[The Turning Point] Why these mothers quit their corporate careers to make toxin-free crayons for kids

The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. Today, we look at Bengaluru-based Dabble, a profitable startup started by mothers Karen Saldanha and Neha Bajaj.
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“I have always believed in following my energy and intuition to create the life I love,” says Karen Saldanha, Co-founder of Dabble, which makes toxin-free paints, crayons, and art kits for the zero-six age group.

Started by Karen and Neha Bajaj in May 2018 to manufacture art products from organic materials, Dabble is an outcome of both the founders’ decision to create something that has impact, and a business that will grow in years to come.

The child-focused startup has come a long way in two years. It won an award for social impact and innovation from the Information Technology, Biotechnology, and Science and Technology Department of the Karnataka government. The award came with a grant of Rs 25 lakh for product research. 

It has acquired more than 7,000 customers in less than two years, and is now looking to achieve 100 percent sales growth this year, Neha says, She adds that the business is profitable and broke even at the end of its first year.

Safe art for all children

Karen worked with ICICI Prudential in sales, learning, and development for around a decade. In 2010, she joined IIM Bangalore’s women entrepreneur programme. After the programme, she started a corporate training practice. Shortly afterwards, she felt a need to use the arts as an expression in her work. It was then that she joined the one-year expressive arts therapy course.

Neha, on the other hand, worked as an advertising and editorial photographer for more than 12 years. When she stopped feeling excitement at work, she decided to pursue art therapy and chanced upon the expressive art therapy course in Bengaluru.

This is where the founders met. They became close while pursuing the course, and went on to give birth just four days apart. Karen and Neha were both sourcing art products for their children from abroad and realised the need for safe options at home.

Neha and Karen soon started asking themselves, “Why safe art only for our kids, why not for the children of the world? How about making our own crayons?”

These questions ultimately led to the launch of Dabble. Neha and Karen spent months researching crayons, natural waxes, and the first experiment was conducted in Neha’s kitchen.

“We created our first crayon in August 2017,” Neha says.

The magic of art

“One of our common friends let us use her outhouse for research and experiments.” Several months were spent developing products and letting their kids and those of friends test them. Gradually, business ideas developed and Dabble was started in May 2018 to “bring innovation and safety in products for the early childhood segment”, Karen says.

Soon, they commissioned a team of scientists and food technologists specialising  in developing child-friendly products.

“Our crayons are made from organic beeswax and come in fun shapes that are easy to grip and don’t break easily like other crayons,” Karen says. “We have also applied for a patent on our unique formulation.”

Dabble’s resolve to make non-toxic products also comes from the fact that its team of five are all mothers.

“The magic of art cannot be explained or expressed, only experienced. I wanted children to have the freedom to express themselves without boundaries, without lines, without fear. Dabble has helped me do this and the feeling is phenomenal,” Neha says.

The startup is incubated at NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, IIM Bangalore. The co-founders are confident that all the accelerations, awards, and revenue will help Dabble scale rapidly this year, add more products, and focus on online distribution with a larger team.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai