How this college dropout managed to work with Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders and Anushka Sharma’s NUSH

Mumbai-based content agency and video production house What Works, started by Imran Shamsi, manages campaigns for the likes of YRF, Fox Star Studios, Sony Pictures, Disney India, and Amazon Prime, among others.
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In 2005, Imran Shamsi moved from Lucknow to Mumbai with a big dream. “Almost immediately after arriving in the city, the energy and pace caught on to me and I decided this is where I wanted to be,” Imran tells YS Weekender.

Imran Shamsi

He started off as an intern at Zoom TV and started interviewing celebrities for a magazine-style show, while awaiting his graduation results. When the results were announced, Imran had failed a subject in his BCA exams. “I had to re-appear for the exam but I was busy shooting, and I had already decided by then that I wanted to pursue my career in the entertainment industry. The degree would be of no use to me anymore, so I dropped out,” he adds. 

Today, Imran is the founder of Mumbai-based content agency and video production house What Works.

Along with his team of 10, he has worked with niche clients including Yashraj Films, Fox Star Studios, Sony Pictures, Disney India, Amazon Prime, Facebook, Flipkart, Uber, Cadbury’s, and Samsung, among others. 

What Works' campaign for upcoming film Brahmastra

Trial and error

However, Imran’s journey wasn’t a smooth ride. He has reached where he is today after facing many challenges. 

A few months into Zoom TV and after interviewing the who’s who of the Hindi film industry, Imran realised that Bollywood was not his cup of tea. “I wanted to do something that really excited me and challenged my creativity,” he adds. 

He then joined MTV as a Producer and Director. Here, Imran led celebrity content pieces including The Fabulous Life, Big Picture, and Hot Seat, among others. “I also did a reality show called Pulsar Stunt Mania at MTV but by the time it ended, I had grown out of reality shows and television content, which was getting more and more archaic,” Imran recalls. 

In 2010, he received an offer from UTV to head its content team for the digital business. At UTV, Imran worked closely with Anurag Kashyap, Zarina Mehta, and Ronnie Screwvala, creating content for the likes of Priyanka Chopra and John Abraham.

In 2012, when Disney took over UTV, Imran continued to lead digital content. 

Fast forward to 2014, after two years at Disney, “Life became a little monotonous, and I decided to hang my corporate boots and wear the sneakers of entrepreneurship,” Imran says. After becoming restless making content for the same brand and audiences over the years, Imran wanted to create content at scale for a variety of brands, agencies, and studios. 

Team What Works with actor Shah Rukh Khan during a campaign for Kolkata Knight Riders

Sneakers of entrepreneurship 

In May 2014, Imran set up an office in his house, and his couch became his workstation. 

“I had no capital or investors, just some measly savings to support me for the next five months. Learnings of what works on digital, insights about the audiences and viewership patterns, experience at brand building, and an insatiable hunger to create attention-grabbing content were reasons enough to persuade me to take the plunge. And finally, the anxiety of being stagnant won over the anxiety of new beginnings,” Imran says. His former colleague from Disney, who he refers to as Venky, joined his band, and thus, What Works was born. 

What Works was offered its first project by Disney’s channel for the youth called Bindass. The team then pitched to more than 25 brands in a month and landed a project with Ogilvy for Cadbury’s 5 Star ad featuring Ramesh and Suresh.  

Once What Works started getting recognised, it got more business and hired more people. Eventually, when Imran’s living room became too crowded, he set up an office space in Versova, Mumbai, which eventually became its headquarters. 

Mission storytelling 

What Works creates content for content and content for brands. Under content for content, it creates creatives to either promote a film or web series. 

“Our main aim is to generate buzz and excitement about the movie without revealing the plot or giving away story details. So we create content that’s in the same universe as the film/series, but instead of using film assets we create new assets that are unique, unconventional, and sometimes even bizarre,” Imran explains. 

What Works has done campaigns for Yash Raj Films’ Shah Rukh Khan-starrrer FAN, Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan’s Sui Dhaaga, Red Chillies’ Raees, Sony LIV’s Scam 1992, Viacom 18’s Andhadhun, Sony Pictures’ Men in Black International, and more recently, Fox Star Studios’ Brahmastra, which shook social media with its campaign. 

What Works' campaign for Shahrukh-starrer FAN

Additionally, What Works also does branded content for brands and agencies. It has worked for brands including The Man Company, Raw Pressery, KFC, Vero Moda, Marico, Anushka Sharma’s NUSH, and upGrad. 

“We are not a ‘full service agency’ which claims to be good at everything. We are good at one thing -- storytelling,” Imran adds. 

Having said this, Imran says his most challenging project has been for Disney’s web-series The Trip, starring Lisa Haydon, Mallika Dua, Shweta Tripathi, and Sapna Pabbi. He recalls that a day before the shooting in Bangkok, India had declared demonetisation. He says, “We faced a huge cash crunch...We had to buy jewellry using our credit cards and sell them at a lesser cost in Bangkok to get cash...I don’t think I learnt in school as much as I learnt in those 12-days in Thailand.”

What Works' campaign for The Trip

Notably, What Works brought storytelling into sports content. It ideated and executed IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders’ video content strategy across platforms, in-line with its other marketing plans. 

“We deployed video producers, cinematographers, editors, and a full backend team with edit setups including graphics and animation support to execute over 300 video content pieces during the IPL seasons,” Imran explains. He further adds that it has generated more than 30 million views across KKR’s digital platforms. 

Road ahead

Currently working with Amazon Prime, Disney+Hotstar, Yash Raj Films, Sony Pictures, Sony Liv, The Man Company, NUSH, RSVP, and upGrad, What Works is planning to strategically grow its content for content business and scale it up to 5x of the current revenue. 

Additionally, it also plans to scale its content for brands business and serve up to 10 startups in the next year. “The idea is to collaborate with the clients and build their brands intimately and at a brisk pace. We’ve already made some exciting partnerships and there will be news on them real soon,” Imran adds. 

Original content is also a space that greatly interests What Works and it plans to dabble into it this year, by creating and monetising IPs.
Edited by Megha Reddy