Share This Post

Alok's Posts / Startup

Why Mother’s Day is so precious to me…..


I started an advergaming company called in 1998, and Hindustan Lever became my first client. 

I got a lucky break with Annapurna – the Salt and Flour brand of HLL. My Godfather in HLL was Gunender Kapur who had agreed to work with me on intuition. I still cannot thank him enough. 

In April of 99, I began working with Sunil Tolani –  then the brand manager of Annapurna, and I pitched him an interactive contesting and promo idea for Mothers Day on contests2win. 

In India, Annapurna is purchased by Mom’s and my pitch to HLL was to get Kids (in 1999 mainly kids accessed the Internet) – to wish their Mom’s happy Mother’s Day via the c2w site. The carrot was a great prize for the best wish etc etc for the child. 

Sunil raised a valid point that while the wish would be captured on the website, how would the mother read it? His point was that Mom’s did not have e-mail id’s (in 1999 definitely not) which we could send their kids wishes to. 

Also, it would be stupid to ask the child to get their mom to the website to read the greeting online. The emotional surprise would be killed. 

I was inspired by what had pioneered (getting kids abroad to send parents email wishes/letters on the website that Homeindia would then print and mail to the parents) and offered to physically print the Mothers day wish in a nice letter format, to be sent by mail to the Mom. 

Sunil accepted the concept and we signed off. 

What ensued remains one the biggest NIGHTMARES of my life: 

We amazingly had more than 500 kids who had filled in their mom’s addresses, and had written beautiful wishes for them. We had agreed that we would send the letter 3-4 days before Mothers Day so as to reach them on time. 

This is what the nightmare was all about: 

– The ‘creative’ agency (I think it was either Lintas or O&M) could not balance the ‘size’ of the logo between Annapurna and We wanted equal presence on the letter and Sunil did not agree to that logic. The promotion was being offered complimentary by us – except the cost of printing of the letters etc, so our logo presence was all we were getting ; but that also was subject to the classic Lever ‘lets squeeze the contractors balls a bit more’ theory.. 

– What was more bizarre was the cost negotiation. Sunil actually asked me to tell him how many letters an inkjet printer would print and the cost of INK PER LETTER so that HLL could understand our ‘costs’ better. This was to be used to agree to a COST PER LETTER RATE!! The agency was grilled on GSM of the paper, and I was tormented on posting charges etc.. 

– The week before the campaign almost drove me insane. Sunil was screaming and shouting at the Agency and me for the smallest and stupidest details and I was wondering why on earth had I even bothered to do this project. I have never faced more client side humiliation in my life (12 years and counting) than this incident. I mean this was innovation and new media experimentation – NOT SOME back office balance sheet posting business! And it was being delivered FREE!! 

What was really scary was that my SPIRIT was getting dampened – I mean I had just started up c2w and was wondering –  was this the path that lay ahead? How could I build a business that would ever scale with these problems? 

What changed everything was a dinner I had with my wife the weekend before Mothers Day. I had had a very wretched Friday and was feeling defeated. That night, my wife reserved a table at our most favorite restaurant – the Golden Dragon at The Taj Mahal (Colaba Mumbai). 

Once I had settled down, my wife (who knew all the gory details) asked me – ‘Alok, why are you doing this business? You have a great family venture and you have a lot of respect in your factory. Why do you subject yourself to this torture? Your father likes your work and will always support you’. 

I don’t know what happened that moment – but I looked at her and smiled and said ‘Chhavi – this is exactly I am doing this venture. The day can be as bad as it needs to, but the night belongs to me and you. My work will never dine with us and screw my happiness. We will keep coming back here for the rest of our lives and not because I work for my father, but on my own merit’ 

I cannot describe to you the feeling I had that night I. I have never felt so motivated and confident to overcome ODDS and BAD PATCHES like that day. 

The c2w-Annapurna mothers day campaign was successful. Thanks to the stupid cost calculations of Sunil, we lost a small amount of money but it was worth it! 

TODAY – 12 years later, I am partially who I am thanks to that really tough experience I had.  

So, Sunil, here is wishing you happy happy mother’s day!! I hope you are creating more 2win’s like ours!! 

Please note that this is NOT a negative note or a criticism – its a catharsis – just that what Sunil was doing probably as his job just fired me up for the rest of my life! 

In summary – some people crumble when put in a corner – entrepreneurs (like wwe wrestlers) use that moment to bounce back and come back with DOUBLE STRENGTH!!

(PS – I have sent Sunil this link – will keep you updated on any feedback he may send)





Share This Post


  1. I’m sitting in source code with her just now!!! Dinner…. She is cooking tonite… It’s mothers day baba… 🙂

  2. Alok Happy Mother day , and really a good post real story for success you need some socks in life

  3. Inspiring 🙂

  4. I am unable to comprehend why a human being would shit on another human being in the name of profits of all things.  And that too when its a supposed partnership.  


    I really don’t think it made you bounce back with double the strength.  It just zapped your energy for a while till you were able to distance yourself from the situation and retap into your energy center.  (Thanks to your wife!)  Eating poison doesnt make you stronger.  It debilitates you.  But you take anti-venom shots and recover.  That’s what happened. You overcame the toxicity of the situation.  


    Sounds like an entire psyche warped around the need to show who is boss.  If you don’t clang your brass balls you are not worthy of the chieftanship.  We should probably distribute feathers, loin cloth, and a spear to complete the picture.  


    I remember a time I was made to wait for one hour for a prefixed double confirmed appointment. One hour over the agreed time. Thats the day I swore I would never cold call again.  


    Sigh. Back to work.  

  5. 🙂 ty jyothi.

  6. This was good reading.

    also liked the detailing of cost by Sunil Tolani, cost per print/ nos of copies etc..

  7. Can you elaborate what there was to like in the cost detailing Satish?


    This is Hindustan effin Lever Indian extension of global numero uno Unilever – one of the largest purveyors of consumer junk on the planet.  This was a brand building excercise. More eyeballs for Anaapurna.  The costs incurred is a line item shoved under some third tier sub category in the balance sheet under the heading Brand Building.  Nobody is even going to bat an eye lid if the entire cost of the exercise was even Rs. 100 per snail mail post.  If a large ad agency came up with this concept they would roll over and purr and say wow brilliant.  The expense is not going to have any impact on the success or failure of the Annapurna brand.  Penny pinching is fine when you are pinching it at the right end of the efficiency engine. No, this is just someone being a hard ass for the sake of being a hard ass. Piss on the little guy and show him the correct pecking order. The correct response in such situations….aaah eff it….sorry alok…please delete this if its crossed the line.  


    What was wrong in cost detailing, Abey? Nothing wrong in doing your job of maximising benefit for your employer

    From HLL side or any other company whether a large agency or a start-up approaching them they will try to go in detail. Where it goes in the cost head in BS PL has nothing to do with negotiation.

    Am not sure on the intent of the person on other side of table whether was for sake of being hard ass or was for doing job right. If intent was latter then nothing wrong done by HUL representative.



  9. @Abey @ Satish – Honestly, it was the STUPIDEST idea I had heard of in a long while.


    Companies like HLL think of themselves as Trillion Ton Goriallas (and they are)


    Having said so, small nimble moneys like me (entrepreneurs) avoid them with a barge pole.


    And they ALWAYS lose out on innovation and new ideas


    But – it suits them – I have been told many  times by senior HLL folks that they rather PAY OVER THE TOP for ideas that work well (Sponsorships etc on TV of established programs (they skipped KBc first year only to pay double next year etc etc)). They dont have the time to ‘try’ and measure…


    I could never work IN or WITH HLL – they suffocate me.


    and its the same concept – Microsoft Sucks – Google is FUN to work with…

  10. Costs are a function of perspective.  The “saving money for the employer” is one of those righteous hand on the heart kind of stances that really doesn’t mean anything much.  Good when you want to show off to the boss that you saved money for the company and get that big bonus.  So net net there was no saving there. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just before some annual evaluation report. b-)

    Saving cost for the employer is not a real yardstick when you are looking at the entire picture…


    What was the objective? More eyeballs for Annapurna.  

    What is cost per eyeball?  That is the real metric they are supposed to worry about.  Not the effin cost of effin ink jet cartridges and effin paper gsm.


    C2W is writing off their costs incurred in promoting the HUL brand. If an ad agency had come up with the idea they would have charged a bomb just for the concept alone.  The cost per eyeball would have been something astronomical and HUL would have paid it without an batting an eyelid.


    A brand manager is well aware of these intricacies.  So ergo sum he was being a hard ass under the guise of saving a penny for the employer.  This was post negotiation. A line item on the entire campaign and the only thing that HUL had to pay for in the whole deal. So some respect and gratitude is in order instead of trying to lord it over. 


    But any publisher or ad agency would try to take a pie of the 28 billion AD SPEND.

    Not liking to approach, work or pitch is owns own business decision.

  12. They dont have the time to ‘try’ and measure…

    Its not that they don’t have the time.  It goes deeper than that. They dont ‘want’ to do it. They want push button cause and effect without understanding the whys and wherefores.  


    Unless they repent of course…. 🙂




  13. The point of contention is not about approaching, pitching, or working.  An offer was made it was agreed to and the terms also understood.  Its when you get into the deal and then you begin to act like a prize shit that’s when it gets screwy.  If he said at the beginning of the deal that you should use oil paper and your total cost of mailing should not exceed half paisa and the c2w logo should be not more than 1×1 pixel in size that’s different. That’s negotiation. 


    This ‘I am the boss, and you are little pieces of fly shit’ attitude is toxic.  Just because they have to pay for a piece of the action does not give anyone the right to act like a prick.  That goes for anybody paying for anything.  


    Unless of course it is some SM scene where you pay for pleasure of engaging in sadomasochism. 🙂

  14. Satish – I think you have never been humiliated in your life. Try it out a couple of times… It will be an interesting experience. Being screamed upon, and just being made to look ‘small’ is a treatment only entrepreneurs can endure….

Leave a Reply

Lost Password