Ola’s ex-marketing head has forayed into brand consulting and has even founded a startup. A conversation with the marketer.
Aishvarya Murali has had an interesting year. Back in April 2021, she announced that she was leaving her job as the marketing head of Bengaluru-based leading cab hailing app Ola.
Stepping down from her full-time job meant that she now had the time to take up the role of a strategic consultant to various brands. Murali claims she’s been ‘having a ball’ over the past year, working with different Series B and Series C funded startups.
Some companies she has acted as a consultant with include Arun Iyer and Raja Ganapathy’s Spring Marketing Capital, fintech company ZestMoney, alcobev brand Indospirit, health and wellness app HealthifyMe, editorial entrepreneurial website YourStory, and beverage company Hector Beverages (which sells Paper Boat drinks).
Her latest venture is The Unbottle Co. – which specialises in clean skin and hair care, packed in 100 per cent recycled plastic from the ocean or a landfill. Reducing plastic waste is a cause close to Murali’s heart and she plans to work on this startup alongside her consulting work with various companies.
We caught up with Murali over a call. She told us the story of how The Unbottle Co. came about. Last year, thanks to the flexibility that remote working offered her, she chose to take multiple workcations.
Two of those workcations landed her in the coastal state of Goa – famous for its beaches and tropical atmosphere. She recalls that during her time there, it was impossible to walk on the beach without encountering some form of plastic or the other.
“The sea was literally throwing out plastic. We found plastic when we walked on the beach. Everywhere we turned, there was plastic waste and it was almost impossible to ignore.”
"Everywhere we turned, there was plastic waste and it was almost impossible to ignore."
Murali informs us that in the Pacific Ocean, there currently exists a garbage patch, which is three times the size of France.
“All our bottles (at The Unbottle Co.) are made of 100 per cent recycled plastic, but the R&D phase of this venture was quite challenging. The issue with recycled plastic is that it tends to be brittle. The products in the personal care category need to be strong enough to be squeezed, for the liquid product to come out. It took us quite some time to arrive at our final product.”
When asked about her selection criteria for signing up with a startup, Murali mentions two main factors. First, is it a future-first industry? Second, the mental match that she would have with the founders to enable them to work together smoothly.
She recalls that when she came on board with ZestMoney, it was a quasi-marketing head role. She was somewhat clueless about the world of fintech, apart from having a Google Pay account.
"I was told it’s a good thing that I didn’t know much about the world of fintech so that I could see it with a fresh pair of eyes."
“At ZestMoney, I was told it’s a good thing that I didn’t know much about the world of fintech so that I could see it with a fresh pair of eyes. The main corporate objective that ZestMoney is trying to achieve is to make things affordable to middle class Indian households, who may hesitate before making a purchase that makes their lives easier.”
Some of the campaigns Murali has worked on include ZestMoney’s recent Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) campaign with standup comic and influencer Rahul Subramanian. In most of her roles, she has been a consultant for the marketing function of the startup.
She has also worked on HealthifyMe’s maiden campaign with actress and brand ambassador Sara Ali Khan. Murali calls the work relatable and close to her heart – adding a note about her own weight loss experience when she was younger.
Fintech is having a moment in India and according to Murali, there are multiple factors contributing to its growth. She credits COVID as being the biggest growth accelerator for this segment, as there has now emerged a need for contactless payments.
She adds that the popularity of mobile phones as well as ready access to Internet connectivity, thanks to the pervasiveness of Jio and 4G mobile data, have also contributed to India’s fintech boom.
According to Murali, this year has been a coming together of personal and professional priorities, as most of the startups she’s worked with, have offered her the option of flexible working. Her children attend school virtually from 8 a.m. onwards. She wakes up anywhere between 4 and 7:30 a.m. to ideate and create brand campaigns and communication, among other things.
For most of her career, Murali has sat at the client’s table. Working with Spring Marketing Capital was an illuminating experience for her.
"With Spring, I got to see what goes on behind the scenes with creativity and how that brief transforms into brand strategy."
“Earlier, we would design a brief for the agency and it would come back with options for ad films and other communication. With Spring, I got to see what goes on behind the scenes with creativity and how that brief transforms into brand strategy.”
Murali joined Ola as its marketing head in July 2019 after a stint at online furniture shopping site Furlenco, where she worked as the vice president of marketing and growth. Prior to joining Furlenco, she spent nearly a decade working at Unilever as a marketing manager in different divisions.
She recalls that at HUL, she wasn’t just given the role of a brand manager, but that of a P&L manager. “… This helps in the startup world, where most of the time, I had to help build brands and design marketing messages accordingly.”
She adds that some of her mentors in the industry include Prabh, Krish, Amrita Padda, Arun Srinivas and Rajeev Bakshi.
On the advice she would give future brand managers, Murali stresses that it’s important to inspire consumers by helping them imagine a better version of themselves via the product or service you’re offering. "That’s true marketing that has a purpose," she signs off.
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