Let’s get it straight; most Indian startups are failing. As a nation, we aren’t producing what we must, and the struggle is real! Yeah, sure a lot of them are raising money but talk to any real entrepreneur, and they’d rather stay bootstrapped and never set sights on a VC ever. So how have certain successful startups survived and thrived?
Business: A design-led lifestyle brand for Apparel, Home & Accessories
CEO / Founder: Shubhra Chadda
The year is 2010. The very first batch of quirky fridge magnets produced under brand Chumbak is an optimistic 5000 units.
8 years later in 2018 Chumbak (don’t hold your breath, this could take a while) –
Has 100 product categories available in 25 stores pan India.
Is recognized as one of the top 4 advertisers in the world by Facebook and acknowledged by Google for its effective use of their services
Has grown YoY at a whopping 300%
Has raised over $20 mn in funding in the last 6 years
So how did Chumbak go from such a humble beginning to being a heavyweight brand?
I met with Chumbak’s Head of Marketing, Somanna Muthanna to explore the workings of their awesome brand.
- The idea: How it all started?
- How they launched the idea?
- How they got their first set of customers?
- The initial marketing plan: What channels were used?
- How they grew their business?
- Summary of Growth
- What Chumbak does differently?
- Advice from the founder
Data collection tools used to gather statistics include –
The Chumbak Timeline
The idea: How it all started?
The idea of Chumbak started brewing way back in the year 2004 in Shubhra’s mind, when she and her husband Vivek, were working as Marketing Communications Manager and GM of Marketing at Sun Microsystems.
Both of them loved traveling and did so extensively, whenever they found time from their busy schedules.
After a short stopover in a country, Shubhra realized that in almost all of their trips they would find amazing souvenirs that represented that country well.
She wanted to make beautiful products that represented India as she knew it, colorful and real.
How they launched the idea?
Shubhra finally decided to start with fridge magnets due to their obvious connection with tourists.
She didn’t know a lot about designing and running a business, but she was clear about the look and feel of these magnets. She was now looking for a great designer, and during this period she met a young, talented and quirky designer, Alicia Souza.
How they got their first set of customers?
After getting the designs ready, Shubhra and Alicia went ahead and got their first set of 5000 units manufactured from China. They then planned to unveil their products but to a very small audience. They showed their first batch to their close friends and family.
And were blown away by their response to the magnets.
The general reactions were, “Oh my god, these are so cute!” to “These are perfect” to “Shubra, you gotta take this further. You’ve got something here.”
So what were the marketing strategies that Chumbak deployed at various stages of their growth? Let’s find out.
The Chumbak Marketing Breakdown
The initial marketing plan: What channels were used?
After being validated by their inner circle, they planned to take their game to the ‘real world’ but on a small scale.
Boutique stores: Offline sales and marketing
- They made a list of stores selling funky and different products and spoke to their owners.
- Zeroed in on a 100ft Boutique restaurant & store in Bangalore, the first store to feature products.
- They decided to price the keychains between Rs 40 and Rs 120.
- Adding a small margin to compensate for the shipping and manufacturing costs.
- They approached similar stores in other cities too and found a nook for Chumbak products in some interesting boutique restaurants that include Chamiers in Chennai, Either Or in Pune, and Levitate in Bangalore.
Friends and Family
- They unveiled the products to their friends and family.
- The products stole the show.
- They were the perfect collectibles and nothing like this had existed before this.
- The pieces were immediately claimed with everyone scurrying to pay for them.
Results: Within the first month of operations, they made Rs 60,000 in Sales.
The idea to demand validation
So far so good, but there were still some things that needed immediate attention. Magnets were inexpensive, and therefore there wasn’t much scope in only selling these. Considering the design, manufacturing, shipping and other ancillary expenses collectively it would not be too profitable especially with the minimum order for manufacturing pegged at 5,000 units.
Solution: Creating diverse products
Soon after they got their initial samples Shubhra and Alicia realized that even after tasting success initially with Chumbak it would make very little business sense to continue this way. With just fridge magnets. They consulted family and friends and were advised to expand beyond the tourist demographic and introduce more such products, only different.
Why these products?
They were easy to design, affordable and already had a user base. Manufacturing was initially carried out from China and then they began working with Indian manufacturers too.
How they grew their business?
After soaking up some success in the offline world, it was time to go online. But until April 2010 Chumbak had a ‘Coming Soon’ label on their website. It was only a year later that they added an e-commerce functionality.
Online marketing channels
During the initial days, in a very small way, they started shipping their products internationally (to the US) via redpatang.com.
But it was time to plunge into the real e-commerce business.
- Chumbak partnered with Dailyobjects, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon, Myntra and Flipkart.
- Marketplaces are good but involve a deep discounting and even up to a certain extent dilutes the brand. So, Chumbak never went full throttle; they listed a few popular products on these marketplaces. In the long-run, this strategy made complete sense and worked to their advantage.
- On Flipkart, they mostly sold bags, home decor items, and clothing apparel.
- On Amazon, they sold keychains, diaries, and other DIY stuff.
- The marketplaces adapted their marketing and branding strategies and did extensive content, social media marketing along with running cool campaigns.
2. Content Strategy
Chumbak, being a design-led Lifestyle brand for apparel, home, and accessories needed to come up with a different perspective and approach.
Their blog mimics a storybook-like pattern where they tried to make the content as personal as possible. Furthermore, to increase the engagement they tried the following –
- Break the monotony: As a brand, Chumbak created multiple categories of posts to keep the engagement as high as possible.
- Quality over quantity: Quality content with proper moderation was their goal. Posts were scheduled in advance to go live at pre-determined times.
Statistics: Similar Web
On their blog, they have categories like –
Outfit ideas based on the season, Wardrobe planner, Colorful accessories like bags, clutches, etc., Office outfit and even some party dress hacks; they tried to make this one as personalized as possible.
Anything and everything good about food can be found here. From cool options for dinner and lunch to eating healthy and sharing exotic cuisines, they’ve covered it all.
Art of surprising someone is best explained by Chumbak’s Explore section. They’ve options for Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, and there is a new section for every other festival or occasion.
World Class destinations, Contests- to engage more user base, cool vacation ideas and a lot more.
One of the most trending topics of this decade, DIY. A lot of DIY hacks and tips from basic stuff like creating a paper bookmark to greeting card hacks, everything can be found there.
Special section for photographers and Instagrammers, where they feature many people touting Chumbak products. Instagram is a great tool, and almost every one is sharing something or the other on the platform.
Results: even better engagement!
Anything and everything about Chumbak, the journey, fun activities, store updates and their connection to their cultural values and opinions.
One thing to note here is, Chumbak never showed any hesitation in sharing as much quality photographs (related to their products) in their articles. This color gave their website a depth, a depth of personification.
And, this is what I think mattered the most in creating a flawless and seamless online engagement.
Integrating fan content within the website
- Focussed on integrating fan content within the website to make the website look more realistic.
- If you look at their website, i.e. their Home Page, the Fan Reel content enlists how many fans are using their products. This is the perfect way of gaining trust and building a connection with your persona. This is taken from Instagram and was later included in the Chumbak Fan Reel.
Facebook has been one of Chumbak’s biggest marketing channels. In Vivek’s interview with SocialSamosa Vivek says, “We don’t look at Social as something that requires an ROI. It’s about engagement and effective content. We are on Social Media to have fun” he says.
Here are some stats –
- Feb 2015 – Facebook: 3,50,000 Followers, 300,000 – 5,00,000 monthly unique visitors
- Dec 2016 – Facebook: 5,28,000 Followers
- Dec 2016: Instagram has 1,20,000 Followers.
- Rs. 15 to 20 lakhs a year on Social Spends
- 35% of Online revenue from Facebook. 25% online revenue comes from Facebook.
- 38% of Web traffic from Facebook.
- Chumbak gets 5X the ROI & 30 to 40% of Traffic comes from Facebook.
- Facebook reached 2 Million advertisers in 2015. On this occasion, Mark Zuckerberg sent Thank You notes to 4 brands in the world, who were successful advertisers with Facebook, Chumbak was one of them.
Facebook alone brings in 83.74% of the total traffic.
Chumbak is all about creating communities and connecting with audiences.
A lot of Chumbak’s design gives a premium feel. Its colors are bright and classy. Ideal for classy and quirky women.
To achieve that, Chumbak appointed their ‘community team.’ Their focus is not just limited to the application and formulation of the content, but it was also about engaging the community.
- Relevant Facebook Cover
- Frequency: replaced three to four times a month
- Relevance: cultural, seasonal and based on occasions
- Upcoming Sale notification
- New product launch
- Caption: relevant text explaining the post with Bit.ly links redirecting to Chumbak’s store.
- Bit.ly links: also helped them to collect analytics helping them to cater great content.
- Shop on Facebook
- Mostly image-based product catalog
- Short caption and product information
- Message button enabled customers to contact the sales team directly
- Exclusive offers – products mostly are on sale. Both the original and discounted prices are mentioned.
- One Post per day
- One quality post per day: Better engagement – measured comments and likes over shares
- No spammy posts
- Minimalistic captions: Allowed the post to speak for itself rather than creating confusing captions
- Bit.ly links for making it look clean and to collect analytics
- What is posted?
- Chumbak blog posts
- Blogs featuring Chumbak
- Sale Notification
- Latest deals and new product launch
- Seasonal apparel collection updates (Spring look, summer look)
- They made sure that they are not just doing it for gaining likes or shares, they invested in engaging with the community on a level that people can relate their posts to their everyday life.
With their motto of connecting with the audience, Chumbak never limited their posts to just their brand. They kept on posting content that the general population could relate to –
- Places you need to visit this summer?
- Drinks to quench your thirst
- Traveling Plans and destinations etc.
- Amalgamating other social media platforms
- Pinterest: Focus – Potential overseas buyers (international shipping)
- Sharing pins and boards
- Primary content: catering to the audience interested in their business
- Secondary content: related to the industry
- Tertiary content: interests, personalized content
- Products included – fashion, home decor, accessories
- Food that looks fun, the food we love, food by Chumbak
- Generic: Make happy, Genius Ideas, Travel, DIY
- Culture: in the NEWS.
- Pinterest → redirect to Chumbak product page
- Use of unique photos and captions
- Content curated for a special audience
- Pinterest: Focus – Potential overseas buyers (international shipping)
Primary Content Secondary Content Tertiary Content
Pinterest Statistics: 899 pins, 4025+ boards, 2260 followers
- Instagram: Focus- Instagrammers, photographers, models
- Post frequency – 4 times per day on an average
- Contests – to engage more people, #Bangalore for #DrippedInGold
- Ad shoot campaign contest for models → More engagement
- Hashtags –
- Dedicated hashtags that comply with the theme of their products – #foodbychumbak #weekendfun #makehappy #quoteoftheday #homedecorations #cocktails
- And one Chumbak dedicated hashtag – #shopchumbak #chumbak #fashionbychumbak #foodbychumbak
- Redirecting to Instagram shop, similar to the Facebook market.
- Instagram: Focus- Instagrammers, photographers, models
Instagram Statistics: 3337 posts, 182k followers
- Twitter: Focus- Twitteratis, investors, potential clients
- Unique, high-quality tweet three to four per day
- Tweet: great photo + caption + link
- Online contests catered for the bloggers, models, and photographers. → More engagement.
- Products: Redirects via Bit.ly links to the store
- Contests: Redirects via Bit.ly links to the Instagram contest post
- Blog posts: Redirects via Bit.ly links to Chumbak and other relevant blogs.
- Trending #hashtags –#shopchumbak #chumbak #fashionbychumbak #foodbychumbak #weekendfun #makehappy #quoteoftheday
Twitter Statistics: 11.8k tweets, 9,000+ followers
- Type of posting: Facebook ad types were chosen
- Facebook links were preferred for a single product category
- The carousel was preferred while showcasing a whole chain so that the user could browse through the whole category.
- The process of creating daily posts
- Creation of calendar and daily scheduling the post and their frequency.
- Image size, layout, and design were finalized and how many such posts are to be created.
- Bit.ly links are embedded to make sure the purpose of CTA is fulfilled.
- Boosting the ones that are doing well via Facebook ads for even better engagement.
- Collection of analytics used in the Facebook campaign scheduled for the following week.
- Engagement level and success
- Their goal was to achieve > 2.5% engagement levels.
- Chumbak applied this tactic to correlate the number of likes they got to the success of their product. Initially, they assumed if they are getting 2000+ on a post, their product is doing well.
- Not providing product prices
- Mentioning the price of the product you are selling may attract negative comments and may lead to drop-offs. So, they kept this point also in consideration.
- Facebook, a recruitment tool
- This is how it is done – As and where there is any job opening they notify via their Facebook profile. A bit.ly link is added redirecting to the recruitment page on their website.
4. Instagram and Twitter
- Trends on: #chumbak
- Other hashtags that they use most frequently – #foodbychumbak #weekendfun #makehappy #quoteoftheday #fashionbychumbak
- #dippedingold contest: Promoting the gold collection
- Relevant # to the post: #ecommerce #diwali #fashion
- Bitly links
- bit.ly/CBKGld: Gold collection
- bit.ly/CBKStores: Step into a store near you
- bit.ly/CbkWd: Fun Wedges
- bit.ly/CbkGc: We hope you have a wonderful festive season! Explore the collection here
- bit.ly/CbKWnk: #WeekendFun, The Best Weekend Guide You’ll Ever Need!
The MakeHappy Fan Reel
- Created a community page and named it ‘The Chumbak Fan Reel.’
- The Chumbak Fan Reel community page will automatically feature Instagram posts with #chumbak and has a Chumbak product in it.
- Embedded links to the Chumbak store so that the products can be purchased directly.
- This mix of community and commerce intertwined beautifully.
Everybody Loves Everyone
- Launched during Valentine’s week in the year 2013.
- Made a cute video that had characters getting along with each other.
- Printed these characters on the products and were sold.
Conversations with Chumbak
- Invited interesting people and covered their journeys. They covered stories of Wildlife Enthusiasts, Filmmakers, Beer Producers.
- They made a set of videos that gave a peek into their lives and what these people are passionate about.
- Benefits – It helped Chumbak to stand out as an offbeat and interesting brand.
6. Google Adwords
- Went after branded keywords only – Chumbak online, Chumbak magnets, Chumbak shoes, Chumbak laptops
- Ranked for unusual keywords – For example, Funky Boxers
- Searches – 500-600 (less)
- Compensated by advertising out for such keywords to cater to this small market
- Ads displaying latest offers and discounts
7. Influencer Marketing
Saying “Hey we are a fashion brand; let’s get a fashion Instagrammer to promote us.” is taking the easy way out. Instead Chumbak focussed on Micro Influencers, people who are already their customers and who have a good following going.
Focussed on brand-centric keywords and certain other keywords that were catering to small groups of audiences to increase engagement.
Offline marketing channels
Although Chumbak was selling well in third-party stores, they realized the products would be placed haphazardly and in a way the store deemed fit.
They wanted to create their very own shopping zones and give people the Chumbak experience.
- Choice of location – Ones with the most footfall, in a happening part of town and the most popular of malls.
- First Kiosk – Forum Mall in Koramangala, Bangalore.
- Focus – Chumbak experience rather than just selling.
- Branded beautifully and consistently and become a branding initiative as much as a selling initiative.
- Results – They broke even within four months.
2. Flagship Stores
- Focussing on the age-old mantra of ‘Location, Location, Location.’
- They standardized the designs of products and structure of their stores.
- Opened their next stores in Select CITYWALK Mall, Delhi, Oberoi Mall, Mumbai and a few more cities.
- Analysis– Took 3-4 weeks and analyzed the success of their newly opened stores.
- If a location was not up to the mark, they removed the store.
- Reasons for failure of some stores:
- Lesser revenue in some locations.
- Due to the location itself, sometimes the footfall was less.
- Sometimes the kind of crowd that the mall attracted hadn’t warmed up to Chumbak’s style yet.
3. Overseas Expansion
- Apart from exporting their products to Dubai, the US, and the UK. Chumbak got contacted by a Japanese store owner.
- Within 8 months (by the year 2011), Chumbak started to build a presence in over 50 stores in Japan which lasted for a few years before closing the overseas operation.
Summary of Growth
|LAUNCHING THE IDEA||————————||Rejected by boss
No design knowledge
No manufacturing knowledge
Needed to find a designer
|IDEA → DEMAND VALIDATION||Friends and Family
Partnerships with Boutique stores
|Manufacture 5000 pieces
New products to be created
|DEMAND VALIDATION → GROWTH||
|GROWTH TO EXPANSION||OFFLINE:
What Chumbak does differently?
Some daring moves
- Shubhra left her corporate job to work on Chumbak full time.
- Vivek and Shubhra sold their house in 2010 to fund their business. A bold move, indeed.
- Vivek joined the business in the year 2011.
Emphasis on data across the board
- Entering new markets
- Optimizations on every campaign
- Creating an avatar that people could relate to
Conversations with Chumbak
In their recent marketing effort, they’ve started something called Conversations with Chumbak which covers the stories of really interesting people and their journeys.
These include stories from Wildlife enthusiasts, Filmmakers, Beer Producers and more. These set of videos give a peek into the lives of these people and what they are passionate about.
How does this translate into sales?
These efforts don’t directly lead to conversions (sales) but they place the brand in a unique position. They show Chumbak as being offbeat and interesting. We are perceived based on how we communicate.
They started Breakfast with Chumbak to get to know their customers better. They called some of their customers to have breakfast with them one Saturday morning.
The event was supposed to last for 2 hours, but it ended up lasting for 6 hours instead.
Chumbak wanted to understand their customer’s life. What were their motivations? What TV shows did they watch? Did they have a TV at home or did they just use the TV to connect an HDMI cable and stream their favorite Netflix accounts?
This piece of Information may seem irrelevant, but for Chumbak, it helps understand the psyche of their customer. If they are able to cater to the personality of their user, they have a user for years to come.
- The e-commerce functionality was added almost 1 year after the Chumbak Website was launched.
- The Store is now online, and people can buy their products directly.
- The website development is still outsourced.
- They asked their audiences for feedback and implemented the most desirable features in their website.
Starts with hiring: Designers were hired based on skillsets and they had to have a sense of humor. There was no restriction in terms of the kind of work the designers did. Designers wrote copy as well for the designs and marketing material.
Creating an avatar that people could relate with: Chumbak although unabashedly original, looks at happening trends all over the world. Som (Somanna, the Marketing Head) said “Animal designs were trending all over the world and our thought was what bird can we do? ”They thought of the Owl. Our Immediate question was “What about the crow?” The Immediate answer from Som was “The crow by itself is not pretty”. A bit unfair on the crow we thought, but we couldn’t argue with the logic. The Owl was also a symbol of insults and compliments. Goobe (Kannada) and Ullu(Hindi) means Owl used as an Insult. They decided to stylize the owl and add color to it. This turned out to be great and this design was almost in every product category, even breakfast tables.
Create the uniqueness: Vivek had mentioned explicitly that Chumbak’s design had to be identifiable without the logo 9/10 times. This was a very powerful differentiator. Their intention was to create something unique in terms of designs and this style came to be known as the Chumbak style. The Owl design that has become so ubiquitous. It is a guarantee that every girl in her early to mid-20s would have had the owl design in some shape or form. As a necklace, or a bag or a phone cover.
Add Chumbak to everyday objects: They work on only adding the “Chumbak” experience to everyday objects. This helps in bringing out product categories like never before, also their main focus is to work on the design. This means they don’t reinvent the wheel, they just focus on making it look a lot more beautiful. The products in the market were already functional, they just didn’t have the design flavor to go with it. If you take their laptop sleeves, for example, they would be simple laptop sleeves without any extra pen holder or extra compartments. Keeping this aspect simple has made Chumbak focus on design to add more of their strength.
Simplicity: One of the most striking aspects of Chumbak’s approach has been its simplicity. They don’t experiment with the form factor of their products. In fact, they don’t change a single bit. Their designs are so simple but yet so catchy that it was plagiarized in every shape and form and put on products.
Hire the right designers and give them creative freedom: At Chumbak, the designers are trusted to come up with their own styles. There are no specific briefs given. This is an important aspect because a person’s originality comes into play.
Chumbak’s earlier design work set them apart and this is exactly what they wanted. They wanted their products to be vibrant and that exuded fun. Like Steve Jobs said in his 2000 unveiling of the iMac “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”
The culture at Chumbak
When we visited Chumbak’s offices, we realized this company was as bright inside as it was outside. Their offices were similar to their stores. We walked in and the receptionist hadn’t walked in yet, it was a Saturday morning. There is an open-plan in the office like most startup offices with two rooms for imaginative conceptualizing and gatherings.
- Hiring people who you want to hang with too: Chumbak hired people that they would want to otherwise spend time with beyond work as well.
- Jolly working environment: The team goes out a lot where they ask each other awkward questions and crack jokes about the fights at the office. In a sense, it is a leveler.
- Connecting the dots: Chumbak’s culture hinged on hiring people who would be similar to the customer persona. This meant, the team did not have to overthink about what the customer would like and not like.
Advice from the founder
Hire an accountant
The first person you should hire is an accountant. Very important to know your numbers. Passion is awesome but you need the money.
Focus on a few things
When they delved into too many product categories early on they had to cut back because it was getting too difficult to handle. The lesson learned is that it’s good to have passion, but better to have focussed passion.
Have some skin in the game
The point is that you need to put some meat in the game before you go looking for investments. When your money is in the game, you’re up at 3 am trying to see where you can get more business. So even if it is 10% of the money required to startup, put your money in the game.
Taking the dive
Don’t be scared. Jump into the deep end. That’s the advantage of being a startup. It’s far easier to take risks and not get hurt.
As simple as it sounds, most people tend to forget it. Get music in your office/home/warehouse, Get a life outside of your startup!
Get to market ASAP
At Chumbak, we pretty much live by this adage: “Good today is better than perfect tomorrow”. Don’t waste time getting your business plan perfected, don’t waste time getting the most awesome logo. Don’t waste time getting to market. Period.
Chumbak did not waste any time in claiming what was truly theirs. Success.
What do you think? How far are we as ‘Indian Startups’ from reaching that Gold Standard of triumph?