They double as models, photographers, copywriters and insight miners. Meet early-stage startup founders who are weaving their brands’ stories
Former HUL marketing executive Shashank Mehta founded The Whole Truth in 2019 to offer healthier alternatives in packaged foods. As a consumer, Mehta, who has been through multiple weight-loss cycles, realised that big food brands often tell “convenient half-truths”. To solve that problem, he not only launched a company that could fill that need gap but also decided to feature in the brand’s advertising.
Recently, The Whole Truth roped in comedian Rohan Joshi to create a series of videos. In the “educational mini-series”, Joshi plays the role of ‘healthy food’ and Mehta plays ‘The Whole Truth’, and they go on to have a conversation that highlights the “hidden chemicals” in packaged foods. In another episode, we see the many ways food is made to look irresistible in ads. For instance, the milk in the cereal bowl is actually glue and the golden honey drizzled on pancakes in ads and in product photos is engine oil.
Mehta tells Storyboard18, when he creates and features in content for his brand, he thinks, “Consumers can feel the honesty”. They see through paid endorsements like influencer or celebrity-laden ads, which are often forced, Mehta believes.
“If a brand is born out of a personal struggle or passion, then the founder can make a powerful difference in the brand’s marketing strategy,” he says.
Entrepreneurs Sujata and Taniya Biswas quit their corporate jobs to sell sarees. Growing up, the duo loved looking at their grandmother’s and mother’s saree collections. It took them to “a happy place”. The Biswas sisters started the fashion brand Suta with a mission to make the new generation of women fall in love with sarees, and wear sarees every day and not just for special occasions.
Initially, Taniya modeled the sarees, taking her photos in natural light with no editing, because they had a tight marketing budget. The photos were cropped in a way that one could only see the model’s body draped in a saree. On Instagram, these headless photos caught people’s attention. Since then, the duo has been featuring in the brand’s reels, stills and all other brand communication. They say with this strategy, they have been able to create a community that not just wants to know more about the brand but also about the founders.
The Biswas sisters tell Storyboard18, as creators, their strategy is to keep “content fluid.”
They are also often seen promoting other founders and their brands through live sessions, giveaways and fundraisers.
“Consumers often ask how we are okay promoting competitions’ brands. Honestly, especially in the category we operate in, we are like one close-knit community. We sail in the same boat and love encouraging each other,” they add.
Vaibhav Sisinty calls himself “a growth hacker by profession and an entrepreneur from heart”. For two years, he had been building his startup Growth School in stealth mode.
Earlier this year, Sisinty raised a seed round from Sequoia Capital, Owl Ventures, and angel investors. He started when he was 18, and took on several jobs, including working as a marketing manager at Uber.
Through Growth School, Sisinty wants to help learners meet professionals and influencers who have become leaders in their particular industry, and help them upskill. From courses on user interface, user experience, social media marketing, freelance businesses, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), cryptocurrency investments, D2C businesses, and more, Growth School is going beyond textbook tutoring. Sisinty himself creates content to bring learners together for his masterclasses and mini courses on LinkedIn and Instagram.
He says, “as a founder, it’s natural for me to think about content because people believe in people.”
Though being the brand face of your company is always a good idea, Sisinty thinks, “the brand shouldn’t revolve around the founder”. But, in the beginning, it helps in bringing the right talent on board and building trust, which is every brand’s ultimate goal.
For new and small brands especially in the crowded D2C space using founders in advertising and marketing communications is a great way to build credibility and trust. It’s also cheaper, of course. For brands that have tight or no ad budgets to speak of, deploying founders as the face and voice of the brand is a sound and economical move.
But sometimes it’s not about creativity, frugality, budgets or brand life-stage.
In December last year, Mahashay Dharampal Gulati passed away at the age of 97. He built a Rs 2,500 crore brand, an empire of spice. Most of India, however, knew him as the ‘MDH uncle’. For years, the smiling face of Gulati, who always sported a white sherwani, red turban and a pearl necklace, appeared in practically every ad for the spice brand. He was the one and only ‘masala king’.