How this Pune D2C startup fills the gap for new-age Indic collectables, souvenirs, and merchandise
Husband-wife duo Padmaja and Sunil Jalihal have helped over 400 Indian artisans increase their livelihoods through the Heart for Art Charitable Trust, which they set up in 2014.
But they saw an opportunity and launchedin December 2019 to create products that narrate the stories of modern India and its civilisation.
“Despite thousands of stories about our traditions, culture, heritage, and achievements — India’s collectables, souvenirs, and merchandise are mediocre, badly packaged, and not branded. Meanwhile, lesser and smaller countries have better-quality souvenirs,” says Founder and CEO Sunil Jalihal.
“With the rise in India’s tourism, pride, and nostalgia, it was a big opportunity for us,” he adds.
India only has a meagre 2 percent share in the $48 billion worldwide souvenirs, crafts, and merchandise market, despite having 60 percent of the world’s artisans.
The Pune-based brand offers products — priced between Rs 250 and over Rs 15,000 — including Shunya (objects that narrate the stories of Zero), Time and Space (India’s gifts in the area of Mathematics, Astronomy, and Science), Indian classical dances, mudras, and navarasas.
It also retails the ISRO collection, Yoga tools, Yantras and mantras about geometry, Traditional Indian board games, The Republic, NDA collection, Box charkha and desktop looms, and 30 other collections.
At present, Indic Inspirations is working on some of its upcoming collections around the Indian Railways, the Indian Ocean, India’s navigation history over three millennia, etc.
“We provide users with a seamless experience between our online and physical store. Customers scan product codes, add to cart, pay through their mobile phones, and choose to pick up either at the store or have it shipped to their address,” Sunil tells YourStory.
The startup operates in India and globally through its online stores, and in FY21, it has processed 12,200 orders and sold 28,000 products.
Besides India, Indic gets its highest traction from the US, UK, Europe, UAE, Australia, and New Zealand.
Its online store’s front-end is integrated with logistics, social media marketing, customer care, and other IT systems using cloud-based applications.
At present, the startup has 16 employees and plans to grow to a size of 50 members by June 2023.
According to Sunil, Indic Inspirations is unique for its product designs and the way it manufactures and distributes them. Built out as a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand in the culture space, it has been a founding member of the NICE (Network of Indian Cultural Enterprises).
“Other companies in the space include Chumbak, India Circus, Good Earth, Baaya Design, etc. However, Indic Inspirations and its storied objects build on the nostalgia and pride of specific stories of India’s culture and heritage and are different from the players in the space,” Sunil says.
The startup claims to have over 400 artisans from nearly 65 craft clusters working with it across 14 states.
Some of these crafts include metal crafts (Bidar, Karnataka); Swamimalai (Tamil Nadu); woodcrafts from Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh), Channapatna (Karnataka), and Etikoppaka (Andhra Pradesh); grass crafts from Odisha, Nayagram, Bishnupur (West Bengal) and Pattamadi and Erode (Tamil Nadu); folk painting crafts from Rajasthan, Mithila (Bihar); Gond paintings from Bhopal, Chhattisgarh, and many more.
“Our innovative, new-age, asset-lite retail includes pop-up stores, experiences, workshops and events, and online retail. The distribution will be extended to resellers, five-star hotels and airport stores,” he adds.
A social entrepreneur, Sunil has authored a coffee table heritage book Romancing the Chilli, highlighting India’s agricultural, cultural and culinary heritage around the Chilli. He also wrote about and created the concept of Military Tourism in India.
A visiting faculty at Symbiosis International University, teaching entrepreneurship and case studies in technology management, Sunil is also an Advisor - Ecosystem Partnerships at Yulu Bikes.
With an MBA in Finance, Padmaja has spent many years in the financial services industry in Mumbai and Bengaluru. She was part of the team at Sivan Securities that launched the initial Cafe Coffee Day outlets in Bengaluru. An art lover, Padmaja is also a collector of artefacts from around India and the world.
Funding and monetisation
Indic Inspirations was bootstrapped with Rs 60 lakh from promoters, friends, and family.
So far, the company has raised Rs 3.8 crore from angel investors, including professionals from Google, Goldman Sachs, Venture Finance Development Corporation, Citibank, a senior IT executive, and seasoned architecture-design and automobile industry entrepreneurs from India.
The startup is in talks to raise an additional Rs 5 crore in its pre-Series A funding round from angel networks and institutions.
“The startup generated revenue of Rs 1.2 crore amidst COVID-19 curtailed FY21-22. Indic Inspirations is in its investment and build-out phase and plans to grow its revenue to Rs 12 crore in FY23-24 and be profitable the same year,” Sunil says.
The company also plans to grow its revenues 5X in FY22-23 to Rs 5.2 crore through new product collections, partnerships, and new distribution channels.
It generates revenue through the sale of its products, experiences, and workshop events.
The way ahead
As per Sunil’s research, the worldwide handicrafts and souvenirs market is $48 billion and NASA’s merchandise market is $2 billion.
“With the large gap in India’s potential and the 2 percent of this market that we do today, the opportunity is a TAM of Rs 12,000 crore, and the company plans to get Rs 100 crore in revenue by FY24-25, with 20 percent net margins,” states Sunil.
Since the company started its operations just before COVID-19, it faced challenges as domestic and inbound international tourism almost stopped. Moreover, the offices shut, corporate spending on gifting, etc., also slowed down.
“Getting the country ready to design and manufacture world-class scale models and other challenges, we had to solve this by developing artisanal engineering skills for artisans,” Sunil says.