Entrepreneur Meeta Sharma Gupta shares here her story of building an online toy business – and doing it with an eco-friendly focus too. Read on for a #breakingbarriers story!
When my boys were little I would get toys for them from all over the world, as we could not find toddler toys or eco friendly toys for babies in India.
My journey with Shumee began when we moved back to India from a long stay in the US. Seeing my older one play and enjoy simple wooden toys in the US, I was exploring similar options for my second child who was a year old when we moved back. I searched even online toy portals but could not find eco friendly, wooden toys made from natural materials.
Unable to find good quality toddler toys at a reasonable price for him I would stuff my bags on every work related trip to the US. The more I explored the market the more I was surprised to see the absence of eco-friendly toys that let little ones explore and discover their world. The online toy market was full of gizmos and gadgets which promised that the child would be the smartest person in the world. Also, most of the toys were over stimulating, made of plastic with just a low price point adding to their appeal for parents.
Being a strong believer in eco-friendly toys and letting the child discover his or her own world and grow in the most natural way, I was motivated to start Shumee to bring back the joy of simple playing. I wanted to help reconnect the child to basics, provide toys which are simple yet engaging as they foster creation, discovery and exploration in a free play environment and hence abide by the guiding motto of ‘90% child and 10% toy’.
At the same time, I also wanted to offer a quality product made from natural materials and safe colours, that could take on any imported toy. Our purpose was to make products that are more than simply educational or learning toys for kids. We also wanted the easy access that online toy portals provided.
Building a brand completely based out India and in a market that is very fragmented was not an easy exercise and we are learning as we grow. We started Shumee at a time when the investor sentiment was more geared towards tech and app-based startups. We are a completely self-funded and working our way rooted in our conviction about the need for such products. The toy market is highly fragmented but parents are becoming more and more aware and are willing to spend a little bit more if the product is good. When they look for something that can enhance motor skills like puzzle games for kids, they are ready to go the extra mile.
We want to increase awareness about the role of eco-friendly wooden toys and how toys should be simple and not over stimulating for the child for their complete well-rounded development.
Finding manufacturers was the biggest challenge that I faced. The quality and safety standards we wanted to adhere to, our more complex non-traditional designs, high quality standards, and no-compromise attitude made it tough to find a manufacturer. Our toys are not mere fun or educational toys for kids. Getting manufacturers who understood the requirements was a challenge in itself, but added to that we had to start with low volumes due to cash constraints.
However, with some perseverance and a little bit of luck, we connected with very good partners who have a lot of confidence in the vision of Shumee and are willing to learn with us and grow with us, for which we are grateful.
Nurturing a business is just like nurturing young ones. Since we launched our online toy portal, it is exciting, exasperating, rewarding, frustrating and enriching all at the same time. It has been a roller-coaster of a ride. The joy of seeing little ones play with Shumee toys and see the satisfaction on the parents faces is quite priceless. In one of our very first pop up events at the beginning, we had a parent of teenage kids stop by and tell us wistfully, how glad she was to finally see the kind of toys she would have liked to have for her boys.
We have moms shower us with love on social media, expressing their delight at the quality and engagement levels for their child. From mothers writing in about the unique baby rattles and grandparents from overseas lavishing praise on our Ninjaki sets and other older toys, we hear from our many customers including from those who are impatient to get more as gifts and giveaways.
Many of our toys cut across ages and have enthralled entire families that bond over them. Their sheer quality, design and eco-friendly nature mean that they can be kept for very long and even passed on. It is this love and feedback that keeps us going and inspires us to expand our product range in the future too.
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