Interview: Astha Bhatnagar and Uma Iyer: Co-founders of Pixel Phrase, a women lead creative studio

Astha Bhatnagar - Uma Iyer - Pixel Phrase

Interview: Astha Bhatnagar & Uma Iyer: Co-founders of Pixel Phrase, a women lead creative studio

At Sugermint Media, our aim is to bring to our entrepreneurs community some of the inspiring and motivational stories from the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As part of this endeavour, we invited yet another women entrepreneur duo Astha Bhatnagar and Uma Iyer: Co-founders of Pixel Phrase, a women lead creative studio for an exclusive interview with us.

Astha Bhatnagar

With over 22 years of experience, Astha is an accomplished Creative Director, Design who specialises in Branding and Digital Marketing.

A graduate in bachelor of computer applications, Astha has acquired an advanced diploma in applied arts and multimedia.

She has worked with giants like, Group M and has gone on to set up her own Creative Studio – PixelPhrase

Astha has worked with clients like Nestle, Samsung, Virgin Atlantic, Times Group, Acutrack, Airtel, Tuple Tech, Exitel Broadband, Tulas University, YASH Technologies and more.

On a parallel, she runs RangSang – a studio that specialises in hand painted home décor items. She trains and hires underprivileged women to help them earn a dignified livelihood.

Uma Iyer

A writer with over 22 years of experience, Uma has worked in various capacities across industries. Her favoured medium is digital, and she specialises in creative direction, content strategy and marketing communications.

Post her tryst with industry stalwarts like, Hindustan Times, CNN-IBN, Indian School of Business (ISB), Associate Advertising, Mobizz, she has now co-founded a Creative studio – PixelPhrase.

Apart from being a wordsmith, she is a certified Permaculture teacher and finds joy in training people in Urban Permaculture and designing sustainable farms.

Tell us a little about yourself

Uma – Born and raised in Mumbai, married to a Delhi boy, settled in Hyderabad – the result? We speak Hindi in three different ways, argue over which city has the best street food, and have settled on Goa being the perfect place for retirement.

I studied Food Science till I was gently nudged along the path of Journalism and Writing by a professor.

I have a Post graduate Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication and a Master’s Degree in English Literature.

I have been a Writer (with some minor changes to the title including – Product manager, Senior Editor, Creative Director) for the better part of 21 years.

Words are my favourite companions and colleagues. I have worked with industry stalwarts like, Hindustan Times, The ibibo Group, CNN-IBN, ISB, Associated Advertising etc.

Astha – Born and raised in Delhi. My education has been in Delhi though I have lived in Mumbai and Bangalore for a short while.

I love riversides and beaches and love nature. I am a foodie, infact my family is a foodie. I wanted to take up creative arts as a profession that led me to be a topper at my college where I pursued advanced diploma in Applied Arts. I have also done diploma in Multimedia and have a bachelor’s degree in computer applications. 

With over 22 years of experience, I am an accomplished Creative Director, Design who specialises in Branding and Digital Marketing. I have worked with giants like, Group M and further set up a Creative Studio – PixelPhrase

I have worked with clients like Nestle, Samsung, Virgin Atlantic, Times Group, Acutrack, Airtel, Tuple Tech, Exitel Broadband, Tulas University, YASH Technologies and more.

On a parallel, she runs RangSang – a studio that specialises in hand painted home décor items. I train and hire underprivileged women to help them earn a dignified livelihood.

Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey

PixelPhrase was conceived in the middle of the pandemic in February 2021. Astha and Uma have worked with each other on and off for over 15+ years, first as colleagues at and then as collaborators over a host of freelance projects.

They understood each other’s thought process and temperament, vibed on similar wavelengths and value systems.

It was only natural for them to seal their years of friendship and working together by forming a company that reflected their individual personas as well as the common thread of creativity they shared. Thus, PixelPhrase Creative Studio was born. 

What service(s) or product(s) do you offer?

What started as two friends discussing the lack of opportunities for women once they took career breaks became a creative studio that offers any woman the chance to rewrite her ambition, to rebrand herself, to re-emerge like the mythical phoenix.

PixelPhrase Creative Studio is an all-women team consisting of Social Media Strategists, Business Managers, Writers, and Designers.

Our team has women in their 20s who infuse our sessions with energy and enthusiasm, and we have women in their 40s who bring wisdom and calm.

We work out of different parts of the country, adding another layer to our creative wealth and thought process.

We dabble in Branding, Design and Communication Strategy and Social Media Strategy. We have clients across industries and from around the world.

PixelPhrase is what we like to call the ‘safe place’. We believe in holding space for each other. Together we let individual ideas grow even as we navigate everyday life.

Started in the middle of the pandemic, we have grown from 2 to an 8-member team plus a network of freelance consultants – all women, all fabulous in their own rights.

Mutual respect, trust, honesty and humour are important to us. We are not here to compete with anyone.

We are here because we truly believe there is enough work and more for everyone. We are open to collaborate, we are open to brickbats, we are open to change.

We have battle scars and life experience and we have chosen the path of growth. And because we chose, voluntarily, we give our all to every project.

What is unique about your label brand?

Our Secret Sauce

We may be a start-up but we did not start now. We have a collective experience of over 4 decades in the industry, across mediums. For us, our work is our pride.

Our strategies

We put time and effort into understanding the requirements of our clients. Our strategies are determined based on the value we can bring to your customers.

From content to hashtags, social media to marketing, our strategies are well thought through and hit the mark, more often than not, case in point, one of our first clients has gone from 80k views/ week to 47 lakh views/ week in 3 months.

Active listening

We listen when you talk. We understand that no one can know your brand like you. It is your baby, and we are grateful for the opportunity to help it grow. Our concepts are a reflection of your wishes and ideas. Our job is to translate your vision into impactful creatives.

Pure joy

This may sound like hippie talk, but it is the truth. We love our work. We love building brands and watching them grow to incredible heights.

It gives us a massive kick to see an idea take root and fly. Every project is an opportunity that brings in new learning/insights. We revel in the joy of exploring new thoughts/ideas and creating value for our patrons at any stage of their business life cycle.

What made you choose this type of business?

Astha and I love the business of beauty. We are creators and enjoy the process of dreams becoming thoughts and thoughts taking shape and becoming a reality.

We enjoy listening to new concepts and revel in the rush of an idea taking shape. And the joy it brings our clients? That’s our bonus.

What was your mission at the outset?

The mission has and will always be about creating a space where an individual will be respected for who they are and what they bring to the table.

It is a place to create and to grow. A place where dreams matter, and so do the hard work and honesty required to make that dream come true.

How many employees in Pixel Phrase?

We have grown from 2 to an 8-member team plus a network of freelance consultants

What’s your company’s goals?

To create an organisation that will help support its people in overall growth (creative, mental, financial, emotional).

A space that will offer opportunities for willing women across the globe. A space that will provide a platform for women to be vocal about their thoughts and problems, and a provider of guidance where required.

Also, to make some really brilliant creatives that will be our legacy for generations to come.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

Time-management and handling accounts was not something we were equipped with when we started on this journey.

This led to losses, client wise and finance wise. We ended up getting burnt, exhausted and broke.After the first quarter, we sat together as a team and analyzed the issues.

We created systems and strategies and hired people who were better at finance than we ever hope to be. We have learnt that active discussions and open communication are the key to keep the machine going.

What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur

The biggest inspiration was an HR calling me up after I had taken a sabbatical (of a year) from the corporate life and asking me to join in as an assistant writer with about a 60% salary cut. His reasoning – you have taken a sabbatical; no corporate would accept you in the position you quit.

After speaking with some friends, I realised this was the case with most women who took breaks – to move cities, to have and raise children, to study-up.

This mentality got me thinking. Afterall, a maternity break does not mean a woman has gone through a frontal lobotomy. And hence, PixelPhrase came into being.

Key things to consider before starting a startup?

Running a start-up is exhausting and exhilarating. The losses are yours, but they bring with them a treasure trove of learnings and the wins – they simply warm your heart like very few other things can.

For me, the 3 things I would like every entrepreneur to consider before starting on this journey are:

  • Research on your dream – dig, read, talk, refine it till you have a fairly clear picture on what it will take to make the dream a reality.
  • Find the right people – its not about relationships or friendships, it is about the people with the right talent, with the similar value systems and ambitions.
  • Be open to criticism and suggestions, be willing to change, be willing to be flexible with your game plan

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?

Personally, letting the mental block of not being good at accounting and finance take root and grow has been my biggest mistake. I still get cold feet when I have to sit with the finance team. But I am learning, if not for me, for my team. They deserve the best.

Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs

Be true to yourself and do not let the world or the society decide your limitations/ boundaries and at the same time, do not set limitations and boundaries on other people. As you sow, so shall you reap!

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