Raj Shamani, co-founder, House of X and King, Indian popstar and founder of Blanko; Image: Paritosh Anand
Indian rapper King’s perfume brand Blanko and Raj Shamani’s House of X are classic examples of creators turning entrepreneurs. Leveraging their audience and fan base built over the years, the duo identified the right products to get closer to their fans and also latch on to new audiences. In April, House of X teamed up with Indian popstar King to launch its first ever brand, Blanko. With this personal care brand, the digital entrepreneurs want to give access to quality grooming products to every individual. On day one of the launch, they claim, Blanko had sales of Rs20 lakh with a footfall of 80,000 visitors. And in just three months since the launch, Blanko hit Rs1 crore per month in revenue and has managed to sell over 20,000 units.
Now here’s where influencer marketing comes into play. Shamani and King used marketing tactics like hype-marketing, meme-marketing, topical marketing and influencer engagement on social media platforms to create a buzz about the brand. The brand launch was widely intensified across King, Shamani, and House of X’s social media platforms, which was organically picked up by the creator, investor and consumer universe.
Forbes India 30 under 30 alumni and content creator Shamani co-founded House of X with Neeraj Kumawat in September 2022. The tech platform helps creators start their own brands and unravel the untouched potential of India’s creator economy. The role of House of X is to help identify the right product idea for the right creator. "We aim to build a global commerce infrastructure that enables the creation of digital-first creator-led D2C brands," says 26-year-old Shamani.
House of X has attracted investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Nikhil Kamath of Zerodha, Asish Mohapatra of OfBusiness, Shashank Kumar of Razorpay, Sahil Barua of Delhivery, Varun and Ghazal Alagh of Mamaearth, and Vineeta Singh of Sugar Cosmetics.
Arpan Kumar Chandel, popularly known as King, became a household name after he appeared on the first season of the rap reality show MTV Hustle in 2019. He came into the limelight again in 2020 for his song ‘Tu Aake Dekhle', which has garnered over 400 million views on YouTube. The rapper also collaborated with American pop star Nick Jonas to do a global version of 'Maan Meri Jaan'. Now the rapper is preparing for a 12-day Champagne Talk World Tour in the UK and North America.
In a candid conversation with Forbes India, Shamani and King talk about how they came up with this perfume brand, their plans, challenges in the creator economy, and more. Edited excerpts:
Q. What led you to launch your own brand?
King: A brand is a great way to have a physical extension of me that is accessible to my fans. That is what we wanted to achieve with Blanko. Give people a physical piece of the attitude and confidence that make me King, and they can carry it too. Also, I feel these are great times to build individual brands and capitalise on good quality and clear messaging to translate into successful stories. The idea was simple: Can you help people stand out by giving them a product that gives them confidence?
Q. How do you ensure that you stay mindful of the power of your influence on the internet?
I have a very deep understanding of my impact on my fans. I might not call it influence, but I do feel responsible for everything I do, as I know an entire young generation is looking up to me. Also, I do feel it's upon us as artistes in this digital age to understand the platform that we have with the internet and how we are the true speakers and thought leaders for an entire age. Being mindful is important because it shapes behaviour.
Also Read: Deinfluencing, or the art of negative reviews
Q. What are the opportunities and challenges in the creator economy?
There are only opportunities. I believe, apart from YouTube and Shopify, no other startup has truly disrupted the space or empowered creators in a significant way. But the biggest challenge, I believe, is that a majority of startups and founders in the creator economy don’t understand creators very well, maybe because they never created content themselves to understand the problem deeply. They were building products and platforms for creators based on their gut feeling. I believe creators don’t need more products or platforms; they need partners. They need people who can come and help them achieve their next big dream. Most of the money in the creator economy flows to the top 20 percent of creators, and that is not defined by the number of followers. It is defined by perception. The perceived value of the creator determines how big a creator is or how real their influence is, and I believe the number one thing every creator economy startup needs to understand is that you can only build a great creator economy startup if you understand the emotions, perception, aspiration, and psychology of the creator audience, along with data and tech. If you're only going to build on data and technology, chances are you won’t be as effective as someone who understands both perception and data.
Also Read: Creator economy is here. How to stand out in a world of creators and influencers?
Q. While reaching a larger audience at Blanko, how do you plan to manage the logistics, including fulfilment and shipping, quality control, and so on?
King: That’s the beauty of working with someone who complements your strengths. House of X does quality control and enhances the customer experience with every delivery. Apart from Raj’s and my vision alignment, we chose House of X as our business partner because the whole team is obsessed with coming up with the best product in the market and has built robust systems to ensure that end-to-end business operations never get affected. Our customer experience is only getting better month by month, so I am sure even if we scale 100x next quarter, Raj and Neeraj can sort this out with their team of experts easily.
Q. How many brands does House of X plan to launch this year?
Raj: This year for us is the year where we apply all our learnings from our previous experiences, test our hypotheses, and learn even more, so we'll only be launching three brands this year.
Q. How does the collaboration with influencers work?
Raj: House of X literally does almost everything end-to-end for the creator to make their consumer brand successful: Finding the right product for the creator, coming up with a differentiator in a product, getting it manufactured, warehousing, shipping, payment gateways, helping them with packaging, customer service, and then coming up with ideas to build sales channels, distribution, and brand building activities. A creator only has to do what they do best, which is storytelling. They just need to focus on communicating brand values with their audience, build a community around the brand, and let House of X take care of the unsexy backend business infrastructure.
Q. What’s the strategy to retain and bring customers back to Blanko?
King: We aim to build larger awareness campaigns. The way we have been able to market our songs and make them a household song for every age group and every occasion, we will be following the same strategy for Blanko. We also plan to launch more products and get deeper into the consumer’s day-to-day life.
Q. What are the learnings from launching the first brand under House of X?
Raj: We realised that if you are able to connect the brand's emotions with your audience, the audience isn’t price-sensitive anymore. We were sceptical about this in India, but we saw around the world that consumers pay a premium for better-quality products and products that they can relate to. This becomes easy, especially when a creator comes on board. This happened with Beats by Dr Dre and Fenty by Rihanna. Now it’s happening in India too, with Blanko by King. If done right, the launch becomes a supply problem, not a demand problem. What we thought we would sell in a month, we sold more than that in the first four days.
It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s all about creating a great product, a great operations team, great tech, and finding the right creator for the right brand. Because no matter how big the creator is, if your brand is not the best in the market, it won’t sell, and if your customer experience and service are poor, people will get angry. If your creator is not the right fit, they won’t be able to sell even in the beginning. So, the biggest lesson is that you need to get all the pieces of the business right, or else you won’t be able to build a brand.
Q. What next for Blanko?
Raj and King: The next batch of perfumes is going to have 'time lock technology’, which no one in India has cracked till now. Our perfumes will last 24 hours on your clothes and 12 to 16 hours on your body going forward. This is a big breakthrough for us because the products are going to be better than expensive international perfumes as well.