RS Raghavan: “Have a Strong Opinion”

Thought Leadership is all about being liked & trusted at the same time. These two attributes are very tricky to handle. If you are authentic, people trust you. At the same time, if you are authentic, some people don’t like you. The balance between both is thought leadership. The benefit of being liked & trusted […]

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Thought Leadership is all about being liked & trusted at the same time. These two attributes are very tricky to handle. If you are authentic, people trust you. At the same time, if you are authentic, some people don’t like you. The balance between both is thought leadership. The benefit of being liked & trusted goes from convincing millions of people to buy your products or Ideas.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing RS Raghavan, CEO of Animaker. His desire for building products, passion for design & strong marketing skills have been helping to scale Animaker’s business globally. This is evident from the user growth rate of Animaker since its beta launch in Sep 2014. He traveled & lived in different cities around the world which helped him to understand the need for videos & its growing demand across the globe. He did his Engineering and then secured a Management degree from MIT, Chennai. He was recognized as the top Entrepreneur by the honorable President of India for his excellence in Video & Design. Raghav’s vision is to help millions of non-professionals create professional-quality videos online.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I had a very humble beginning back in India. I started creating products way long back when I was in school. At the age of 17, I created the first product which controls any device using a simple remote control & won awards. My dream was to become a scientist, for most of my research I started using high-end visuals as part of the presentation. But the twist in the story was, more than my science, the visual presentations were highly appreciated.

The thirst for entrepreneurship peeped in when I had to do a research project on the legends who survived cancer. This was when the Apple man, Steve Jobs entered into my life. I didn’t realize then, that Steve would continue to be a long-lasting inspiration in my journey.

After my post-graduation and a successful stint with Infosys handling major projects for Bank of America, I moved on to pursue my entrepreneurial quest. My passion for visual presentations ended up in starting off the video production house Bode Animation from Las Vegas, along with my engineering buddy, Loganathan. Within a short span, Bode Animation emerged as the top player in the global video industry attracting top clientele like Adidas AG, World Bank, McKinsey, Red Hat, KPMG, Amazon, Deloitte, Unilever etc.

In my early 20s, I had the wonderful opportunity of traveling & living in different cities around the world spanning from the Newyork to London to Amsterdam and Singapore. My journey to different places offered me the platform to understand the growing visual needs of multiple industries across the globe.

The greatest challenge was the frustration of designers who were struggling to learn & use professional tools at ease to deliver high-quality videos consistently and in scale. So when you extrapolate, this is a huge challenge faced by designers across the world. And that was a make or break situation. Me and my team were forced to find a solution that is simple, creative, easy to use yet very smart. The result of which is the birth of Animaker, a world-class DIY Video Making Software on Cloud that helps anyone from Individuals, SMEs to Fortune 500 companies create studio-quality videos online.

Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, USA, Animaker Inc. has facilities in Chennai (ODC) and Bangalore (R&D). Every time I pivot from well-paid job to start my own company, run a successful service company and move on to do something big in the product space, I have faced huge challenges & failures which helped me shape myself to what I am today. As a DIY video maker, today, Animaker helps more than 4.5 M users from 251+ countries create studio-quality videos online.

When not working, the thirst for adventure kicks in and you can find me paragliding or scuba diving.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I have always been in the process of learning. I am not sure whether I am good at thought leadership or not, but I must say that I was lucky enough to work with some of the thought leaders around the world at a young age. My experience in working with more than 100+ founders helping them explain complex business ideas into simple stories & videos is simply priceless.

The first question I used to ask them is, “how do you explain your business in one line?”. And I believe that thought leadership always starts at sharing your thoughts/ideas to others in the most simplest form possible.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I spent 7500 dollars on a single domain when I only had 8000 dollars in my bank account!

In my journey towards launching Animaker, I faced a lot of obstacles. Even naming Animaker as Animaker wasn’t easy.

Initially, when we started working on Animaker, we originally named it as AnimR which didn’t go well with anyone around as they weren’t able to connect with it. I started researching for similar names that are catchy and can convey the meaning of the product to the end-users. Finally, one name that stood out was Animaker. I was instantly in love with the name. “Animation + maker = Animaker”

I introduced Animaker to my team, friends, family and my mentors to see if they can connect with it. To my surprise, 90% of them weren’t convinced of the name! But I couldn’t give up, I knew I had to convince just one person to proceed further.

My Co-Founder and buddy Logu was not convinced with the name either. So I made a deal with him. If 100 random people could instantly figure out what Animaker is without us explaining it to them, then we should proceed with this name. Somehow he agreed to the deal as my crazy calculations convinced him. But to my dismay, only 50% of the people were able to figure out that Animaker is “Animation + maker”. Even though this experiment failed, I still had the feeling that Animaker is the right name for the product!

I found a site called Domain Market where I found that was listed for sale. The most shocking part was, I had to pay 15,000 dollars to own it. Suddenly I felt as if my dreams were shattered. I was also the founder of Bode Animation, a full-service video production house servicing fortune 500 companies. But still, we were a bootstrapped startup and 15,000 dollars was huge for us.

I kept following up with the domain consultant for any considerable discount offers and managed to bring the price down to 7500 dollars. We just had 8000 dollars in the bank with lots of upcoming bills & paychecks to be cleared. But my intuition convinced me to go for it. And finally, we bought

The next day when I walked into the office, my co-founder showed me this tweet from the domain owner.

I was able to see both anger & anxiety in Logu’s face but as usual, I convinced him by saying “Animaker just got its ex-owner 100X ROI, we will get more than that!” All is well!

Today Animaker has grown into a family of 4.5 million users and has garnered us millions of revenue. And that domain and product name played a vital role in our growth story.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I started my business when I was in my teens. So I believed I could do anything I can & become so successful in business. I was so crazy. This crazy wisdom helped me to fail in everything I tried & beauty is you never know you have failed & you will enjoy your foolishness by assuming you will be successful one day. Later I realized your success depends upon a variety of factors like right place, right time with the right people etc.

I tried many starting from a Cancer Project to One Click remote system. My first website was a movie review site called CatchtheMovie. I placed a counter on my site to track the number of visitors every day. Out of sheer curiosity, I kept checking the counter every hour & the visitor count was growing. Later I found out the rapid increase in the visitor count was all bcoz of me visiting the site quite often & no one else was around.

Later in my life, I just learned to admit defeats faster & change/ move to the next than hanging around on one thing for very long.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

There is a huge difference between a Thought Leader & an Influencer. Influencers may be appealing to your heart but sometimes they don’t make you think. On the other side, thought leaders make you think. They try to give you a context & help you take your own decisions.

According to me, the most successful thought leaders have two important traits in common.

  • Firstly, the wealth of knowledge in a specific domain
  • Secondly, having a strong opinion and telling the world on what they think is right.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Thought Leadership is all about being liked & trusted at the same time. These two attributes are very tricky to handle. If you are authentic, people trust you. At the same time, if you are authentic, some people don’t like you. The balance between both is thought leadership. The benefit of being liked & trusted goes from convincing millions of people to buy your products or Ideas.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

The Internet is flooded with more than a billion blog articles. The world population count is around 7 Billion. When you have such mammoth content in front of you, you are forced to be very choosy and look for picking the best from the lot. So, just creating a text-based blog post won’t work anymore. People are keen on consuming information only from trusted sources. So building a thought leadership & brand credibility in one specific domain would help one standout & go a long way.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  • Be Authentic — People just love if we are who we are
  • Have a Strong Opinion — People love people who take a side which shows courage
  • Be Factual — Data & Number talks more than words.
  • Be the Trend — Thought leadership is all about timing. If social media is booming, you should be a social media influencer. If AI is picking up, be an AI enthusiast. Just pick up the trend.
  • Be Creative — Standout. Everybody can be authentic, opinionated, factual & trendy. But how different you are & how unique your content is, will decide your influence as a Thought leader.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I have been observing Neil Patel’s growth for many years. The way he shaped up his image from being not so successful analytics businessman to one of the world’s top Marketers who influences millions of people around the world is a classic example.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

To me, the best way to become a thought leader is not to project yourself as a thought leader anywhere. Thought leadership is all about helping others in a genuine way. People should really be pleased with your offering. When you are able to do that consistently, people will look up to you for anything related to your area of specialization. This happens naturally in the course of time.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

On cannot be a thought leader on every topic under the sun. One must try to identify a niche, develop knowledge & authority over the years to thrive and avoid burnout.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Personally, I always wish that every human being should have a shelter. If I have power, I will try to do everything I could do to avoid homeless problems around the world. Every time when I come across a homeless person on the street, I feel ashamed and I don’t know why.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs.

You don’t know how long you will be around in this world. So make sure that every day counts on what you are trying to do. Be helpful to a large number of people & make a positive impact in others’ lives.

Q: We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mark Zuckerberg — I think he is one of the smartest businessmen who constantly challenged by the world but somehow he outperforms all the olds & makes a mark.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Social Handles

LinkedIn —

Twitter — @rs_raghavan

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