Overheard at every Indian home ever – “That’s how we Gujaratis/ Malayalis/ Tamilians/ Punjabis are,” thereby justifying all the little idiosyncrasies we inherit from our regions. While we wear these identities as a badge of honour, our expressiveness ensures that no one misses who we are- not even when we’re stuck in a traffic jam! No wonder 28-year-old Cherian Kunnath found his eureka moment when travelling in different parts of India.
But, there’s more depth and context to this moment. Let’s rewind a bit. Growing up in Bangalore suburb Yelahanka, Cherian was raised around a motley crew of people belonging to many cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. “I really love being part of the great Indian family. My Facebook friends include grand uncles who are in their 90s and nephews who are in their teens,” he says.
After studying Mechanical Engineering at Sir M Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology, he worked with Infosys for three years, before deciding to pursue his passion for design. “I loved the design language in old bikes and was part of the Bangalore Yezdi Club and restored several old bikes. I realised that I had a certain design sensibility and wanted to build on it, somehow. Therefore, while I wanted to start a business that was digital and built around technology in delivery and reaching customers, I wanted the product to be tangible - something customers could touch and feel. Something that would evoke emotion in their hearts and put a smile on their faces.”
When Cherian returned to India soon after completing a Masters’ degree in Automotive Design from Deakin University in Melbourne, he decided to take a break before he could begin his career at an automotive design firm. “I ended up travelling rather aimlessly to perhaps all four corners of India. And through these journeys, I would be fascinated by the stickers at the back of cars and trucks. The sheer diversity of the messaging and amount of personalisation that went into them was something unique to India. While the aesthetics were sometimes questionable, the sheer enthusiasm of automobile owners in India was amazing.
“Back in Bangalore, I would spend hours staring at the backs of the cars in front of mine - hoping to find something to brighten up my mood in endless traffic.” He figured, why not create that something personal and entertaining himself. That random thought was fleshed out into “The Indian Family Sticker”.
TheIndianFamiliySticker started off as a platform to allow customers to caricaturise their own unique family – be it Malayali, Kodava, Kannadiga, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati - and flaunt it on the back of their cars.
“India is rich fodder for creating unique and immensely interesting characters. Therefore, we stay away from the cultural stereotypes of communities – by taking an ‘insider view’ into account. For example, they would look at how a Malayali sees himself rather than how a North Indian views a Malayali, which, he feels, makes all the difference. “Our customers love the fact that there are so many quirks in our characters, which only they would recognise.”
Since they started back in September 2015, they have added many characters typical to the Indian cultural milieu like the Malayali footballer ‘Pandhukalli Pappu”, the Marathi cricketer ‘Deadball Damle’, the petrol head ‘Fullspeed Francis’, the fitness couple of ‘Deadlift Dhananjaya’ and ‘Pilates Priya’, the IT duo of ‘JQuery Jagdish’ and ‘Python Priya’ among other such quirky characters.
“I wanted the Indian Family Sticker to reflect simple values. I wanted the company to be small because I wanted to be in control of the critical elements of the business - design, communication and customer connect,” explains Cherian, which to him is the essence of entrepreneurship.
The stickers are printed on premium 3M transparent vinyl using a sophisticated white ink eco jet printing machine. “This is done in order to get the line drawing effect once the transparent stickers are put on the cars, giving the effect of a cut decal but allowing for the design complexity possible only on printed stickers.”
Bootstrapping was also a conscious decision, as Cherian wanted their company to use capital sparingly - the money they spent in building the company was his meagre savings from his corporate stint, and he did not want to spend more than they earned.
And earn, they have. The sales volume is growing at about 30 per cent month on month, and what started off as around 100 stickers in the first month, shot to over 1,500 in December. Priced at around Rs. 90, they are a completely online company, retailing through their website and marketplaces like Flipkart, Amazon, Zingohub and Car Dekho, besides exhibiting and selling at some expos. “Most car stickers are sold to clients between the ages of 16-35. Since we cater to the idea of a family the appeal is far more and that can be seen from the orders we have been getting from places in India that are not in any geography textbook.”
“In essence, we want to be able to create the next ‘Fido Dido’ a simple character which started off as a doodle on a napkin in a restaurant by its creators Joanna Ferrone and Sue Rose, but became so popular that it was later licence by Pepsico for their 7UP brand. We would love to be able to influence popular culture in India through our characters. If someone thinks of family stickers, they should think of us,” he says.
Scaling up, he wants to make their presence felt through physical retail outlets and events in India, and also possibly build a product that caters to corporate customers to engage with their employees.
We may have wondered at various points of the story whether the kind of people who stick stickers on their cars are the same who also go back to shop online for quirky products. While you probably assumed the two sets are mutually exclusive, the answer will surprise you. By extension, The Indian Family sticker will appeal to the same kind of design sensibilities and humour of people who shop at Chumbak or Happily Unmarried, both wildly popular lines of Indian paraphernalia with fresh and modernistic designs and texts. Whether it is a Kathakali bobble head or the ashtray shaped like an Indian loo called ‘sandaas’, or now, a car sticker, these collectibles will appeal to those who like tradition with a twist. In a way, this company might open up a whole new demographic for the car sticker market. And the Indian Family Sticker’s sales volume only indicate great Internet penetration and savviness, coupled with people’s willingness to try new things. The company’s journey, hence, will form a litmus test of sorts.
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- internet penetration
- quirky products
- Indian Family Sticker
- car sticker market
- Kathakali bobble head
- Cherian Kunnath
- The Indian Family Sticker
- The Great Indian Family