AT38, with a fashion and publishing background, Preeta Sukhtankar says hers is just the right age for startup leadership. Sukhtankar should know, for her recently streamlined e-commerce firm, The Label Life, has had three Bollywood ladies taking a personal interest in its daily workings for two years now. We have had stories about celebrity endorsements, businesses, even e-stores like Pernia’s Pop Up Shop that have actors like Sonam Kapoor curating a capsule collection, but with The Label Life, Sukhtankar has managed to marry content with commerce and give it an intimate treatment that isn’t easy to replicate. There is Sussanne Khan, the interior designer and former wife of the actor Hrithik Roshan, who presents the home decor section, actor Malaika Arora Khan who is in charge of the clothing section, and actor Bipasha Basu, who styles the shoes and accessories section. a�?They are all equity holders,a�? begins Sukhtankar, adding, a�?Over the last few months of working closely together, we have realised that all three have similar traits a�� they have longevity, are self made, have earned and not paid for their popularity, and have a cool factor.a�?
Coming full circle
In the city two weeks ago to conduct a master class on customer acquisition, as part of TiECON Chennai 2015 at ITC Grand Chola, Sukhtankar says brands need to be loved. a�?You need to allow for a connect with their consumer. At the Label Life, we ensure we are authentic through our organic content, a real touch point wih the shopper. Instead of just putting up a product like earrings or a tea plate for sale, we tell you how to style it. We give you a recipe on what to serve in it.a�? On the e-commerce site, you will find a limited edition home accessories line a�?inspired by sunny Santorini, perfect for the rains,a�? as Sussanne puts it. This includes convex mirrors in pop colours, retro prints,sunshine yellow foldable chairs with cushion seats, and the promise that the a�?softest and most breathabe cotton linena�? has been handpicked by her. a�?Sussanne is always working, and busy with her two children, just like us. Bipasha is most active on social media. At one point, we were selling an interesting umbrella. All she did was spontaneously make an amazing instagram in the rain, with all three umbrellas, and they sold out. Live content is here to stay,a�? says Sukhtankar.
Right here, right now
Prompt with emails and reminders, she observes that she is more emotionally stable as an entrepreneur now than she would have been if she started out early. Unlike the engineering graduates you find in startups, she studied humanities in college, was the editor of the youth section of the Sunday Observer and worked at lifestyle magazines like Elle, L’Officiel and Seventeen. Stints as a TV producer and in celebrity management have made her more aware of the power of celebrity content. a�?I soon learnt the art of firefighting and to run a company when all your chips are down. Fortunately, that was also when a lot of people were just getting noticed, be it designers Manish Malhotra or Manish Arora. By working with these people from the ground up, I made lasting associations,a�? she confides.
Always on the go, Sukhtankar is in Hong Kong on a work trip with her two-year-old daughter when we speak. a�?This company has aged me,a�? she jokes, quick to add that it isn’t impossible to raise a child and successfully manage a venture. a�?I make it a point to finish what I start,a�? she says by way of explanation, when we ask her to elaborate on her first year at The Label Life (then Label Corp) with a team of five. They are now a company of over 50, most from publishing or style backgrounds. Plans are on to introduce catefories like furniture early next year, and beauty. a�?Investors will keep looking for the next big thing or trend. First it was marketplaces, then it was taxis, next it was food and now it is content and discoverability. Old school businesses that believe that every piece of merchandise produced will not lose money when sold will always have takers. So we will always be in trend,a�? is her reasoning.
One feature at The Label Life that is gathering a lot of interest among consumers is the style editor they have just introduced. A collaboration with designer Malini Ramani saw fiesty kohlapuri wedges, priced at under Rs.4000 that flew off the shelves. Obviously. Next month, they will have Surily Goel, followed by Rocky S. a�?The idea is to introduce a must-have accessory every month, a curated piece, like the last page in a fashion magazine. So while it is the festive month, for the holiday month in December, Surily has a resort look of travel kits, chappals and a tote,a�? says Sukhtankar. Insisting that content sells, she also observes that it is almost impossible to sell print today unless it’s a tie-up with another brand. a�?But our approach in marketing is similiar to Dilip Kapur’s for the Pondicherry leather brand, Hidesign. He inspires me. Or fashion brand, Anita Dongre and skincare brand, Forest Essentials. They stick to what they do best and do not bastardise the brand.a�? Good content has always existed, she continues, whether the consumer read Elle, watched MTV Style Check or followed stylists on Instagram. a�?I’ve been part of that journey a�� heck, I lived it – so I’m positive that we will adapt, mould, and lead the change.a�?
Starting from the bottom
Sukhtankar is practical when she reasons that she cannot compete with the millions a�?most of the leaders in the pack have in their bank accounts.a�? Her strategy? a�?We can create exciting content around our brand which brings consumer stickiness, hence making us a brand they must know and have in their storefronts.a�? It is this ‘do or die’ attitude that saw her raise `1 crore from an angel investor, then US$1 million from venture capital pioneer Vani Kola. She is now talking to a consortium and will be able to make an announcement in January 2016. a�?We were so raw when we started out, we didn’t even have our Google analytics synced (to track site data). Our first video was made with Rs.20,000, and we got 80,000 views in a week with no money spent on getting a single ‘like’,a�? she remembers. She says people always ask her what investors look for. a�?I’m like, it’s either an idea that no one has tried or it’s a tried and tested model worldwide that we can do better. We fall in the earlier category.a�?
The new Indian woman is far more in touch with things, and smart with advertising tricks, observes The Label Life founder. a�?These tastemakers have earned their place in this business and their inputs are very welcome. For instance, Malaika wanted us to sew ruching on some swimsuits, as she felt it gave women without toned abs extra confidence. Bipasha, on the other hand, has size 42 feet and wanted us to stock shoes for consumers like her.a�? There are offline events with Malaika offering live styling for select customers and Bipasha helping some of them use accessories to complete their look.