Desh to videsh!

Desh to videsh!

One can identify a Chumbak wallet, bag or key chain right away. This uniqueness in design is one of its key strengths, which Vivek Prabhakar is depending on, to take the company beyond India on to the world stage

POORNIMA KAVLEKAR

Mad about India. That is what the designs from Chumbak, the funky designer collectibles company, convey. When the founders, Vivek Prabhakar and his wife Shubra Chadda, started the company in 2010, they found that unlike abroad, where they could bring back lots of souvenirs from the places they visited, India did not have any such options except for the most common Taj Mahal miniature.  And this got the travel crazy couple thinking. They realised that there was a need for a brand, which made India-themed products. “We understood that our products cannot be just souvenirs and hence, created a bunch of accessories,” recalls Prabhakar. By the time Chumbak was launched in 2010, the founding team had put together about eight to 10 categories of fun products, accessories like magnets and key chains that people liked to use.  While initially targeted at the foreigners and the NRIs, Chumbak understood that the Indian population was also starved for such products.

Chumbak’s design is evolving every single day.   What works for us is the consistency and it is built into our system

Chumbak was set up with an initial funding of Rs. 40 lakh, which came from the sale of the house of the founding couple. The company was totally bootstrapped for the first two years of operations. During that period, the founders learnt about the price points, design and products and understood the front-end and back-end of the business. Today, Chumbak has come a long way with respect to design and brand presence. Over the last two years, it has grown by over 100 per cent on a year-on-year basis and expanded into various categories – currently, it has 40 to 45 categories and these are growing by the week. It has a presence in about 38 exclusive stores across the country and operates with a team size of about 85 people, up from a very negligible number, in 2012.  It also raised US $2 million in Series-A funding from Seedfund in 2012 and another undisclosed Series B funding from Matrix Partners in 2014. The company is now all set to expand its footprint into the global arena over the next year and a half.

Finding its footing

One of the key things that Prabhakar and Chadda aimed to do with Chumbak is to get the right balance between design and business, which made the organisation scalable. “Many organisations get one of the two wrong. While one does well in design, it is not able to scale as the team does not understand business, logistics, technology, sales or finance. Or the other way around,” opines Prabhakar. He adds, “One of the things that worked for us is that we have managed to achieve this balance.”  The founders’ past work experience coupled with their need to do something challenging led them to understand the nuances of this business well. Prabhakar worked in the retail and marketing field with companies such as Titan, Motorola and Sun Microsystems while Chadda graduated in travel and tourism from Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru and went on to work for KPMG and Nortel. Her passion for design and Prabhakar’s understanding of business is the partnership that has worked out well for Chumbak.

Since its incorporation the founders established their design and price points that will appeal across an age bandwidth of 18 to 35.  The company currently has products starting from the price range of Rs. 150 in the form of key chains and magnets to furniture costing Rs. 30,000. “The entire product category has matured,“ states Prabhakar.  The company started distributing its products in multi-branded outlets like Crossword, Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop. It then understood the need to have its own store and Prabhakar decided to experiment with the kiosk model.  It raised Series A fund from Seedfund which it used to expand into kiosk model stores, set up a team and experiment with newer categories.  In October 2014, the company opened a larger format store in Bengaluru. Prabhakar says, “From a 150 sq ft area kiosk format we moved to a 2,500 sq ft area store.”  The company aims to open more such stores in the coming years. It has also started home products as a new category like furniture, home décor and crockery and aims to come up with something new towards the end of 2015.

The company spends a lot of time looking for the right people to join its team.  One of the key things it checks for is their attitude, honesty and culture fit.  “We are a very flat organisation with an average age of 27 to 28 years,” says Prabhakar.

Design strategy

A key principle that Chumbak follows is to offer consistency in design and that the design should be clean and colourful. “Our products have a certain look and feel. At the same time it has evolved so much that if I show what we have done in 2010 you can easily notice the difference. But we have done it over a period of time so that consumers don’t realise it,” recalls Prabhakar. He agrees that this evolution has been fast paced and the company has to be up-to-date with the changes that are likely to set in.  It does not reintroduce old designs. “The number of designs we churn out is so high that going back to old designs is not needed,” says Prabhakar. The company churns out almost 50 to 80 designs on a monthly basis and every single one of them hits the market. However, there is always an exception to the rule and they do go back once in a while but not often.

While the idea initially was magnets, the design sensibility lent itself to a wider product range.  “Chumbak’s design is evolving every single day.   What works for us is the consistency and it is built into our system,” says Prabhakar proudly. Keeping a brand identity is something the company aims to do aggressively. While the design and the product have matured, this identity is something that is integral to the organisation. “We take into consideration what sells like the product theme and color theme.  The autorickshaw design was an India-themed product and this has matured into an India inspired design which also helped us identify categories like home or enter the international markets,” says Prabhakar.

A large portion of Prabhakar’s time and effort goes towards creating a better experience for its customers. He wants to make the Chumbak brand approachable and to achieve this, his team makes sure that the design and product improves on a constant basis, based on market trends.  Interestingly, the company spends a negligible amount on marketing except for an occasional radio advertisement and some promotion on Facebook. Social media is important to the company, as that is where it connects with its customers. “People are on Facebook to have conversation and eight out of 10 of ours posts are like that, very conversation led.” Today, almost  95 to 98 per cent sale of the company’s sales is more due to word of mouth, states Prabhakar.  “Eventually there will be some amount of marketing. But not right now. Our products will talk for themselves,” adds Prabhakar.

Going global

Over the next few years Prabhakar wants Chumbak to reach more consumers in India and across the world by introducing a whole range of categories and products. The revenue contribution from the international market is less than 10 per cent currently which it plans to increase in the next 12 to 18 months by expanding into the U.S, Middle-East and Far-East markets.  Chumbak already has a presence in the Japanese market in around 40 to 50 stores, which it plans to grow further.

Prabhakar wants the company to be known as a design brand that creates fun products. “Our aim is for more people should use Chumbak which will come via better online distribution, creating more products and entering new geographies,” he says.  On a concluding note, he adds, “I want to make Chumbak a large design brand that can go global – a homegrown international company.”


Snapshot

CHUMBAK

Year of Incorporation: 2010

Founders: Vivek Prabhakar, Shubra Chadda

City: Bengaluru

Profile: Makes fun souvenir products that are uniquely India

Funding: US $ 2 million in Series A funding from Seedfund in 2012 and Series B funding from Matrix Partners in 2014


What Next?

Expand into international markets including the U.S, Middle-East and Far-East 

Set up more large format stores and kiosks 

Introduce new products and new product categories

Chumbak designer collectibles Matrix Partners India Seedfund

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.