I started an advergaming company called contests2win.com 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 Homeindia.com had pioneered (getting kids abroad to send parents email wishes/letters on the homeindia.com 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 Contests2win.com. 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)