It is a myth that most startup ideas emerge out of an AHA lightbulb moment. Most often, it is a moment of deep reckoning and realization that something is not right. For Mukund K., that moment came when he was reading about the plight of a particularly deserving athlete. On his idea of founding First to Gift he says, “This idea came to my mind when I was reading about an athlete’s plea for sponsoring his ticket to participate in an event. He was an accomplished international sports person, but had to sponsor his travel on his own as they don’t get enough support from private or public company sponsorships. I thought why not setup a platform where the fans meets the new talents/celebrities/sports personalities. This way we could support the stars morally and financially and encourage them to continue their passion as well as provide the fans/enthusiast a chance to meet their heroes.”
Mukund seasoned his business acumen by working in various segments of the ecommerce industry for the past ten years. “Working in various roles in this vertical has provided me with deeper insights about this industry and how it is playing a key role in transforming businesses domestically as well as internationally.” The first order of business was to find a name that captured the essence of the idea, especially since this is a brand new segment of operation in the Indian market. “I was looking for simple yet catchy name. Given that the objective of the company is to get the fans to meet their idol of choice, this wow experience is something that they can cherish for life. You can have the great pleasure of meeting the stars or be the first one to Gift this experience of meeting their real life heroes or gift their Autographed Merchandise to your loved ones. Hence the name ‘First to Gift’.”
The concept is quite simple. Mukund explains, “At ‘First to Gift’ you can buy or gift autographed merchandise or meet the stars face to face or invite them for speech/inauguration of an event through this portal. The requests can also be customized based on specific customer needs. The fund raised through this manner would be shared to athletes to support their passion, training & livelihood.”
Their journey has only just begun and it is too soon to have onboard the glitzy high profile personalities that they aim to put in touch with fans. But Mukund is excited about the sportspersons First to Gift has managed to get on board in the few short months that they have opened shop. He says, “Most of the celebrities we are choosing are from the background where they do not have enough financial support. So, yes the fund raised through this manner will be shared to them and we will keep minimal portion to support our operational needs.”
At the moment Mukund is busy acquainting himself with the challenges posed in the second phase of starting a business. He says, “One thing is sure entrepreneurs need to keep moving. Challenges during the initial phase are different and once you climb up we have other ones of sustaining, improving & growing the business. We are in the second phase of it and every day we look at how to improve our services. We currently are in a niche segment where the services are scattered. We’ve made the effort to bring it all under one roof. Biggest challenge is to make the followers and budding talents aware of this platform and make best use of it.”
To that effect they are constantly on the lookout for celebrities, inspirational national or international sports personalities, artists, authors etc., with whom they can engage and provide a broader selection to the fans. Mukund says, “We are careful when it comes to engaging the stars as we do not wish to harm our reputation with celebrities as well as customers by putting their interest at risk. They are the two strong pillars for our success and we want ensure that both benefit equally by engaging with each other.”
Mukund is encouraged by the positive growth the industry of engaging fans with their idols is showing across the globe, but his apprehension about the model’s success is India is palpable. H espouses, “Outside India every sportsperson or artist has a good fan following and their accessibility and price changes on the popularity. But in India although we have many talented sportspersons and artists, only a few who are covered in mainstream media are known to people and get followed. Our major effort is in making people know about the stars and their background, their awe inspiring success stories and achievements.”
He is heartened by the response he has received thus far. He says, “The response has been tremendous and well accepted by celebrities as well as our customers. Our athletes have participated in events for schools and corporates and many enthusiasts have had chat with them online as well as met them personally to know more about them and their success stories.”
First to Gift is currently self-funded. But Mukund is looking for investment with like-minded people who can also help them grow the celebrity list and support in the managing the events. The core team is a small assemblage of product, marketing and technical heads.
In terms of clients, they have engaged a few event managers and ad agencies but are looking for coverage across India to have access to a broader customer base. He says, “For us clients can be individuals who wish to meet or buy collectibles of celebrities or they can be an institution which likes to invite them for speeches, opening ceremonies or receive training from them.”
For Mukund the initial phase of starting up was the hardest. “We didn’t know celebrity endorsements work, how to approach famous people, what motivates them to talk to us and get onboard with our idea. We constantly wondered, “Will they be flexible enough to accommodate personalized requests of customer?” These questions are nothing but inevitable hurdles every new entrepreneur has to face. One day we met an event management group, the next day an Ad agency, then a legal counsellor, and so on. We never thought that we would be touching so many areas of which we had no clue. This was most exciting part of starting up. Every startup will have a very thin response in the beginning and almost no money flow for a period until you find your place in the market. In my opinion this is toughest time to keep oneself motivated with no transaction happening, yet believing that it will work.”
For Mukund, it is a price worth paying. “You live your dream,” he exults. “There is so much to learn every day in every field, which wasn’t the case before in my old jobs where I was working on one vertical at a time.” He is tremendously excited for what the future holds: “We are gung ho about First to Goft’s future. It will be the place where we will nurture upcoming talents and make it a platform where dreams of the youth will be shaped by making them interact with inspirational storytellers. It will be a place where dreams come true, a place where you will have unforgettable memories of meeting those you admire, a place where your most cherished collectibles will come from.”
Mukund is raring to take on the world and his parting advice to newbie entrepreneurs like him is testament to this: “Just Do It!”
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