By Rohit Pande
We’ve all heard of ed-tech and e-learning companies like Byju’s, Upgrad, and Unacademy. But over the last several years, these global companies have been joined by many new entrants. The most prominent example is Physics Wallah, which has made waves with its unique and targeted offerings and learning opportunities. The former are established names that have demonstrated their offerings in the Indian market for over a decade and have now expanded to become truly multinational. But on the other hand, the latter is a relatively new platform built on the name recognition of celebrities and content creators turned entrepreneurs.
This has been mirrored in multiple sectors. Traditional finance and investing information sources, whether investment advisors or finance TV channels have been replaced by a new wave of micro businesses established by content creators. Social media gurus such as Rachana Ranade and her Funance store, or Sharan Hegde’s ‘FinancewithSharan’ are now the go-to investment advisors for a generation of first-time earners and working professionals. This phenomenon even extends to fields like beauty and fashion.
Let’s look at Inde Wild, for example. It’s the brainchild and passion project of Diipa Khosla-Buller, a global influencer and activist with over a million followers on Instagram. With the stated goal of catering to the skincare needs of South Asian women, the brand was launched in July in the Indian, US, and UK markets. As of today, its Instagram page already has almost 60,000 followers. In every field, influencers who’ve spent years building a dedicated fan following and establishing their domain expertise have begun to leverage their online clout to launch their businesses. This list includes Ranveer Allahbadia, who built his YouTube channel, BeerBiceps, into a multimedia empire (that now includes his talent management agency), and Juhi Godambe, who went from modelling clothes to conceptualising and launching her fashion label.
The evolution of the influencer space
The last decade has seen the Indian influencer economy on an upwards trajectory. As part of their wider marketing efforts, brands pumped Rs 900 crores into the space this year. By the middle of the decade, this number will soar to Rs 2,200 crores. These figures showcase the sort of clout influencers now carry. They are the megastars of our age, the modern incarnation of the celebrity endorsements that carried so much weight just 20 years ago.
With India still in the process of bridging the digital divide and bringing large segments of its population online and onto social media for the first time, there’s still a long runway ahead for this segment. So what’s driving so many established and successful influencers to shift their attention away from their primary source of income in favour of launching their own brands?
The primary factor driving this shift has been the evolving nature of the marketplace itself. As the influencer economy has grown, so has the number of participants. Any given niche, be it beauty, finance, or fitness, will have multiple creators competing for associations with the same brand. In this hyper-competitive sphere, many creators have decided to secure their futures by shifting away from the endorsement model. Instead, they have opted to mature in the market and scale their ambitions, transforming from influencers to entrepreneurs. These individuals have shifted from repping brands to becoming their own brands, taking their loyal followers with them.
Bringing a global phenomenon to India
The transition from influencer to entrepreneur and brand unto themselves has already happened in more developed influencer economies. It gives us a glimpse into where India’s creator economy may be headed. The best example of this is the cosmetics line Huda Beauty. Launched in 2013 by beauty influencer Huda Kattan, the global cosmetics line is today valued at $1.2 billion, with over 140 products ranging from lip glosses to fragrances and an estimated $200 million in annual sales. Aside from beauty, the other vertical into which many influencers have successfully
transitioned is fashion, with numerous influencer-founded labels such as Something Navy, We Wore What, and Song of Style finding success abroad. The one common factor between them has been the adoption of the direct-to-customer (D2C) model, with Youtube and Instagram followings being leveraged to capture larger monetisation opportunities via e-commerce platforms and native D2C stores.
As Indian influencers begin to replicate this model, the changing macroeconomic situation in the country has aided their growth. More people in the country now have access to cheap reliable data, thanks to a digital-first push that has seen improvements in bandwidth availability, affordable smartphones, and mobile data that’s among the cheapest in the world. The majority of this growth has come from tier-3, tier-4 and tier-5 cities, where a booming young user base is gaining access to the internet and rapidly becoming tech-savvy. Driven by the ease of content creation and reinforced by the ability to build a following rapidly, many new influencers have become creator-preneurs in this new landscape, channelling their creativity into a lucrative new source of income.
These developments are ultimately all to the benefit of the broader economy. A generation of new micro-entrepreneurs has leveraged social media to create new jobs and businesses, building an entirely new ecosystem of brands, production and media houses, and consultancies. The end result is increased revenues and opportunities, more employment prospects, and a stronger national economy that truly capitalises on Make in India as a mantra.
(The author is the co-founder of Habitat)
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