Blogging It Right
The office of India’s trend-setting blogger and social media entrepreneur – Malini Agarwal – is rather quiet for everyone is glued to their individual work screens, typing frenetically to keep their followers updated almost by the minute. In the online world, the race for ‘we-told-you-first’ can be exhilarating. Agarwal reflects the voice of our times and can be said to be the epitome of a contemporary urban being who revels in a bustling city’s social life. MissMalini, her blog and the anime which are now a trademark brand, showcase the various facets of lifestyle with a unique joie de vivre. Agarwal sports her non-conformism with flair and, as we chat, I discover that the eclectic facets of her personality – and her journey so far – are the sum of the bold choices she made.
Undoubtedly, one can call her a game changer. Years ago, Agarwal challenged notions of doing only the obvious and charted her own trail of discovery. On her decision to opt for a new career, she states, “There is more to India than villages and slumdogs. At that time, the ‘young’ Mumbai – the one that we experience with its rich glamour, high-fashion, gourmet food, and trendy lifestyle – wasn’t given its due on the internet. Our fashion and art calendars were forever full, but they got little attention on the global platform. I wanted to give that young India a voice. And so I developed MissMalini who is a friend whose opinion resonates with you and me.”
To create an exponential impact, Agarwal focused on targeting readers, primarily educated women worldwide in the age group of 18-35 and the results were amazing. Along with party reviews and Bollywood gossip, her site churns out a plethora of lifestyle-related information – the language is conversational and friendly. From a few hundred followers to three million views, her growth has been very organic. Her cheery team of 18 full-timers is an extension of MissMalini. She emphasises, “We pride ourselves in clean copies, impeccable English and our inimitable style. The writings are signature Malini in general but the writers never pretend to be me. I don’t force them to sound like me either. They write just like they would speak, so they have a voice and identity too.”
She believes in celebrating people. “No matter how badly a person may have come dressed to a party, it takes a lot of courage to do what they do, so we are never too negative,” she smiles. Has she upset any celebrity in the process? “Yes, we have. Recently we made fun of Ranveer Singh’s rapping and Terence Lewis’ style of dressing – they did get angry initially, but were cool about it later. Terence even wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece for us. They all know that in the field they are in, any publicity is good.”
Running a business leaves her with no time to pursue her first love – writing. “The internet is a big hole and Facebook and Twitter can eat up your entire day and night. But I have promised myself to be more disciplined and devote more time to my writing,” she states, referring to her memoir in the making.
The Allahabad born free-spirited girl grew up in different countries thanks to her diplomat father. Before she moved to Mumbai to “experience its energy”, the English major was a part of a dance troupe (Ronica Jacob & The Planets) and created content for the then blossoming dotcom companies. As a singleton in the city, she lived with six other girls and a guest pigeon in the constant fear that it would kill itself by hitting the fan. “Those were crazy days but I enjoyed them,” she remembers.
The girl, who came to the city 15 years ago with just two suitcases and a heart full of dreams, endured the newfound urban chaos until a job at MTV happened. She did everything from content planning and ideation to writing scripts for their website. When the dotcom bubble burst, she decided to move to radio to work as a jockey for Win 94.6 (which became Go 92.5 and then Radio One 94.3). Her show Malini’s Mumbai was a huge hit. “Those eight years were super fun. From attending Page 3 parties to writing columns, I loved every bit of it.”
In 2008, while still the digital content head for Chanel V, a friend introduced her to blogging and helped her open a WordPress account. “I never thought of blogging as a business but I got addicted to it. I’d leave a party early, so that I could come back and write. It gave me the same kick that I got being an RJ,” she laughs.
Radio Jockey by day and city blogger by the night – it didn’t take too long for Agarwal to get fully immersed in the kaleidoscope of the blogging world. Keeping the momentum going, she took to it full time in 2011. Now the social media influencer is helping brands and campaigns to create an impact online and even has a TV show on a lifestyle channel online, Miss Malini’s World.
Celebrations are an integral part of her work life. “A good party,” she feels, “should have the right mix of a fun crowd, interesting music, good food and lighting. It should leave an impact on the guests. I normally throw parties that have period themes and are known for their attention to detail.”
While not working, Agarwal believes in investing in the emotional quotient. She started ‘The Friday Club’ with the help of a few like-minded souls who socialise on select Fridays. “This wasn’t a singles meet up club but that’s where I met my husband Nowshad Rizwanullah, my brother met his wife and a few others met their spouses too. We now have what we laughingly call children of the Friday club. I enjoy planning events and excursions for the group,” she adds.
When she met Nowshad, he was studying at Harvard. After a long distance relationship, the couple had a dreamy Goa wedding that was the talk of the town. Today, he is her business partner. On working with friends and family, Agarwal feels, “I don’t see them as a threat; I can trust them. It feels good to see my husband around at work. Our interests and workspace don’t clash; maybe that’s why it works. The best part is that we get to travel and party together,” she adds.
Her maverick manners and fine-tuned exuberance complement her easygoing nature and allow her to deal with the rebel within. And, like everything else, Agarwal takes competition in her stride. “It means more nerds to play with. Everyone co-exists. The idea is to have potential for business growth. We’ll always be the pioneers,” she says confidently, taking pride in witnessing what she built from scratch grow each day.
The couple is not planning a family yet. Agarwal says, “The business is our baby; it needs our full attention. As a personal milestone, we may adopt.” Workwise, besides the blog, she wants to venture into products, a clothing line, TV services, a production house, academy for media courses and training apps, and gadgets. Her latest venture of social media-inspired products is a spin off from her penchant for everything in the online world. “There are no limits. I’d like to produce a network like Oprah’s,” adds the social media aficionado.
Agarwal is aware that her brand will outlive its creator. “Miss Malini is going to live long after I am gone…like Barbie!” she smiles.