How a bunch of bloggers are monetising their passion
It is no simple task, but evolving a niche blog — in, say, fashion, beauty — into an ecomm startup with revenue streams may be a logical progression.
It is, of course, no simple task, but evolving a niche blog — in, say, fashion, beauty, food, or travel — into an ecommerce startup with revenue streams to boot may be a logical progression. “Traditionally, bloggers make money via advertising, but the ad rates are very low. To turn blogs into successful ecommerce businesses, there are significant hurdles, since ecommerce is a far more logistically complex business,” says Sramana Mitra, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and founder and CEO of global virtual accelerator One Million by One Million. Mitra says that issues such as inventory financing and merchandising are the big challenges for bloggers turned entrepreneurs. Although the transition isn’t duck soup, some do make it to the next level. Here are five bloggers who are aiming for a slice of commerce:
Bloggers for Joggers
Model Surelee Joseph and stylist Marvin D’Souza started BandraRoad as a blog over a year back. “We started it as a vertical covering street style from around the world, under MissMalini.com (a fashion and entertainment portal). We would post on trends, style and shopping on BandraRoad and that’s how our audience grew,” says Joseph. It was feedback from their audience that made the duo realise that there was a tangible demand for products. Result? An e-store and a debut fashion line. A year of blogging and social posting helped them figure out a demand for comfort wear for men and women. “We had to decide what our brand would stand for and what our first collection would be. Going by our mantra of comfort, we tried to focus on one item that we could use as the flagship product of BandraRoad,” says Joseph.
Her own sense of style helped in zeroing in on joggers as the target audience. “I’ve been studying international trends, and joggers have become a huge business in the US. In India, no one has really focused on the segment, and we saw an opportunity to deliver the ultimate in comfort wear for them,” she says. The duo began hunting for production capabilities in India to source their products. “Although we haven’t started with a wide range, we are getting great feedback from folks who have followed our blog, as well as from new customers,” says Joseph.
Over the next few quarters, BandraRoad will continue to add new styles as well as have some fun versions of classic fashion staples even as the blog continues to engage with its followers.
Having His Cake
He just turned 20 last month and is now busy preparing for his Delhi University exams. But Hindu College student Shivesh Bhatia already has a huge following on his blog Bake With Shivesh and has been featured by Instagram on its official page. Although he went commercial with his blog only last year, his huge number of followers has made big brands take notice.
These include Foodhall, Del Monte, KitchenAid India, Britannia, Tupperware, Fujihoro, Flipkart and Amazon, labels with which he has kicked off activities as diverse as social-media collaborations, recipe development, culinary consultancy and baking workshops. Bhatia started baking when he was in Class XI at Delhi’s Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. “I have always loved cakes and desserts and believe in using basic techniques and tools,” he says.
“Anyone can use them to create the most wonderful desserts in their home kitchens.” Next on the agenda is a course in pastry from Paris after which he will set up his own patisserie in Delhi. Bhatia says he only picks up offers that are centred on desserts since baking is his speciality. “I feel I add a personalised element to every collaboration. Everything from baking and styling to photography and social-media sharing is done by me.”
Equally important is interacting with his followers — and that has helped him build a vibrant community around his work. No surprises then that some of Bhatia’s ardent followers are chefs and home bakers who love to try out his new recipes. There are even college students and kids who are passionate about baking, inspired by Bhatia. “This community of diverse people with the same love for desserts makes my reach unique,” he says.
Style in India
It started as a styling platform simply because every other fashion website was focusing on ecommerce. “There wasn’t a single platform that was into personalised fashion based on data such as body type, age and individual style. We have filled that gap rapidly,” says Dhimaan Shah, cofounder of StyleCracker. From a pure-play styling service, the challenge was to make all the recommendations shoppable for users and become a one-stop shop for their fashion needs. “Now, as personal stylists, we don’t just give recommendations.
Procuring what we recommend is a big part of what we do. So we haven’t switched, but have naturally added commerce to our platform,” says Shah. While Shah was an investment banker, Archana Walavalkar is a stylist, who has worked with actors such as Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shahid Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan. They don’t see their venture as just another ecommerce platform. “Being personal stylists, our job is to answer three vital questions on every consumer’s mind: What do I wear, how do I wear it and where do I find it,” says Walavalkar. Users range from A-list Bollywood celebrities to tens of thousands of women across the country.
“Stylecracker seeks to make personalised fashion accessible, available and relevant to all. Our mission is to make India stylish,” she says. StyleCracker raised around $1 million last year and the aim is to drive business to generate cash flow and scale profitably. “Technology will be at the heart of our growth and we are investing sensibly to drive innovation,” says Shah. StyleCracker hopes to deepen its engagement with brands across the board and focus on the personalised aspect of styling for its users.
Eating Their Heart Out
Shuchir Suri developed a passion for food at his last job as an account manager at Encompass-JWT, for which he had to travel globally. “It was with the idea of sharing conversations around food and travel that I created an exclusive, invite-only group on Facebook with 50 foodie friends in 2013,” recalls Suri. Soon the group became a crowdsourced platform where people answered questions such as what to order at a particular restaurant or where to find the best Peking duck in the city. “By January 2014 the group had over 18,000 members and was growing rapidly; that is when Anjali Batra and I joined hands and decided to take this platform to another level,” says Suri who gave up his job to focus on the food foray. What Suri and Batra noticed was that everyone was taking photos of food and uploading them on the Facebook group.
“We wanted to structure their photos, match them to where these people were eating and make it easier for others to find these dishes. More importantly, we were inspired, seeing so many dishes being eaten by people in the online community. There were dishes we had not tried — we didn’t know what they were or where to find them in our city,” says Suri. This is how Food Talk came about. “It is a visual platform to discover, share and rate great dishes around you. Instead of reviewing restaurants, you can recommend and rate dishes and see what others recommend based on your location. Currently, it is a Delhi-only product on iOS. Soon we will be on Android and the web too,” says Suri.
As for making money, he believes that the future of the food and beverages sector is in hyperlocal, real-time and targeted advertising. “We believe that we are pioneers in this space and aspire to be the largest location-driven platform powered by the consumer,” he says. The goal is to build a platform-agnostic tool so that restaurants and brands are able to reach their target group. “In the long run, Food Talk is going to become a lot smarter, almost like a personal concierge helping you discover food based on your palate,” says Suri.
or a young woman, starting a blog on alcoholic beverages proved difficult, even though she had done some courses on wine and whisky. “I was in a field mostly cornered by men and it took a great effort to be taken seriously,” says Karina Aggarwal. The other challenge was running the blog independently and staying away from paid content. She soon figured out that just sharing information through the blog wasn’t enough and decided to expand to on-ground activities since there was so much interest in food and beverages.
While the reach and repute of her blog has grown, Aggarwal still finds an ignorant bartender pushing something pink and fruity towards her or a waiter who will give her only the food menu. Aggarwal has become an influential voice in the alcoholic beverages space and has ventured into curating beverage experiences for individuals and corporates. “From single malts and beers to cocktails and wines, I cover everything through tailor-made sessions that will speak to the crowd, giving them useful tips for their next soirée or social gathering,” says Aggarwal. Recently, she launched Smarty Pints Society, a woman-only beer club in Delhi, which aims at educating its members about beer.
“The idea is to bring together a spunky group of women who enjoy their brews and enable them to hold forth on the subject with authority. We will soon travel to other metros with this concept,” she says. Aggarwal also works with beverage brands, helping them evolve an effective strategy to showcase their product to the right target group and travels extensively to international wines and spirits competitions and events.