Interview with Sowmya Acharya, Acharyanet
If you love music but have had to move abroad and do not find the right teacher what would you do? Well it was precisely this situation that Sowmya Acharya faced when she was in California around 2004 and her options were limited. “I was always deeply involved in classical music from childhood through my engineering post graduate days and subsequently during my employment with a leading computer networking company in Silicon Valley. After some research, I started learning from the pioneering prodigy-maker, Acharya Ratnakara Chitravina N Narasimhan on the just emerging Skype. Though there were a few challenges, it proved to me that the Internet could truly be a powerful medium for learning.” She was inspired to help talented and passionate music students and her background in technology as well as music led her to start Acharyanet – a pioneering and leading Indian music education portal.
Being deeply involved with music even in her school and college days, Sowmya was actively involved in classical music activities as an organiser and performer. “For me, entrepreneurship grew out of a passion for music. I came to understand what the word entrepreneur meant only after I had become one! I view an entrepreneur as someone who pursues their passion and loves doing what they do. Many ideas are born out of necessity and it was the same in my case as well. But I have definitely found this to be a most rewarding learning curve.” After completing her engineering at PSG Technology college in Coimbatore, she specialised in Computer Networking with a masters from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore before getting married and settling in the USA. “I enjoyed working for a leading networking company for couple of years but my heart was in music although working in the technology area was also intellectually satisfying. The desire to make a distinctive positive contribution using my unique skill set gave me the impetus to make the final jump. I am very proud and privileged to be the founder of the leading site on Carnatic Music Learning that collaborates with legendary artistes of the highest calibre including Sangeetha Kalanidhi Shri R.K Shrikantan, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Shri Trichy Sankaran, Shri Tanjavur Shankara Iyer, Sangeet Samrat Chitravina N Ravikiran, Shri Neyveli Santhanagopalan and many others. It is very gratifying to be able to contribute and make available valuable learning resources to other aspiring students like myself which they would otherwise never find elsewhere. Incidentally students now not only learn from assorted video lessons taught by legendary gurus and performers but also take Certificate Exams at various levels in courses. “I often remind myself that since my main goal is to provide a valuable service to art and music, many rules that apply to other business ventures do not necessary apply here. The overall feedback from students worldwide has been very positive, boosting my determination to do even better,” avers Sowmya.
The journey of course has been eventful. Running Acharyanet requires a varied skill set right from concept creation, technical development, program management, marketing, and sales to customer support and managing all these with a limited budget. “I found wearing these multiple hats and juggling all these duties challenging but the only option was to adapt. Being a woman entrepreneur was difficult at times when I had to juggle time between family and work which is an ever-elusive task but I learned to manage it by being more organized and disciplined with my time. I also learned to be assertive, confident and outspoken at times when the occasion demanded it. These were not qualities that I possessed inherently but developed gradually to help me gain the confidence and respect of people I interacted with on a regular basis. I also learned that when dealing with senior musicians, it was necessary to be especially polite and respectful while still achieving the business objectives effectively.” It was heartening to work with the top artistes in the field and receive their support and encouragement towards this venture. She says that she is inspired by her grandmother. “Even in an era when women were afraid to voice their thoughts, she always followed her inner voice and solved many problems with her smart outlook, though she was only a 10th standard graduate. Never afraid to take the unconventional path, she managed a dairy farm very successfully and soon graduated to start a small home business which flourished for many years.”
Her advice for women who want to be entrepreneurs is to have a passion and sense of purpose. “My love for music and the need to solve issues faced by literally thousands of students in various countries propelled me forward and continues to motivate me even when the going gets rough. Being aware of one’s strengths and weakness can be crucial to navigate the path ahead. At the same time, we have to develop our own sense of judgment and discernment to filter what is relevant and leave the rest. It might be necessary to do everything yourself in the initial stage which is a lot of hard work but eventually once the business starts to evolve, one can delegate and focus on higher order functions. Though, things may appear daunting at first most challenges can be overcome with courage and determination leaving way for confidence and experience in the long run.” Outside work, Sowmya loves to spend time with family and also enjoys travel. “We launched our streaming service last year and conducted many online contests and events which were a great success and inspiration to students everywhere. We plan to launch more initiatives including live workshops and master classes to bring the teacher and student closer together and facilitate live interactions which are pivotal to learning this great art form. My dream is for Acharyanet to become the Netflix of Carnatic Music Learning. Just as Netflix makes entertainment available on demand, I would like Acharyanet to be the service that offers Carnatic Music Master Classes anytime, anywhere and on any device from the foremost exponents.. I would like to preserve the lessons of the great masters of our generation and continue to help promote and propagate this great classical music art form through this wonderful medium,” she signs off.
This story appeared in the Nov 8th issue of Femina here: