As quirky as the name…Black White Orange is a company that provides merchandising solutions and helps brands, celebrities, media and retailers find ways to strengthen their relationship with the most important stakeholder – the consumer.
Recently BWO completed 5 years in the business and have a pretty robust list of clients who have been backing them ever since they started.
This young and vibrant company that works more like a family than a team has a very interesting story of how they started and where they have reached.
The core team of Black White Orange consists of Bhavik Vora, Founder & CEO; Diksha Mehta, Co-Founder & CMO; and Mitali Desai, Co-Founder & COO.
In this StraightTalk Bhavik Vora, Founder & CEO at Black White Orange spoke about their journey, their plan ahead and what prompted them to leave their comfortable corporate jobs to take the entrepreneurial plunge.
Read on and get inspired!
How did you create Black White Orange? Which have been some of the big milestones you have achieved in the last 5 years?
The beauty of working in the L&M business is that it is an extremely enterprising industry. Most people who are part of it get a lot of exposure to various aspects of running a business… this in turn builds a sense of opportunity and confidence to set up your own business.
We (Mitali, Diksha & I) were passionate about the business and were fascinated with the idea of bringing alive the brands we loved and consumed as fans. We felt there was a gap to be filled and considering the demographics of our country, we believed that it’s going to grow exponentially in the coming years. So out of mere passion, in 2015, we quit our corporate jobs and here we are, 5 years down, trying to create our own mark in this industry.
Trying to make a mark in the industry? Well you have already created a name for yourself… and we are glad to have got the opportunity to speak to you and share your journey with our readers… So tell me about some great moments of your journey of the last 5 years…
Talking about the significant moments in our journey…We started off, just 3 of us, with no permanent office space for almost an entire year. It was exciting to work out of different coffee shops of course the criteria being – good Wi-Fi!
Our biggest achievement in the first few months was acquiring the licensing business for NBCUniversal. It was a huge win for us at that stage. We were up against some of the biggest names and companies in the licensing industry. This was the most encouraging start and it gave us the impetus we needed we needed to keep us going.
Getting our first investor, Dhaval Dadia, during the early stages of our journey was also key. He gave us the wings to fly fearlessly to pursue what we wanted to and he had since, been a solid force behind us. Outside of these, in the months that followed – our work on Baahubali and the subsequent global recognition, plus our partnerships and collaborations on Game of Thrones and the innovation across categories, was game-changing.
Another high pointwas the start of our design vertical which has been our most important strategic move.
Wow! So those are some real accomplishments to talk about! Congratulations! What’s with the name Black White Orange… tell us about the name… how did you decide on the name? What significance does the name hold for you?
Well, this is my favorite question! The name, Black White Orange, has unique significance as it comes from a very special place for all three of us.
‘Black White Orange’is our tribute to the 2 brands that we’ve loved working on and have taught us so much in this field– Cartoon Network (Black & White) & Nickelodeon (Orange).
We wanted a name that connects all of us to the roots in this business.
That’s such a lovely way to not forget your journey, the name everyday would remind you your roots… so coming to my next question, BWO has now completed 5 years in the business… How has the journey been? While there might have been a lot of ups and downs… what were some key learnings that did you good and shall always remain with you?
The journey has been nothing short of fantastic! From a 3-member team we are now around 20. We have gone beyond just being a brand licensing company to adding a design studio to now also creating our own IP’s.
We have met and worked with some wonderful people along the way and have learnt something from each of them.
We’re also very proud of the culture we have built at BWO.When we started this journey, we wanted to build aculture which is open, secure and thriving for every employee, irrespective of level and designation. A company where everyone fearlessly puts forth their opinions and ideas. We have seen wonderful results owing to this culture.
Another amazing part about the licensing business is that there is always a big brand and a ‘new sensation’ that is just around the corner, you just do not know where it might be coming from. It’s key to keep your eyes & ears open to what’s happening around you and what fans are getting attached to.
Coming to BWO’s business… shed some light on the stellar work that you’ll have been doing for over 5 years now… and your areas of expertise?
We started off as a Brand Licensing agency and today manage some of the most iconic names in the licensing business. The team has built a very strong program for most brands in our portfolio. From doing some ‘killer’ work on Baahubali to a whiskey deal with The Godfather, Masaba’s collaboration on Game of Thrones to an AnimalPlanet collaboration with Virat Kohli & USPL’s WROGN… we have achieved a lot of firstsand we will continue to strive to do that.
Apart from the licensing business, early on we realized that there is a huge need for a company that can give product design related solutions’. That’s when we started our design studio business. In a very short time, it has become a significant business for us, contributing to almost 50% of our bottom-line. We’ve done design work across the board – creating style guides, logos, branding, communication, design collections across categories for brands like NBCUniversal, emoji, Discovery, Prime Video, Bookmyshow and many more.
What are some of the biggest challenges in the licensing and merchandizing industry, that according to you should be addressed at an industry level?
There are multiple challenges in our industry;
Lack of IP protection at the retail level – The minutea brand gets popular, the grey market instantly tries to capitalize on it and goes on to flood the market with pirated products. We are now seeing this on e-commerce as well, including all the popular marketplace platforms in the country.
A big part of L&M business internationally is promotional licensing or co-branding. Although we have done some work in this category, there is much more out there to be done. We feel that licensing is a tool that a lot of product marketers can use to bring traction and a spike in sales. For this to happen,the licensing industry needs to be a part of mainstream advertising bodies and forums, giving it further exposure to the benefits it can bring. This will ensure that the footprint of licensing industry grows.
Another key challenge is the lack of licensing professionals in the industry. Some people have come into the industry by chance and then realized that it is a great career after seeing it from close quarters!We need to start addressing this business and integrate it as a part of management learning programs so that people with the aptitude in the field can consider this as a career option.
How does BWO generate business? There has been zero B2B Marketing/Promotions from the agency! What has been your communication strategy?
Unlike the West, we currently don’t have a credible trade event for our business due to which we haveto figure our own paths to increase footprint. We do conduct our own closed-door Brand Summits for key partnerslike NBCUniversal & Hasbro, where we invite relevant stakeholders from the industry including retailers, licensees, distributors, broadcasters. This helps us engage with our partners and inform them on upcoming plans and campaigns. Outside of this, the team does regular retail visits to map brands& plan better.
I know this is a difficult question to answer considering what we are going through at the moment… but since this is all about BWO completing 5 years, what is the road map for the next 5 years?
Yes, that’s right, COVID has changed a lot of things around us. Most importantly it has changed consumer behavior. We will keep hustling and striving to be on the planned path to become the chosen destination for licensing & merchandising in India. We will continue to expand our design studio business and increase the footprint of our services multifold with the use of technology. Our fingers are crossed on some exciting original IP’s in the coming years.
Another important aspect that we had in mind when we started BWO, was to make Indian brands look cool and aspirational. We took a small step in that direction with Baahubali and we are working with very interesting brands which will be a big step towards that vision.
How has the business been hit because of Covid-19 and what alternative business models/avenues have you explored?
Frankly, everything right now is dynamic, fluid and evolving on a daily basis so it’s very difficult to plan, especially if major launches are in the pipeline.
We are currently focusing on e-comm to reach out to the fans and service those demands. Outside of that, we are currently working with our partners and licensees to ramp up distribution in parts of India which are less affected and probably have similar demand for the merch. This is opening up new avenues, customers and distribution points for our brands.
I won’t deny that business has been hit. The positive side is that contribution of other verticals at BWO has increased significantly and this is definitely helping us sustain business in these trying times.Factors like retail and movie releases have had an impact on the product business but we are hopeful things will come back to pre-covid levels.
How have your business plans changed since Covid has struck?
We have been able to concentrate on our other business verticals which have been growing and will have a significant contribution to our business this year. This period has also given us time to think of innovations and various strategies to grow our company as well as the L&M business in India.
How was your experience of working from home? How did you keep everyone positive at the agency?
Like most people, it took some time to get used to, but like everyone says… it’s ‘the new normal’! At the moment, the team is totally geared up and raring to go. We’ve made sure the team is comfortable with Wi-fi, creative machines and whatever else they need so as to not face any hiccups. The team is like a small family and we make it a point to catch up as a group to discuss everything else ‘but work’. That gives a level of comfort, not just to the team but to us as well.
What’s next at BWO? What are your plans immediately post the lockdown?
We have some important launches (that were supposed to happen pre-Covid). We’ve now started executing those launches. One of the campaigns was launched a couple of weeks ago – WROGN & Animal Planet. Some more fun campaigns and product launches are planned in the coming weeks!
I’d like to add one more thing…While we strive to move onwards and upwards, we hope and pray that 2021 is a better year for India and for the world.