Aishwarya Ramesh
Profile

"As a marketer, it made sense to attempt to build a brand aspirational for 1 billion Indians": Lucky Saini

We profile social shopping platform Meesho's newly appointed VP and head of brand marketing, who moved from Vedantu.

Few people have had the opportunity to work across different sectors. Lucky Saini is one such individual. It could be attributed to good timing, his hard work and a healthy dose of being ‘lucky’.

Just last week, Saini announced that he will be joining Meesho as VP and head of brand marketing. In his new role, he will be responsible for leading all brand-building efforts to help consumers familiarise themselves with the app. It is a part of the rapidly evolving social commerce category.

This is Saini’s second stint in the e-commerce sector. Earlier, he spent over four years at Flipkart in various roles, from marketing to brand strategy.

Prior to joining Meesho, Saini was the brand head at Vedantu, from September 2020 onwards. From April 2019 to June 2020, he worked at Dentsu Slingshot, where he led the digital and marketing solutions unit of Dentsu India.

Before joining Dentsu, he worked at Manipal Global Education as assistant brand supervisor. Prior to that, he worked at Ogilvy and Mather as an account supervisor, from October 2012 to August 2014.

What is Meesho?

An Indian social commerce platform, Meesho was co-founded in 2015 by two IIT Delhi graduates. Its model enables sellers to list their businesses and wares on the platform. They can then start online stores over social channels like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, which in term allows them to make sales.

Meesho follows a zero-commission model in a bid to get micro, small and medium businesses on to the platform.

When we caught up with Saini over a call, he said that Meesho isn’t different from his past work in the e-commerce space.

“There are very few companies in India that are trying to solve India-specific problems and build unique models which are tailor-made for these problems. Meesho will help broaden my learning canvas to build a brand for the Indian masses.”

Lucky Saini
Lucky Saini

According to Saini, the most interesting part of Meesho is that it is trying to build a model which is suitable for a very specific Indian use case. It intends to democratise commerce for a large section of users as well as sellers.

“Popular e-commerce platforms tend to focus on large businesses because that’s where they can get sales and commissions from.”
Lucky Saini

“A very large section of Indian sellers belongs to the small and medium enterprises category. These micro, small and medium enterprises don’t really get much focus from major e-commerce players in the country. They may not be able to make profits if they try to sell their items on e-commerce sites.”

“Popular e-commerce platforms tend to focus on large businesses because that’s where they can get sales and commissions from.”

He explains that Meesho takes specific use cases, where it could build infrastructure for the sellers and connect them with business owners from Tier-II and III cities. They want to set up their own businesses, but don’t have the capital to do so. Companies like Facebook and Softbank are now backing Meesho.

“I’m excited to join the team because it is ambitious and grounded, in terms of understanding India’s three aspiration pillars. Personally, as a marketer, it made sense to attempt to build a $1 billion brand. Rarely do you get the opportunity to create a brand like Meesho. The Meesho model has no extra commission. There is no cost of warehousing and I see it as a fantastic opportunity to unlock growth.”

Flipkart stint

Saini’s first stint in the e-commerce space was with Flipkart for almost five years, from 2014 to 2018. “It was an extremely satisfying place for me work-wise because we focused on setting the tone for opening up of e-commerce, creating habits and, in a way, democratising e-commerce in India.”

"The scale of the Big Billion Days is huge. In a matter of 10 days, you have to reach all of India, create multiple assets, play the personalisation game, etc."
Lucky Saini

He gained exposure to various brand experiences, including working on the brand repositioning/refresh in 2018. His responsibilities also included marketing and creating a buzz around the mobile category. It was a low-budget exercise, but a huge learning experience for him.

“The scale of the Big Billion Days is huge. In a matter of 10 days, you have to reach all of India, create multiple assets, play the personalisation game, etc. We crafted a unique marketing playbook during a high competition festive season. It was a big high for us at that point of time.”

Saini adds that the experience taught him how to handle high budget marketing (upwards of Rs 100 crore) and low budget marketing too.

“It made me a very rounded marketer. It gave me strength in customer acquisition, brand strategy, marketing, and so on. It also helped me gather skills – from sales and tactical large spike events.”

A glimpse of his time in the edtech sector

Vedantu was a short stint, full of learnings for Saini. The difference between edtech and e-commerce is in the level of customer involvement. Edtech is a high involvement category. The stakes are high stakes, and so is the competition.

Saini states that Vedantu’s business model is based on solving problems for the learning needs of children. It covers early learning, all the way to medical, or IIT coaching.

"People pay a higher premium for an education brand – think of the likes of IIT, Harvard, and so on.L"
Lucky Saini

According to him, brand building was crucial because education is one category where the brand itself plays a big role.

“People pay a higher premium for an education brand – think of the likes of IIT, Harvard, and so on. A lot of money goes into choosing credible brands that service learning needs. With Vedantu, we had the opportunity to sort of set the tone for the brand. We had the opportunity to work on the early campaigns when I joined in the first few months.”

“The thing is, people don’t believe advertising when it comes to education brands. So, we had to make sure that our ad didn’t sound like an ad and was conversational in nature. That’s how the campaign with (Bollywood star) Aamir Khan came about.”

The Dentsu angle

“I’ve had the chance to dabble in entrepreneurship, thanks to my stint at Dentsu Slingshot. From a learning point of view, I felt like I was kind of plateauing. That’s when Kunal (Dubey) and I ventured out and started our own marketing solutions company, called Dentsu India Slingshot.”

Saini claims it made sense, as opposed to starting a separate venture. Slingshot was the first agency to offer holistic solutions – from creative to strategy, and more.

“We scaled it up quite far, taking it from a zero to a 25-member team. Within a year, we had clients like JBL, Flipkart and Myntra.”

Early career

During one of his earlier stints, Saini worked at Star TV as an area manager in Mumbai. He was responsible for sales, revenue, and managing trade on ground.

“I learnt a lot, in terms of managing people, sales, revenue on a large scale basis. I was fresh out of college, and getting an experience like that goes a long way. However, I was clear from the beginning that I wanted to build a career in consumer marketing – that’s what fascinated me.”

He decided to build a career in marketing, and realised that he needed to learn the ropes of advertising, consumer behaviour and thinking. This is when he joined a small agency, called Autumn Worldwide.

“Eventually, the entity was bought by the Grey group. When I made the decision to work there, everyone was surprised... They told me it was not a good idea, but I was clear on what I wanted to do. I knew that it would pay off in the long run.”

It was when he was working with Autumn in Bangalore that the opportunity to work at Ogilvy came about.

“Ogilvy is to advertising what Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is to marketing. It’s like a school where people learn about communication strategies, consumer behaviour and advertising. It introduced me to a structured, yet exciting world of building brands through advertising. We learned about brands, their problem statements and tried to understand how they could get solved via advertising solutions.”

On working with Dubey

Saini calls working with Dubey an important part of his career.

“He’s the left brain to my right brain. We look at problems from different perspectives. We really grew when we were with each other. Working together really helped us grow as marketers. He’s like my sparring partner, in that sense. We keep bouncing ideas off each other, brainstorming, discussing news and so on. We grew together on this journey.”

Dubey joined Flipkart at the same time as Saini did – in 2014.

“We were able to bring different skill sets to the table. I brought in new ideas from a creative and a brand point of view, and he brought in ideas from a new media and business understanding perspective. That’s why we work so well together,” Saini signs off.