Entrepreneur: Priya Ravishankar
Business Name: cubsandcalves.com
Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories Episode 44.
So many startups are born because the founder discovered a gap in the market through their own life experience.
When you hit that lightbulb moment and discover that something is missing – a product or a problem yet to be solved. Then there is no better person to do it than YOU. Grab the Opportunity.
That is the attitude today’s founder Priya Ravishankar (@priya.ravishankar) took when she discovered a difficulty in sourcing a product for her child in the Indian market. The product in question was “quiet books”.
What is a Quiet Book you might ask?
Quiet Books are a rare kind of a toy in the form of a book. It is fabric based, has an activity or two on each page and a skill to work on. Imagine tying shoe laces, learning to button a shirt, zipping up a jacket, telling time, hanging laundry , changing dresses, solving puzzles and mazes, harvesting fruits and vegetables, sequencing planets, matching continents and so on – all by turning pages of a book that you can carry anywhere!
Determined to fill this gap for her own child. Priya created a couple of quiet books for herself and then for friends and family.
This is the second stage of creating a startup. First you see the problem, then you solve the problem for those closest to you. Once you have learned some additional information – then you reach out to other markets.
For Priya, seeing the demand for the books from those around her – led to the creation of her company – Cubs and Calves. Cubs and Calves is a designer and producer of quiet books and interactive fabric based toys in India and sells them worldwide.
As Priya says “We believe that play is the best education a child can have. You will find that all Cubs and Calves toys are creatively designed as educational toys that support play based learning.”
So let’s jump into our interview. Priya, welcome to EO India startup stories.
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
When my daughter was 2 years old, I came across the concept of quiet books on the internet and went looking for one.
I soon realised that it was impossible to buy beautiful, great quality quiet books in India and that they weren’t easily accessible world over too.
I went on to make a couple of books for my daughter and her friends and had the first hand experience of watching children engage, explore and enjoy it immensely.
It soon became my dream to make them available for children and like minded families all over the world. And so the Cubs and Calves vision was born – to have our own line of locally made quiet books and range of developmental toys made from natural materials that encouraged imaginative and intuitive play.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
It’s crucial that we get play right. The rise of high-tech entertainment has changed how children play. Apps and video games have soared in popularity. These days, you can even buy an iPotty – an activity iPad fixed to the potty seat.
So all this technology use by children (even as young as 1 and 2 year olds), and dictated play that comes with whirring and beeping plastic toys, it has stopped them to engage in classic, traditional play patterns; feel boredom.
And so kids don’t get to the point where they have to dig deeper and figure out what to do. As simple as exploring all their fingers, hands, movement, rhythm – all of which are extremely essential to their growth and development.
- Children need access to non-digitised toys
- Parents are looking for alternatives – those that would limit screen time and offer something more nostalgic and reminiscent of a childhood
- Experts and research emphasise on open ended play and toys made from natural materials
- And even from the business perspective, we explored closely and analysed that, although the toy industry is tilted towards high tech, there is ample room for simpler, handmade toys. Also selling a product which needs demonstration is hard work, now made easy by new age internet platforms.
What better time than now?
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
I cannot put a place and date to the full realisation that I decided to be an entrepreneur because all I know is that it is something I just slid into and felt at home.
First came the love of creating these books and then the decision to turn this art and passion into business. It was gradual. Small steps , realistic plans and it soon became a living, breathing, moving story that my parents, family and friends were witnessing and fully supportive of.
My husband has been my biggest motivator. We push and support each other’s ferocious work habits.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
A misstep, maybe.
Although we are happy with way we have scaled up, we now feel that the pace could have been faster. Not the hyper scale mode but a pace where we could gearshift comfortably.
We were building a new product, a new category and a new brand which made us unsure of the market response. We underestimated the demand and produced too slow.
We soon learnt that we’re limited by supply and not by demand. We’re now producing at the rate of 2-3x of what we’re selling, giving us enough room to scale our business steadily. We have realised and learnt that the growth potential is phenomenal.
But as we all know, hindsight is 20/20. And sometimes a misstep, a bad decision is better than no step and no decision at all. So, here’s to the future!
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
Making sure we have the right people and technology to match our growth – this is a challenge we foresee.
We are completely focused on scaling up and expanding the production. And scaling up without letting quality and consistency suffer will continue to be paramount which is why finding the right talent and technology is imperative.
We are already working on this by hiring skilled, passionate people and focusing on building a reliable, efficient and quality production capacity.
We are completely focused on scaling up
6) What habits contribute to your success?
I’m fairly organised and read a lot. I make it a point to write my thoughts down and re-evaluate them regularly. It has done wonders.
Another habit that I’ve made part of my daily routine is Yoga. I love it and find it to be a great stress reliever – a helpful way to clear my mind and stay focused.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t drastically change anything we’ve done. But I would like to change the things we did not do. I mean, take those calls or decisions that we pushed aside because we were either too confused or timid to tackle them back then.
I would have definitely started sooner, validated faster and handled the time vs money trap better.
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“What if I fail? Oh, my darling but what if you fly!”
9) Where do you find inspiration?
From everyday life. People. Play. Children. Conversations.
10) What is your favourite book?
My favourite books change all the time depending on the stages of my personal journey. But the act of reading is continuous, never ending.
And this book has somehow managed to be a constant – Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. His inner world is fascinating.
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
I’m still finding my feet but here are a few things I tell myself and practice:
Make sure this is what you want to do ….and you had better be pretty damn passionate about it.
Surround yourself with a strong team. Break walls and try everything, even if it looks crazy or unachievable.
At the same time, know when to reconcile with reality; when to proceed and when to pivot.
Its important to be fluid. Flexible. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a core. That core should be strong but it should also be open and receptive.
A massive thank you to Priya for taking the time to be interview for this feature.
We love your learnings about the need to validate fast and be flexible. It is very true that in business your plan will not survive a healthy dose of reality!
You MUST be flexible, move forward and as Priya has said “a bad decision is better than no decision“.
A startup needs to move forward fast – because it needs to learn fast. Failure to make decisions means failure to learn. Failure to learn means the runway will end and you will run out of money!Break walls and try everything, even if it looks crazy or unachievable. Click To Tweet
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