After seven years as an advertising professional, Sheetal Vanwari decided to branch out on her own. With stints in Leo Burnett and Webchutney as well as a brief period as a training facilitator, among other things, Vanwari co-founded freejinn.com, a portal that helps people find contests and free stuff on the internet. The English literature graduate speaks about the journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
What prompted the move from digital advertising to an entrepreneur?
Simply put, the time was right. I was already a creative director and I knew the next step would be ECD but then what? Advertising is what you do; entrepreneur is who you become. I’m very grateful to my earlier agency (Webchutney) for grooming me and getting me ready to make this move.
Wasn’t it a risk to start your own venture? What were the challenges?
No, it was exciting how it all came together – the right idea, the perfect partner (Jetesh Menon, also from digital advertising) and a ready market. Every day was a new challenge – developing the technology, finding the right team, getting users, budgeting,not to forget, the process of registering a company in India.
How did the idea of Freejinn come about?
One of my team members really wanted to win an iPad and he kept looking for contests where he could find one. But the process of looking for freebies was so tedious. That’s when I realized there was no site listing just freebies! The irony is brands spend so much on Facebook ads and promoted tweets to reach out to this very audience.
The site is a freebie search 'enjinn' you can simply search for a particular freebie and get a list of brand contests offering it. Whether it is winning an iPhone, an iPad or meeting acelebrity; the user's wish is the Jinn's command. The response to the concept has been fantastic with some Jinnions (our users) calling it a veritable goldmine but the challenge is to build awareness without any media spends. We have seen some traction through PR and co-branded content and our on-site contests but we still have a long way to go.
Do you miss being in the advertising field?
It’s like moving away from home. You miss it a lot but you can’t really imagine going back to it full-time.
What lies next in store for your start-up?
We’ve got the site up running smoothly, doing decently well on social media. The focus will be on growth. We’ve also got a new CTO, Gaurav Arora (an IIT and IIM graduate) who’s taking this product to a whole new level. Then there are plans for sampling, on-site contests and more.
What attracts you to the digital space?
There’s just so much scope in India right now to create interesting digital properties, to experiment and to innovate. Think about it, all that’s standing between your imagination and reality is a code.
Any advice/experience you would like to share with first-time entrepreneurs?
I’m too new to really advise anyone but all I can say is save up before you take the plunge.