Weekly Startup Profiles > MATES

So, do you wear your Reeboks because Shah Rukh Khan wore them in Main Hoon Naa? Yes? That's what's fueling MATES's growth.

Quick Facts
Entrepreneur : Sooraj and Darshana Bhalla
Age : 33
Company : MATES
Based in : Mumbai
Founded in : 2002
Industry : Media / Entertainment / Events

Business Summary


Provides in-film advertising services to corporates.

The Idea

Sometimes, when the right people come together, a company is formed.

Sometimes, a family. And sometimes, both. Sparks flew both on and off the set for Sooraj and Darshana Bhalla, as they co-founded entertainment marketing company Teamworks, which merged with Sam Balsara's Madison Communications to form MATES in 2004. That same year, the Teamworks founding duo got married.

"We knew each other from college. Then we met again in 2001 and that's when we decided to start a company together," smiles Sooraj.

MATES works with companies and producers to place various companies' products in Bollywood films. The Tag Heuer watch on Shah Rukh Khan's wrist in Om Shanti Om The Castrol badge on Vivek Oberoi's overalls in Kyun Ho Gaya Naa? Even the Bournvita that Super Hero Krish sips: not accidental choices. In-film advertising is a fast-growing business in India.

Sooraj says he got the idea for a company specializing in in-film advertising when he was executive producer for one of his home productions. "A few people came up to me from the unorganized market for brand placement in films. The idea intrigued me and even though I didn't use it at the time, it stayed back with me as a business idea."

The Opportunity

When Sooraj and Darshana founded Teamworks, now MATES, the opportunity for in-film advertising was hardly obvious.

"It took us an entire year to make producers understand what exactly we were doing, to get them to share their scripts with us," recalls Sooraj. The same amount of cajoling was invested in bringing the companies on board. "Most companies are wary of the entertainment industry, coming from the view that all producers are chors (thieves)," Sooraj laughs.

While in-film advertising has been around in India since the 1970s, the process was informal, happening through inside networks of producers. The industry began to establish itself only five years ago. "The producers and the clients started understanding each other with agencies like us were facilitating on both ends," Sooraj explains.

And now it's big business. In Main Hoon Naa alone, Teamworks dressed Shah Rukh Khan in Levis jeans and Reeboks, had him sip a coffee at Caf

The Money

They pooled in their first money and started out with an initial investment of about Rs. 1.5-2 lakhs. Being a service business, however, "the business pretty much paid itself off as soon as we started," says Sooraj.

It was Sooraj's experience and contacts within the industry that came through: "Within the first two months we got our first film Chalte Chalte, and that set the ball rolling."

The Team

It wasn't their college friendship that brought the founding team together, but rather the convergence of their ideas.

"Both of us had the same idea. Also we felt we had complementary backgrounds. Darshana who worked with Sony Television at the time knew the television side of the business, and I knew the entertainment business really well," says Sooraj. Sooraj comes from a filmy background, having worked as an assistant director with Rajkumar Santoshi and on films like Andaz Apna Apna and Damini.

Today the MATES office has 14 people working in their Bombay based office from where they offer services all over India.

The Company - today and tomorrow

"We've grown exponentially over the years, from 25 clients to more than 100 and going," says Sooraj.

With the backing of Madison, MATES has expanded its services. "Besides the in-film advertising, we now also specialize in celebrity management and solutions, and even the marketing and PR of films themselves," says Sooraj.

For future growth, MATES is eyeing opportunities beyond Bollywood: "We are also looking at the South Indian film industry," he adds.

What keeps you awake at night?

"The one thing that bothers me is the long turnover time involved when you are working on a film." Sooraj's clients don't want to wait forever to reap the results of their advertising dollars. "I'm hoping and praying the film side gets things organized and they start releasing things on time, like they do in the West," Sooraj said.

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