Vivek Prabhakar is a passionate traveller, and it was his adventures across the globe that got him thinking about one of the great mysteries of life – why is it that you can never find quality fun magnets on India, in India? Every time he travelled overseas, Prabhakar would bring back a fun memory of that place in the form of a fridge magnet but he could never any interesting memorabilia – souvenirs that mark a cherished memory or simply fun gifts and giveaways – on India. So he decided he would make them himself.
After toying with the concept for four years, Prabhakar finally launched his start-up Chumbak in 2009, a company that specialises in designing and manufacturing products like key chains, fridge magnets, coasters, bookmarks, laptop sleeves and even boxer shorts, all of them with a twist. And surprise, surprise! The company turned profitable in its fifth month!
Chumbak’s signature is to gently poke fun at all things Indian. So, inscribed on its products are tag lines like, ‘You know you’re an Indian because…’ followed by a list of hilariously ‘Indian’ traits such as ‘Indians have very bad handwriting’, ‘Indians buy 10 kg of rice when they can buy 1 kg’.
Before he launched his own venture, Prabhakar did have some experience in the retail and marketing space, with companies like Titan, Motorola and Sun Microsystems. In conversation with SME Mentor, Vivek Prabhakar, Co-Founder, Chumbak, talks about the key to entrepreneurship.
1) Get Your Hands Dirty
While in 2000, it was cool to work in a dotcom, in 2012, the cool thing to do is to become an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, becoming an entrepreneur is not as easy as working in a dotcom company! While starting out, people usually think they have the best business plan and will walk out of a venture capitalist’s office with a cool million dollars in funding. Listen very carefully – you can’t be a CEO from day one. I still tell people I am a CEO and a chaprasi rolled into one. But wrapping, packing and shipping stuff myself gave me an insight into how couriers function and they can’t do a number on me. Getting right into the business is the only way you will learn.
2) Hire People Who Are Smarter Than You
Getting the right people is the foundation of your company. If you recruit people who are not smarter than you, you will not learn anything from them. For instance, we have someone who handles our corporate sales. She has done some hardcore stuff like raising money for charity and has also sold calendars for an NGO. She is doing a much better job than I could ever do in this domain.
The flipside is you must involve them in every aspect of the job. This way, they also learn. The moment they stop learning, they get bored. My employees are never surprised when I ask them what they think about the design of a particular product. Employees who are passionate about their jobs are a true asset. This also helps you manage your ego, being confident and not insecure.
3) Invest Your Own Money
The best way to be passionate about your start-up is by investing in your idea. Only then will you say, “Why I am selling only one when I should be selling three?” Beware, this may also keep you awake at night but you can use the time to mull over how you can do better!
4) Be Social
People take Facebook and Twitter for granted. For instance, a lot of corporates employ an intern to run their social networking platforms even though they have no clue what the brand stands for. Others hire a digital media agency, which also doesn’t really know what’s in the founders mind. Under these circumstances, social media becomes a chore.
Conversation is an integral part of the company’s DNA and you have to make it a two-way process. It’s not meant to shove products down someone’s throat. It’s a fun thing and a place to hang out. So, the moment you mention your ROI on your social media platform, you loose the battle. These sites are purely a place to get feedback on your brand and inform people about the culture of your brand.
5) Say ‘No’ To Perfection
Perfection is a myth. We wake up every day, saying ‘Good today is better than perfect tomorrow’. Don’t keep waiting for the perfect business plan to get going. Don’t wait for the perfect colour for your logo. Start your business and everything else will fall in place. Don’t wait to be awesome; just start. You can always rectify errors later. You can always learn from your mistakes. You’ll achieve perfection only when you make many mistakes. And unless you do stuff, you won’t make mistakes!
6) You Can’t do without taking Risks
Risk is a word to cherish. Very few people who have a regular job start companies. There is no way you can continue doing a job, return home at 7 pm and then start working on your ‘other company’. It’s good to take risks. We sold our home, invested Rs 40 lakh in our company and lived in a rented space. It was our first house and we had done it up with much love but we realised it was ‘now or never’. I felt awful for five minutes but it was our grit and gumption that made it work. We didn’t have a single order when we sold our home; all we had was a strong gut feeling.
As told to Nikita Peer