The freedom to create value has been the best part about starting up, says Sky Goodies Founder Misha GudibandaRakhi Chakraborty
When Misha and Amit Gudibanda first started up with their maiden venture in 2006, they were excited being at the helm of an idea whose time had come. “Sky Design was set up in 2006 on the belief that the potent combination of design and technology was a service that would have great value in the coming years,” they said in an interview. And in the decade since, Sky Design has done some ground-breaking work in films and the corporate sector.
But when they no longer had something to prove the duo realised that this was not work their heart was in. Misha says, “While Sky Design was doing well and growing dramatically, in our hearts we yearned to do something that created real value for people and was fun for us, too. In 2013, we took a much-needed break and thought about what kind of products we wanted to make.” The idea that appealed the most was to create an antidote of sorts to the plethora of impersonal mass-market products that drown the market in these times of e-commerce reign.
Misha says, “We zeroed in on ‘DIYs’ (do-it-yourself kits) and handmade ‘giftables’, as they have a high emotional attachment compared to mass-manufactured, readymade products. They evoke feelings of joy, love and most importantly, association. We played with our two biggest loves: paper and hand-painted art, and created some DIYs which we listed on our Etsy shop.”
The plan was to gauge the market reaction and take it slow and steady. Competing with paper crafts when you’re up against any number of shiny, pretty more durable objects is a venture as risky as any. But the reception was positive from the start. Misha says,
We were thrilled to have our work featured on the Etsy Blog, Disney’s Babble, Buzzfeed and This is Colossal, among many others. We got reviews and messages from customers all over the world, loving our work and asking for more. Hospice patients were making our DIYs for visiting relatives; autistic and disabled children were able to improve their motor skills with our toys; and many family memories were created with parents and children enjoying the DIYs together!
“So, we started building Sky Goodies as a cohesive brand. We put our savings into manufacturing physical DIY kits which were pre-cut and pre-creased. The idea was to make them so easy to put together, without using scissors or knives, that anybody could experience the joy of making. The vision for Sky Goodies is to create a world of lovely affordable giftables with high visual and emotional appeal, and which make people happy,” says Misha.
Misha and Amit were classmates in National Institute of Design. They belong to different schools of design-he is a product and she a graphic designer. But apart from sharing a keen love for quirky aesthetics they are passionate about their work. They started out as friends and moved on to becoming co-workers, life partners, parents and of course-co-founders. Sky Goodies is the culmination of their shared journey.
Sky Goodies sell original design paper products and crafts. We design paper craft kits that can be folded into different forms, to make useful objects and gifts; thus making the ‘making’ a part of the product experience. Our products are covered with intricate hand-drawn illustrations. We want art to be accessible and part of everyday objects.
Our art is inspired from Indian street art and truck art forms, and many products come from our love for vintage. We give pre-cut and pre-creased kits so that ‘making’ is not an activity just for paper cutters and craft lovers, but for everyone and every age. We also have other product ranges like notebooks, gift boxes, planners and labels, but all with the common goal of making the owner happy; to bring a smile to their faces every day while being used,” explains Misha.
Sky is the limit
Sky Goodies is based in Mumbai and the word sky has special memories for the founders. “We starting our careers traveling in Mumbai locals, jam-packed with people. It was all bearable as long as we could catch a glimpse of the sky through a window. ‘Sky’, to us, represented freedom and space, without limits,” says Misha. While Goodies can be taken to mean the goodies on sale, it also refers to what friends refer to the two as, instead of their comically long surname of Gudibanda.
Sky Goodies has experienced an impressive growth curve in the two years that it’s been in existence, especially since DIY crafts was a virtually untapped market in India before it emerged on the scene. Misha says, “Without risk, there can be no gain. Yes, we were aware of the risks, but we also had a clear vision, and saw that what we had in mind, did not exist at all in the Indian market, and in a limited way in the international market. While our products were appreciated abroad since day one, initially it was difficult to carve a space for DIY gifts in India.”
What eased it along, Misha feels, is the hyper digitized era in which we live. “The very fact that the digital world is taking over our lives, calls for something more hands-on and physical; so that people can take a break from their over-digitized lives; so that children who are used to instant gratification, ‘undo’s and ‘restart’, can learn to deal with failure; so that people can build connections with each other through effort and hand-made gifts.”
The firm recently opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Mumbai which, given the city’s cut-throat real estate offerings, is a testament to its upward growth route. Misha says, “The revenues from one vertical are fuelling the building of other verticals and so on. Revenues are growing as we explore new channels of selling, and also expand our product range. It is a natural growth curve and we will continue on this path for some time, till we have established all the verticals as planned.”
The couple have received several investment offers but are choosing not to go down that road as of now. Misha explains,
While it is tempting, we will take investment from people who understand our product and philosophy, at a time when we know the company and brand ‘Sky Goodies’ have been established the way we want them to be.
Sky Goodies was bootstrapped to begin with. “As sales picked up, it reached a sustainable level by the second year. Although, we are now injecting more funds into it, into another completely different vertical in the business. We have been working on building this from scratch over the past year, and aim to take it to market by mid-2016,” she says.
Braving the worst
When it comes to naming the worst thing about starting up, Misha has a ready list of pointers: “The hardest part of being an entrepreneur in India has got to be the tax system and the compliances expected of a startup. Always the biggest pain has been dealing with the paperwork. A small example: if we wish to participate in a 3-day exhibition and sell our products outside Maharashtra, one has to apply for a temporary VAT number in that state. It is a time-consuming, painful and expensive process, which discourages young companies from spreading their wings freely. While regulations are necessary, imposing them in initial years is detrimental to growth.
We were very happy to read about Mr Modi’s proposed Startup plan. We really hope it comes into practice soon.”
By comparison the best, according to the Gudibandas, has been worth every effort. Misha says, “The freedom to create value. The knowledge and feeling that our work creates joy, is truly invaluable. And the ability to achieve a high standard of quality, instead of confirming to prevalent standards and compromising on our vision.”
Misha says the best advice she ever received was from her AC provider who discouraged her from buying a bigger house, saying that from one office they would be able to make many offices. But from a home, they would not make many homes. “So we live a simple life, drive a small car and invest in our business,” she says.
In turn she is happy to pay it forward and offer some advice from her own journey. She suggests,
Build a good product/service that actually helps enrich people’s lives. Build good partnerships, with absolute clarity right from the start. Being an entrepreneur can be stressful. Take care of your own mental health. Have a hobby. And keep at it, till you succeed.