The dilemma of interpreting the worth of a role-model’s life is at the core of fandom. Who, really, is the person you idolise? One isn’t necessarily the sum of their achievements, possessions, or actions, but there is something deeper that defines them. A young man was shooting to freedom and infamy at the same pace, when fans found themselves constantly alternating between awe and respect for his obvious flair with the bat, and distaste at his suspected arrogance and impatience. It took him months – years even – to go from being an overnight sensation who has let his success get to his head, to the honest and sincere sportsperson who was on the field putting up a master-class performance even as his father was breathing his last.
Before the age of social media, these were tough stains to wipe off one's collar. After its advent, a celebrity was more in control of his brand image, and through real-time feedback, he could sense the pulse of what people thought of him. However, most social media platforms experience a deluge of comments and activity from fans, and it is difficult to make sense of the clutter.
The ultimate Fanboy fantasy
A Kanpur entrepreneur, and a fanboy himself, Upmanyu Misra saw this gap. He was born and raised in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur, and moved out of it at 23 to work across the globe, first, as a game developer and then as an investment banker, at JP Morgan and Citi. He procured an MBA at INSEAD, where he met Ahmed Arab.
“When Ahmed was working at Microsoft he told me how they would make limited edition phones and devices with perhaps signatures of celebrities etched on the back. While the fan may buy the phone, in a day or two, it loses its novelty and charm, and there is also always the doubt at the back of the mind of who really made the sign, is it authentic?” Upmanyu says.
The two then put their heads together to engineer a solution in 2014. “When we were studying the fans, we realised that apart from getting up close and personal with their idol, what does he want to do next? He wants to tell his friends! So we wanted something which becomes an exclusive totem or a token, like when you are a part of an exclusive club, you have something to show for it – as bragging rights.”
Under the name Privyplex, the duo floated a company that helps celebrities digitally connect with their fans, and lets the fans, in turn, become privy to their idol's lives and careers. After incorporating in Singapore in May 2015, the two have been in talks with celebrities who are at the very top of their respective fields, and announced their first partnership earlier this week – with none other than Virat Kohli.
“Think cricket, think of a tech-savvy youth icon – think Virat. We went to him, and pitched the idea the day after the India South Africa World T20 match in Kanpur. We gave him the idea over breakfast and he was sold immediately. By the time he got on their bus, he texted me the number of his agent saying he had already put in a word,” says Upmanyu.
Everything went as planned, and the ‘Fanbox’ was ready to enthral – containing a one-year subscription to the Virat FanBox™ club, giving members unprecedented access to Virat, both online and in real life. Also included is a Moto G Turbo Virat Kohli edition smartphone, carrying Virat’s emblem enabled with the Virat FanBox app designed for exclusive use by the fans,which enables full access to the ViratFanBox club, a miniature bat autographed by Virat Kohli, and a welcome letter signed by Virat Kohli.
Virat will regularly share updates with club members on the app, about his life and career, and meet-ups with him in real life across multiple cities in India, with some lucky members winning a chance to meet him. Apart from that, the members will get an opportunity to participate in live and private chats with Virat via the app, as well. The box is priced at Rs 16,999, and will hit the virtual stands in the first week of May.
The app also will dispense exciting rewards and offers to the members on products and services across Virat’s various brands in the clothing and fitness category.
Virat calling Virat
Speaking of this one-of-a-kind step to connect with fans and work on 'Brand Virat,' Virat says, “In the initial stages of my career, when it was still growing, I’d often get very frustrated over people misunderstanding me, and taking me for something that I wasn’t. I tried very hard, haath paav maarein, to be able to change their perceptions – to communicate that I wasn’t indeed like that. I would fight it in the past...but over a period of time I learnt that if you keep doing what you do with honesty, if you stay on-field how you are off of it, then people will eventually accept you and like you. The way fans take time to understand a celebrity, a celebrity also takes time to understand fandom. It is an on-going, two-way process. It can’t be one-sided.”
The company has attracted investments from all over the world, with French, Quatari, Singaporean and Indian investors leading a pre-series A round of funding, at $1.5 million, with a $10 Million valuation. “We are raising $5 million in the second half of May, now. Our Fanbox will not only be about phones, we are already working with some very interesting ideas, and we will reach out to a lot of audiences through more price-points and touch points. We are now working with five more celebrities, from South Korea, USA, South America, Europe and one from Bollywood,” Upmanyu explains.
Building 'Brand Virat'
This partnership between Virat’s management team at Cornerstone Sports and PrivyPlex is also on a revenue-sharing basis.
“Our partners are revenue-share partners to increase accountability. We ensure that they will be able to commit and shell out time repeatedly, as the contract membership lasts a year for every fan.”
The revenue model is the revenues from the box, repeating memberships, and a percentage on all the e-commerce sales that get routed through the app.
From a business point of view, Virat says that he only invests in ventures that are in-line with his ideologies, and where he can be himself.
I have always been someone who sits and thinks about things I sync with first - if my personality and skill-set can be of any help for an idea to grow, or a brand to grow. I don’t simply jump on a bandwagon to be a part of something. This was one such venture. So, in terms of brand positioning – I don’t need to change the way I am and be someone else, when I associate with this brand. It lets me be me, unabashedly.