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Unusual businesses: An online library for toys

Last updated on: June 22, 2011 17:20 IST

Unusual businesses: An online library for toys

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Shobha Warrier

Santhosh Kumar Subramanian is the director and co-founder -- along with Parul Sarin -- of Bambaram, an online children's educational toys rental library.

This is perhaps a unique venture in India, and "is based on Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences", says Subramanian.

Subramanian talks about his journey starting with his entrepreneurial debut as an MBA student at IIT, Kharagpur to starting the toy rental library, which was launched a year ago in Chennai.

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Image: Santhosh Kumar Subramanian
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Student doubling up as an entrepreneur

Even as a student, I wanted to be an entrepreneur in the creative field. What excites me about being an entrepreneur is that you are creating a concept of your own, and it gives you a lot of satisfaction when people respond positively to your creation.

When I was doing my MBA at Vinod Gupta School of Management at IIT Kharagpur, I along with four other friends started an online venture called Web Vastra.

That was in 2007. It was an online customised T-shirt rental company. The investment was less than Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000). We managed to garner funds for this project from our savings.

For Web Vastra, we received positive response, and by the time we finished our course we even started making profits. Some of orders came from places like Adamans. Going forward, we only realised the power of the internet.

Even though we received offers from venture capitalists to invest in our business -- after graduating -- we decided to close down Web Vastra, and join the corporate world.

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Unusual business: An online library for toys

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Lessons from the first venture

The most important lesson we learnt was about the power of the online media. Another, it's always good to have people with different skill sets on board, as it's difficult for person to have knowledge and understanding about every aspect of the business.

We started without a mentor, and it was only much later some of the professors started advising us.

Also, when you are starting out for the first time, it is nice to have a mentor. If you have a mentor, you will not repeat your mistakes.

However, without a mentor, you simply learn from your mistakes.

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Unusual business: An online library for toys

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Getting involved with NGOs

While I was working for Spencer's, I was involved with an NGO called Give India.  I was also working closely Devendra Desai, who started the Children's Toy Foundation. The foundation works with underprivileged children.

It's then when I realised that as creative entrepreneurs, there was a lot of scope to work in kids' space.

That's when I took my proposal to Desai. He suggested that I meet with an NGO called Vidyarambham run by V Ranganathan.

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Unusual business: An online library for toys

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Vidyarambham runs schools for the Tsunami affected children in Nagapattinam. The model followed by them is very interesting. Vidyarambham identifies 8th or 9th standard students in remote villages and start study centres there run by these students.

They also have a mobile toy van for the corporation school children. Thus, I spend some time with Ranganathan and at his study centres in Nagapattinam. Here, I used to teach kids how to play with certain toys.

The enthusiasm and excitement of the kids in front of the toys was infectious. I have never seen anyone so happy. That was when I knew what I wanted to do as an entrepreneur.

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Toy renting as an enterprise

Becoming a creative entrepreneur was my dream.

Once I was back in Chennai from Nagapattinam, I decided to start my own venture. But I must admit I was thinking of a commercial venture and not an NGO model.

I met Parul Sarin, an MBA from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar, who had worked in senior positions at many companies, and she became my partner in my venture.

She also had the idea to work in the kids' space and she understood the idea of a toy library.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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But she was of the opinion that we could not have the toy van idea in Chennai, instead have something different.

Because of my experience in e-commerce, we decided to go online. Also, the kind of parents I was planning to target, were young, net savvy and working.

Further, we decided that we would concentrate on educational games and toys, and not Barbie dolls type of toys.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Months of preparation

We started discussing the idea in October 2009, but launched it only in June 2010 with an investment of Rs 5 lakh (Rs 500,000). Out of the Rs 5 lakh, we invested Rs 3 lakh (Rs 300,000) for toys. In fact, investing in toys is an ongoing process.

We registered a company in the name Rultosh Edufun Pvt. Ltd, The idea is that we don't want to restrict ourselves only to toys, but explore all aspect of fun learning.

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Photographs: Chris Wattie/Reuters
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Bambaram: Our first product

As we planned to have a company for people in Chennai, we decided to have a name that is known to the Tamil people.

We had two names in mind, Bambaram (spinning top) and Bommai (doll). The name Bambaram was actually chosen by Parul's daughter.

We wanted to use the theory of multiple intelligences in choosing the toys and teaching kids through toys. We classified our toys accordingly.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Target customers

Initially we decided to target the young working couples in the IT industry. We thought instead of approaching them individually, we would approach them as an employee benefit scheme through the company itself.

The first company we approached was CavinKare.

We also decided to keep our model simple. Every week, our customers can rent new toys. There is also an option of buying toys if a child wants to own a toy.

The subscription varies from Rs 50 to 250, depending on the number of toys which also includes books and CDs.

Today, we have around 1,000 toys, and we are in the process of adding new toys every month. We are also careful about the fact that we don't duplicate the toys in any way.

Parents choose toys online and they are delivered at their door steps once in a week.

Today, after a year, Bambaram has 150 customers, and the corporate houses with whom we are connected are CavinKare, Mphasis, Scope Eknowledge, Virtusa, Tech Mahindra.

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Photographs: Peter Jones/Reuters
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Future plans

Our future plan is to have 1,000 customers in a year's time in Chennai itself. Once we have 300 customers, we will start making profits.

For now, the revenue we earn is invested back into the venture.

Going ahead, we plan to associate ourselves with schools, and eventually expand it to other metros.



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