‘Hustle hard’: How Malini Agarwal built India’s biggest Bollywood news business ‘MissMalini’
Perched on a couch, Malini Agarwal started her company on her laptop 10 years ago. She shares her journey from being a backup dancer to an entertainment brand, and reveals why we should aim for work-life integration
It could have been her burning desire to become the Perez Hilton of India. Or be crowned as the country’s unrivalled gossip queen. Or transform herself into the digital influencer of our times. Whatever the reason, when Malini Agarwal built her business, she never dreamed where it would take her.
Today, her company, which began on her couch with a laptop, has become an entertainment establishment with enormous revenues. She is the Founder and Creative Director of her company, MissMalini Entertainment, besides which, she is also a digital influencer, a TV host, an entrepreneur and a best-selling author.
What has her entrepreneurial journey been like? What is the secret of her success? In an exclusive interaction with YS Weekender, Malini Agarwal takes us down memory lane and tells us that success is always about not getting too comfortable in life...
YSWeekender: What was the turning point of your life?
Malini Agarwal: I started my career as a backup dancer, but in 2000 I moved to Mumbai to join MTV India as their digital channel head. Later, I became a radio jockey and programming director and eventually, the digital content head at Channel [v] India. While I was working with radio, I had a gossip column called “Malini’s Mumbai” to document all the fun experiences I was having in Bombay. Over time, I taught myself Photoshop, copywriting skills, and learnt the most important lesson of my career: how to connect with people.
YSW: Which part of this journey did you love most?
MA: I always say that radio was my first love and blogging is my marriage (ha ha). But seriously, I have loved every minute of it and I wouldn’t change a thing.
No two days have ever been alike, right from the days of blogging in PJs on my sofa to interviewing the biggest Bollywood stars. I always used to wonder why people started their own business instead of working for big companies, but I realised how satisfying it is when I did it myself.
YSW: Can you tell us about your life as a digital influencer?
MA: When I started my blog there was no concept of a “digital influencer”. I took my inspiration from sites like Perez Hilton and Pop Sugar, and decided to give my content a personal voice. I created a digital avatar (who will age better than I will!).
I remember a funny incident when I first met actor Abhishek Bachchan. He said, “Oh, so you’re MissMalini! I always thought you were this little anime girl on the internet!”
‘In our times there was no rhyme or reason for the stories or locations or dresses in our films...
YSW: What was it like being a TV host?
MA: I love being a host! Being a host is a lot of fun because you get to meet so many interesting people and build chemistry that translates to the audience.
I still remember my first Shah Rukh Khan interview. We waited eight hours for our slot, since they had planned back-to-back interviews on Independence Day for “Happy New Year” before flying out on their world tour. My 7:30pm time slot came at 4am! Anyway, we had the second last interview of the day and the journalist from the interview before us (who had been waiting since 5pm) went up to SRK and awkwardly asked him something about a Salman Khan tweet, for which he immediately got shut down. But we jumped in with cupcakes and a round of charades that everyone enjoyed.
I am really looking forward to my next hosting stint, which will be along the lines of a young Oprah show for the Indian millennial.
YSW: How do you find work-life balance?
MA: I have a huge amount of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and I don’t like to feel like I’m missing out on anything. It’s hard to tell where my work ends and life begins.
But Wendy Clark (Chief Executive Officer at DDB Worldwide) told me something once that has really stayed with me. She said it’s not about work-life balance but about work-life integration! And I love that!
YSW: What do you like to do on your weekends?
MA: Party! I like to work hard and play hard. I like to go dancing with my friends, play pool, socialise. On some days, I enjoy wearing my PJs, watching Netflix, and doing puzzles.
YSW: Can you tell us about your love for travel?
MA: Yup, it’s in my blood!
My father was a diplomat so as a 'diplobrat' I grew up traveling all over the world, right from Somalia and Lebanon to Germany, Greece, Ivory Coast, and Bulgaria. My favourite memories are of West Africa and Greece."
My favourite quick break is to Goa (45 minutes out of Mumbai, and super easy) and long holidays to Australia (since Queensland is like walking into a postcard!), Maldives, New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand!
The one place that’s on my bucket list is Iceland, where I want to see the Northern Lights. Basically, put me on a plane to anywhere - I’m game!
YSW: Can you tell us about your love for dancing?
MA: I used to dance professionally for six years! So, I like jazz, contemporary, hip hop. Now I go dancing recreationally, mostly. But I really enjoyed my years as a backup dancer travelling the world!
YSW: How does art help you de-stress?
MA: I don’t have many artistic skills but I have joined these art classes by The Drawing Room that teaches art for dummies. It’s really therapeutic and I’ve tried some basic oil on canvas and fluid art, which is a lot of fun!
YSW: After interviewing so many celebs, who would you say is your favourite and why?
MA: I love so many of them, it’s hard to pick a favourite but I’ll definitely say Ranveer Singh is always super fun to be around! His energy is infectious! Deepika is one of the kindest and most thoughtful celebrities I’ve ever met.
YSW: Can you tell us about Malini Girl Tribe?
MA: Over the years I have seen the social media fatigue that has set in and become more and more cognisant of the difficulties that women in India face, especially online, with the incessant and unsolicited trolling. That is why I started Malini’s Girl Tribe, a private Facebook group, to allow women to have a safe, empowering and uplifting space to connect and grow.
There are also unique events like private yoga sessions with celebrities like Shilpa Shetty or Malaika Arora, meetups with Ekta Kapoor on topics like infidelity and marriage, “Girl’s night” with the cast of “Four More Shots Please” to events like dance, meditation, and a Bollywood breakfast party!
YSW: What are the most important lessons of entrepreneurship that you have learnt?
- I have learnt that investors invest in people not in businesses.
- I have learnt that true leadership is about empathy and kindness.
- I have understood that you should never get too comfortable at any time.
- Don’t live in your own little bubble.
- Also, I’ve learnt to hustle. Hustle hard. As an entrepreneur you will have to work 10x harder than everybody else.
If the words of writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron who once said,"Writing is what I do... it is like breathing to me..." defined the goals of Ephron's life, it would be Asha's mantra too, as she lives to create word pictures of the people she meets. She believes that the best stories "must move the heart and feed the mind". When she is not working, she loves reading novels and listening to music.