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Interview With Chumbak: Little Pieces Of India

Posted: September 14, 2010

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Chumbak (‘magnet’), co-founded by Shubhra Chaddha and Alicia Souza is leading the pack on creative products in India and India souvenirs.

In this interview with Chumbak’s Shubhra Chaddha, we attempts to discover the secret of how Chumbak comes up with such crazy-fun products!

Tell us a little about your state of mind before starting Chumbak. What kicked you into taking the plunge.

Shubhra Chaddha: I had toyed around with the idea of Chumbak 4 years earlier, but nothing had come of it. Finally, it was my husband who gave me the “now or never” speech! I was nervous, since I was a first generation entrepreneur and had put my entire life savings into the project. At the same time, I was confident that the products would do really well since there was a gap in the market for fun and contemporary products based on India. The feedback from friends, family and retailers was also very positive.
So, Chumbak is all about novel and fun products based on Indian themes. While “India” itself is your inspiration, how you get specific ideas? 

Shubhra Chaddha: India is our inspiration and what a subject it is! Living in a country like India, you really don’t have to look far for inspiration. Everyday topics such as things you see on the road – cows, people, autos – everything helps us.

The New Wallah range for example is inspired by people you see all around you – the Chai Wallah, the Chat Wallah making yummy bhel puri or the Dabba Wallah bringing you hot lunch.  Sometimes we do themes such as Diwali and then our designs follow a certain theme. We also love patterns and colors.

A big fear for most entrepreneurs is that a new product will fail. Do you do anything to minimize the risks or do you just take your chances? 

Shubhra Chaddha: We don’t do any market research prior to launching a product. We typically decide amongst the 2 of us and go ahead with a product.  Since Chumbak largely targets young well traveled Indians and tourists, we believe we have a good feel for what they would like. So far we’ve not had a product which hasn’t done well, so I feel that this approach works for us 🙂

What are your best-selling products? 

Shubhra Chaddha: We’ve been in the market for almost 6 months and if we were to pick out the star performers, it would be any product with the ‘Auto’ Design. People can’t get enough of Auto Rickshaws! Another design that has done really, really well for us is the Chumbak Pattern. People seem to love the fact that it’s so colourful and you can see so many visual elements that remind you of India.

In terms of products, people have shown a lot of interest in the tins, posters, bobble head and pens since they are completely new and haven’t been seen in this form before.

You seem to be using social media a lot to communicate with your audience. How is that working?

Shubhra Chaddha: For our launch, we had no PR, no launch event – just a Facebook page and a fully functional Web Store. Before we knew it, we had almost a 1000 fans on Facebook, adding 100 new fans every 10 days. All this in less than 100 days of launch.

One of the fun, creative things we do is to encourage participation from our fans. We’ve always believed that Chumbak’s communication would never be one way. We do a Chumbak Weekend Contest every week to encourage fans to participate. Typical contest questions include themes that are India related. E.g.: “Which are your most memorable Bollywood movie dialogues and what would be a funny English translation?”

Instead of giving away products as prizes, we give away discount vouchers, which are then redeemable at our Web Store. This not only ensures that our contest winners get something substantial in value, but we also convert these fans into customers. This has always been the holy grail of any social media strategy: How do we convert fans to customers? We believe that this strategy has worked in our favour.

Online selling – something that most Indian websites still struggle with and users complain about. What has been your experience with the Chumbak web store? 

Shubhra Chaddha: Online selling has done very well for us. We promote the store URL on all our packaging. We constantly do small contests and other stuff on our Facebook  and Twitter page to drive traffic to the web store. Recently, we launched product combos -gifts that were easy to choose and priced lower than buying the products individually. A typical customer buys Rs. 1100 worth of Chumbak products per online order.

Finally, the eternal struggle between “creative” and “marketing” – is this on at Chumbak as well? How do Shubhra and Alicia deal with it? (And any other insights you have to offer on co-running a business?)

Shubhra Chaddha: Not really. We typically get an idea and discuss it for a while before getting into creative. This helps us from having issues once the creative is ready. The only time we do argue on the Marketing vs. Creative is when one of us wants to do a products and the other feels that it isn’t very ‘Chumbaky’.

The other thing about co-running a business is that we’re very clear on what each of us brings to the table. I could never draw like Alicia and she could never handle the other parts of the business like marketing, distribution or finance. Having said that we discuss EVERYTHING. From what colors a magnet should have to what stores to distribute to. And have fun doing it.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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