Founder & Creative Director – MissMalini
The Internet Goddess Donning Many Hats
The Window of Opportunity that was clearly visible from her dynamic, cozy couch
She had an entirely different approach to everything she did in her life – and that had made all the difference! Be it her days with radio or the television channel, her way of seeing things, the way she used to deal with celebrity interviews and finally the birth of MissMalini.com – she was always a breath of fresh air and always doing things in her own good ways with a lot of heart in it – her way was different, her approach had only compassion and sincerity – devoid of any malaise or short term gross sensationalism! “I still remember my first Shah Rukh Khan interview. We waited eight hours for our slot since they had planned back-to-back interviews on Independence Day for “Happy New Year” before flying out on their world tour. My 7:30 pm time slot came at 4 am!” – This was Malini way back in 2014 – and that undeterred flair of determination and sincerity that she showed then, still keeps her going from one milestone to another! We have to rewind further to 2008 for a major life-changing throwback for all of us that Malini initiated in our lives! She sat on her couch and started writing her blog through WordPress. It was a momentous juncture in the history of the Internet and digital revolution in India – she introduced the country to “lifestyle blogging”, a term unheard of before that! The creative soul empowered with her passion, commitment, and goodwill to contribute positively to the developing digital entertainment universe and its ever-changing content, keep breaking the boundaries; keep re-inventing herself and keep positively influencing our digital psyche.
A true cosmopolitan global Indian – Born In India, Brought up All Over the World
By birth, Malini became a world citizen. Her father was with the Indian Foreign Service. And the worldly exposure she started receiving at so early and at an impressionable age, helped a lot to influence her outlook as a woman entrepreneur and business leader. Born in the Indian city of Allahabad, when she was just of 6 months, they moved to Somalia, where her father became the Indian ambassador. And every three years they used to move to a different country. So Malini’s early days were spent in many countries like Greece, Lebanon, and Germany with a few years in between in India as well. When she was of 17, her father retired from service and it was during this time they came back and settled in Delhi.
Before finally settling down in Mumbai in 2000, she completed her education in English Literature at Delhi University. During her days in Delhi only, she kept nurturing her first love that is, dancing. Besides dancing, since early childhood only, she channelized her creativity through various mediums: she was involved with elocution groups, dance troupes, and fashion teams in her schools and college. And we have to remember those were the times in the 1990s when Social Media was still an unknown concept so were terms like influencers, reels, getting viral, etc. whatever she did in those days was just for fun and mainly because she was a creative person out and out. Later, Malini did work as a professional backup dancer for many years for various Indi pop stars and also a professional dancer for a troupe called Veronica and the Planets. Her work as a dancer also took her to many places all over the world before she became a content writer for a web portal. Literally, Malini’s childhood was all over the world and her schooling was mainly in all American and international schools (well, she credits her sharp American accent to this schooling only). The world exposure, that broadness of mind, and the adept knowledge of international standards in things she was passionate about and loved to do indeed helped Malini a lot across all the laurels that she collected in later years.
The initial years, before finally becoming a true master of many trades
Malini’s first job was in Delhi in 1998, for a company called Usha Telenet, which was a website-based city portal for things to do or places of interest in Delhi. Then she shifted to Mumbai in 2000 and switched to ChaloMumbai.com, the website of Mumbai’s Mid-Day tabloid, and then in 2003 to MTV India’s website as the head of its ‘romance’ section. She finally moved into MTV’s Mumbai office and started writing Scripts for various artists like Nikhil Chinapa, for his show MTV Select, and also simultaneously writing promos for MTV.
Suddenly one fine afternoon, during the lunch break she went for an audition for a radio jockey. She was selected and she started her radio career as a Radio Jockey for some good 8 to 9 years with different stations. First, she was with WIN 94.6 in Mumbai, which later became Go 92.5, and then Radio One 94.3.
Some of her most popular shows included ‘Horn OK Please’, ‘225’, ‘Tiger Time with Malini’, ‘Overdrive’ and ‘Malini till Midnight’. Malini moved her way up to Programming Director before she decided in favour of her transition to digital TV, becoming Channel V India’s Head of Digital Content. During the same time as we have said in the beginning, she ended up starting her own blog, triggered by some practical need. Malini had a column in mid-day, called, Malini Mumbai, (which looking back 2005 – 2006, some 17 years back) where she used to write about city lives, their choices and preferences, what they love to wear, love to eat, or what kinds of films they watch.
She started the blog as a hobby, as she was always too eager to write about her observations and especially about the voices she kept listening to through her years on the radio stations, about the city that houses all these voices in its wonderful mixed milieu. She never realized that through this blog writing, she was gradually finding her way into a totally new bend in her eventful and illustrious career, a bend that would finally make her what she is today, but this almost happened on its own!
And at that time, there was no way to foresee that this is going to be the biggest thing in the next say 20 odd years! Because it was happening at a time when there was no Facebook and absolutely no concept of social media yet. She was always interested in media. So she went to the radio, ended up doing digital as part of her hobby, and then to television and finally to writing a book, which has been already published and she is now working on her second book. So it started in reverse for her! And this fluidity and authority across so many mediums is what makes Malini a force to reckon with. She made her first foray into television in 2014 with the reality entertainment TV series MissMalini’s World on TLC. She went on to host Kya Seen Hai on Zoom and Vh1 Inside Access with MissMalini. She has also guest anchored several television shows, including CNN-IBN‘s Tech Toyzand UTV Bindass‘ Style Police.
How Brand “MissMalini” stormed into, unsettled wrote the rule book of its industry
Brand ‘MissMalini’ took the world by surprise and awe before the era of blogging and entertainment journalism, and to reiterate, one must forget that this happened at a time much before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram and Snapchat started dominating public consciousness. The rest, as they always say, is history. Almost singlehandedly, she pioneered Indian lifestyle blogging with MissMalini.com in 2008. As she recounts with a smile, “My friend Karan Wadhera told me about a blog called PerezHilton.com and suggested I start my own desi version. Since I loved to write and was already on the circuit, I figured, ‘Why not?’ What started as a hobby soon took over my life, and in February 2011, I quit Channel [V] and started doing this full-time. Now there’s no looking back.” The digital assets of MissMalini that include MissMalini Media (multi-format original content and marketing), Girl Tribe by MissMalini (women’s community platform), Ignite Edge (celebrity and talent management), Agent M Creative (creative agency) and MM Studios (video production house) reach over 60 million across 200 countries every month.
The future of the digital industry is the future of our country as she very rightly points out. With almost 46 million active digital influencers and creators putting the best of their creative brains into the system and the economy is booming in the multiple of billions. And this is now helping this industry to become more organized and specialized across all the sub-segments. And Malini explains that this is the future of human civilization all around and this will sure to stay and evolve continuously. And she seems to be absolutely spot on. Now with web 3 and metaverse becoming a reality, the digital landscape would change most rapidly and would become more and more user-friendly. It will be altogether an improved digital environment where it is possible to move seamlessly between work, play, shopping, socializing, and creativity in one digital landscape. Most excitingly, firms such as Meta (Facebook) are investing heavily in an immersive experience, where users with wearable hardware discard reality for a purely virtual world, interacting via avatars. The metaverse could fundamentally change not only how humans interact with technology but also how they interact with each other and the world around them.
Another welcoming change is imminent as Malini very rightly points out. The creators now create their digital content and it is owned by these big tech companies and platforms. The next version will be that the creators will have their own platforms with their own content and that is going to be a very exciting space in the metaverse soon.
To create the much-needed differentiator: to speak of the entertainment industry without malaise
Also, we can credit Malini for bringing her ‘A Good Creator Company’ into existence and standing unfailingly true to its name ever since the very first day! She handcrafted a very positive medium for entertainment content, which otherwise, usually tends to get quite easily inclined to gossip and negativity. She always ensures that she is talking about entertainment always on a positive note, positive light. One has to understand that people are in general fond of the magic of cinema. So they love to read and hear about what the celebrities are wearing, doing, and eating; whom they are dating or marrying or where they are going on vacations, or what they are partying. So a huge responsibility rests on the content creator’s shoulder to bring these facts in a very truthful, measured, and responsible way. So Malini made it a rule that all her content should be clean, happy, fun loving, and uplifting. Her brainchild digital girl groups and communities like the Girl Tribe or the Good Creative coach her in some of her newest endeavors, where she brings digital creators together under one close-knit community and where they bond with each other and share smiles and positivity. These online platforms have garnered a widespread participation across all age group of women.
Her first book, “To The Moon: How I blogged My Way To Bollywood” was published a few years back and now she is busy finalizing the chapters for her second work, “Under The Influence”. Malini is indeed instrumental in building this creative economy and being the common biggest platform or meeting ground for all these budding influencers/creators / social media natives, finding a common link between entertainment, Bollywood and creative content.
Good people do have good fortunes: Her family and friends always stood by her
As we know, Malini started off with just her on her sofa! Then Mike Melli, her business partner, and personal business manager came into the scene and 15 years and counting Mike is still working with her. Her husband and best friend for life, Nowshad Rizwanullah, an alumnus of Ashbury College, Yale University, and Harvard Business School, formerly working with InMobi and Nomura Securities, is handling the responsibilities of CEO of MissMalini. So gradually as the numbers increased – from 2 to 3 to 6 to 10 – it is now a part of the Good Glamm Group, one of South Asia’s first DTC Beauty & Personal Care Unicorns, which has a team of a few thousand. Malini considers herself super lucky as far as support from her near and dear ones is concerned. Her mom always ensured she is having her small handycam in her hand, fully charged and ready to go, ensuring everything that Malini does, whether she dances or speaks or conducts sessions or takes interviews, is recorded from the first row! Always and every time! And this did a world of good to Malini’s self-confidence and empowered her to take bolder steps in life! Nowshad has also been one of her biggest pillars of support. When she started MissMalini back in 2008, well it was not earning anything or generating any revenue, it was mainly at that time an extension of her own self, of her hobby. And that was the time Nowshad showed his solidarity and his belief in her. Coming back after completing his postgraduate business studies at Harvard Business School and with a background in finance, Nowshad offered his full financial support to the family to Malini, so that she can continue chasing her dreams and following her heart. And just that Nowshad did that at that crucial time, when this model was just incubating, Malini has been successful in developing that into a full-fledged business that now has been acquired by a much bigger company. Without his support, it would have been never possible for Malini to just continue doing something for a few years without getting paid for it. She is also indebted to the entire ecosystem comprising of all the content creators, the technical guys, all the celebrities about whom they write on their blogs, and finally the end-user or consumer. She is never shy to express her gratitude to this big cycle, which she thinks is part of a happy, big family. This eventful journey so far, Malini is blessed enough to be guided by so many close persons, her friends, colleagues, loved ones in her life. Starting from her choreographer Ronica Jacob at the Planets, to Prahlad Kakkar, who inspired her to be a writer and pursue writing and not to be a VJ. Tariq Ansari, who taught her everything about radio, and Ashok Kurien, who, as Malinitell us, is almost like honorary dad. And all those inspiriting women she has come across in life, who has shown her what boss ladies are all about. And of course though she spent quite a lot of time in “Dil walo ki Delhi”, the love and warmth that Mumbai and its people radiate, Malini cannot just stop having enough of that ever in her life!
The heart of the Commitment & Passion that keep her going and set her apart
The great heart and commitment that goes into MissMalini and its content –right from the very first day till today – always putting people first, are what differentiates MissMalini from the rest of the crowd. Malini thinks one of the biggest mistakes that social media tends to make, is that most of the focus is fixed on the numbers and the maddening rat race around these numbers, while in the process ignoring and forgetting the people around! Malini has already spoken about this particular problem in her TEDx talk, where she has very rightly pointed out that it is high time that the other way around should happen: the numbers should be forgotten and people should come to the center stage instead.
Malini has a penchant for always staying ahead of the curve and ahead of her time. She started the blog when no one else did it; she has built her social media girl communities before anyone else has built communities; she started featuring social media creators when all the rest was busy talking about Bollywood; then she created Good Creative Co, which is an ecosystem for creators before anyone else did it. She has always ensured that MissMalini keeps reinventing itself and stays way ahead and is always relevant in this highly volatile industry.
MissMalini is also the very first personality-led brand, something that does not exist back in 2008 at all. Along with the celeb quotient on her blog, what attracts eyeballs is how many bits and pieces of ‘herself’, of her heart, she puts into it. This is about her view of the world, how she sees and hears and reacts to things around her, straight from her keyboard, take it or leave it. And this is something quite unique and extraordinary in 2008! Then the brands were dominated by big companies and not an individual becoming a brand; or an individual voice, especially by using all kinds of new media, social media, and all these digital platforms to express themselves! And when it came to entertainment, there were only a few big media houses that existed then.
Collaboration in; competition out!
Another very pleasing factor that sets MissMalini way apart from any of its competitors is its view about competitors, hew take on collaboration and competition! Malini always has the strongest faith in an ecosystem that supports organic growth for everybody. She thinks there is enough space in this industry for everyone to grow together. To put it in her inimitable words, “The playground is big enough for all of us to play and this is something I always encourage.” And we find this true now across so many industries all over the globe. To cite an example is the automotive industry; where some of the biggest rivalries (like Toyota & Maruti Suzuki in India) are now sharing technologies and bringing out the same models under respective brand names.
The Pandemic helped!
Like everything else, the Pandemic also had a telling impact on the functioning of MissMalini as well. In fact like a metaphysical conceit, it was a very important growing curve for MissMalini, when it started focusing on things that are more important. MissMalini started focusing on more genuine content, and more authentic voicing; they started a new show, Some Good News, inspired by the international version of the same show to talk about whatever good things were happening, and how people were supporting each other. Also during the pandemic, as people stayed indoors, many were spending much increased hours on social media, consuming content, which is of course anyways positive news for a social media platform like this one. And the pandemic brought a lot of people together related to this industry. A lot of content creators were bored from sitting at home during the lockdowns and jointly they started contributing in much higher quantity. So the platform saw a lot of growth during those tough days.
The need of the hour
One thing that Malini considers to be the need of the hour (which she is also voicing through the Women Economic Council), where the government should immediately step in and should act immediately in some kind of private-public partnership is a robust net of cyber-governance and security. As Malini quite correctly says, it is something about which we do not talk enough: how women are subjected to all kinds of cyber bullying and digital sexual harassment and we cannot do much about these. Everyone around just says to ignore these, but Malini thinks it is never to be ignored. Some kind of policing or some kind of a society backed the movement to point out the figure the guilty and make him realize the gravity of the crime and the harm that he has done to the other person’s personal and social dignity. Some kind of law, control, and regularization is something where the government should immediately step in. As we are gradually accepting more and more of a virtual reality, we need to realize that we need to keep it as safe as our actual reality. The strictest of checks and balances should be brought into existence as soon as possible, unless it will be too late for all of us.
The leader extraordinary with her over dose of compassion & empathy towards everyone she has been working with – her EQ id her biggest strength
Malini has her own way to balance her life as an individual and also as a working professional and a business leader running a company as immersive as hers. And she frankly confesses, “it is still a work in progress and I don’t think I know all the answers” and we can at once immediately relate to what she means. The most important thing is to have peace of mind and be patient. ‘Digital detox’ by putting a regulated time frame of screen-time is something that also she regularly practices. For instance, if she sees a lovely sunset in front of her eyes, rather than frantically reaching out to the phone, she tries to take the picture of the sunset with her mind’s eyes, enjoying it by being in the actual moment. It’s very important to have this balance, as important as t it is to listen and never to lose one’s temper. She thinks over the years she has become a better listener, and calmer and that has made a better leader and better human being altogether. And it’s very important when you are running a big company that you find your right team, you learn to trust them and empower them with bigger responsibilities. Whatever challenges she faced in this journey, those are not for the fact that she was a woman, her challenges were very much because of the newness of the industry that she traded upon. Then very few knew about this industry and whatever Malini did took many by surprise. People at that time never realized the meaning of influencer marketing, so like all evolving industries, she also has her part of the challenges posed by the very newness of the industry, which was way ahead of its time back in 2008. But being a woman, she could handle all these challenges well! She thinks women always make better leader because of their high EQ and as they come with their own emotional radar and that is very important in this industry. The high empathy and balance that is innate in a woman’s personality, is that they are happy to talk, and happy to listen and women leaders tend to spend more time with their team so that they have emotional satisfaction. That makes women leaders different from their male counterparts. Malini in not willing to take this debate to who is better or worse, she just thinks women are different and has their own emotional advantages (with their different values and skill sets) as far as running a business is concerned.
Malini’s ways of dealing with her team have always been presenting the big picture to them, rather than trying to point out what is right or what is wrong. She just tries to make them realize what they are working towards, what is the collective goal and she thinks this approach really helps to encourage her team. She ensures she listens to them and she feels it is very crucial to give credit where it is due and praise them for all the good work that they do.
Malini’s Power Boosters
“Believe in yourself and believe in your instincts and keep updating yourself with the time and keep improving always” – if one asks Malini for her success mantra that she follows or for her team, she does not waste a second to come forward with the one she believes . “It’s a quote by Kafka in my favourite Tom Robbins book, Still Life With Woodpecker, and I think it’s so true for bloggers around the world—‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet’.”