W Power 2024

I was never taken seriously as someone who can build a business: Masoom Minawala

The fashion influencer and entrepreneur speaks to Forbes India on the launch of her memoir and self-help guide She'll Never Make It. She addresses questions about privilege, learning from mistakes on the job, and the stresses of a job that require her to always be hyper-connected

Divya J Shekhar
Published: Apr 15, 2024 04:03:09 PM IST
Updated: Apr 15, 2024 09:37:10 PM IST

I was never taken seriously as someone who can build a business: Masoom MinawalaMasoom Minawala, a fashion influencer and entrepreneur
Masoom Minawala took steps towards a career on the internet when terms like ‘creator economy’ and ‘digital media influencing’ were not part of our vocabulary. Over a decade and 1.3 million-odd Instagram followers later, she tells her story through a memoir titled She’ll Never Make It, which is also, says the Dubai-based fashion influencer, a self-help guide for those who want to know how to chase their dreams and navigate unconventional careers.

In a conversation with Forbes India on the launch of the book, she discusses how she made her place in the competitive content creation industry in the country, which was valued at an estimated $976 million in 2023 and is anticipated to reach $3,926 million by 2030, as per a recent report on the Indian creator economy by market research organisation CoherentMI.

Minawala, 30, who also runs a digital talent management agency that helps other creators build their brands, talks about why it has been hard for people to take influencers like her seriously as businesspersons, how she deals with questions around her privilege, and how she wants to build her brand going forward. Edited excerpts:

Q. Your book, She’ll Never Make It, is positioned as a guide for people who want to chase their dreams and want to make it big. Why did you feel the need to write this book?
It’s part memoir-part guide. It’s also an insight into the world of social media influencing. It’s an industry with so much curiosity. [Being a digital content creator] is an unconventional career choice, on a path that’s not been pre-defined.

Q. So, the book is aimed mainly at the influencer community, or people who want to make it big in the creative economy?
It’s for people who make unconventional career choices. This includes people in the social media/influencing world, but also so many other industries today. It’s also for anyone who has been told they are not going to make it and whose dreams haven’t been trusted. Every time I shared my hopes and aspirations, I was heard out by people, but I was met with a very nonchalant expression or a shrug. I’ve never been taken too seriously enough to be seen as someone who can build a brand, and a business she can be proud of.

Q. Why do you think that happened with you? Why didn’t people take you seriously?
I don’t think my age and my gender were seen as my strengths. I was an 18-year-old girl from Mumbai when I started out. I saw this as my strength, but it was viewed as my weakness. The industry that I wanted to make a mark in (social media influencing) was also not something that was celebrated in the past. If I was talking about building an ecommerce company, it was something that was very disruptive. It wasn’t even about me. People had doubts of the industry as a whole.

Q. When you started out, in 2011-12, the creative economy, as we know it today, did not exist. Even social media wasn’t as big back then. So, what made you believe at the time that this is something that would become big in the future and is worth pursuing as a career?
I’m a very futuristic person, which instinctively makes me adaptive. I am able to constantly look ahead, move and evolve to focus on what’s next. I could see people going from ‘what the hell is this’ to ‘Oh, this is interesting’ (with respect to social media and digital content creation). I could see the small shifts in behavioural patterns in people, and combined those with the size of the internet users untapped in India at that point, and the size and potential of our economy. Today, internet access has reached more parts of India than before. That has played a huge role in bumping up the influencer economy. Because I can create how much ever content I want to create, but I still need people to be watching it.

Also read: Masoom Minawala launches digital talent management agency in collaboration with Schbang

Q. How do you address questions asked around privilege, which often creates a sense of disconnect between an influencer and their audience?

Answering questions around privilege is not a taboo for me as it is probably for others. Something I have attempted to do in the book is accept my privilege. The mistake I made earlier was not acknowledging my privilege when I was creating content or addressing a topic or situation. And that’s when my audience questioned it. That’s when they said—don’t portray something like this because there is a certain acknowledgement that is missing. I think the privilege conversation has been constructive criticism that has helped me in the journey. I needed that nudge. So now, if I’m talking about motherhood, I always mention that I have a lot of help. It doesn’t mean motherhood is any easier for me, or doesn’t make my life a cakewalk, but it’s a disclaimer that is important to point out when you are addressing people from so many different backgrounds and ethnicities on the internet. You have to be respectful of them.

The sour truth in this matter is that for any other business, you make your business behind the curtains. As an influencer, you make every single mistake in the public eye. So, you have to be willing to go back and correct those mistakes, and have the respect for your community.

Q. Coming to this realisation might not have been very easy for you internally, right?
Absolutely. It’s been a journey; I don’t even think I’m there yet. It’s constant self-work and that constant ‘looking at the future’ in terms of how you see yourself moving forward.

Q. In a testimonial for your book, filmmaker Karan Johar says that every product you touch turns to gold. Can you detail the steps between your career as a blogger and then an influencer and then an entrepreneur?
I started blogging first, then I had a business that I shut down because I couldn’t make it greatly successful. Then I turned to influencing and found success there. And then I turned that career into a successful business. So, business has been there from Day 1. It runs in my blood. Even with my talent agency today, where I represent other talents… the reason for that is that running a business, strategising, figuring out how to drive conversions for a brand, how do you get that RoI (return on investment), how do you build for the next 10 years, how do you create into different businesses and diversify your personal brand… that has always excited me. And when you figure out your strengths and weaknesses, it just makes life so much easier.

Q. Your profession demands that you always be hyper connected. You obviously enjoy what you do, but how do you deal with the stresses of a career that’s always online and tuned in?
It’s so hard to switch off. This is not a job that switches off on the weekend. That’s been the trickiest part. Second, it’s been difficult drawing a distinction between your personal and professional life. My audience loves when I post about my family, like, that’s my parent, my child, my husband, how I’m spending time with my friends. They love this content and thrive on it, it’s always the best-performing. But how much of that content can I continue creating, without sabotaging my personal life? How do you draw that boundary, because it’s easy to blur the lines? Then you stop and think about what’s at stake here. Do I want to compromise on family time or the privacy of my child’s life for my videos to go viral? That’s the constant choice you are making.

Q. In your book, you talk about other long-term career goals you have after writing a book, which is launching a podcast and a co-branded line with a beauty giant. Have you started working on this?
Absolutely. I’m working on a podcast right now. I have a few concepts and ideas in mind and would love to bring that to life. The book was a huge project for me, because it almost sets my work in stone. Instagram can get deleted tomorrow, but the book will live on. The future is about how I can diversify my personal brand and how I can use my strengths to build impactful, disruptive projects. I don’t have the details right now, but I am willing to trust the process.

Q. Do you think after where you’ve reached in your career today, people have started taking you seriously? Have you reconciled with that?
I haven’t thought about that, but yes, I do feel like they do. The very crux of this book is that when they started taking me seriously was when I realised their opinion never really mattered. If that is what I was working towards, if that is what anyone is working towards, it’s the most irrelevant and useless exercise that one could undertake.

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