From 10 orders a month to 15 orders a day: the extraordinary rise of Outbox, the Kolkata-based surprise planners
Do people really need professional help to turn their special one’s special day, extra special?
A few years ago, the concept of planning surprises or getting a professional to make special deliveries on momentous occasions for your beloved would have seemed a little over the top. Some would have even called it outrageous to spend money on what most people consider a personal moment. But all of this is fast becoming a thing of past, thanks to a handful of new age startups ready to think out-of-the-box -- literally!
Meet Kolkata-based Outbox
It was in October, 2014, when Sukriti Agarwal and Kaushal Modi, both students of Kolkata’s St. Xaviers College, decided to skip their corporate careers and start something on their own.
“Kaushal and I were college friends,” says Sukriti, “After college, we both got placed in our respective jobs. But three months later, we decided to startup.” That they both had caught the entrepreneurship bug early is amply evident. In her own words, “The thought of starting early was risky but a simple thought took us ahead – If not now, when?”
Kaushal Modi and Sukriti Agarwal
Their startup idea was equally out-of-the-ordinary – a venture aimed at making profit out of planning surprises, gift deliveries, and larger-than-life gestures for clients on birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Father’s Day, and a whole range of other special occasions.
But the biggest risk, as they say, is not taking a risk at all. Thanks to their early venture in this industry, Sukriti and Kaushal are today reaping huge returns off their surprise planning startup, Outbox. On the verge of completing their fifth year, the duo is now looking at a steady 25 percent YoY growth and expansion into newer geographies.
A special dining experience
“From sending personal invites to the recipient for dinners to personalising small things like table mats, candles, balloons for every experience, we do it all,” says the 27-year-old co-founder of the Kolkata-based surprise planning startup.
“Our main focus, however, is quality of service. Hence, our vendors are also carefully chosen. We have a mix of artists, graphic designers and state-of-the-art machines that combined together, makes the best combination for creating magic.”
However, what sets Outbox apart from the legion of similar service providers in the market is their proposal planning vertical.
“We help people invest a little money to create one of the most important moments of their lifetime - their proposal! In the past four and a half years we have created more than 500 proposals with a 100% success rate,” Sukriti says.
Perfection lies in the details
Given that the surprise planning industry is at a fairly nascent phase in India, we asked Sukriti to take us behind the scenes and bust a few myths around this sector. And she happily obliged. At the top of the list being the misconception that hiring a proposal planner is only for the rich.
A private helicopter ride
“This is not true,” she quips. “Most of our clients are middle-class professionals who just want everything to go perfect on their most important day.”
That being said, Outbox’s services might seem a tad bit costlier than others. As Sukriti explains, “Our charges are higher than some of our peers because of the detailed attention given to every experience. And such personalization becomes easier when you have an in-house resource.”
A special proposal
Typically to plan a surprise proposal, Sukriti says, would require you to shell out anywhere between Rs. 7000 to Rs 1 lakh, depending on how extravagant one wants the proposal to be. “On an average, though, clients spend anywhere between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000,” she says.
It’s a creative process at the end of the day, one that requires attention to details and close monitoring of every little aspects pertaining to individual clients.
“Creativity is everywhere, so we have hired people from Instagram and Quora too,” she adds.
An eye on newer markets
“Currently we are 22 professionals in the organisation with a vendor connect of more than 100,” says Sukriti adding, “In the first year of our operations, we were just a team of four.”
Dining on water
For team Outbox, the growth has been unmissable. Not just in terms of their team strength, but also with regards to the increase in experience offerings, the number of orders processed, and their growing presence in the organised surprise planning market.
“From doing just 10 orders a month, we are currently averaging 15 orders a day” says the surprise planner, who bootstrapped the venture with a mere Rs 10,000 in 2014. “We’ve always had a consistent 25% YoY increase,” she adds.
Exactly when and how this “surprise and delight” industry picked up steam, is difficult to put down in numbers. But over the past decade there has definitely been a surge with startups sprouting up across the various parts of India, taking up the “art of surprising” as their one true mission.
Usually, in this industry, there are two types of players, explains Sukriti. One is an aggregator, who will simply connect you to the vendors – read hotels and restaurants – who are responsible for executing the surprises. And the second type is the provider, who will deploy their own resources with the help of experts and artists to focus on the quality of the surprise.
Father's Day celebrations
“We fall under the second category,” notes the brain behind Outbox, “Having said that, about 20 percent of our services is strictly aggregation.”
Born out of the desire to take the entrepreneurial road, Outbox’s journey has been nothing less than memorable, successfully bringing to fruition more than 57,000 surprises over the past five years. They are even looking at newer geographies with a Bengaluru launch in the pipeline.
With all that’s been achieved, the team has one simple goal now - to be the one stop solution to book any kind of surprises for your loved one across the country.
Intrigued with this insight, we pose one last question to Sukriti, what more can be done to accelerate the business of surprises in the future?
Sukriti has a very simple response: “A general industry awareness could fuel a fast-paced growth.”