Creativity at Scale: 1800 Ways to Drive Kids’ Imagination
Having trouble motivating your kids or getting your kids to grasp concepts? Tired of the rote learning system that dominates India’s education sector, Flinto Box and Flinto Class might be the answer. Co-Founder and CEO Arun Prasad discusses their journey of building perhaps one of India’s most creative startups. At 1800+ experiences for kids across ages 2-10 thru Flinto Box and hundreds and thousands of experiences at Pre-Schools with Flinto Class, Flinto Learning Solutions is bringing a refreshing change to India’s education methods. Listen to Arun of Flinto Box talk about creativity at scale and 1800 ways to drive kids’ imagination.
Flinto looks like a typical IT company by looks but that is where the similarity stops. Flinto’s one of its kind Kids Learning R&D Lab is where all their concepts and product ideas are tested by the finest – the young kids themselves. What Flinto is doing is fascinating.
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Live photos of a couple of kids with Flinto Box at their homes in Dubai
Flinto’s R&D Center is run by Vimla, a life long educator. Here are pics and a message from one of her nephews who live in Dubai asking for new Flinto Boxes
How does Flinto do creativity at scale?
We created this Flinto research and Design Lab, year and a half ago, which is redefining how we engage with our users right from ideation through creation to finished products. In fact, Flinto is home to India’s first and only dedicated research and Design Center for early education. And despite a country with, let’s say millions and millions of children, we’re the first one to create an dedicated center for understanding gets better by the virtue of that the team here has, I would say the best understanding easily the best in the country understanding about how a child learns, grows place, and what are their preferences, and what exactly do they like and dislike at different stages.
How does the learning center help? What sort of a difference does it make?
So the design center itself has been very instrumental on how we design our products, how we think about designing for products, I’ll give an example. I don’t know if many companies actually think about dominant hand, while creating a product for children. Kids have left dominant hand, right dominant hand. And if you have a one dominant hand, then it’s hard for you to use on the product design. So let’s say for example, if something has a novel, you only can turn it right, then, you know, if a child is left handed and their experience is actually suboptimal to a child. That’s actually right handed. 99% of the world designs for right handed children. Very less people actually think about the, you know, either ambidextrous or dominant hand designing for children.
So, what did they do with it?
We discovered this when we were designing with the kids. We found that there was a left handed child that was struggling. And we realized that God there’s something that everyone is doing, just taking it for granted. And since then we started adopting something called Universal Design where, whether a child irrespective of the child’s skill level, or dominant hand or anything, they should be able to use it flexibly. So these are the things that you take away from a close knit environment, a very closed environment, where you interact with children. And this is why we created the lab.
— Arunprasad Durairaj
Listen to the whole episode to get a sense of what this company is upto and how its doing this at scale.
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Arun, Krishna Jonnakadla, Nida Sahar
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:01
This is Maharajas of Scale, the podcast where we go behind the scenes and talk to founders who are demolishing the myths around building and scaling a big business in India. These are the stories that have shattered the assumptions around Indian consumers and are changing the game completely. I am Krishna Jonnakadla, serial entrepreneur, co founder of FLIT, the Fashion Locator In Town and startup mentor, bringing you these stories. Hey everyone, this is Krishna from Maharajas of Scale.We actually are in Chennai today talking to a company and a startup, which I find very interesting and very different from what we are used to hearing. We are at Flinto Box, which is changing the lives of young kids and bringing a different sort of experiential learning into their lives. So let us talk to Arun, let us welcome him. Arun, it's terrific to have you on the show. And we visited your R&D center earlier in the morning. I think you have a terrific game going on. So Arun it's terrific to have you, thank you for agreeing to speak with us. We find it fascinating to include a startup like yours, because we believe these are the sort of stories that need to be told. And these are the sort of examples that people need to embrace. If we are to create a vastly different creative set of people, we are a 1.3 billion country and desperately begging for creative solutions for the way we lead our lives. And I'm a big fan of what you're doing. And thank you for speaking with us today. Any opening things you would like to say to our listeners.
No, thank you so much. Thank you so much for being here. And giving us the opportunity to be part of what you're creating. And in fact, it's been a journey, the journey has been nothing short of, a lot of exciting twists turns and what has been the most I would say, exhilarating part of this whole journey has been that we have created a new category. A category with now that people are investing, people are people are now setting standards into and so on. We've had the opportunity to create a new category in this country, which again has, I would say the largest number of kids in the entire world, which is evergreen but then still this opportunity had never been tapped before. So fortunate to be doing this.
Krishna Jonnakadla 02:23
That is fabulous. This is what we call as true game changes disruptors. Any startup that doesn't open up a new market segment isn't really doing something disruptive and changing the game right? At best, it's possibly an incremental improvement. Press can say it is a drastic improvement. But we all know that unless and until new markets are open, it can't necessarily be a game changer. So I'm with you on that. Let's jump into your beginnings of Flinto Box. I read something about you and your co founders trying something else prior to Flinto box. Talk to us about it. How did Flinto box come into existence? What were some of the initial beginnings.
So before starting Flinto, which Shreenidhi and I, ran a startup called Zinghopper. Zinghopper is a carpool platform. It's a tech driven carpool platform. And then, in fact, it was started in Bangalore, had a very active user base, we ran it for about eight to nine months, before we decided that we will pull plugs on it, primarily because we felt that it was slightly ahead of its own time. And second, was we couldn't see ourselves solving a large enough problem, we couldn't really convince ourselves after getting neck deep into the solution, we realized that we are not solving a large enough problem for the people. And that was a big reason why we decided to pull the plug. So when we decided to, I would say move on from Zinghopper, we really debated what do we want to do next. And, of course, what on the table was a lot of job offers, from our previous employers, from our bosses to come back. In fact, I and Vijay, had a couple of offers from the US. I had the opportunity to go back to my former employer In US and so on. But what was holding us back was Zinghopper, it was a phenomenally designed product created slightly ahead of its time. And even today, I think over the last year or so a bunch of corporate companies have gotten I would say some serious funding, and it's getting some investor interest now. Zinghopper, actually had features that are even today, far better than what it is until recently. So we decided that Listen, I mean, the hardest part of the whole building a startup was finding the right people to work with, ideas come and go and our execution may take a while or so but then finding the right people who was the most difficult part of building a startup and what we had was a team that could actually build things, execute well, and had the courage to scrap it. So you can't go through the entire cycle with someone. And we went through the journey. And we decided that you know what, let's give it another shot. And let's put our thoughts together to create something else. So, that was how we actually decided that we'll do another startup. What led to Flinto itself was actually do when we ran Zinghopper, we built it out of which is in our living room, Vijay's wife was working and we three would sit around in his living room and actually get the start. Vijay has a nine year old now, he was about two and a half year old and we did this and our part time job was to babysit him. And we were able to see in close quarters how challenging it was to keep a child engaged. Three men babysitting a child and trying to be creative with the child every time and you know that at some point, a creative juice will actually run out of. What do you do with that? And of course we go to stores to find solutions, we couldn't find anything. So when we decided that we're going to do something, the first thing that we all just instantly agreed on was, let's solve a problem for him. Right? We all had two three, where we decided and we realized that, so we didn't know it was Flinto, just that listen, let's build something for the children. Right? And then we started looking at, what are we doing with the child, and we shortlisted a bunch of things. And the original problem statement was engaging a child, that was your problem statement to actually engage a child. We went around talk to people, parents with kids in a similar age group, one thing led to another, we were then appointed to people, like people in pediatrics, people in education, people in Montessori and so on. And that's when we realized that there's an industry called early education. We first time opened our eyes to a new, I would say industry, which I've never heard of before. For me, education was all about schools, colleges, after college, higher education, and so on. Haven't heard of early education. But when we heard about it, and we did a little more research, we realized that early education is actually one of the most impactful and the most significant form of I would say, learning throughout the human life. And has, I would say, far fetching effect on how the child grows up to be. The science behind it was fascinating for us, the signs of how a child develops and the brain develops was just immensely fascinating for us. It was just irresistible for us to, not to do something that's going to have lasting impact on someone. And then the problem statement actually evolved to, it's not just engaging a child, it's about giving them a high quality early learning.
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:50
Fascinating. This is so very a typical product. Because early learning while the stream exists, the tools to enable early learning are not necessarily established or standardized. The philosophy around it, the thought process around it, is not necessarily established, it is possibly right now, a loose set of ideas and innovations that are together characterized as early learning. But you said a lot of things in quick fashion there. You found an amazing team. You built a terrific product, you achieved a good degree of traction. And yet nine months later, you decided to completely scrap it. Yep. And that must have been a gut wrenching decision. Because one of the most toughest things that can happen to anyone is getting fixated with their ideas. There's also a flip side to it that if you are very fixated with it, they might be a breakthrough that you accomplish at some point in time. At what point did you decide that this was not the second time where you were going to achieve some sort of a breakthrough. But this was some sort of a dead end or wrong timing thing. So what was your thought process in coming to that decision at that time.
Two or three, I would say instances that gave us a real insight. And this is where you're right. It's very, very important for entrepreneurs, or when we doing this, it's hard to not get personal with what you're building, right. But if you're always able to step back a little bit and look at it as a customer, it's easy to see the some of the problems that will actually stare at you. And that is something we were able to do really well. And one thing that we learned when we were building in Zinghopper was that the product was fantastic. And when we ran it through a lot of companies or other people, government, everyone that we talked to like the product, but we soon realized that the likability doesn't equate to someone willing to pay for that. I don't know how many people would have paid WhatsApp 50 rupees a year, if WhatsApp happened to charge at that point, right? Maybe if there were alternatives, people may or may not pay for it. So it's very hard to establish that. And once you establish that, it's very important to understand then where is the sustainability going to come from? So with Zinghopper, the biggest challenge was while the product was like a whopper from everyone, we couldn't find, someone was willing to pay for that. Right? The willingness to pay is not there, people sometimes dismiss that, tight fisted and so on. It's really that if people are willing to pay, you're not solving a problem for them. If there's a problem that you solve for them, then they will pay for it. So in this case and in some cases, you might have solve some problem for them, then the most important question is, how important is this problem in the larger scheme of things, right? If it's not your top three problems, then, people will only pay very little money or very intermittently then. So to achieve a scale , to be able to build a large company, you should be able to just go back to asking ourselves, okay, there is a willingness to pay, but then is it big enough? If it's not big enough, then are we solving a large enough problem? You got to be investing let's say anywhere between five to eight years of your life to build a sustainably large startup, you know, whether you solve a small problem, or a large problem, it's the same amount of time that you have, and where we're going to invest our time is going to be the key question then. So yes, we went through this process to understand that, yes, there's large attraction, there was good associations we had, but there was a small revenue that we were making, but it is definitely not the top most problem that we're solving. And then other thing we realized was that not every problem in a country like India, not every problem has to be solved by us. People find more creative ways to solve it by themselves sometimes, and you know, carpool was one such thing.
Krishna Jonnakadla 11:43
Did you raise any money.
As I mentioned, we did with friends and family round which we actually, luckily, we didn't burn through the entire money on that, we were able to return to some of them.
Krishna Jonnakadla 11:55
Fascinating. Urban mobility considered one of the big challenges of the modern world, which carpool is a subset of. And to jump from a problem, like urban mobility all the way into a completely different problem, possible parallel universe of children, because it's absolutely as, I can see, there's no overlap, of anything of that sort. So let's peel the onion a little bit. And it is one thing to say, I have worked with entrepreneurs who have tried building early intervention kits for children, but they have been stuck with, even at the end of two years, I only see a very crude prototype. But what I see here at Flinto, is something that scale. So before we talk about how you achieve this scale, and what sort of scale you achieved, let's go into that those beginnings a little bit. You were based in Bangalore at that point in time?
Yes, I think for the first two or three months, we are running this out of Bangalore.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:00
And then you to Chennai, what was it like? It is one thing to have a concept. And this is a concept that doesn't exist, right? Like you said, you're creating, there's a whole new set of firsts that you're doing, you're creating new categories, you're creating new tools, you're creating new philosophies, you're creating new processes, and the way you're structuring your company, you have to built it, I'm sure you've done a lot of disruptor stuff. But in that process of thinking about the idea that you need to engage the child, and coming up with the first set of usable products, what was that journey.
In fact, that was one of the toughest part of the whole journey, coming up with the first few I'd say, either prototypes are, the first real products, because you were just trying to go from let's say, zero to 60, you know, the rest of them will just evolved from here, we are going from zero to sixty years, zero to 75 in a sprint, you know, you've got to move really fast, because that what defines whether you can live or die, actually. So for us, what we realized was that, we had this, we were able to understand or rather, convince ourselves what is it that we want to solve? So we know, the problem that we're going to solve, and we probably had an intuition about the solution, the solution really never existed in anyone's mind. And, we went around looking for, okay, this is what we want to built, then, who are the right people that we should bring on board, and we couldn't really get to a desicion on who is required then. So what we did was, we actually brought a lot of people from different walks of life, that are remotely arriving, that are connected to a child, but then from different perspectives, from design, from content, compliance, all those fronts, we brought in a team that was more of a consulting team for me, for us, and, and we sat with them, we told them this is what we want to create. And it was a very active process where, we were sampling it, we were building prototypes with them, actually, because, you know, it's not really like, we could define them, they could turn it on, right. So it was a very hands on engagement with the consultants. And what was exciting was even these consultants, right, these were people with that aspiration to do something different for children, right. So they were willing to actually go the extra mile to actually create something that doesn't exist, right. So we worked very actively with them to build the first. They took about four months for us to get the first prototype about it. When we got the prototype, then we actually, took it to children. And first stand, we sat with the kids and try to understand, you know, how this has come out from way we thought, in fact, we scrapped a couple of prototypes before that. And once we realized that we had a prototype, we took it to production, we literally made about, I think about 150 units, as a first lot to understand, how parents perceive it on a larger scale then. And so that's how we went about doing before we started building the team towards it. So it was more the consultants that came on board to help us initially.
Krishna Jonnakadla 16:08
Very interesting, when you initially put this product together, was it always evident that it was going to be a box with four or five experiential tools? And was it always going to be a subscription? What's the thought process that?
No, that evolved actually. In fact, the first point of realization was that we're going to be engaging a child, it evolved into early learning, then, once we decide we are going to create an early learning product, then this question always existed, right? Because they're always early running products on the digital world, early running products in the physical world? It was always a debate on what do we then create? And then we realized that there was deeper, I would say, established empirical evidence says that, the physical things actually provide children with more multi sensory experiences, which are really good for them versus a tablet or a mobile where it is unproven. You know, people say a lot of things, but then it's not proven yet, there is no research reports, which says, that you know what, this is impactful for a child, there's always been a mixed report on it. So listen, we said, so when it comes to child, let's do the thing that we know people really understand. Well, and let's go with what's more traditional, right? So we narrow down to 60 physical products? So product is one thing, business model is different. So what's the business model? Really, are we going to sell it to schools, are we going to sell it in retail, are we gonna, partner with someone. So there were all those questions all over the place. And, in fact, at that time, the biggest challenge for us was we didn't have cash, we didn't have lot of cash, we just came out of burning a startup. While retail was very, I would say inviting or rather it was irresistible for us. Because to get into retail based stores then sell an early learning product, the retail was broken, data chain was broken in India, and you need to have deep pockets to actually survive the cash flow. Your cash cycle itself is about eight, nine months long, we really don't think we could have gone into retail with such a short cash. And so we looked around for different business models. And obviously, subscription was actually picking up in the Western countries. Subscriptions on everything right, from your razors, to baby products to beauty products to hygiene products, food. So lot of the physical products were actually gaining subscription beyond just digital products being on subscription, I think Netflix was on subscription before your data is on subscription. So beyond that, the physical products were getting subscription. And we really want to dabble with subscription, because of bunch of advantages. You collect cash up front, you can actually predict your inventory, you can predict your sales, and it's a repeat purchase behaviors. So the business model was interesting for us. However, nobody has really cracked subscription in India by the time. So it was rather, I would say, a very impulsive situation that we got into subscription at the time. So in a way we want to get into some of those thought process, that actually made us to drive something into subscription business. In fact, looking back, we went through a lot of struggle to define how subscription can be done in this business, because, there were, there were more challenges than we thought and actually building a subscription business, in terms of the payment behaviors in the country to expectation of the customers to even from an accounting standpoint, how do we even deliver these things. So there were a lot of challenges, which we didn't know. But that's the exciting part of start up, you learn things as you go. So this is how we kind of narrow down on and how we wanted to build a model.
Krishna Jonnakadla 19:44
Fascinating, you had a digital product, and in your previous startup, and you went from a completely digital product, to what a lot of people would characterize as a large problem in the modern world, and you're completely going to another universe, which is in child learning. And even there, you take a sort of very opposite view of saying, we're not going to build a digital product, but we are going to build a physical product. And the traditional wisdom would say, in order to crack a physical product, you need distribution. Which means you will have to somehow master the retail cycle, you have to somehow master the distribution cycle. And over there again, you take a decision that you're not going to go the traditional distribution and retail model, and instead, you're going to go direct to consumer. And as opposed to selling one product, you are you decided to do subscription. That's a vast universe of changes. I would say, going against the grain or left of the field. I have a term for these sorts of decisions saying they're left of the field, because they're not visible at all. They're not even in the traditional screen of decisions that you do. It's as if you defined a set and said, No, we'll do everything opposite to that. Although I'm possibly oversimplifying, but looks like you had good reason to do that. So let's talk about from that spot on, today, the impact that you've been able to deliver, the scale that you have been able to accomplish. Share some stats with us, the number of countries or the states or the geography set to shift, to the number of children that have actually ordered a flint toolbox have experienced a flinto box, and anything else, the number of themes, anything else that helps us understand the scale at which you were are delivering.
So in terms of where we are at scale, we have a little under six lakhs kids in it, kids across that have used Flinto box. And so that's the number of families that we have delivered to, over the last several years starting all the way from hundred shipments we did the first month, we're are doing about close to about 65,000 shipments a month, across India. So the more we have spent time with kids, the more we realized that you know, there are there are a lot of areas or other impactful areas where we can actually penetrate and starting with just Flinto Box. We have two verticals now called Flinto box and Flinto class. Now Flinto class is a completely differentiated product meant for preschools to deliver a better Early Learning Program. In fact, in a way it's modeled around oyo for preschools. So it's a differentiated product, over there the scale is again very impressive for us. Today we have over I would say 400 preschools across India that's actually running on Flinto class, we are present across eight countries. Our Flinto class has gone global first. I mean in Flinto box, we did have overseas presence but for a lot of good reasons, we decided we won't scale them. But Flinto class being an enterprise product, we've been able to take them to overseas market. So we have about eight countries where we have schools running on Flinto class. We've been able to achieve these things by actually, you know, we don't have a physical presence there, we've been able to sell them from India. These are mostly inbound leads that we've been able to process. So yeah, I mean, on, again, as I said, on Flinto box, over five lakh customers close to over six lakhs customers now, 60,000 shipments a month, is the kind of scale and Flinto class in a very short span of time in both 18 19 months, we have 400 schools. In fact, again, we don't open it up a preschool there, we rather power the preschool there, which means you know, think of it like your operating system for a laptop, right? You could be Dell, you could be Lenevo, HP, but what Flinto class is, your operating system, it's your windows, it powers your entire operations. So in that way, we, in the state of Tamil Nadu where we started, where we want to have a larger presence, where today has the largest number of preschools under one chain one brand, actually. So that's in less than 18 months.
Krishna Jonnakadla 24:02
Fabulous. I have this notion that kids, especially in their formative years, are singing about Jack and Jill. There's neither Jack and Jill around us. And we're talking about Old McDonald and there's no old McDonald there's no farm. There is no sheep. Right. And nobody's questioned it. So much so that it has been completely left to tradition to actually imbibe or inculcate, which is today actually falling apart. Modern tools are actually knocking and sort of dealing the blow to tradition, because we are all becoming, in some sense, the cookie cutter, modern, urban, human being who, from zoners, Irish in Argentina, all the way to Tokyo, in Japan, all wear the same sort of close, use the same sort of gadget, same sort of apps. But are you seeing this preschool, where now obviously, your Flinto box, the content because of Flinto class is powered by the Flint box as a product behind it, the opportunity to bridge this huge chasm that exists between what the cultural inculcation that can happen to a kid. And what this means is, this is amazing, right? You are able to now take cultural nuggets and include that into Flinto boxes and personalize it across geographies. Because these sort of things don't exist. Are you starting to see some of that happen?
Ever since we started building Flinto, we have had the mindset to question a lot of things around what is being done around the children. That's right from academics, non academics are designing for children itself, right. We question a lot of things which I would say the Academy, I wont question today. And that led to a lot of discovery for us along the way. I am giving you an example, if you Google for, you will be able to find an article where USA has actually banned toys from being gender specific. So USA actually has, you know, they actually removed stores branding children for boys and for girls. There's no more sections different for boys and girls, where all the girls section are laughing toys, and the rest of them allow low price. This was about a year and a half to two years ago and US did this. However, there were a lot of studies before that, which really told that there is no color preference for the child, right, or there is no gender specific activities or gender specific colors. And there were enough researchers out there that actually said this long time ago, it took a lot of time for a country like USA to actually you know, what we'll have to reinforce, we took this view four and a half years ago, now where we decided that, we are designing for kids under six, seven years, and they don't make the choices. for them. Every activity has a play value, every color is a color for them. And let's do a gender agnostic design. And let the kids be free to pick what their interest is. So some of these choices we made, were really, one is ahead of time and very impactful in how we design for children. So similar to this, we questioned everything that gives to. For example, In Flinto class, here, it not just involves children, it also involves, the teachers and everyone around them, right? This is peer pressure, that so we designed for, let's say, playgroup, nursery, kindergarten one, to kindergarten two. When we designed the product, we took it to the schools, the school said, the design is great. But you know what? In our school, we actually make children from UKG to write, we don't have a writing activity here. We asked them, do you know that it's not right to actually ask a child to write in the age group? They don't have the motor skill. That's right. That's developed enough for them to grasp offensive? So like, no, no, I understand. But you know, the parents wanted, and you know, what, the schools right next door to it. And and we have to do it. So their desicions were more driven by the parent pressure and the peer pressure than what is the right thing to do. And we decided that, listen, we're not here to, we're not here to populist a game here. We want to do the right thing for our children. And if the research doesn't say that we are to create writing, we will not create the writing. And we stood ground on those areas and said that we will not do this because this is right for the children. And it was a very self selective set of schools that came on board initially, but the impact was so powerful that most schools actually joined us in the due course. So we had the opportunity to actually question and would say, a redesign a lot of things that have been taken for granted for children, we've been able to redesign thought process, redesign products and redesign design processes for children during this journey, actually.
Krishna Jonnakadla 28:54
Fabulous.So I'm continuing to see that pattern of a typical decisions here saying that we are going to buck the trend, and we are not going to do what everybody else is doing. But we are going to do what's right for the user. In this case, that happens to be a child. Today does the Flint o box come in any other language? Although I know that the components of the Flint box, do not have a language component associated with them. But occasionally there are instructions or any other things that are associated with them? It tends to be the language, does it go in any other language other than English?
No, not right now, it's going only in English, primarily because there is very less dependency on the language itself. Our designers have a very simple rule of thumb, when you get an iPhone, you don't go read a manual, you start using it right away. It's a very intuitively designed product. So most intuitively designed products, you don't go read instruction, read manuals there because you know, if you gets stuck somewhere, then you always have a reference point. But then you don't really depend on that as a primary way to start something. So to design a product and design activity, we have designed packaged in a way that it's intuitive for a child who start working. It does, you know, don't think about a parent think what a child and for that reason, there's less dependency on language today, but it might change at different scales.
Krishna Jonnakadla 30:11
If talking about the next level of scale, I have a couple of questions around it. When you initially visualize Flinto box, or even before you visualized the Flinto box as a product when you were visualizing things that would keep Vijay as your co founder, son's engaging, and then eventuallty take to call that and culminated this into box, I want to go back to your earlier thought about you're not solving a large enough problem with the mobility thing. Because for most outsiders who are not very well aware of the early learning system, the schooling system would actually miss the potential disruption that some a concept like this might have. So for example, if we were to take the concept of long tail, and extend the Flint box and take the Flint box as a beginning, and then extended, you already have the school system, the preschool curriculum covered. Now what that means is all so many pre schooling curriculums that we are starting to see which, to a great extent good, do not necessarily have a framework. It's just a set of loose things put together, where there's no difference whatsoever. That is a field that you can influence and is huge, right. And the second thing is the vernacular system, the culture, all the things that come on around, even the initial experiences that human beings tend to have around religion, and you start taking and the next leap, the way I see it is interesting components of the Flinto box becoming toys that even adults can play with it, you know, that can engage them. So if I were to draw a long tail, the long tail really looks long here. When you the three of you jumped onto this, did it occur to you that there was going to be a long tail and this was a large, this was some day going to be large enough problem.
I think the scale that we are seeing today, is several times larger than the scale that we saw five years ago, They are really .5% .6% of the market share that we could be actually taking. And we saw Flinto box, as a primary vehicle where we had a large, I would say a demographic that could benefit from this, we are thinking about preschools because we realize that kids spent vast majority of their time at home, and the second highest number of hours are spent at schools. So there's definitely an opportunity there. But what that opportunity is something that we didn't have an idea about. And then there was a global opportunity to think about. So these were the primary, I would say areas that we mapped out when we started out. And they were all in very nascent stages. If you look at even preschool, preschools are still only about you know, when we started out, it was less than a billion dollar revenue opportunity in India, but the pace at which it was growing in among the entire education industry, there's experiences the fastest growth rate. So while this was all exciting, that's how much visibility we had into what we could create, right. But as we were able to sustain, grow, and reach more audiences, customers, we were able to, I would say, unlocked potentials, even the age group for that matter, like Flinto class and Flino box, we started with four to seven years as an one age group. We are now in the process of designing something for zero to two years. A design for zero to two years had never been thought about before. You know, we certainly didn't knew all these things when we started out. But we uncovered them we unlock the potential as we've made a progress. So I think so naturally a question. The scale that we're seeing today is is several times bigger than the scale that we actually know, we envisaged miss out. And this is still the beginning.
Krishna Jonnakadla 34:00
So that actually begs another question in terms of the creative process, and more importantly, the initial team that you actually had to put together because there is no template to hire a team to run an operation like this. And while there are some philosophies around culture, did the Bangalore to Chennai shift, play any role in the kind of team or the talent that you had to attract. And so talk to us about that shift? And the other thing is, in terms of identifying the people, and the sort of organization that you had to create for this? What was good? What was the thought process behind it?
So moving from Bangalore to Chennai, again, to a slightly counterintuitive, right? Most people go from Chennai to Bangalore to build a startup because obviously, the ecosystem is pretty like there. For us what made us drove was, to be very honest, we didn't see this as a design company evolving. We saw this as an operationally intensive company rather. This is our first view of you know how we looked at it. And we never thought we would need so many designers. I mean, that's how much visibility we had into, you know, how many more products, we're going to create. How that scale is going to look like, we saw this as a very operationally intensive company. And and we want to move to a place where the operating expenses are cheaper, basically, and we all hail from Chennai. And we obviously had our ground zeroes here, and which means it was easier for us to operate here less a costume, it's cost effective, those notions drove us to accomplish. And a year later, we realized that, you know, what we were able to operationally do well, low cost, all those things. But we realized that we are not an operation company , we are a design company, it took us a year to realize that, you know, so we started hiring part designers, graphic designers, one after another, and the more we interviewed and look for people, we realized that Chennai is not home for a lot of designers. In fact, places like Bangalore, and Mumbai actually has a lot more supply of designers than Chennai. And it made us think, did we actually did the right desicion to move to Chennai, but that actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us. What actually became interesting for us was in less than two years, Flinto was actually a poster child, for early child development. Media, really loved us. And the kind of visibility that we got into early child development design was actually something that we are really grateful for. We had quite a bit of inbound interest from designers who wanted to come back to Chennai, and work in product design, graphic design, otherwise, they belong to Chennai, but then they don't have companies that are doing it, right. So they had to go to places like Bangalore and Delhi to do it. So we had a first couple of people that were from Chennai, that want to come back to Chennai work for us. The second thing was this, till about we had about 20 people on the team, except for the first couple of people that joined from Chennai, we had people from different parts of the country that actually came here to work with us. Even now, I think we have only two or three people in design team who actually belong to Chennai, and the rest of them come from across India. The design community itself is a very small, close knit community, the word spreads really fast. And especially from colleges, we have a lot of interest from, I would say, professionals who want to work and designed for children area, there are not many companies in India that can actually give the kind of opportunity that we give. So it became a more self selecting crowd that comes here. It's not like I'm in Bangalore, I'm going to find another design job. It's like I want to do design for children. And you're the one company that's doing it, hence, I'm going to come here and work for you, right? So iterations is actually almost nil. Because it's a self setting crowd. So this is why, I said, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us, because otherwise, we would be just competing with every other UI/UX company in trying to hire a designer.
Krishna Jonnakadla 38:03
So amazing, in a sense, create something awesome. And put it a little out of reach. Although I don't see a formula of sorts, but create something awesome and put it out of reach. And make it aspirational, so that the talent comes in search of you as opposed to you fighting out with a lot of other sharks, and competing for the same talent.
In fact, to take that discussion further. One was, it was very important for us in the initial days to attract that what I call is, again, a self setting crowd. And I think that trade is very important. And it still is very important for us to be able to attract those self setting crowd who come here for a reason not just another company to work for. This is one of the important things that we also looked for, in hiring, I would say key talents, we also look for the key talents, is it all the self setting crowd coming here, despite of all the, I would say, flaws and imperfections we might have? Or is it just another job opportunity that people look for? That became very important for us as a process we looked at, and going back to the the early, team that we had building, something that we did really well. And even now, when we have, you know, I would say new product launches or new thing, every team behaves like a start up for us inside. So we did two things, actually, one thing really well, which was, so I don't know, if you've looked at, you know, the Australian cricket team, and let's say the late 90s and early 2000s, the team actually was a class apart from the rest of the world. It was a class apart from rest of the world, primarily, because the one biggest differences you would notice, I think now every team was on a even play field. But then if you go back to early 2000, and late 90s, right, every Australian player would be able to do two things really well, like better than anybody else in the world. Two things really well, not just one thing, and they'll be able to adapt to the third one, right? Either u bat and bowl or you bat and field or you bat and keep your field and keep, very rarely that formula was used across multiple countries, you've a specialist a batsman, you have specialist bowler, that's it, you don't do anything else. Whereas that team had this formula where you know, it builds a more entrepreneurial culture, it was a more for startups. It's a the kind of culture you need, where you hire people that can do at least two things really well, right? and willing to adapt to the third one when thrown in, either you do sales in finance, or you do finance and operations, cooperative marketing, but at least that willingness to learn and do two things really well. And the third thing to adapt when you are thrown at, you will find mostly journalist around there, right? Not like one specialist who can do that only one thing really well. But those people are the ones who are willing to adapt the most. So to at least the first 20 30 people that we got on board, they somehow fit into this formula for us.
Krishna Jonnakadla 41:04
Very fascinating. There is emerging science, which actually suggests that range, there's a book out there, which I read, and it's a philosophy I personally practice my whole life, that you should have a varied set of interests. And two or three places where you have a certain degree of depth, then the way you look at the world has got so many facets in it. And in a startup, you're almost all the time in uncharted waters. Yeah, right? If we look at your own journey, from the subscription decision, to the physical product decision to the location decision, they're all counter intuitive decisions. Now, that means every one of those decisions, you actually have outcomes, which you don't know what they are going to look like. And unless and until within your own psychological framework, you've nurtured a degree of tolerance, for different outcomes, your ability to deal with them actually completely disappeared. And then that is when you start having tension, stress, and then friction. And then things start falling apart. so fascinating.
Vijay, Shree and I knew each other for 2004 onwards, about 15 years, we all go back to our first job at TCS, where all of us actually were part of the same teams, same projects, were able to travel abroad for the same project wokrked and lived and worked in same communities and companies before, till a point where I left to do my MBA from Dartmouth, and Vijay left to pursue a startup in the US. And Nidhi came back to India to work for Societe Generale at Bangalore. We parted ways. And then, you know, I did my MBA, and went to work for Samsung, in Seoul, Korea, worked in mergers and acquisitions, primarily acquiring companies for Samsung. So when we came back to build this, the skill sets that we were able to directly apply. The first company that we're building Zinghopper was, I think, we're Vijay and Shreenidhi had very deep technology backgrounds where across full stack products to mobile platforms and everything they had been part of, and Vijay had the experience of building cross border teams and managing cross border teams and companies like Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and so on. And I brought, I would say, you know, my skill sets were mostly into general management and more specifically, finance and strategy, primarily working on mergers and acquisitions. Before that, I also worked for partners Innovation Fund in the US, which was primarily an early stage healthcare investment company, invest in early stage, you know, medical devices, healthcare IT, this is another side of the table. So investment, strategy, finance is primarily the skill set that I brought. And I also ran a startup in the US before I left the country, so had the knack to actually or rather the never time to create those things and things from scratch. So when we came together, I think one thing that was common for all of us was the whole hunger to build exciting things. And then we were able to apply whatever skills that we had right away, but never shy of learning new trades and learning new things as we scaled. So I tell this all the time, the first start of the year, and this is two people, and we ran for about four or five months before we came out of it. At Samsung I was an individual contributor and in the roles of which we I had the opportunity to operated we have not managed large teams in the past. And, you know, building and managing team of this size is something that we started learning as we grow. And honestly, people don't know, when those fifty people team, I don't know, what hundred would look like. And now we have more than 150 people team. I don't know, if they do the same things that we're doing today, when it's thousand people. Right? So those are things that we learn on the goal. But yeah, I mean, we had hard skills that we could apply right away. And then a lot of things that we learned along the way, in terms of culture, again, as I said, I believe that it's a oftentimes culture is a very, very loosely word term. You know, to me culture, it's very simple. You are the culture, basically, there is no one culture that applies to every type of company. And you understand what you need as part of your startup as part of the companies for the teams that you are building, and you practice it, right. And you are the culture. And sometimes culture will get you from point A to point B, point B to point C, if you need to adjust, you need to create a different culture. And those are things that you will learn and grow. But basically, the initial culture is something is just you, if you are in office at 9:30, then you expect everyone at 9:30. If you have a flexi workers and you want everyone to be flexible hours, if you have a dress code, and everyone has a dress code, if you don't have a dress code everyone is in not in a dress code. So it's basically with a different culture and the deeper understanding that you have to what the company needs, you transform yourself and the culture will transform.
Krishna Jonnakadla 45:59
Fascinating, I like what you said about building the culture that you need for the kind of startup that you're building. Because too often we can get carried away by all these grand notions that exist elsewhere, not knowing or not being completely aware if it was even applicable to what you're attempting? It is one thing to have, for example, work from home as a policy, it possibly works in certain industries or domains, but maybe not work here. So that actually brings me to the next question, which is about doing creative things at scale. When you're shipping 65,000 boxes a month, and there are all these children across the country. And they're not even in a controlled environment, right? A school is a controlled environment. And in which case, the instructor, the educator, or the teacher is able to say, hey, this is exactly how this needs to be done. This is exactly how that needs to be done. But if you're shipping thousands and lakhs of boxes, it means that it is working in multiple environments. And it also means that the creative process that you have internally is very, very robust. And I'm unable to find another word for robust, it means it is delivering as it should, or maybe it's delivering better than it should. So that means a whole host of different set of employee practices, employee policies, because creativity cannot be done with six sigma. It's a notion, six sigma sounds fantastic. But alchemy and magic is, and with a little bit of discipline, of course, nobody is talking about just letting employees loose on the beach and say, Come up with fancy ideas. But this means there's a whole host of what does that look like for you? What does that look like for you?
We have one rule of thumb, across the company, we don't complicate our processes, we don't complicate. Or we don't go tell people, do this or that. As one simple rule of thumb, which is child first, anything that you think about, anything that you do, anything you procure, and you know ship, even new customer care calls, when you're dealing with any of those things, think of the child first, and then you decide what you're going to do about it, or how you're going to create it. Very rarely, a companies ethos or companies values have been built around the consumer, I mean, companies that does that are actually vastly successful. And when Amazon said, I'm going to be the most customer friendly company, customer centric company on the on the earth, they went to an extent of practicing that in every department, not just, people that supplied, but it's a very simple statement and a very powerful statement. And, and for us, you know, it cannot get more powerful when you put child at the center of everything that we do, and you design everything around it. And if you have a dilemma, just simple answer is put a child first and see how you want to solve that and demo. So everyone from packaging, to customer support, to design, to procurement, to marketing, they all put child first and how they want to come up with the idea and execute it and send it across. So I think that's a beacon for, I would say how people think about what they do and what they create, that solves a lot of problem in the first place. And second is, I think beyond that these are final iterations in process that we go about to it. I think, again, just because a vertical like this never existed before, a category never existed before, some of the processes also never existed before, we were able to iterate some of the processes as we started building. And, come to a point where it's a fairly, I would say, mature and robust processes that we have in place across different teams on how you create how, you procure, how you package, how your ship, and how you communicate. It's all I would say, done well, and several times now.
Krishna Jonnakadla 49:52
So let's dive deeper, a little more about the creative process. How many you have 12 themes per child per age every year. And each box has about five to six experiential things that the child builds, which means for a single age group, you're talking about 70 Plus, twin slash experiences slash things that they're working on. And now you do three to six ages 3,4,5 and six. So that's literally 300 plus. And if I were to take themes, possibly, the combinations will become mind boggling and the number of changes. That is a massive amount of creativity. What sort of magical things have you done to create creativity at that scale?
Actually, I'll take that slightly further, what you're talking about is Flinto box. Now Flinto class is a differentiated product, it's not a Flinto box just being used in the new vertical. Flinto class is a separate vertical, it's a separate product altogether, because Flinto box is designed for, I would call independent use or one is to one engagement, where as Flinto class is designed for one is to 15 engagement in a controlled environment. So the design process itself changes for a preschool in Flinto class. So they are highly differentiated product and in Flinto class, a child gets their materials and their learning experiences for every day of the classroom, which means right from playgroup, nursery, kindergarten one and kindergarten two, it's a every year they made for 160 days. So every day, they have three sessions, which are around 160X3, that's about 480 activities in a year, across four years. So that's about 1800 different, I would say experiences that they get in Flinto class. So they are mutually exclusive before that. So the scale at which we have built, I would say creative content is actually unimaginable at different levels. And, I think the team that's behind it, the research and design team is the one that creates, I would say ideate, prototype, test, and create these products. Now this team has one of the the best talents in the country, graduating out of the top design schools, usually high from the top of the class with very deep passion and innate, liking for rather passion for working for children. And those are the people that we get to work with us in this environment. The research and design team is actually one fifth of our entire company. It's about 55 people team and are spread between, I would say psychology, sociology, product design, game design, pedagogy, pediatric background, and so on, which actually brings a rather defines a child's experiences from different facets. So usually you'll find teams that are homogeneous, right? I mean, it's the customer support team is of homogenous team, everyone think alike and do alike, a programming team is a homogenous team, my marketing team is a homogenous team. The product design team itself is a very heterogeneous team for us. And because again, they all come from very different backgrounds within the product in itself to be able to create, or rather build something with so much creative value at a scale. I think the heterogeneous team brings a very different perspective design. And that is what fuels actually a never ending creative flow inside the company.
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:21
Let's talk about the evolution of the user. When you initially launched, what were the set of people that embrace the product, and now, what are the kinds of people, kind of users that you are seeing embracing the product, both in terms of Flinto box and Flinto class.
So let me talk about Flinto box. I think Flinto box surprisingly, we haven't seen a change in the demographic or the change in I would say, customer segmentation and who embraces the product. Whom we reached initially was rather by our own limitation than by a segment that had a natural inclination for a product like this. Obviously, the first set of users were more tech savvy, internet savvy users who were able to buy subscriptions online, no cash on delivery, then it was all prepaid, because we didn't have a cash on delivery options, and so on. So and then over the period of time, because of Jio penetration, Internet penetration, there's more tier 2, tier 3 coming on board. And that actually is fueling our growth as well. And in tier 2 and tier 3, what we realized was that the beauty about why I said that the customer segmentation or the demographic doesn't matter is that what you're buying here is not a product, it's an emotion, and every parent has an aspiration for the child, right. And the aspiration never changes, whether you earning 10,000 rupees or a lack, the aspiration is still an aspiration. And as long as and what I call Flinto boxe is, an affordable luxury. So affordable luxury is more like listen, I'm not going to spend 10,000 rupees to get a different experience ffor my child, but I can afford 500 rupees to get an experience for my child. So it's an affordable luxury that you know, anyone can experience. And what we realized is that tier two and tier three cities have parents with same aspirations for their children, for the avenues that actually fewer, you don't have as many creative outlets for children in tier two and tier three. And what Flinto box has been able to cater to is those aspiring parents who want creative outlets for the children where they don't have it, even if they want it in those cities and towns. We've seen more and more of those parents getting on board with something like Flinto box. With Flinto class, the difference we're finding, I mean, we are still in very early stage, I think 400 might look like a scale, but aspiration is to get 20,000 pre schollers on Flinto class. So, you know, at 400 numbers right now, I think, you know, we are getting a lot of pre schools, which did not have, I would say a methodology or a streamlined way of running a preschool that did not have a process in place are actually quickly adapting something like a Flinto class to run a preschool. And what we think will change over that period of time is that the lot of schools that have a stereotype of what early learning is, what a preschoolers and like writing, recitals, things like that. We believe that at some point, we will be able to break those standards and say that, listen, this is the right thing to do. At which point we expect, you know, more of the stereotypes close trigger on both.
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:28
So in this, you said a while ago that you ship hundred boxes in the first month, what were those two or three inflection points? And what specifically did you do that got you where you are today.
There were a lot of interesting junctures along the way that we faced. And, some of those critical junctures where we made some decisions to where we are. So we used to have this product for, one product or rather one series, for the entire four to seven year old children. This is what we started. We realized that, obviously, we started this with very less resources and very less, I would say, knowledge about what is right. But we quickly realized that 4 to 7 is a vast age group, and it needs to be further split. But before we want to split, we want to understand, when we talk to the customers, we understand that some kids like it or not like it, more from an age appropriateness standpoint. And then we started engaging with more such parents. And we realized that, you know, age appropriateness is something that's very, very important. It's not about creating a set of boxes for a group that they're going to use, it's about creating those age specific, I would say, interactions with a child. So we want to understand this in different age group. And we launched something for two to four years, we launched something for eight plus years, and so on. And we realized that if you need to give a child a deeper engagement, I would say, a lasting experience, then creating something very age appropriate is going to create that impact. So from creating products for different buckets, saying two to four, four to six, six plus, and so on, that's what the industry does. You can walk into a store and say that it's two Plus, it's four plus, those brands don't interact with children on a daily basis, whereas we do. We are direct to consumer and we are able to hear back directly from customers. We realized that let's actually create more age appropriate buckets, which is now we have two to three years, three to four years, four to five years, in fact, now design for zero to one and one to two, it's very month specific, which means a 13 month old child has, I would say, the research says that there are so many skills a child would have, it can go a couple of months here and there. But it can be vastly different, which means a 13 month old child can have either 11th month or 15th month old, you know, I would say it's skills, but not beyond that. So then how do you provide that experience for a 13 month old for a 14 month old or a 15 month old and so on. For example, in 19th month is when a child starts to twist and turn until then they want twist and turn. So either you were expecting that experience from the 17th month to 21st month.So then you need to provide something that naturally, help them with that skill. This was one of the critical decisions we took in, how do you make your product stick better, work better with children provide lasting impact? This is more from the I would say product standpoint was one of the inflection points where we decided we want to create a bucket but we will create very specific age groups and we cater to. The second biggest inflection point for us was even the launch of Flinto Class, again was a very interesting journey that we had, where we did not create a product thinking there is a market or something for that. In fact, at some point, preschools will actually buy Flinto boxes in bulk. And we were happy to sell getting 30 orders in one go, yes take it, right. We never used to question any of the them, why they were buying. Couple of years later when we were just going through the entire MIS, we realized that the number of schools that have actually gotten bulk boxes of Flinto box was actually significant. We couldn't ignore that number. So we got curious, because first, we didn't design it for them. We designed it for children at home. I never marketed for you, I never communicated any where that you need this. And there was a very interesting pattern of school starting and stopping certain point. So I reached out to these schools and asked them, Why do you need Flinto box? I never created this for you. We never created this for you. We never made you know that placement for you. You came in and bought it for every child. And then four months later you stop it. So why do you do this? We had some very interesting answers that, opened our eyes to the deficiencies in the industry, from low quality, early educators to, awareness among children, lack of brand, lack of standardization, to what the child does inside the classroom. I think the entire early education industry was completely broken. People are buying Flinto box because they believe that it's a well designed product. It's a brand they want associated with, it makes up for the deficiencies. And we said then how do you use it? They said we use it once in a week with every children and then we put it back. I said if this is a problem, why to solve one day in a week, let's solve it for every day of the year. And that's how we started creating Flinto classes as product. So it was driven by our customers, for a product like this opened our eyes to a whole new, we always knew that the pre schools are an important part of it, of the journey. But we didn't know what I'm going to do in preschool. And this whole I would say customer adoption of Flinto box help us to create Flinto Class. I think these two were actually very important inflection points on the evolution of the company.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:30
Did you at certain point stuck at a certain level, no matter what you did the growth felt elusive? And how did you get out of that.
Multiple times. And I think by now we are used to it actually. What we realized was, there were a lot of times when we do certain things, it works really well. And then you start investing more marketing dollars into it, and then come a point where it hits a ceiling. And then no matter how much more you invest in that you're this very marginal returns on those investments then and it doesn't grow from there. We hit that several times in the past. And, what we realized was that every time we hit there you can see a pattern in about two, three months. If something's not scaling, you hit a glass ceiling there. If you hit the glass ceiling, then one thing that we have learned to do is to step back, unlearn everything that we have not done so far, step back and look at the problem again, right and look at the data. And the problem will then stare at you. Create a new solution to the problem that you are at right now. Because the solution that you have was created at a different scale, that solution will not work right now. So that open mindedness was very, very important for us to break the glass ceiling and move forward. And we know that every time you have to do it otherwise, you can survive that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:02:55
How are you today, engaging with your users today? Creative process? Does it have direct user involvement or parental involvement of some kind beyond your R&D lab? Do you listen to your users? Have you created channels for them to communicate? And both in terms of potential ideas that they might have? And also be in terms of the way they might be using Flinto box or Flinto class in a context, which you may not have completely visualized? Have you done that yet, with your user ecosystem.
We created this Flinto research and Design Lab, year and a half ago, which is redefining how we engage with our users right from ideation through creation to finished products. In fact, Flinto is home to India's first and only dedicated research and Design Center for early education. And despite a country with, let's say millions and millions of children, we're the first one to create an dedicated center for understanding gets better by the virtue of that the team here has, I would say the best understanding easily the best in the country understanding about how a child learns, grows place, and what are their preferences, and what exactly do they like and dislike at different stages. So the design center itself has been very instrumental on how we design our products, how we think about designing for products, I'll give an example. I don't know if many companies actually think about dominant hand, while creating a product for children. Kids have left dominant hand, right dominant hand. And if you have a one dominant hand, then it's hard for you to use on the product design. So let's say for example, if something has a novel, you only can turn it right, then, you know, if a child is left handed and their experience is actually suboptimal to a child, that's actually right handed. 99% of the world designs for right handed children, very less people actually think about the, you know, either ambidextrous or dominant hand designing for children. We discovered this when we were designing with the kids, we found that there was a left handed child that was struggling. And we realized that God there's something that everyone is doing, just taking it for granted. And since then we started adopting something called Universal Design where, whether a child irrespective of the child's skill level, or dominant hand or anything, they should be able to use it flexibly. So these are the things that you take away from a close knit environment, a very closed environment, where you interact with children. And this is why we create the lab. And what we do in the lab is we run a lot of different programs where kids from different age groups, sometimes with fear, and sometimes by their own, actually come participate, where we engage with them, just engaging with them throws or rather it sows the seed for a lot of things that we create and we do. I think because this actually solves it, I would say 90 95% of our user engagement at different stages of design itself, actually, and this is why I said no designing for children, we take it more serious than anyone, and how do you design and how you engage with the children. And post I would say production or shipment, we have an engagement directly with the parents then, right. So we have over 700 800. In fact, we reach out actively to thousand parents every month to understand how they use the products, how they liked it, doesn't like it, what the children felt about it, how they felt about it, and so on. So it's very important for us to do that. The second part was Flinto class. Now Flinto class again, it's a different environment, you have to run it in a school actually, right. So for example, this morning, when you went there, what you saw was primarily Flinto class program that was being used in the center with the gifts that we have. So there, it's not about just observing their children, it's also observing teachers because I can give you an instruction or again, tell the teacher what to do. But the how the teacher does this is very important for the overall implementation of the idea. So the idea is if you want to make it, if you want to make it exciting for the children make it easy for the teachers. So you're really designing for the children, but then, you know, it's actually the teachers that actually will have to communicate it. So we actually engage directly with over 40 45 schools across the city, and also some tier two, tier three cities where we go in and spend a couple of weeks just fly on the wall, understand how the products are being used, how the kids are interacting with the products, how the teachers are interacting with the products, take away into two inputs and come back and make it better. Because if you ask this question, how do you like to a teacher, invariably, you get positive reviews, because they operate with very limited views and visibility about what an early child development is, and how you know, you can make it better. So we don't ask them the question, we rather sit in one corner and observe, how they use it. And then we make them say objective, observations that actually comes back and improve our product. So at every level, we have very deep interaction with our customers, both, I would say pre design and post design, out for sale, to understand the entire lifecycle of the product.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:07:57
Taking Flinto Box into, let's say, more professional entrepreneurs. For instance, practical vocations, let's say doctors, or even the professional chartered accountants, they all during their pursuit of education, almost everything they do is hands on. But as soon as you step out of those streams, because they are a minuscule number, the vast number of people actually go into theoretical element. As a result of which today, we have a situation where we produce a vast number of engineers. And if we were to just take information technology as a sector, 90 plus percentage of the graduates do not know how to code. They're supposed to have a degree in coding, but they don't know how to code. It's an alarming situation. While that is just one sector, and then there are other people who come out of humanities do not have an understanding of the emotional aspect, the psyche, and that is exactly what they're supposed to be equipped with. So we live in possibly a very theory dominated educational system, that is robbing people of the practical utility of what their education was even supposed to be in the first place. We're not talking about direct transplantation from their education to work environments, right. But at least in creating individuals, do you see in the near horizon, given the kind of things that you're able to do with Flinto Box, maybe influencing, even if you're not directly creating a product, influencing some of those streams with the practical kind of things you're doing here?
Interesting. In fact, we've constantly had this request that why are we stopping at 10 years old, can you to do something for 12,13 ,14 year kids, schools ask us, where do you stop at kindergarten? Can you do something for first grade, second grade and so on. We take a very simple view. In fact, I have two answers for you on that. One is, as a company, I think, need to focus. It's not about adding more products and revenue are more segmentation, it's about identity that are creating for yourself. And I think, you know, we are very proud and excited to have this identity that whether we want to be the best and the large, just early learning design company. So one is an identity dilution, so we want to stick to what we are best at, what we played really good things. The second reason why all these professional streams, okay, or rather, there's different faculties that gets designed, that gets developed in a human life as they grow. Right. And basically, once a child is over 12 years their usage of I would say a numbers, alphabets, vocabulary, logical reasoning, manipulation, relationship, these are the things that make an individual once they are 12 years and above. But what makes them suitable to apply those faculties is the first 12 years of their life. And you do that really well. You see a smart individual that's ready to take on the world, whether it's a professional or personal pursuit after that, you have a smart individual ready to contribute to the economy, contribute to the world and take on the world. So you do the foundation really well. The building can change in a number of times.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:11:15
On that count, there is an interesting story about the set of sisters called the Polgar sisters. The story about the parents of the Polgar sisters, itself is very fascinating. There is science that suggests that influences and things that kids touch within their first six years tend to be the ones that possibly stick and become a source of inspiration for what they want to, later on in their life. So I think Louis Polgar, the parent skillfully throws chess pieces. And kids discovered accidentally, and initially, he doesn't find the chess pieces or anything, his vision was to create, chest prodigies, and to demonstrate that it was not something that somebody was born with. But if you could just give them enough practice, and all of.
That for analytical things for the children. Sometimes, if the parent is just, musically talented, they look for something musical, it would say inspiring for the children, they actually play them some of the things, they view such things, so they get over dosage of what the parent likes or dislikes during that years, right. And even if you go to a store, it's the parents influencing what they want to buy them, right, because you have this pattern where zero to about three years is a parent driven purchase. Three years to eight years is a parent driven child assisted purchase, and eight plus is a child when purchase, right? So eight years and above is where a child is actually getting a glimpse of making independent choices about what they like and what they dislike. Before that, it's usually driven by what a parent likes and dislikes right. Now Flinto gives this opportunity where you step back and say that Listen, I'm not going to really influence any thinking of the child, but here's a company putting together a bunch of things every month. And these are all different experiences, from anything from logical reasoning to problem solving, to outdoor experiences, to nature experiences, to craft activities, storytelling vocabulary. So these experiences come repeated at certain intervals, right? So a parent that's actually keen to engage with their children, they can actually see a pattern on what the child likes and dislikes. And you know, they can then encourage it from that standpoint, and it's really a, you know, you getting up, you're getting a blind box every time and what goes inside is not defined by the parent, but by us and what I can guarantee is, a multitude of experiences that a parent would not be able to give otherwise.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:13:44
I should have asked this before, but in building all of this, also meant that not the distribution chain, but your supply chain itself had to be created from scratch, possibly you didn't have components that you could do, you could create on your own. You obviously needed to create a supplier ecosystem. How easy was that? or How difficult was that? And today, I think you have said you over 200 plus suppliers across the country? Are they mostly indigenous, so how is that shaped up?
Yeah, so it was not easy to begin with, because what was challenging was, you don't have a scale to really define, rather customize anything. See the product design and the vendor quality or rather the vendor base goes hand in hand. And this is where our product also has kind of evolved over a period of time, right? Obviously, there's a vicious and there is a practical list of things. So when we design our products, we understand the limitations of supply chain. So in the first three years, we designed to our supplier constraints rather, it also gave us a lot of insights to how optimal the design can be, and so that we don't invest a lot of money and time and just growing a vendor, but user base, this is capability, then how do we design for it. And beyond the point, what we did was, we started developing a lot of very dedicated mentors or rather exclusive vendors for us. In fact, even today, a lot of vendors 80% of the business comes from us. So the minute you are able to grow the business volume with the same vendor, they were actually committed to making investments and changing their processes to make it more optimal. So then we kind of start changing our design process and the products and the components. So that now we work very closely with the vendors to say that, listen, now we want to invest in these things, you make your investment, because I'm giving you this business. So it's a commitment that we give for them to invest in new processes and new technologies and new competencies. But before that the first three years, were just about building the trust with them saying that, you know, what, I can make the investment with this company now. So it needed a adjustation period, it needed that period where we have to really build that trust relationship with the vendor. And beyond that we were able to make our processes more optimal, the competence more optimal. And the vendors were able to make investments in processes and technologies and tools to actually make us help us get there.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:16:07
And all your vendor base is Indian.
Its 99.9% Indian.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:16:10
Wow ! And you didn't have to go, to good old China for any of these things.
There's a whole misconception about China around this. What I've seen is, China has a very interesting spread of vendors and products. In fact Chinese goods are often equated to cheap boots, right? That's not true. China provides a variety, you get what you pay for. And China has bought the cheapest products and it has one of the most expensive products also. This is a conception that I also had, which changed when I started looking at what is available in China. In fact, for a lot of good reasons, Chinese suppliers are far more advanced than Indian suppliers. If you want good quality products, then you pay for it, you get it. What China also offers is a good variety of products, which you don't find in Indian ecosystem, in a manufacturing ecosystem. Most often they're not, we wanted high quality and we are not able to find in India, we depend on some high quality Chinese manufacturers, but then we don't depend on them for a long time, once you get the product at the components, we then bring one of the Indian manufacturer to see if they can actually match the quality and start building those components then. So what Indian manufacturer has done really well is reverse engineer those components, then so we reverse engineer them and then start building it in India then, while for the rest of the world made China may look as a lot better, as a base for cheap products. But I think we looked at it as a place for I would say inspiring designs and products. And then we were able to bring them back and start making it a lot better.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:17:37
What is your personal entrepreneurial and management stand.
See what I really liked the most is getting hands dirty to build things. And that's something that I just love the most. And even today, I think that a lot of teams that I interact less frequently. But a product is something that I interact on a daily basis, I go through every review, I go through every design, and the new concepts basically and they develops actually. So this is not just about product, it is about creating anything new. And that's what fascinates me more than anything else. And the whole excitement and passion to roll sleeves up and get things done is something that I I love the most and I enjoy doing day in day out.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:18:21
So what's in store for our own for the next few years and what's in store for Flinto for the next few years where we're beyond Flinto Box and Flinto Class. What will we see Flinto redefine.
I think Flinto is at the cusp of redefining early education. We see a great possibility to change the landscape to begin with in India. But we also have global footprints already. And possibly in the three to five years, we want to be the largest brand and the most loved brand for early learning across the world. We're not far from getting there. And that opens new possibilities on how do you designed for children? What else can you create for children? What other impact you can have in children? Again, when I say this, I'm not really discounting or rather dismissing areas like kids with special needs, there are a lot of impactful things you can create as an Early Learning Company. And this is again, when I say you know, as I said earlier, we put child first right. And the way we think about some of these areas is that especially let's say you know if you talk about kids with special needs, right? I think people call it, I mean we hate to call it with kids with special needs, right? Kids are kids and and they perceive the world differently than what do you perceive, they are just different from you. It's just that you don't understand them doesn't mean that they are special kids, kids are kids, you know, special and they have needs. And just because you don't understand them you kind of bucket them in different areas. So we hate to call them as kids with special needs. I'm saying listen, just like I'm designing for differently for two to three years and four to five years and five to six years, we're going to design for children in all walks of life and how they perceive the world. And with that simple view. It's an unlimited potential for us to create different things for children from different backgrounds and different experience and different skills and different abilities. So we're looking at a bottomless opportunity for growth and impact that we can create with Flinto? Oh, I think right now, I don't think we are looking beyond Flinto I mean, considering the potential that we are looking at initially, every little thing that we're creating is another startup. If Flinto class never existed with a Flinto class is a startup, which is keeping as exciting. The couple of new product lines in the pipeline that again, new startups altogether. So we don't have to look for another thing to do. Fortunately, in this journey so far, in fact, yet, so I don't think we are looking beyond Flinto, at least for the next five, six years, on what are we could be creating.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:20:50
Has there been a near death moment for the company for Flinto at any point in time? And obviously you have managed to come out of it? Did that? If you had it? What did it look like?
So we had not just one but three of them so far, and I think every experience had taught us something new and better to, how do you manage the growth and how do you manage the company, and so on. It's just opened our eyes to new things that we never seen before. So the first one was where it was still very early, we were raising our first I would say angel investment. And it did not happen, at least it did not happen at the timelines that we were looking at. And we were about eight people team, then I think we ended up letting go, everyone but three of us and we were still raising funds. And fortunately, in about two months, we were able to raise around, you brought back everyone that we let go and we started kept growing from there. So one thing we realized was that never run out of cash, because it was a horrible experience to let people go after working with them for a year. So we decided that listen, let's not run out of cash to a point where we're going to let people go the first point. The second time we ran out of cash, but then we're able to keep the an old company afloat with our own personal money. And only in the last year or so. And we told everyone that were two instances where the company did not have cash. And everyone was surprised because not even a or even a single Saturday was skipped. It always hits the account on 31st evening, no matter how bad the situation was. That's something that we we made a promise to ourselves, and that we will not let that happen again. And every I would say stressful situation has to stop with us. I don't think it can get down to end. Right. And we manage those situations really well. And beyond that it's about how do you recapitalize the company and grow there. But then the first one, it did teach us new lessons about cash management, general people management, and so on.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:23:02
Raise well raise a little early. Because you never know what the cycle gonna look like.
And that how early was something that got redefined every time you run out of cash?
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:23:12
Do you have a thumb rule for how early now, six months?
Six months before you have. Now it's actually, if you think you're going to have at least a couple of million dollars in your account in six months, raise now.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:23:25
About bootstrapping, there's this notion that there are certain products that need deep pockets to build, not every product will be successfully from the get go. But if you're going to work on anything bootstrapped, that product has to start making a little bit of money from a certain get go. Because that alone determines how to a great degree the survival of that bootstrap startup. And I believe that's a very under understood aspect. Because if you're going to build a product that is going to require investments, and if you decide on bootstrapping, then you possibly have made a wrong behavior. It is a product, using bootstrap can get to a certain degree of growth and profitability. Now your survival is not threatened. Because you first have to survive before you can thrive. So does it resonate? Did you end up applying any of that?
No, it does. And I think, you know, we had more relating to the current circumstances. Okay. I think there's different schools of thoughts on fundraise. And you know, how much you didn't to capitalize the company, bootstrapping, and lot of these lessons, okay. And so there is no one right or wrong thing to do, and how you raise money? How do you capitalize the company. At times especially in this era of hyper funded, I would say environment, if you're building a company, you should just anticipate disruption from more than one direction then, right? I would say decades ago, capital was not considered a disruptor, but it was just a facilitator for disruption. But now capital is actually used as a watchlist. It's used as a disruptor. You know, companies with certain amount of pocket can actually go in and change things, can go in and redefine environments, ecosystems, right. So as a company, if you're bootstrapping, just be prepared with the mindset that, you know, it's not an idea that may disrupt you, it might also be someone else capital that went disruptor. Its a pace. And are you prepared to take that up that time, your idea itself might be stronger than the others idea. But if you don't have the war chest, you may not be able to fight the fight?
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:25:36
Unfortunately, this is territory where you don't have easy answers. You have to jump in and find out for youself. Well Arun, it has been a pleasure chatting with you. And I think, we love everything that you're doing here, and gosh, it still feels like it's still in the beginning. And you're already impacting. There is this whole notion that when they saw the electrons, neutrons, and the constituents of an atom, the observer was influencing the observed, and at the same time. So there's this whole theory called the field of intention, and in the field of intention, under that theory, you actually impact reality, as you're observing it, and you're changing it as you are a part of it. So in some sense, for a nation of 1.3 billion people, we need creative solutions. I think, I feel unconsciously you are impacting it. The kids that get touched by Flinto boxes and the Flint classes will definitely be creative citizens of the future. I think that's a terrific contribution. And it has been great to have you on our show. We wish Flinto, a terrific success and lot more scale and lot more peaks to scale. And thank you.
Thank you so much for the support and wishes, need that really badly. And that's coming at right times. So thank you so much. And you know, what I'm seeing is also a great initiative from and showing I mean, at least providing a platform for a lot of startups and entrepreneurs that are yet to be discovered. And now they're changing the landscape. So thank you so much.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:27:21
Nida Sahar 1:27:23
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