What Entrepreneurs must learn from Fashion Models!


I have always admired fashion shows and their glamorous models. Not so much for their skinny and anorexic looks but for their amazing ability to change their clothes, make-up and persona within minutes and then walk the ramp with such élan and confidence.entrepreneurship

What these models teach me is how to manage change without hesitation.

Some fashion tips that I have learnt!

When you finally get dressed, it’s time to undress.

In 1998, I spent 18 hard months creating a website called contests2win.com.  The idea was to aggregate and host all nationally advertised contests in one place and allow consumers to respond without the hassles of cutting newspapers and mailing competition postcards. Brands like Unilever, Channel V and Disney quickly embraced the concept and became my first clients. However, there weren’t lots of contests to keep the site really busy. One day, when I was on my regular ‘contest begging’ trips, I was stunned when the brand manager of Liril Soaps (a Unilever Company product) said, ‘Alok, don’t harass me. We make soaps here – not contests. If you like contests so much, why don’t you make them and pitch them to me, rather than the other way around’. While that attitude completely ‘disrobed’ my then existing business model, I was forced to invent the business of customized ‘advergaming’ (Advertising meets gaming) to make clients sign up. 12 years and 1000+ advergames behind, I am still smiling. If I had stuck to being a digital ‘post box’ for contests, I would have not survived beyond the first year.

Thank God someone forced me to undress.

The fashion show venue changed just as you arrived.

Post the dot com bust in 2000, everyone in India suddenly stopped believing in the Internet. It was like saying that if a plane crashes, the entire business of airlines becomes a suspect.  We were doing great business with most of the global Fortune 500 brands, but it became increasingly difficult to scale up the business. Softbank was one of our investors and was impressed by our business model. They invited us to China to start up the same business of contesting and offered to incubate us.

I still remember that January 2001 day when we packed almost half the office on a plane and sent them to a hostile land that most folks had never ventured into. It was a bizarre feeling to travel overseas to seek our fortunes just a couple of years after starting up in your own country.

But by 2003, China had become a larger business for us than India and we actually imported a mobile business from China into India.

Forcing a change  – this time a geographic one was a painful but beneficial lesson we learnt.

A cosmetic nose job is a must to walk the ramp.

Years ago, I used look at models with perfect ‘cosmetically altered’ noses and pitied them for altering their god gifted bodies just for a profession. Soon, I had to taste my own disdain. In China, our contesting business had migrated to the mobile platform and was scaling well. It caught the attention of Siemens Mobile who offered to invest in it. One of the shocking clauses in the term sheet was the condition that we alter the company name (from our famous dot com contesting legacy) into a ‘mobile’ connoting name!

It was almost like someone asking me to change my name and surname for a job. On inquiry, Siemens revealed that their investment committees were allergic to dot coms after the bust and this was just a simple ‘cosmetic’ change. We rebranded ourselves to be called Mobile2win.

The day I signed the term sheet, the perfect nosed models flashed in my mind.

Are fur coats best suited for Mumbai weather?

In 2007, I was lucky to meet Rahul Khanna of Clearstone Venture Partners. Rahul was keen to explore an offline Cyber Café Gaming business in India modeled on the success of China and Korea and I was happy to take on the challenge of creating one.

We raised 5 million US$ from Clearstone and Silicon Valley Bank and went gung ho into importing a ‘has to succeed’ business model into India. I signed up SEGA of Japan to license us their car racing game and then went aggressively into all the gaming cafes of India to host and promote the game.

In 6 months, the business failed badly. No one seemed to be interested in playing these complex games in dungeon like cyber cafes in India. On introspection, it was so clear why the games succeeded in China – with no mass entertainment options available (TV and films are state controlled) and very cold weather, Chinese teens were happy to lock themselves into gaming dens and play away for hours non stop. On the other hand, in India, with 3 bollywood movies releasing a week; 500 channels on TV and very warm and ambient weather, teems cared a damn to sit in suffocating game parlors and play online games with silly dragons and elves.

We were forced to replace our fur coat (MMOG game) with T-Shirt and Shorts (snacky flash games) and went on to become a top 20 global online games company.

But the misery of wearing a fur coat in Mumbai remained etched in my mind.

Miss beautiful, did you forget your stilettos and handbag?

Games2win became a global 20 online portal business by 2009, and my partner and I became absorbed into creating more portal centric games with an ambition to reach a top 10 rank.

While we got distracted just making single player games, young and nimble game companies like Zynga (now worth 5 BN US$$) arrived on the scene and took the humble flash game into social networks like facebook and created global phenomena’s like Farmville and Mafia wars. Just by combining the dress (flash game) with sharp stilettos (social media) and handbags (virtual goods), they became the hottest models in towns!!

All of a sudden, old hags like were playing hard to catch up.

Entrepreneurs when they watch FTV, shouldn’t dream of pretty young models as companions they wished they could date – rather they should think of them as fellow entrepreneurs who have important lessons to teach you.

[Editors Note: This blog post has been reproduced from Alok’s Rodinhood blog]

  1. Mudit kalra says

    a Fantastic read… thank you so much… it just lights up the fire again.. :)

  2. Priyanka says

    Good to read some of your experiences.. your startup journey seems fascinating with tripping off to China, changing names and platforms (web to mobile) and a whole lot more!

  3. indiangenie says

    nice analogy…… the task is not easy but is a must in order to make your idea succeed……we at indiangenie are going through a similar phase….. we have an idea but we’re keen to adapt….. at an unpluggd conference the founder of buzzgain said a similar thing…… be willing to change your idea even by 90 degrees if you want it to work….

  4. Madhav Shivpuri says

    Hi Alok,

    Fantastic post. I subscribe to the RSS feed from your look and like your writing and thoughts.

    A couple of points to add may be:

    – Like fashion models need a great team of fashion designer, sponsor, make up artists, lights, etc., so too do entrepreneurs need team members (biz, tech,marketing), mentors, investors.

    – Like fashion models, businesses need to be lean, flexible and sexy (meaning, appeal to the audience in a unique way).

    – Fashion models and businesses have a few years when they are at their peak. After that only re-inventing themselves can keep them there longer.


  5. Vikram says

    Hey nice one maan. Good lessons to learn. I especially liked the When you finally get dressed, it’s time to undress” true for every person coasting through his career i guess.

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