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Angad Bhatia aiming to replicate ILN’s success in content-to-commerce space

Angad Bhatia, COO of India’s largest online lifestyle brand, Indiatimes Lifestyle Network (ILN), has a knack for putting his ear on the track to feel the vibrations of an oncoming train much before anyone can actually see it. That instinct led him to start MensXP (initially named Mens Expert) as the country’s first niche lifestyle website for progressive Indian men, way back in 2009. This was the pre-social era when content distribution was not half as democratic as it is today and publishing brands were built primarily on the back of search engines. As a solo founder, he was determined to hustle and build a sustainable media business at par with the most successful publishers in the world. “I wanted to build a lifestyle brand that would mean a great deal to a lot of people,” says Bhatia. Multiple near-bankruptcy experiences and a small seed investment later, MensXP became a force to reckon with in the emerging men’s lifestyle digital publishing ecosystem. 

Bhatia’s tenacity ensured he struck a strategic partnership with Yahoo!, one of the largest aggregators of the time to actively optimise its content for the Yahoo! ecosystem. The organic traffic led to an arbitrage opportunity from Google without requiring any additional investment in a sales force. 

MensXPs growing popularity resulted in it getting noticed by investors and large publishing groups. Satyan Gajwani, the then CEO of Times Internet, reached out. Bhatia describes his first chat with Gajwani as ‘fairly magical’, and soon after MensXP was acquired by the digital arm of the Times of India Group. 

Two years after the acquisition, Bhatia was given additional responsibility to run Indiatimes.com and iDiva.com. Whatshot, a hyperlocal food, travel and lifestyle content discovery site was added to his plate a few years later. All the sites were clustered under an umbrella brand called the Indiatimes Lifestyle Network. Every month about 160 million millennials and Gen Z are reached by ILN brands on its social media platforms. That’s almost a quarter of India’s Internet population. ILN owned sites attract 40 million monthly active and 3 million daily active users. Indiatimes.com is among the top 5 most engaged publishers on social in the world. iDiva video IPs such as South Delhi Girls are viral internet sensations racking up millions of views. “We’ve built a loyal community of millennial and Gen Z users who trust us to provide them authentic, inspiring and shareable content around fashion, beauty, fitness, health, trending news and lifestyle. The conversations we drive are several times greater than other publishers in the categories we operate in,” says Bhatia. 

Attention is easy to capture, feels Bhatia. Earning trust is the hard part. Something the Indiatimes Lifestyle Network has managed to do with overwhelming success. With a captive community so large, Bhatia felt it was only logical to take the consumer relationship to the next level - commerce. Earlier this year, the company launched the MensXP Shop - India’s first ever curated online destination for premium and ethically-sourced brands aimed specifically at the progressive Indian male. The response was promising, encouraging the brand to launch their own clean beauty brand for men called MensXP Mud. The range is paraben and sulfate free, isn’t tested on animals and as Bhatia likes say, “toxic masculinity free”. 

“From the time we started, the men’s space in fashion, lifestyle and beauty has become a bonafide consumer category. Men today care about what they wear, how they groom themselves and where the products they use come from. We are thrilled to be the face of this newhood that progressive men are embracing,” says Bhatia. 

Bhatia’s ambitions for the commerce venture are big. On the cards are 16 new private label brand launches in fashion and beauty. Bhatia says his digital community focussed approach to developing and marketing products gives ILN the edge amongst other traditional retail brands. “We’ve found cost of acquisition through authentic content to be half of traditional online advertising. We’ve got a clear sense of what the millennial consumer wants and feedback loops and time to market are shorter for us than traditional brands,” he says in conclusion.

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