The King Of Quirk – Vivek Prabhakar, Bengaluru
His is a story of grit, determination, hard work and luck. Vivek Prabhakar sold his house in 2010 and re-invested some of the money into a business idea so far removed from his conventional career that many friends and well-wishers feared the outcome and risk that he was taking. Inspired by India, he set out to give the market a range of fun souvenirs and quirky products that catered to the kitsch buyer. Today, Chumbak is a globally recognised Indian brand and has diversified from souvenirs to home decor and even furniture.
He’s the king of kitsch, the man who redefined quirky curios and cool souvenirs. All from an idea that stemmed from his various travels that were part and parcel of his life, considering his defence background.
Vivek Prabhakar started working at an early age and held various roles across marketing and branding in companies such as Tanishq, FabMart, Motorola and Sun Microsystems. This experience, he says, gave him a clear idea of the kind of business he wanted to build, the sort of products he wanted to showcase and the amazing retail experience he wanted customers to have.
“Chumbak began with a need to give India its own range of fun souvenirs that travellers coming into the country could take back. We were a little bored of the usual marble Taj Mahal replicas and handicrafts that were becoming the only option. We thought travellers deserved some more options that were hip and still represented India. From there we very quickly realised that the biggest fans of Chumbak were young Indians themselves who wore India on their sleeves. We loved that and also realised that they wanted more and we went from being a souvenir brand to being representative of this new India. And in our design evolution from the early India themed stuff to cleaner India inspired stuff, we have come a long way,” tells the 36-year-old CEO of the company.
Having started Chumbak with the idea of creating designs that were thematically Indian and particular to what India is known for, the couple realised as they grew, that they loved design irrespective of the theme and that was when they decided to re-strategise. Five years hence the brand has undergone an evolution and included a lot more to its repertoire than just kitschy design.
“My vision for the brand is to be able to create a design house we all can be proud of. That we will be known to make not just products that are gorgeous but that also bring a smile to everyone’s face. And this experience will be built not only with our products but also our stores and e-store. It’s the entire experience that we are very excited about creating,” tells Vivek.
Between 2010 and 2013, Chumbak sold products online and through distribution only. In July 2013, it set up its first store in Bengaluru. Seeing the idea of having its own stores working, the company set up about 20 more through the next seven months.
Spotting trends and developing products along those lines is a continuous process. As new products are introduced, old ones, for which demand dips, are removed. The entire planning, designing and production is done in-house.
And what does he think his brand is known for today? And how would he like to change the market’s perception of this brand? He answers: “Chumbak is known for bringing happiness to its customers. People love coming to us for colourful designs. It is no longer a brand that just sells magnets and keychains. If you walk into one of our stores or get onto our website (www.chumbak.com), the range of products that we have created has largely grown. We are a lifestyle brand, selling everything from crockery to furniture, jewellery and much more.” It’s been unbelievable to see where the brand has gone to today. To see us retailing out of MBOs to our own kiosks to stores has been a truly fulfilling journey. Also, the happiest part about our jobs is the amazing feedback we get from our customers and to see how people truly love the brand,” he tells.
Casual and creative are the keywords used by Vivek and his team in their work atmosphere. He tells, “We are a company full of people constantly challenging each other and breaking the status quo. We draw inspiration from everything around us and love design. Working at Chumbak is all about moving fast and smart. It is a lot of fun and at the same time it’s about constantly learning and applying yourself every day. Teams work very closely with each other and there are no doors that need to be knocked to have a discussion. It is this environment that makes working at Chumbak a pleasure.”
And what does he consider the brightest idea he’s had so far? What fuels his ideas?
“The brightest idea was definitely starting Chumbak, but also opening stores. It’s the customers that come to our stores and the ones we interact with that fuel ideas,” he explains. An avid foodie, he loves experimenting in the kitchen and says that had he not started the brand he would most definitely opened a restaurant. And speaking on personal likes we ask him about his pet passion. Staying true to his penchant for quirk, he quickly replies – “Our dog Hugo!” Ask him how his epitaph should read and he says, “The person who brought colour and epic designs to India!”