Sunday Chronicle cover story 29 May 2016 Starry start-ups

Starry start-ups

Published May 29, 2016, 12:07 am IST
Updated May 29, 2016, 12:07 am IST
Sunny Leone
 Sunny Leone

This is the age of online start-ups and crowd-funding, with youngsters all over the country coming up with innovative business ideas in tune with the times. It is also the age of celebrities — film as well as television actors — turning investors in, or even co-founding, some of these. From Gul Panag’s fitness app Mobiefit and Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Dutt’s ticket buying portal to The Label Corp fashion and interiors portal bringing in Sussanne Khan, Malaika Arora Khan and Bipasha Basu for three separate sections, and even Salman Khan hopping on to the online bandwagon with his shopping portal,, starry start-ups are on the rise and how.  

“The start-up scene in India is currently booming with an equal number of innovators and investors chasing the market, and celebrities are no different,” says market analyst Sameer Rastogi, managing partner at India Juris. He adds, “Over the last few years, we have seen a boom in the number of celebrities dipping more than a toe in the vast pool of tech start-ups and investments in the West. Now, in India, too, the surge is happening.”

Prashant Puri, co-founder and CEO, AdLift, points out that the digital space, in particular, is finding a lot of takers. “Recently, former Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar invested in Bengaluru-based Internet of Things (IoT) company Smartron India and Yuvraj Singh has a $10 million seed fund called YouWeCan Ventures… and when it comes to celebrity angel investing in the West, Ashton Kutcher is the best in the game. He knows how to spread his seed far and wide, which has helped him reach an amazing amount of success by investing in start-ups such as Skype, Airbnb, Foursquare, Hipmunk and LikeALittle, to name just a few. It’s safe to say that this man is addicted to investing in good ideas,” he shares.

For start-ups, celebrity investments have multiple benefits — funding, global exposure through the celebrity’s personal brand and indirect VC advice, points out Prashant.

‘I have been building a brand and name for so many years’


Sunny Leone is no stranger to entrepreneurship, and affirms that time and experience along with everything she has learnt along the way has given her a wealth of entrepreneurial experience. “I started my own business when I was 18 and have been building a brand and name for myself for so many years that I thought it was time to capitalise on it and create something of my own,” she says.

Talking about the space she has entered as an entrepreneur now — perfumes — she shares, “I’ve always believed in merchandising even before I got into movies, so the idea of creating a perfume line made the most sense to me and to my team. Being able to do things other than movies is a big deal for me too. I’m involved with every single aspect. It’s very important and very personal to me. I have picked everything from the scents to the colours and bottles… every tiny detail was chosen by me and my team, and my decision was the final one.”

Sharing her business philosophy, she says, “My personal business belief is the test-test-test theory. You just test and see if something works — if it does and you see results, you stick with it. Also, being able to know when it’s time to start micromanaging and letting other people do their jobs is extremely important!”

Lust by Sunny

“In the West, one of the best examples would be actress Jessica Alba. She invested in an e-commerce site called The Honest Company, a consumer goods company that emphasises non-toxic household products. Her association helped the brand reach out to a mass audience base and today the brand is one of the leading e-commerce sites in the West. A similar parallel can be drawn with Karisma Kapoor’s investment in Babyoye. She brought in the credibility of a celebrity who is also a mother herself, showing trust in a new company. So, the market value of the company immediately shot up a little,” he explains.  

The celebrities themselves, he says, get the most out of their investment when the targeted demographic matches their own followers and fans. “It is easy to tap the market if an audience has already been established. For example, The Label Corp that has brand endowments by Malaika Arora Khan, Sussanne Khan and Bipasha Basu for various branches like home décor, fashion and accessories — each face’s personal brand helped to bring the start-up to the next level,” he points out.

Sameer points out, however, that in a lot of cases, the celebrity does not decide on the investment himself/herself. “Their wealth managers do the necessary basic ground check, which typically consists of evaluating whether a start-up is worth investing in and if so, how much funding they will get.”

Anita Hassanandani Reddy, of Star Plus’ Yeh Hai Mohabbatein fame, has two start-ups on her entrepreneurial check-list: TheBagTalk, a platform founded by her husband Rohit Reddy that will go live in September and Liftiee, a ride-sharing app of which the actress is one of the investors. She points out that we’re in an age that presents us with some of the best opportunities for investment because of the kind of ideas coming up, especially geared towards the youth.

“People are coming up with such innovative ideas these days. I feel these kinds of concepts can really, really work in today’s day and age,” she says and shares that one of the things that drew her to investing in Liftiee was its innovative concept. “I liked the idea. There have been times when we’ve all taken a lift or been stuck in a jam and wondered how a bike could have gotten us wherever we need to be, on time. I thought it was a very cool idea and something that I would use myself too. Plus, it’s connected with social media so it's also a way of connecting with people, besides reducing traffic,” she avers.

TheBagTalk appeals to her creative side. She says, “My husband understands that for an actor, it’s important to have something on the side because what we do is not going to last forever. He’s taken up TheBagTalk as a full-time business within which he’s gifted me a line of bags of my own called AHR, for Anita Hassanandani Reddy, which I will be creatively involved in.”

Anita Hassanandani Reddy, TheBagTalk and Liftiee

Not all celebrities are hopping on to the start-up bandwagon for the monetary aspect of the move. Ace actor Manoj Bajpayee attributes his involvement in Video On Demand (VoD) platform Muvizz to his passion for independent films and documentaries.

“This is the best way to actually save and archive the assets that they are, so often lost in the shelves of government and subsidiary institutions. That is where the thought behind the platform came from, along with a drive to make available films that are having a very hard time in getting a release. Distributors are not interested in anything other than mainstream or middle-of-the-road cinema and so, a lot of great content is not even reaching the audience. That’s why when my partner, Abhay (Abhayanand Singh) came up with this concept, I immediately said yes because it spoke to my passion for good films,” he tells us.

Launched by Abhayanand Singh and Piiyush Singh, Muvizz is an online Video On Demand (VoD) platform offering a curated list of titles including short films, documentaries and feature films in various languages.

Talking about his role in the start-up, Manoj says, “I am the brand ambassador, mentor and partner. I hate how corporate it sounds, to be honest, because this is not a start-up intended to create money. It is intended to create awareness about these films and to create a community that will share views on the cinema they will have access to on the portal. I am involved creatively in the content and also in creating strategies to generate awareness about the service. This venture is a passion for all of us who are working day in and day out on it. You should come and see our office — our means are very limited, we have not over-stretched our needs and we are not immediately looking for big investors either. We want, first, to satisfy ourselves.”

Manoj Bajpayee, Muvizz

The actress-turned-politician along with her friend Gourav Jaswal has co-founded MobieFit Technologies Pvt Ltd, an m-Fitness venture focused on all-round health and fitness. “Fitness is something that I have always been passionate about, so being seen as an advocate of fitness and its impact on life, for me, became apparent with the advent of social media. My dedicated community on social media would keep asking for advice on fitness issues. In this day and age, I thought a DVD or video couldn’t be the final solution to their fitness-related queries. Also, I fundamentally believe that we don’t need to outsource our health and fitness to a third party. It needs to be in our own control, in our own time and as per our individual capability. This is how MobieFit was born. It is good that people are going to nutritionists, health experts or dietitians but ultimately, you have to be sitting on top of it all. If an app can give you that solution, then why not?”

From walking to strength training to running, the start-up has three apps in the market. “The Running app is India’s highest downloaded fitness app. Then we have a new app called MobieFit body that deals with strength training and another app called Walk, which is meant for recuperative, post-operative purposes.”

Gul is involved in everything from ideation to scaling up the venture. She shares, “Our offices are in Goa. I try to be there at least once a quarter. I’m extremely involved in ideation as well as all plans that involve scaling up and reaching revenue targets that have been set by the investors. At present, we have a 22 member team and a full-time chief operating officer.”

Does being a celebrity add an advantage in pushing the venture in the right direction? “It helps us in reaching out to more people. I am definitely a marketing tool that the company can and should utilise and I am 24/7 available for the same,” she says.

Gul Panag, MobieFit

One of the two coveted bhabhijis on &TV’s popular show Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hai, Saumya Tandon is the co-founder of 1018, an on-demand alternative screening platform for movies in India. “Being a passionate movie lover and a part of the industry, the concept of this venture is very close to my heart. I realised with time that our industry is obsessed with only big-ticket, star-studded films and its structure does not support a lot of good content and talent. Thus, those among the audience with an appetite for niche cinema are starved for choice. 1018 MB is therefore geared as a democratic platform of movie screening where the audience chooses the films they want to watch, in a theatre of their choice at a convenient date and time,” she shares, adding, “I believe that rising mobile internet usage and improving demographics will transform movie viewing in India. 1018 MB is founded on the belief that going to theatres will remain relevant in India since it is one of the most important social activities. I feel that through the use of technology, big data and our neural algorithms, we can lead to the next revolution in the Indian theatre industry too.”

About what she brings to the table besides her celebrity status, she says, “I am the industry insider — I understand the problems of the industry and know the talent that needs to be brought on the platform, so I remain central to the concept. I ask the questions and my team — which consists of engineers and MBAs — provides solutions. In fact, I frequently say that I am the only normal person in a team full of geeks, which makes me special!” She has also invested in Jugnoo, an on-demand Auto rickshaw service.

Saumya Tandon, 1018 and Jugnoo

Singer Shaan’s wife, Radhika Mukherji, and Amar Pandit recently co-founded Happydemic — an online entertainment platform operated by Happy Gaana Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. “The platform aims to connect music lovers and musicians,” Shaan says, adding, “The aim is to bridge the gap between the customer and the artiste and also help users find the perfect act that they can book in an easy and systematic way. My role in the set-up is to provide creative input and support for the platform. I bring in my knowledge and understanding of the field, which helps as a performing artist.”

The singer points out that while there has been a marked rise in the number of digital start-ups in India recently, there is a dearth of platforms in this particular space. “There is huge demand for quality entertainment in our country but the existing aggregators are quantity-focussed and function more like a listing of service providers. Happydemic, on the other hand, will follow a B2C model to bridge the gap between a customer and an artiste,” he avers.

Shaan, Happydemic




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