an educational platform for aspiring artists and experienced teachers of classical and contemporary Indian music and dance.
“I grew up in an India that measured everybody’s success based on numbers—how much you got in math and science, and whether these were enough for you to become a doctor or an engineer. But the only thing I always wanted to do was to run off after class and go to music lessons,” said Emani.
“Now, there’s a booming entertainment industry in India and a strong demand for training people in these new creative professions, but the ancient pedagogy for Indian classical music and dance hasn’t really evolved. This is the exciting opportunity that IndianRaga is tapping into.”
With online learning in India projected to grow from 1.6 million in 2016 to 9.6 million in 2021, IndianRaga is poised to tap into India’s rapidly growing entertainment industry and its need for more creative professionals who have received modernized training. To date, the company’s strategy has amassed 150 million views from 65 countries across its Facebook and YouTube channels, which boast over 550,000 and 440,000 subscribers, respectively.
After outlining their startup journeys, Emani and Patel reviewed the current challenges they were facing and took suggestions from the India Lab students. The class proposed celebrity and tastemaker endorsements for translating IndianRaga’s brand into profit and floated ideas for evolving BollyX’s lifetime subscription model. In both cases, the topic of building a community around a business and tapping into its power featured significantly.
“Make sure you understand which segment of the community you’re looking to target. Once you do, you can tailor your approach to that group,” said Patel. “Understand how you’re building that community from a marketing standpoint, because more than anything else, it can create stickiness for life.”
Emani agreed, noting that India is a very community-oriented society. He also used the point to return to the topic of working in the entertainment space—not just in India, but anywhere in the world.
“There is a lack of entrepreneurship and scalability in the entertainment space, so we need to follow the lead of more traditional industries,” Emani explained. “We are part of a much larger community and must adapt our best practices from how others have succeeded.”
Instead of ending the session there, however, Patel invited everyone to “get up and get moving” for a quick BollyX dance workout. “Let’s do one song to get some endorphins in you and round out your experience this morning!”
Even Professor Yasheng Huang (Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management; Faculty Directory of Action Learning) got involved to the delight of his current and former students. Afterward, he commended the two guest speakers and thanked them for their time. “Thank you for such an incredible session,” he said. “I don’t have any final words of wisdom because I’m out of breath!”