Lessons for entrepreneurs from Chumbak — an ‘attractive’ Indian venture

Whenever Vivek Prabhakar, founder of Chumbak, would travel around the country, he would always look for small gifts to bring back for friends and family. During these trips he began to realize that wherever he went, all he could find were small replicas of old Indian monuments like the TajMahal. The thought occurred to Vivek  to add a bit of colour and modernity to the market of Indian trinkets. At eSparks 2013 (checkout the 12 presenting companies), which took place in Bangalore on Saturday, Vivek shared the story of how this idea brought him into eCommerce.


He decided to enter the market by selling unique Indian refrigerator magnets, and therefore settled on the name Chumbak (literally “kissing stones”) for his venture. His first design was an autorickshaw magnet that became so popular that Chumbak soon expanded into mouse pads, mugs, key chains, even flip flops and t-shirts. Newer designs such as “You Know Your Indian When,” “The Great Indian Wedding,” “Mad Madhubani,” and “Ravana” saw similar success.

After a brief background on Chumbak, Vivek’s presentation segued into a series of lessons that eCommerce entrepreneurs could learn from. The first was a lesson that most struggling or successful entrepreneurs already know well: get your hands dirty. It clearly resonated with the entrepreneur attendees crowding the Royal Orchid conference hall, which erupted in applause when Vivek’s PowerPoint flipped to a picture of a sign reading, “The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.”

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“Focused passion is better than just passion,” read the next slide. Vivek emphasized the point with an example: “when you play pingpong, only 10 percent of the time is actually playing, 90 percent is chasing the ball around the room.”

His third lesson was to build a strong team, another that entrepreneurs have probably heard once or twice before. “A good team,” Vivek explained, “is a guy that you can call at two in the morning and tell him the office is on fire, and he has already hung up because he’s on his way.” Illustrating with a pie chart, he added that when it comes to relationships, only 10 percent consists of liking the same thing, while 90 percent of the relationship is about hating the same thing.

Fourth, Vivek emphasized the need as an entrepreneur to invest one’s own money in the venture. Testament to his own dedication, Vivek explained how during Chumbak’s early days he actually sold his house to help fund it.


Fifth: be social. As an entrepreneur in 2013, you have to be able to communicate with your customers. “Get online, be social, talk to people,” he urged. “You have to talk to your customers and listen to them. They are the best critics that you’ll be able to find.”

His sixth lesson was to say no to perfection. It is not important, Vivek explained, to spend too much time getting the perfect business model or the perfect logo. “Get out there and work, and fail, and take some risks,” said Vivek, segueing into his seventh lesson, which was just that: to take the risks.

Finally, a bit of advice that no doubt came as comforting words to those in the audience living the busy and stressful life of an entrepreneur: have fun, loads of it. “You are going to work a lot,” Vivek said, “24 hours a day in the first year… Take some time out to have fun. Celebrate even your littlest successes.”

Unlike many eCommerce ventures represented in the crowd on Saturday, Chumbak began as an offline retailer and still receives the majority of its business offline. “We were never planning on being an online company, and we never will be an online company,” Vivek said in response to an audience question. Chumbak receives between 80 to 85 percent of its business from offline sales, and if all goes to plan, it will stay this way in the future.

We at thank E-Sparks Title Sponsor, Microsoft, Financial Technology Partner, Intuit, Associate Sponsors, ReferralCandy and Aramex and Exhibitor, Moolya.

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