Star power: Here's how UNLU, India’s first celebrity-to-fan engagement platform allows interaction with A-listers
In an exclusive interview co-founders Vipul Agrawal and Himanshu Periwal talk about the launch of their new platform, the celebrities on board, what makes them stand out from other social media platforms, and their future plans for the brand amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get a chance to interact with your favourite celebrity? Look no further. UNLU, a new celebrity engagement app, allows you to connect and have a personalised experience which could include advice sessions, celebratory greetings, or heart to heart correspondence with over 10,000 celebrities across genres, such as cinema, music, sports, comedy and social media.
UNLU was founded by four serial entrepreneurs, Vipul Agrawal, Akshay Pruthi, Anurag Dalia and Himanshu Periwal who have had over 40 years of cumulative experience in the startup ecosystem. The platform already has over 300+ celebrities including Harbhajan Singh, Saina Nehwal, Salim Merchant, Nupur Sanon, R Madhavan and Kalki Koechlin among others.
UNLU aims to make celebrities more accessible to their fans, which benefits both parties, and provides a healthy source of inspiration. They are also helping small and medium brands get endorsements from leading celebrities at a fraction of the price that is usually charged.
In an exclusive interview with YS Weekender co-founders Vipul Agarwal and Himanshu Periwal talk about the launch of their new platform, the celebrities on board, what makes them stand out from other social media platforms, and their future plans for the brand amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
YSW: When was UNLU launched?
UNLU: We launched in June 2020 after much research for over a year of the market.
YSW: What is the idea/goal behind it?
There are 3 stakeholders in our model. Here are the pain points and opportunities that we are solving for the following people...
Celebrities: There are over 10,000 celebrities and influencers in India, and only 100 odd are A+ celebrities. The rest have over a million plus social engagements, but they don't have enough means to monetise their fan base digitally. Moreover, all of them realise that their personal brand is a perishable commodity, and all of them invariably are keen to maximise the revenue opportunity leveraging their brand.
Fans: Fans have multiple social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok to follow people they adore, but they cannot engage in one-to-one conversations with them through these platforms.
For instance, we scraped comments on these social platforms and found that every post by an A/A+ celebrity gets around 600 comments from users asking them to send them a DM or reply to their comments or share their contacts or chat with them.
Brands: New age brands, SMEs, start-ups do not believe in paying crores to celebrities for ad films anymore. While they do want endorsements from these celebrities, they don't see an ROI in paying so much for these brand ads.
YSW: Where are you based out of, and how many core members do you have in your team?
UNLU: We are based in Gurgaon. We are a founding team of four people Vipul Agrawal, Himanshu Periwal, Akshay Pruthi, and Anurag Dalia.
YSW: Are you bootstrapped or funded (if so by whom?)
YSW: What is your business model like/ revenue model?
UNLU: We have a fixed platform fee for every booking that happens through our platform.
YSW: How did you go about your research process? And how accessible was it to get leading celebrities like Saina Nehwal, Harbhajan Singh and R Madhavan on board?
UNLU: We worked with 100+ celebrities exclusively, managing their social handles, supporting them in growth and planning campaigns for them around fan engagement. During that period, we realised the importance of how you can change the negative sentiments to positive sentiments just by having a conversation with the fans. Many people keep writing to get a chance to either get a reply or a comment, or a DM and when fans don't see any chance of interacting with their favourite celebrities, their hopes drop and this produces negative sentiments.
Our year-long research in this industry over the last few years actually helped us get these connections and also allowed these people to trust us. And since celebrities are really inaccessible, there is a need for a platform like UNLU.
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YSW: How do you envision the UNLU app to stand out from other social media platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Twitter?
UNLU: Fans actually consume content on current social platforms and there is no chance, or guarantee to get connected to these celebs on current social platforms. We create a much needed, two-way communication where talking to celebrities is possible.
YSW: Who are some of the celebrities you would like fans to engage with, and from what fields/genres?
UNLU: We have mapped over 10,000 celebrities that we will be getting onto our platform, across categories such as movies, music, TV, OTT, social influencers, comedians, cricketers, International sports players, chefs, entrepreneurs, artists, etc.
Our objective is that a user on our platform should be able to find the right celebrity that he/she would want to engage with.
YSW: Do you think the app will provide a motivational platform too?
UNLU: Yes, as part of our product roadmap, we have Masterclass and other formats, which will have motivational sessions as one of the key topics.
Even otherwise, we have had several video shoutout requests from fans where they expect the celebrities who they look up to, offer them some words of wisdom and motivation.
YSW: Since you have previously worked with influencer marketing services, who were some of the startups you have previously worked with?
UNLU: We have worked with Snapdeal, ByteDance, Truly Madly, The Moms Co, Fitso, Times Internet, and 30+ start-ups previously.
YSW: How do you feel UNLU will help with celebrity endorsements and how do plan to make this a smooth transition for a leading celebrity?
UNLU: In this COVID-struck world, where celebrities are also facing a crunch in monetisation avenues, UNLU will facilitate a completely automated and digital brand endorsement experience.
For instance, a brand would come to UNLU and request for a celebrity endorsement and specify its details. The celebrity would get a notification with the details and they will upload a video for the same.
As soon as that gets validated by UNLU, the celebrity gets his/her payment without the need to go through a manager/agency, or speaking with brands or having to go back and forth. UNLU makes the entire process super smooth and leverages its network of 1000+ brands. It increases the monetisation opportunities for celebrities greatly.
YSW: How does the UNLU app work? What will first time users expect?
UNLU: The UNLU app lists various celebrities under their respective categories, which a user can choose for getting a video shoutout for herself or for someone else. After choosing the celebrity, the user needs to share the message that they expect the celebrity to talk about in the video shoutout.
Once they pay and confirm the booking, UNLU gets the video byte from that celebrity, verifies it and then shares the same with the user within 7 days.
YSW: Do you need to buy the app, and where will it be available?
UNLU: Currently a fan can access UNLU on iOS, Android or the website. It’s completely free to explore and one has to only pay for the celebrities they want to get a request from.
YSW: What is your data policy like, and how do you go about ensuring both the celebrity and fans safety?
UNLU: We take extreme precautions in ensuring data privacy for fans and celebrities both, by top of the line IT implementation on the front-end and some leading-edge tech measures on the server side.
YSW: Do you think engaging with an influencer might help ease worries and uncertainties of the future?
UNLU: We are used to an 'experience economy', when we go to amusement parks, attend multiple workshops, go on vacations, sit in cafes and experience free wifi. We just want to spend time and money the experience which gives us much relaxation, mental satisfaction and keeps negative thoughts away.
While sitting at home during a lockdown, all these things aren’t possible. UNLU brings immense and unique opportunities to create these experiences while sitting at home.
Also, as we have been working for a long time in this field, we have already experienced how a message from a celeb like 'Get well soon', 'Happy Birthday', or even conveying a message on video can make their fans really happy. It creates a lot of positivity and happiness all around.
YSW: How do you feel the virtual world is being affected, and how do you think UNLU will bridge this gap?
UNLU: It’s been a long time since the virtual world and social media have been on the line of consumption rather than experience. Because of too much consumption, fans end up perceiving things from what they consume and keep floating between positive and negative sentiments.
But as we all know, conversations improve relationships. We at UNLU are focused on bridging the gap and creating communication.
We have more than five product lines on communication in our lineup and will keep investing in creating more ways of interaction and going beyond consumption.
YSW: Besides launching the app, what are some exciting developments you envision in the future?
UNLU: We are looking forward to building the largest selection of celebrities and influencers on a single platform, and having them engage through multiple formats with their fans, such as a video shoutout, Masterclass, social endorsements and more.
YSW: Do you see UNLU collaborating or partnering with other companies in the future?
UNLU: Yes, and there are many big opportunities for brands to add this experience in their current product and move further towards an experienced economy.
YSW: What do you enjoy doing most on the weekends?
UNLU: Being entrepreneurs in an early stage startup, there are no weekdays/weekends for us. Every day at this stage is super exciting as we keep having one or the other major breakthroughs daily around celebrity on boarding, partnerships, user engagement, etc.
(Edited by Asha Chowdary)
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