For all the startup enthusiasts reading the Headstart blog, here is an interesting post about “ The Joys and Sorrows of a Startup” by Shubhra, Alicia and Darth – the founders of a Bangalore based startup Chumbak, that sells innovative souvenir products like fridge magnets, keychains, bags, pens, t- shirts and books, all based on the theme – India.
We could not do but cover their post on our site. We found it witty and describing a startup workplace vividly. Great going Team Chumbak!!
We’ve been meaning to write this for the past couple of weeks. Someone once told us, “India is going through this phase where it’s rewarding entrepreneurship.” That was over a year ago. We’ve been around for about 6 months and what a journey it’s been. We started working on Chumbak for the first time almost 5 years ago. We worked on it for a couple of months off and on, but nothing substantial came of it.
Fast forward to April 2010. None of us are from business families, none of our parents started businesses by themselves. We’re learning on the job with no time to breathe 🙂
We’ve learnt a lot in the past 6 months. Loads of small little things that we thought it would be fun to share with anyone who’s looking to start a business of their own. They’re random points, some detailed, some not. Mostly all over the place 🙂 But at the same time, not that random that you can’t use them all together 🙂 Some of these points are maybe thoughts that work only for us, but we feel that you can get something even from those 🙂
Don’t hesitate to mail us : firstname.lastname@example.org and ask any questions you may have. Some of these points are simple and really obvious, but things that most people forget.
Get your hands dirty
This is one of the most obvious things. Really. But it’s also the most important. It’s easy to hire people and sit back and hope things go well. You can’t be CEO from day 1. Just not possible. From day one you’ve gotta be in the trenches doing everything. That’s the only way you will learn on the job. Team Chumbak is currently just 3 people. Shubhra, Alicia and Darth. We’re supported by the warehouse team of 3 headed by Shimona. That’s it. There was an awesome quote we read recently. “The future belongs to the few of us who are willing to get our hands dirty .” When we’re not running the business and speaking with retailers and customers and handling corporate orders, we’re at the warehouse packing products, shipping out E-Commerce orders even at 11 at night 🙂
We love this picture 🙂
We’re all passionate about stuff in life. Sometimes the passion turns into a business and sometimes it doesn’t. But you need to have passion. At Chumbak we were passionate about travel and we toyed with the idea of Fridge Magnets. But before we knew it, the idea became a lot more than just magnets. There were many reasons why we went beyond magnets. One the more important ones were business related, but an equally important reason was a need for a range. When we launched we launched with almost 14 categories with a full range. It was one of the best decisions we made.
However, we soon learned that managing stock across multiple categories and designs was not easy 🙁 In all the excitement we continued to launch new categories and designs. Then, in July 2010 we started planning a brand new range of products – something really different and awesome 🙂 We were going to launch it this October. Then sometime in September we felt that we were losing focus and we were too brand new to launch a new range. So we halted production and pulled the plug at the last minute. It’s not that the products weren’t awesome or there were issues with it, it’s just that we wouldn’t have been able to manage the existing stuff as well as the new stuff . We will, however, launch this entire new range sometime in 2011 🙂 The lesson we learnt is that it’s good to have passion, but better to have focussed passion 🙂
Stay in the same city
Being a startup, all the members of the core team have be together in the thick of things. Being at different locations doesn’t help every one understand each others situations. Skype is ok, but face to face is fun.
Your core team should comprise of friends
You will have loads of stress and tension in the first couple of months of the startup. No startup, I would imagine, is smooth sailing from Day 1. You’ll fight, you’ll argue, you’ll disagree a lot of the time. That’s the fun of it. Being friends helps the dynamics of the core team. Once you fight or disagree, you’re free to voice your opinion. Once you’re done, you can get on with work. The three of us constantly chat and have many animated discussions. You’ve gotta be really good friends to joke about stuff the next day. Really you do. At Chumbak, we all stay in the same Apartment Complex. We work at home, or on most days, even the warehouse. But the 3 of us take time out everyday at 7 pm and go for a nice long walk. We’re inadvertently talking shop, but it’s fun and you’re getting exercise at the same time 🙂 The past few weeks we’ve not had time for walks but you know what we mean 🙂
Shubhra and Alicia 🙂 For reasons known only to him, Darth was at the buffet eating fish.
Work from home
No one really needs offices nowadays. Really. We all use computers and have everything we need at our desks. We constantly meet suppliers and even sometimes customers at our place. Some people get embarrassed to meet people at home. Don’t be. If that is an issue, there are a million coffee shops just around the corner. It saves you money and commute time and you get to be with your family and kids 🙂 The phone is your friend. Get a good phone. Never underestimate the advantages of a good phone. An iPhone or an Android one whatever, but get a good phone. Use it wisely 🙂
You can’t hold two jobs
You can’t work for your normal corporate and quit when your startup starts to make some money. It just doesn’t work. You need to eat, drink and sleep your startup for 24 hours for the first couple of months. Then maybe 22 hours is enough 🙂 Most people think it’s ok to come back at 6 pm and start working on the idea. It’s not enough. Or you should be in a company where you have LOADS of free time. LOADS. And trust us, that doesn’t happen often.
You need to put your own money to start. Chumbak is a fully self funded company. We’ve got no investors or bank loans. We did however, sell a house we bought a couple of years ago to raise some seed capital 🙂 The point is that you need to put some meat in the game before you go looking for investments. When your money is in the game, you’re up at 3 am trying to see where you can get more business. Even if it is 10 % of the money required to startup, put your money in the game.
Don’t be scared. Jump into the deep end. That’s the advantage of being a start up. It’s far easier to take risks and not get hurt. Before we started Chumbak, we had to place orders on our suppliers. We had to place large orders for economies of scale to kick in. We had no choice. We took the plunge. We kept telling ourselves, “It’s only money…” You can always earn money and get another house 🙂
Don’t try and save money by buying a cheap net book. Doesn’t work. You’ll end up frustrated and spend more time dealing with issues than working. Don’t buy desktops unless you really need it. Buy laptops. Preferable get yourself a Macbook or Macbook Pro. No nonsense laptops. Buy a laser printer. Not a fancy one, but a black and white one. Startups always have loads to print. Always. Go Wifi. Get a fast connection. Not some random 256kbps connection. You’ll want to work. Not wait. Buy stuff from the local Computer street. In Bangalore you can get stuff at SJP Road. You’ll get original stuff, but way cheaper than your large format retail stores. Get a large desk. You’ll need it. At Chumbak, all of us use Macs, even our billing system, Checkout runs on a Macbook Pro.
Darth’s desk. It’s over 7 feet in length. Custom made 🙂 That printer has now become a laser printer 🙂
Embrace Social Media
It’s 2010 and there’s no hiding from Facebook or Twitter. Make sure at least one of the core team members loves Facebook. Your customers are your friends. Be participative. Reply to them. Help them out. Take praise, but more importantly take criticism. If you have a product, get an E Commerce store.
Work with other start ups
Start ups are always hungry for business. It’s easy to call the largest ad agency in the country and start working with them from day 1. You’ll get good work, but your bank balance won’t exactly be full. Almost everyone we work with are start ups. From our tax and trademark consultants to our E commerce integrators and even people doing the flooring at our warehouse. Use free tools like Just Dial or Ask Laila to get people to call you. People are hungry for your business. Don’t waste your time waiting for people to “get back” to you.
The first person you should hire is an Accountant
Very important to know your numbers. Passion is awesome, but you need the money 🙂
Don’t waste time
At Chumbak, we pretty much live by this adage : “Good today is better than perfect tomorrow”. Don’t waste time getting a business plan perfected, don’t waste time getting the most awesome logo. Don’t waste time getting to market. Period.
Simple as it sounds, most people forget that. Get music in your office/home/warehouse. Get a life outside of your start up! ( Although easier said than done) Spend time with your family.
Baking day at Chumbak. Darth loves to cook, in case you were wondering 😉
Basically, what we’re saying is that it’s not all about the money. Money will come. Always remember the only reason you are in a start up is you couldn’t stand working for someone else and had an idea of your own. Not because of the money. It was because of your passion.
That’s it folks. Hope these little points made interesting reading. We’ll keep adding to this list and would love to hear from you.
Shubhra, Alicia and Darth
Contributed by Shubhra, Alicia and Darth( Founders of Chumbak)
Read the original blog post on the Chumbak blog
To know more about Chumbak and their fun products check out the Chumbak website.