Shubhra Chadda, co-founder, Chum­bak, on beat­ing the odds and fol­low­ing her pas­sion

In her king­dom of kitsch, quirk not only works, it rules ev­ery shelf, nook and cor­ner. Shubhra Chadda, the 36-year-old co-founder, Chum­bak, turned a start-up into a suc­cess­ful busi­ness. Hav­ing done her Bach­e­lors in Com­merce from Mount Carmel Col­lege, Ban­ga­lore, she went on to com­plete her Masters De­gree in pub­lic re­la­tions, ad­ver­tis­ing, and ap­plied com­mu­ni­ca­tion from Bhar­tiya Vidya Bha­van in Delhi. Af­ter they got mar­ried, she and her hus­band, Vivek Prab­hakar re­alised that they could not find cool mag­nets or sou­venirs that rep­re­sented In­dia. So they quit their jobs, did re­search on the prod­uct and mar­ket seg­ment and launched Chum­bak (mag­net in Hindi) in 2010. To­day they re­tail a whole gamut of lifestyle prod­ucts, such as ap­parel, fur­ni­ture, cell phone cases, bub­ble­heads, bags, wal­lets, home decor, footwear, and stationery.

Hard work pays

When Chadda started Chum­bak in 2010, she had no ex­pe­ri­ence in de­sign or re­tail and had to learn on the job. “I spent over a year re­search­ing and sourc­ing all that was re­quired to start Chum­bak. It was a lot of hard work set­ting the foun­da­tion right. Hav­ing and cre­at­ing an ex­ten­sive net­work of peo­ple for sup­port also helped us grow Chum­bak to make it what it is to­day,” says Chadda. In fact, ini­tially to fuel her dreams Chadda sold her house. “I fol­lowed my in­stinct and was thor­oughly con­vinced to bring Chum­bak to the mar­ket. So if you have the con­vic­tion and are will­ing to take the risk, then I rec­om­mend that beat all odds and share with peo­ple the thing that you are most pas­sion­ate about at what­ever cost,” she says.

For­mu­late a plan

“It’s im­por­tant to have proof of a con­cept and present a prac­ti­cal busi­ness model. Early in­vestors look for a pas­sion­ate part­ner. Make sure your idea is unique and is be­ing pre­sented in a unique way,” says Chadda. The suc­cess of Chadda’s work­ing style is her clear busi­ness model. “When we started, the fo­cus then was to bring to the un­tapped sou­venir mar­ket a set of prod­ucts and de­signs that tickle the hu­mour of the In­dian con­sumer,” she says. “Typ­i­cally we fol­low a sea­sonal cy­cle where I sit with the head of de­sign and the de­sign team to de­cide the theme of the col­lec­tion. Then, we re­search, gather in­spi­ra­tion and be­gin de­sign­ing, keep­ing the aes­thetic in­tact,” adds Chadda.

Find­ing the right plat­form

In the ini­tial years Chadda and her hus­band started with sev­eral pop-up shops, but now they find large for­mat stores bet­ter for their brand. They even sell their ware online. “To­day cus­tomers are om­nipresent, so hav­ing a pres­ence both online and off­line are great ways to reach out to new and ex­ist­ing cus­tomers and of­fer the con­ve­nience of shop­ping. The struc­ture of the team is very open and de­sign­ers are free to cre­ate de­signs that best rep­re­sent Chum­bak, while also bring­ing their unique styles to the ta­ble,” says the en­tre­pre­neur.

Sound ad­vice

Chadda’s ad­vice for col­lege stu­dents is sim­ple—“Pur­sue your dream and be com­pletely pas­sion­ate about what you plan on do­ing.” And for those want­ing to start a start-up—“Get­ting your hands dirty, be­ing in­volved in ev­ery func­tion of the busi­ness is the best way to learn and grow your brand.” Not sur­pris­ingly, the ad­vice that she fol­lows her­self hap­pens to be her own store’s phi­los­o­phy—‘brand trumps ev­ery­thing else’.


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