India, with all its vibrancy and quirkiness, has been the one true inspiration for a company like Chumbak Design (Chumbak: Hindi for magnet), which makes interesting and fun products that tend to put a smile on your face. “One of the first things we did was to define a theme for Chumbak. And that was India. Everything we see or experience is an inspiration to us and the kind of products we design,” says Vivek Prabhakar (34), chief executive officer and co-founder, Chumbak.
Prabhakar and his wife, Shubhra Chadda (32), head of product and design, founded the Bengaluru-based company in March 2010. Since both Prabhakar and Shubhra love to travel, they realised that while most other countries have lovely souvenirs like fridge magnets, which are affordable and easily available, India had almost nothing to offer expect the run-of-the-mill Taj Mahal replicas and Pashmina shawls. Instead, they decided to come up with products that captured the essence of living in India. Hence, among its variety of products, you would find an auto-rickshaw wallah bobble head, a chai wallah fridge magnet and a cow mouse pad among others. Chumbak has also grown well in a span of two years – from 10 products, it now has 30 products under four main categories: apparel and accessories, stationary, home and lifestyle, and travel and souvenirs. “From the very first month itself, we knew we had a hit: people would call us and our fan following on Facebook started growing,” says Prabhakar. By the fifth month, Chumbak turned profitable and it now has 110,000 followers on Facebook.
One of the first things we did was to define a theme for Chumbak. And that was India.
Rise and shine
Whether it is the dinner table conversations or their daily evening walks, the talk eventually steers towards Chumbak. As with any startup entrepreneurs, Prabhakar says that Chumbak is their sole focus. “I don’t think there is a line between work and play for us. We’re very passionate about Chumbak and we get excited about newer opportunities or designs that are in store for it,” he adds. And when they’re not tending to it, they like to spend time with their four-year-old daughter.
Prabhakar and Chadda start early at eight in the morning to plan their day and answer the 200-odd emails they receive regularly. While Chadda handles the retailers, Prabhakar takes care of the manufacturers and the website. But they work together on the design and the product. They then get to the warehouse and spend much of the day there sorting out orders, tracking payments etc. – often having lunch there. Evenings are back to emails and while Chadda wraps up by eleven in the night, Prabhakar often works post midnight. “We sit with designers twice a week and discuss with them about our ideas and how to illustrate it. It could be theme-based like Bollywood or designing an auto rickshaw on a product,” he adds. One day midweek is spent visiting stores, checking out displays, getting feedback and finding out new entrants in the market. Neither is afraid to get their hands dirty, often sitting up at wee hours to package their products or making sure they’re shipped on time. To unwind, the couple likes to watch TV, read or surf the Internet. They still love to travel, the interest that led to the germination of Chumbak, and do so twice a month. But Sundays are strictly off or at least they try to.
With a total team size of 15, Prabhakar proudly states that many of them have been with them since the inception. “We maintain a very flat structure – the junior most employee can approach us easily. And while it’s important to grow the startup, we also want to help grow the people involved in it, especially those from the lower socio economic background. A few of them have availed home loans from us,” shares Prabhakar. The team goes out for lunch/ movie once a month.
Living the dream
Chadda graduated from travel and tourism from Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru in 2000 but, due to limited opportunities then, went on to work in finance and later, marketing with KPMG and Nortel respectively. Prabhakar worked in the retail and marketing field with companies such as Titan, Motorola and Sun Microsystems. Chadda says, “A year after my daughter was born in 2007, I was ready to do something challenging. So, for a whole year before launching Chumbak, we researched about products, designs, manufacturers etc. We approached many designers as well.” Convinced about the need for such products, they sold their house and with an investment of Rs. 40 lakh started Chumbak.
The duo knew the design should be clean, colourful and appeal to 18 – 35 year olds. Though the original idea was magnets, the design lent itself to more number of products. Chumbak now has about five designers who work on its products. The initial challenge was mainly getting its signature design and type of products right. Ensuring quality was also crucial and they were particular about the manufacturers. The team first targeted airport retail chains to gain visibility. It now retails with 150 stores in India and 70 in Japan. “We received positive response from day one because Chumbak was breaking through all the clutter,” says Prabhakar. It also gets eight to ten orders a month from corporate companies to customise its products and that accounts for 10 per cent of its revenues. And in the past six months, its e-commerce arm has also gone up from three per cent to generating 12 per cent of its revenues, now offering cash on delivery.
Word of mouth has helped Chumbak gain popularity. “Many like the fact that Chumbak symbolises India and is very much a ‘made in India’ product. The brand is now become bigger than any one product. If we introduced a new product, people buy it because they recognise the Chumbak brand,” says Prabhakar proudly. Though other players have entered the segment, he is confident of the range they’ve built and especially in their core areas viz. magnets, key chains, bobble heads and luggage bags. “We’ve managed to establish a unified design that when you pick up a product, you would know if it’s a Chumbak product.”
As they plan to increase more products and variety in each, they’re also looking to build brand awareness with better displays, setting up kiosks and shop-in-shop concepts. “We make products that we would like to use too. And that plays a big factor when we introduce newer ones,” signs off Prabhakar.
Vivek Prabhakar (VP): To open a café
Shubhra Chadda (SC): I’m living my dream through Chumbak
What keeps you up at night?
VP: A new product or design
SC: Everything because when you’re an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you.
VP: When people don’t revert to you on time
SC: People who don’t say no and then don’t keep their end of the bargain up.
VP: The vertical Ravana we designed for a T-shirt.
SC: The Kamasutra series, without depicting nudity.
India is to you:
SC: Full of inspiration