Arguably one of the most prominent and successful women entrepreneurs in Indian media, Malini Agarwal single-handedly blazed across new terrain to create a million-dollar digital business. And her dominance has shown no signs of diminishing ever since she began her journey more than a decade ago.
Malini Agarwal a.k.a MissMalini is the Founder & Creative Director of MissMalini Entertainment, a leading media brand that creates highly engaging, multi-platform content geared towards India's Internet Generation. She is also a digital influencer, a TV host and a best-selling author.
Malini is India's first and most famous Digital Influencer, having pioneered Indian lifestyle blogging with her website MissMalini.com in 2008. Today MissMalini Entertainment’s content reaches 30 million people every month across all their owned channels, with over 10 million direct social media followers.
We discover that the eclectic facets of her personality – and her journey so far – are the sum of the bold choices she made.
"She has broken the mould, not gender-wise, but in terms of getting journalism to something that is sustainable economically in the online space.”
MALINI BEHIND MissMalini
Malini was born on 26th May 1977, in Allahabad, India. She grew up in various countries as her father worked with the Indian foreign service. As the daughter of an Indian diplomat, she had lived in relative luxury, travelling all over the world from Somalia to Lebanon and Greece to the Ivory Coast eventually settling in New Delhi in the mid-1990s.
After completing her A-levels from the British School in New Delhi, Malini attended Delhi University’s Maitreyi College and eased her way into college-level dancing. She was soon touring around the country with the biggest pop stars like Anamika and Shibani Kashyap.
Later in 2000, Malini packed her bags and moved to Mumbai to build her life on her own terms. Malini’s 20 year career in media & entertainment includes stints as a vertical head at MTV, a popular Radio Jockey and Programming Director at Radio One, and as the Head of Digital Content at Channel [v].
On the side, Malini had been writing a popular gossip column. That gave her a lot of heartburn, though.
“I feel annoyed when I write my column and it gets edited so much,” Agarwal remembers telling her friend who, in turn, suggested to write her own blog. So, with a membership costing roughly $10 a month, Agarwal set up a WordPress Account in 2008. MissMalini was born.
MALINI’S DIGITAL OVERDRIVE
MissMalini.com was founded as a hobby blog, as an extension to the gossip column Malini had been writing for many years. Following a surge in readership, she decided to leave Channel V to focus full-time on the blog and turned her mania into her professional venture.
The blog drew inspiration from international sites such as PerezHilton and PopSugar covering all aspects of Bollywood and celebrity life. The blog quickly expanded into adjacent fashion, beauty and lifestyle categories as the readership rose. Alongside the blog they also started creating content tailored to different social media platforms, creating what was then India’s first independent digital media company.
Within a few years of blogging, The Huffington Post and Forbes named Malini as India’s most famous Digital Influencer. Since then MissMalini has been profiled by various international media outlets as a fast-growing media start-up to watch.
MissMalini.com has been the official blogging partner for fashion properties in India like Lakme Fashion Week, Blender's Pride Fashion Tour and India Resort Fashion Week. The blog has also covered fashion events outside of India like Cape Town Fashion Week.
“As someone who spends her days glued to her work screen, typing frantically to win the race of ‘we told you first celebrity tales’, Malini Agarwal has redefined the art of digital story-telling that boasts of 10 million unique monthly followers across channels. Her stories epitomise the voice of the urban and contemporary Indian that rejoices in highlighting the diverse facades of lifestyle with unmatched zest for life.”
Embarking on her journey of self-discovery, Agarwal recalls her days of struggle and triumph. “I was in my PJs with my laptop on my living room couch. As I let the thoughts flow, every word was like a breath of fresh air, reshaping my existence completely. I realised that social media was my life. It was a pivotal moment. All I did was write.”
And write she did. So much so that she was on her way to building a million dollar empire. Not that she had any inkling of it then. “For a long time, it was just me, churning out a plethora of content which wasn’t making any money. Simply because the concept of professional lifestyle blogging in 2012 was yet to arrive in full throttle.”
She conveys, “Our story is one of ‘passion and perseverance’. When we first proposed quitting our jobs and starting a digital media company in 2012 most people thought we were mad. Remember that Facebook and Twitter were barely getting started in India at the time, let alone professional lifestyle blogging. Internet connectivity was still a severely restricting factor. Digital marketing made up less than 2% of the total ad spends. And there was no workforce to draw from because there was no industry yet to speak of.”
She found the will to carry on with her venture with the constant support and reassurances from her life partner and now CEO of MissMalini Entertainment, Nowshad Rizwanullah.
“At the same time, people who were close to us could see our passion, our solid business plan, and the successful examples from other markets. So, with a solid plan, a great team and excellent execution, over time we were able to bring people over to our side.”
MALINI TO THE MOON
The company took on a small angel investment in 2012 which is when it underwent its first phase of growth. Expanding on her digital leadership, Malini made her first foray into television in 2014 with the self-produced reality TV series ‘MissMalini’s World’ on TLC. They went on to create two other shows for Times Network and Viacom.
It did not take too long after this for her efforts and hard work to bear fruit. From a few hundred followers, today her content has an outreach of up to 40 million users on select social media platforms.
What determined her success was positive only content and the fact that she never lost sight of her core values and basic principles. What started as an experimental initiative to seek her inner calling, soon turned into a legacy built on passion and perseverance.
Malini measures her success in terms of the satisfaction she gets from her work. She also pays huge regard to the impact her organisation has on its consumers and the kind of opportunities they’re creating for their team and partners. She exclaims, “You may be knocking your business metrics out of the park, but if it leaves you drained and unhappy by the time you get home then I don’t consider that a sustainable success.”
In January 2018, Malini released her first book, ‘To the Moon: How I Blogged My Way To Bollywood’ with reputed publishing house HarperCollins, which peaked at #3 Non-Fiction (and #8 overall) on the India Top 10 Bestseller List.
The book tells her story so far and is also a guide to building a brand. Because, as she says, "I felt like I learnt so much along the way, why not give it back.”
MALINI’S GIRL TRIBE
Malini Agarwal feels Diversity is key. However, she has been careful not to put all her eggs in one basket and has diversified. From dancing, radio, television, digital and even a best seller book in her kitty, Malini has done it all. But the story remains incomplete without the inclusion of ‘Malini’s Girl Tribe’ - An invite only Facebook community for women.
Malini drew inspiration for Malini’s Girl Tribe from a number of obstacles she encountered throughout her career, including a lot of spoken and unspoken bias in the professional arena.
Through this platform Malini hopes to transform social media into a better place, filtering out incessant and unsolicited trolling and allowing women to talk, share, support, network, connect, uplift, empower and inspire each other in every way possible.
Malini’s passion and efforts are now spent using her reach and influence to launch social initiatives that facilitate cultural change.
Raising an actual brand from zero with the potential to create a legacy for Indian women via Malini’s Girl Tribe is the kind of achievement that clearly reflects the amount of effort and dedication she has put in to do so.
“I hope to leave behind a community that will far outlive me. Malini’s Girl Tribe is a piece of my heart and is already fixing the internet experience for women, especially Indian women, in a significant way. I believe that MissMalini Entertainment has all the right ingredients to make this community soar and succeed.”