Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs is bucking the trend with venture-backed companies designing products for and around Indian sensibilities.
They include Wildcraft, which makes outdoor apparel and gear; Chumbak, which designs and sells lifestyle products; iD Fresh Food, which specialises in fresh, preservative-free, ready-to-cook food; and retail tea chain Chai Point. All have created a niche for themselves and some have gone global as well.
Sequoia-backed Wildcraft made `product’ its DNA. As soon as it shifted focus from being a custom manufacturer to a consumerfacing brand in 2008, the company invested in a design lab of about 20 people. “We design for India and made that our strong point,“ said cofounder Gaurav Dublish.
The firm’s brand imagery was all about making the outdoors “democratic.“ It studied usage, reacted to consumer needs and then put all that learning into the product.“This doesn’t necessarily mean you are climbing the top of the mountain,“ said Dublish. Indians use backpacks differently from people in the West. “We want organisation (pockets and compartments) in one bag,“ he said.
The success of the strategy and commitment to brand building show in the numbers. Wildcraft . 200-220 expects sales to rise to ` crore in the year to March, up from . 150 crore in the year before. It ` entered the Middle East and Southeast Asian markets in July last year.
Chai Point’s founder Amuleek Singh Bijral, designed a business model that “owns the ritual of chai for upper working-class Indians,“ albeit one that was seen as contemporary and cool.
“We had hit a sweet spot for a need,“ said Bijral, who went on to raise venture funding from Saama Capital, Eight Roads Ventures and DSG Consumer Partners. But building a brand means taking the right calls. One and a half years into the journey, Bijral realised Chai Point had erred on pricing and location, having opened in some “cheap real estate“ areas.
“We realised aspirations of Indians was increasing, so a brand has to be out of their reach. It’s not a brand if it doesn’t evoke emotion,“ Bijral said. The company shut 10-15 of its stores and reopened in more upmarket locations.
Bengaluru-based Chumbak, which was set up five years ago, faced a somewhat similar situation. Have started as a manufacturer of India-themed souvenirs and accessories, it was selling at kiosks and shop-in-shops. It decided to scrap this retail strategy and open exclusive retail stores instead last year.