Meet Sunny Leone, the businesswoman who has been making all the right moves
IT WAS IN 2011 when Sunny Leone made an entry in the house of Bigg Boss (Season Five) and within two weeks, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt entered the house to sign her as the lead in Pooja Bhatt’s erotic thriller Jism 2. Since then, there has been no looking back for former adult actress Sunny Leone — she has done films across Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi film industries, besides doing web-series, music videos, hosting last five seasons of MTV Splitsvilla and making guest appearances on many television shows. Over the years, she has been hailed as the most Googled celebrity in India several times and has seen a swarm of people waiting to see a glimpse of her, as happened in Kochi two years ago. But, if you think that’s all about Sunny, wait till you read about her business ventures, which span across categories like cosmetics, education, books, entertainment as well as sports.
Somebody who shovelled snow in her childhood so that she has money to buy candies, Sunny has always been somebody who gets things done. By the age of 18, she owned a website and had learned HTML, photography and video-editing in the process of running it. Years later, she launched a production house in Los Angeles to create her own brand of adult films. However, once she shifted her base to India, Sunny decided to spread her wings and launched a production house ‘Suncity Media And Entertainment’, a cosmetic line Star Struck by Sunny Leone, a talent management company, Suncity Talent, a perfume brand called Lust, a range of eco-friendly cosmotech products like hair-dryers, curlers and epilators under the banner of Xcentric, an innerwear brand, Infamous, and a playschool for toddlers named D’Art Fusion. Besides these, she has written erotic short stories under the title of Sweet Dreams, in association with publishing house Juggernaut, and has Sunny Leone cinema also associated herself with online games like Jeetwin, Teen Patti and Rummy. In this interview, we look at Sunny Leone, the entrepreneur. Excerpts:
Q: Suncity Media and Entertainment, Star Struck, Lust, D Art Fusion, Box-league cricket team Chennai Swaggers, Sweet Dreams, Teen Patti with Sunny Leone and investment in IPL Soccer. Sunny, what are you on? Being a mother of three and then having so much on your plate. How do you balance it all?
The key to any success in business is having a great team who can your vision. Daniel (Daniel Weber, her husband) and I own several business ventures but without the right people in place, we could not have succeeded. For us, family is the most important and making sure we have time is the biggest juggle… Anyone with children understands that no matter what business you own, children must come first. They need love and attention and they don’t care what meeting or shoot is taking place that day (laughs).
Q: Can you please take us through your entrepreneurial journey in detail while talking about each brand and why you invested your time and money in it?
I have been doing business since I was 18. At that point, I was owning websites and content. Years later, in 2008, I started a production company in Los Angeles but after shifting base to India in 2011, we saw certain gaps in the market and decided to take their advantage. Suncity Media is the parent company for all our ventures. We produce and co-produce content for other brands and companies as well under its ambit. Star Struck by Sunny Leone is my baby and I have built it from scratch. From concept to lab developments, manufacturing, designing, distribution and sales, we have done it all on our own. This is a brand that will be with me for a lifetime. Lust morphed from investing, manufacturing and selling in India to licensing the brand out and now shifting our base to UAE for production and sales distribution. Xcentric offers spa-tech products from China, which will be sold globally, and when it comes to Infamous, we are in the initial stage in terms of manufacturing and distribution. For Box Cricket League (BCL), Teen Patti, IPL Soccer, Rummy and Jeetwin, we took brand leverage and it turned out to be very successful for us. Over the years, we have managed to build the brand ‘Sunny Leone’ globally and socially large enough that it holds value to other companies looking to partner or tie-up with us.
Q: What skills do you think have helped you come so far? And, what were the skills that you learned on the go?
I believe we have the ability to think rationally and make quick changes when something is not going as planned or calculated. I can remove and cut fat from a business relatively fast and turn it around most of the time. Along the way, I have learned to not look at the situation emotionally.
Q: What is it that you look for before investing your time and money? And, which venture of yours is closest to your heart?
We evaluate the longevity and realism of the product/investment. Are the time and effort worth the return? We are not always looking at dollar for dollar return on investment (ROI), time is a huge value and time wasted is worth more than money lost to me. Star Struck is my baby and closest to my heart. I have a long term plan and vision for it and I hope to have it partnered and sold under one of the global leaders in cosmetics at some stage.
Q: Talking about your investment in IPL Soccer. What made you do that? Are you a big fan of soccer in real life or is it purely a business decision?
I love soccer! It was an equal business decision of my love for soccer and a great opportunity. I saw the potential after my review and moved forward.
Q: Also, what made you launch D’Art Fusion? How different is it from existing playschools?
D’Art fusion idea happened after watching Nisha, our daughter attend a small art class that did not have the proper facility. We searched for other options but there was nothing that offers a mix of art, play, activity classes and a library. So, we built a facility that allows kids to come and go while enjoying art, yoga, cooking classes, dance, reading, among many other activities. We are in the process of franchising this globally.
Q: Can you recall any memories from your childhood when you first noticed your business acumen?
Shovelling snow for money so that I had money to buy candy (smiles). I was very young and was living in Canada at that point.
Q: What’s next in business as well as entertainment-wise?
If I tell you what’s next then I risk the chance of someone else taking my next idea (winks), and that would be a bad business decision.