EXCLUSIVE | Akshay Saini of Tring on making celebs accessible

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Akshay Saini, Co-Founder and CEO, Tring, in an exclusive interaction, speaks about how he introduced Tring, the celebrity engagement platform to a celeb-crazy country, how they have scaled business, onboarded celebs & users and how they plan to increase celebrity-fan interaction and make them more accessible. He also discusses the changing celebrity-fan dynamics, the challenges of introducing an innovative concept and how the banking of stalwart investors helped Tring.

Akshay has more than 11 years of experience in business growth strategy and planning across industries. He holds a B.E. degree from Mumbai University and a Business Management degree from the S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research.

Akshay, along with his brother Rahul Saini, and Pranav Chabhadia, co-founded Tring in 2020 and within a year established it as one of India’s largest celebrity engagement platforms for fans and brands, with more than 7000 celebrities.

What was the insight behind TRING’s inception, launch?

TRING is the largest celebrity engagement platform in India with over 7000 celebrities where fans get to connect and interact with their favourite celebrities through personalised celebrity videos, DMs on Instagram, and live video calls.

India being a celeb-crazy country has over a billion people who are starstruck by their idols. Having grown up in Mumbai, We knew the allure of celebrities as well as the difficulty in actually meeting them or speaking with them.

Akshay Saini of Tring shares his experience of introducing a celebrity engagement platform to a celeb-crazy country and shares his guide to making celebs more accessible Click To Tweet

We used to wonder at the sheer number of comments celebrities must be getting from their fans on social media, sharing that it’s their birthday or anniversary, and a hi from their idol will ensure that they feel super special for the rest of the day. We also realized that there was no way, apart from sheer luck, that a celebrity would be able to see this among the millions of messages, and respond in time, to make their fans’ day a little more special.

We realised that there’s a market gap where it’s difficult for fans to have bilateral interactions with their favourite celebrities. While social media brought them on the same platform, TRING introduced the platform that takes Indian fandom to a new level.

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How has 2020 and now 2021 been in terms of growth, users considering the pandemic as well as the initial launch year of the platform?

Being an entrepreneur is tough and doing it during a pandemic situation did not make life any easier.  However, we were fortunate to be involved in a digital venture, and having the support of our mentors as well as our early employees, who championed through the pandemic in spite of all challenges, helped us get to where we are today.

Currently, we have 7000+ celebrities on the engagement platform and with a cumulative reach of over 100 million+. We also have over 500,000+ signed-up users, where they get to access various TRING services like personalised celebrity video messages, live video calls, etc.

One of the reasons why our business has not been affected much is because virtual gifting took off during the pandemic as people couldn’t step out of their homes or meet like they regularly would, thanks to social distancing.

And providing a memorable experience, to lighten up the day of your loved one during these uncertain times, is something most people want. So people chose TRING for conveying their personalised messages and wanted to make genuine memories for a lifetime, for themselves or their loved ones.

 What were the challenges you faced while setting up the platform?

We launched early last year in February, and since March 2020 the country was in quarantine and lockdown mode. Everyone had to adapt to the new normal – in the way we work and interact socially.

TRING was no different and we too faced similar issues and challenges, especially as we had just commenced our operations. A lot of our original plans had to be revisited and rebuilt from scratch to accommodate this unforeseen circumstance. Things like hiring the right people for the right roles, and enabling them to work remotely also became a high priority.

In the initial stages, as celebrity engagement platforms were a new concept in India, finding investors who believed in us and raising capital was a challenge as they were sceptical, given the pandemic-induced lockdown across the world.

Getting celebrities to partner with us was also one of the challenges at this time, as not many were aware of digital celebrity engagement platforms. However, we persevered through this and concentrated on recruiting and enabling a motivated team to work on the platform and strengthen our technology backbone.

We also started popularizing and spreading awareness about the concept of celebrity engagement as we also started speaking with more and more celebrities, and they too began to see the benefits of the platform.

Towards the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the year, we had managed to not only raise funds but our investors also got aligned with the power of the platform to be extremely engaging and saw true long-term potential in our vision for the brand.

Celebrity-fan engagement platforms are still at a nascent stage in India but there are a few platforms that provide similar experiences, what differentiates you from them?

At TRING, our focus is mainly on our content and offerings. Our USP is our technology platform that’s making celebrities so accessible across the length and breadth of the country. Further, backed by the celebrity count (of over 7000), we have celebrities from different genres, including TV/ movies/ OTT, sports, food, lifestyle, social media influencers, and international ones.

Our users can not only send personalised wishes on birthdays, anniversaries and festivals from their favourite celebrities, but they can also use this platform to motivate employees, roast friends, send congratulatory messages on a wedding day, baby shower, etc.

We also have Masterclass sessions by renowned industry experts and stand-up acts or gigs being conducted by the best talents. Further, marketers across the country understand the power of celebrities &influencers and are increasingly using the TRING platform to push their brand message.

TRING not only gives celebrities the chance to increase their earnings based on their popularity amongst fans, but celebrities are also collaborating and partnering with TRING, to raise awareness & mobilize funds for causes that are close to their hearts.

This is also TRING’s way to give back to society and bring about sustainable change. These collaborations are part of our initiative named #IconsForChange which was immensely successful during the covid first phase in 2020.

The campaign supported by 14 top celebrities including Vidya Balan, Farhan Akhtar, Sonakshi Sinha, Harbhajan Singh, PoojaHegde, Vir Das, amongst others helped deliver 25,000+ PPE kits to 50+ government hospitals across India, by raising funds from their fans who in return got engagements like personalised video messages and video calls from the celebrities.

In 2021, the Icons For Change initiative has seen celebrities like TaapseePannu, Tamannaah Bhatia and DiaMirza – pursuing their respective missions through the platform.

TRING is backed by renowned investors like ALT Balaji, Flipkart, Udaan, Venture Network India. What drives its growth and attracts such investors?

Our business model is such which attracts investors as the concept is still new in India and it has tremendous potential. It’s not just fans who can utilize the services of the platform.

A plethora of corporates, MSME’s and start-ups are also leveraging the celebrity engagement services for driving product efficacy, brand saliency, etc.

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Tell us about the investments TRING has secured  and where does the brand see itself in the coming year?

So far, TRING has secured USD 2.5 Million in funding to date. We aim to bridge the gap between a fan and their dream celebrity. We want to be the one-stop platform for all digital services related to celebrities and celebrity engagement.

Everybody idolises somebody and our goal is to have ‘somebody for everybody’ on the platform, so the fans can experience bilateral interactions with their dream celebrities, creating permanent memories to cherish for life.

What does the revenue model of a platform like TRING look like?

It’s a revenue share model where the celebrity earns a substantial % of the amount. The pricing is based on the reputation and pull of the celebrity as well as the celebrity ensuring there is sustained demand through a platform like TRING. So it’s about striking a fine balance.

Tell us about the celebrities on TRING’s roster, is getting them on board difficult, any anecdotes you would like to share?

In our initial phase, finding traction with the celebrities to come on board was difficult as the concept was very new. However, we have seen good traction after few months. Now we have a very impressive celebrity roster that includes over 800 A-list stars, celebrities ranging from Bollywood and regional cinema, TV stars, OTT actors, movie stars to sports personalities, international artists, singers, sportspersons, motivators and influencers, amongst others.

An important task for the team has been to get more celebrities on board the platform so that more fans can find their favourite celebrities on TRING. In that regard, having ALT Balaji as a partner in this journey has helped us to get relevant celebrities on-boarded.

The criteria to onboard a celebrity are based on popularity (local/regional/ national/international), genre, social power/social following, etc. We also see a lot of celebrities registering to get on board the platform, through the TRING app that can be downloaded on both iOS App Store and Android Play Store.

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Do you think that the availability of celebrities at one’s fingertips will mitigate the impact of celebrity culture or do you think that we’ll reinvent a new celebrity culture?

We believe the platform will change the dynamics of celebrity-fan relationships in a more personalized and customized way. We have noticed disruptions across many categories like personal transportation, e-commerce, food and entertainment, etc where customer-centricity is at the heart of the offering. So a few key observations are:

Access to celebrities at one’s fingertips: This is disruptive however, we see this evolving into a culture of reciprocity where celebrities will now look at addressing their fan-base personally, staying connected and deriving value from it.

A shift in the power paradigm for celebrities over the years: Concentration of fandom to a select few celebrities has gotten bifurcated down the pyramid with a new rung of celebrities coming up, spread across different genres and regions.

Any platform facilitating or creating memorable emotional moments for the consumer with these celebrities will be ahead of the game.

How do you see the celebrity-fan dynamic changing in a few years?

In the coming years, through digital platforms, increasing broadband access and the growing aspect of virtual gifting, we will see celebrities becoming more accessible, staying connected with their fan base, demonstrating a conspicuous increase in celebrity-fan interaction through engagement platforms.

We will also see fans from across Tier 2/3/4 areas of our country having the access to reach out to their favourite celebrities.

Tell us about TRING’s plans for growth? What are your top expansion priorities?

This year we are focusing on 3 main areas – User awareness, enhancing the user experience by improving our technology and adding more celebrities.

We are looking at getting at least 20,000 celebrities on board by the end of this year. We hope to power our growth through increasing adoption rates among audiences from tier 2, 3& 4 towns.