How an MBA grad became a marketplace millionaire by selling umbrellas
It is used in religious ceremonies, photography, as a weapon of attack and even as protection against an attack. The first reference of this device was made 24 centuries ago as ‘Zhou Li’. In the Indian context, it is referred in Mahabharata while talking about Jamadagni and his devoted wife, Renuka.
An umbrella, as we know it today, is primarily used to protect us from the rains and sunlight. But unlike many, Pratik Doshi saw the opportunity to build an entire business on it. For someone who has generated a revenue of more than Rs. 30 lakhs(USD 50,000) in a couple of months by selling umbrellas, Pratik welcomes and embraces the rains with an unparalleled enthusiasm.
Pratik has been through the roller-coaster ride of entrepreneurship with an extra bumpy bootstrapping experience. YourStory spoke to Pratik to find out his secret to success and future plans with Cheeky Chunk, the brand under which he sells his umbrellas.
Turning the tables
Pratik started Cheeky Chunk in 2014 when he marketed a few umbrellas in a small market. Due to the great response, he decided to start a company selling unique designer umbrellas at affordable prices and opted out of a job after his post -graduation. He says,
I got this idea for two reasons –It wasn’t done by anyone before, giving me an access to a largely untapped market. Secondly, I couldn’t bear the monotony of a day job where I would have to work to make someone else rich.
Pratik recalls friends laughing at him behind his back and ridiculing the idea since none of them thought of selling umbrellas for a living. While all his MBA friends enjoyed fat paychecks at a desk job with little worries, Pratik was hustling throughout the city with nothing but a minimal capital and a bright idea that needed execution.
He managed to get 500 umbrellas manufactured and sold via friends and family. Pratik invested his savings of Rs. 1,35,000 which he earned by tutoring in his college days, for validating the idea. This money was spent on designing, manufacturing his product and developing the website. The idea was validated, but he hardly earned any money.
After the season, when I was jobless, I was told by people that the ‘time-pass’ was over, and I needed to go get a proper job now. What my friends earned in a month or two in their comfortable desk jobs, I earned through slogging, hustling and giving everything I had for more than half a year. There were times when even I thought, is it worth it?
However, the tables have turned now. What a regular MBA would earn in two years, Pratik earns that much working just for a quarter of the year only from selling umbrellas.
The painful yet worthy process
The handle, the panels, the cloth, the frame, the print, the stitching – everything needs to be perfectly executed in order to make the perfect umbrella. For manufacturing the umbrellas, Pratik sources the frames from Rajasthan, cloth from local domestic suppliers and has contractors for printing and stitching.
I’ve done a lot of things from coaxing a printer in a dimly-lit room to do a good job to carrying 10 kg of cloth on my back for a kilometre in order to ensure it gets manufactured on time.
As the number of orders surged to up to 400 per day, it became increasingly difficult for the small team to pack each order individually, cross-check the product, generate invoices and take care of other menial jobs. Pratik says,
It’s a marriage of different processes by different specialists. In no way is it easy, but it’s worth it. We overcame this by calling each and every person we knew to get the experience of how an e-commerce company worked.
Pratik believes that students are generally very sheltered and made to study pie-charts and excel sheets while the real learning lies on ground. He says,
When you go to Abdur Rehman Street and see how things work, it’s a totally different experience. I’ve learnt a lot about human behaviour, the art of negotiation, the value of being unique and the fruit of persistence. More than anything else, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt through this venture, which is also my favourite quote from The Gita is ‘Karmanaye Vadhikaraste MaPhaleshu Kadachana’ (You have the right to perform your actions, but you are not entitled to the fruits of the actions.).
The seven-member team of Cheeky Chunk comprises of two MBA interns, an accountant and two dedicated resources to check and pack the umbrellas. Since each umbrella is water-tested and checked for defects, the rate of returns is quite low.
According to Pratik, photography has played a key role in Cheeky Chunk’s marketing so far. He believes that 50 per cent of marketing is done by the product and the customer. Another smart tactic is to gift your product to people who are connected to your target audience. However, Pratik advises against paying anyone to write about your product as the reviews are more impactful when they are recommendations as well.
Pratik also emphasises on marketing on e-commerce platforms. He says,
The marketing starts right from the time you upload the listings for your products. Search keywords are the main filters. We have put more than 100 keywords through which people could come across our products. Some of these were even typos. We have to follow up persistently with the employees of these companies (marketplaces). I was so tensed on May 27, when I added my first umbrella on Amazon that I asked my uncle to purchase it from there so that at least there is one sale. It was on Page 20 at that time. In less than 3 weeks it was on page one and listed as the most sold umbrella ever on Amazon.in.
Pratik suggests in never telling your customer to buy your product. Instead, focus on just displaying the best product and making people love the situation where your product fits in. Cheeky Chunk focused on making people love rain and tried to invoke special memories related o rains.
It’s raining numbers
Currently Cheeky Chunk is selling through their website, Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and a few retail stores in Mumbai (in Bandra, Matunga, Breach Candy and Churchgate). Majority of the sales is coming from e-commerce marketplaces. They have already sold more than 7000 umbrellas, much more than the initial target 1000 set early this year. The contribution of tier-2 and tier-3 cities has been almost 40 per cent including those from Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Many of these comprise of the resellers who would buy in bulk from the marketplaces. Pratik is expecting the sales to touch 10,000 umbrellas by the end of season. Company’s profit margin is sustainable at the moment. Initially, it managed the working capital for umbrellas by giving suppliers a token amount and convincing them to give a credit period till they start selling the products.
Be a purple cow in a field full of white ones
Cheeky Chunk is focusing on one step at a time. They have prototyped a few products in the off season last year which will be launched by Diwali this year. Pratik understands that scaling in this industry requires the expansion of products lineup. He will be looking to get investors who like the work at Cheeky Chunk and connect to the team. He says,
When you see a crowd of 10 people carrying boring black umbrellas, you must smile when you see the eleventh person carrying a yellow one, designed Cheeky Chunk umbrella. That’s what we’re aiming to do for all our products.
He’s looking to hire, expand, mature and be a purple cow in a field full of white ones. A confident Pratik signs off with the following vision:
You’ll never see a regular coffee mug or a T-shirt that we’ll sell. There are so many people who are doing it and we wouldn’t want to waste our time doing the same. You’ll see us solving genuine problems with our creativity.