The founder and CEO of The Gaggler, an online publishing platform that provides regionally relevant content with diverse points of view and authentic storytelling, Monica Malhotra is a passionate entrepreneur always looking for ways to create something with a positive impact. We caught up with Monica to ask her about her first venture in Dubai, how her business life has evolved in the UAE, and the incredibly effective but sometimes misunderstood concept of content marketing.
Education UAE: I understand you began your entrepreneurial journey with Kidville in Dubai in 2010; can you tell us a little about this?
Monica: I’d had my first daughter, so becoming a mom for the first time, I was looking at different things to do. As a result, I went to Kidville and loved it. I fell in love with the entire concept. The timing, 2009, was perfect in that my husband and I were looking to make a move perhaps, and as a couple, we’d always wanted to live overseas. Kidville had introduced and launched a franchise programme and were keen to expand internationally, so it all came together really well.
I didn’t have an educational background, but I’ve always been passionate about education. I think I’ve been fortunate to have had the education I’ve been able to have both in Dubai and overseas, and I think it’s really defined who I am and the life I’ve been able to lead
So, doing something related to education touched my heart.
So, we moved. We brought our baby and our second baby, I guess, Kidville, to Dubai, and we launched in 2010.
EDUAE: That must have been a bit of a learning curve, taking a new product to a new country?
Monica: Absolutely. Up until then, I’d been working for someone else – for a company, a corporate with a lot of structure. There’s a system, a routine, a way to do things. And I think, for me, making that leap into becoming an entrepreneur was a pretty steep learning curve. But I would qualify that by saying that although it was not necessarily easier, it was a different experience because I was working in a franchise system. There are some pros and cons to that. The pros would be that they’ve already done a lot of the thinking for you; there is training. So, my entrepreneurial journey, yes, there was a steep learning curve, you need to be a jack of all trades and have your hands in everything, but having the support of the franchisor, learning the business, knowing what works, learning from their strategy, that really helped me, I didn’t have to do everything from scratch.
I’m passionate about content marketing because consuming content has helped me in my own personal journey
EDUAE: Now you enjoy encouraging other entrepreneurs and are particularly passionate about content marketing, which can be a little esoteric for some people?
Monica: I’m passionate about content marketing because consuming content has helped me in my own personal journey; it has helped me evolve as an entrepreneur and a human being. What I particularly love about it is it’s a different approach – it’s putting your target audience’s needs first and foremost, even going so far as to put it ahead of your own emotional desires. There’s something very different about it, and I think it’s important for entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes to look at content marketing seriously because there are a lot of advantages over traditional marketing and advertising, which is very much a one-way conversation. I think in the world in which we live in you can’t be the only one talking. You’ve got to engage and remember the old saying, ‘it’s a two-way street’. If you have a business and you’re looking to engage with prospective customers, you’ve got to be willing to put out something relevant to them and listen back.
Working with an influencer is not a requirement to put out good content
EDUAE: Is it a cost-effective way to do marketing?
Monica: I think so. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to put out a short video with a tutorial or a quick little segment on who you are, how you’re helping your customers and what you have to offer. If you have a business that specialises in something, then using content marketing to talk about important aspects of your industry and business and being a thought leader is priceless. That doesn’t cost money. I do it for my business, and it’s research and time, but if you’re passionate about it, it’s not even work; it’s just getting your perspective out there. And people are wanting to know, wanting to learn, wanting to be educated, and I think it’s a perfect match.
EDUAE: And the benefits include the fact that you’re starting a conversation instead of shouting at someone?
Monica: Absolutely, and that’s what I love about it. It’s the difference between talking at someone and talking with someone. It’s a nuanced aspect, but I think it has a huge impact in the long run.
EDUAE: Influencers come under this banner, don’t they? How important is it to find a good influencer to work with?
Monica: I think there’s a place for influencers, but I don’t believe employing them is vital to a business’s success. When I look at small and medium-sized companies, they don’t always have the budget to pay a fairly expensive influencer. If they can find a good influencer, it can be quite a good relationship and effective. But the key thing at the end of the day is that the content has to be relevant. If you are going to go the influencer route, which is not a requirement if you’re going to get into content marketing, because you can create your own content, you want to make sure that the influencer shares your values. It’s all about authenticity. There must be a match between what you’re putting out there and the influencer or brand ambassador you connect your brand with. That’s really important. If you ignore that, it can go pretty bad, pretty fast. You need to know if they’re talking about the brand because it’s just a job and they’re getting paid, or do they really believe in it. But, like I said, working with an influencer is not a requirement to put out good content.
EDUAE: What are you working on at present?
Monica: We do a lot of different things. We do content campaigns for small and medium-sized businesses to try and get their story out, whether, for instance, it’s how the founders came up with the concept or perhaps what is unique about the brand. We’re working with quite a few companies, some in the beauty space, some in the wellness space, but every client is different. There is no concept fits all. We’re working on some different things that we’re looking to roll out in the coming months.
Our focus is trying to create pieces around what we’re passionate about, becoming a thought leader, and being an authority – putting in the work to attain that status. It’s all about trust and credibility. So, as a business, that’s what we focus on.
EDUAE: The pandemic has changed so much for so many people, as it altered the way you look at things and do things?
Monica: I think from a personal perspective, yes. I believe the pandemic was quite a dark reckoning for many people; for me, it was. I think it made me pause, become reflective, and question myself as to what I wanted to do moving forward and where I wanted to put in my efforts. I think the fragility of life became so obvious, and so I guess time became more precious, family time, even the time you spend at work and what you’re producing with that time. So, yes, the pandemic has changed my personal and business viewpoints.
EDUAE: Finally, has anyone really inspired you – if you could trade places with anyone, living or dead, for a day, who would it be?
Monica: That’s a tough one. There are so many great people out there. From a content perspective, when I think about creativity, if I could trade places for a day with Gary Vee, who is based in the US, an amazing content guru, that would be marvellous. He’s very creative and thinks outside of the box, and that’s so needed in this part of the world to stand out. So if I could trade places with him for one day and be part of his team and liaise with the immensely creative team around him, that would be a dream come true.
There are also many female entrepreneurs that I look up to, but one, in particular, is Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx. I love her story because in her late twenties, she had five thousand dollars in her bank account, and from that, she created a billion-dollar business in undergarments. And the stuff she had to go through, the number of doors she had to knock on, just the sheer resilience she has shown is unbelievable. So, if I could walk in her shoes for even a day and gain some insight from her, that would be amazing.