The goal of this Delhi based startup ‘Smartivity‘ is to be the world’s biggest STEM toys brand, and introduce children across the world to a “smarter learning” experience through their STEM Educational Construction Toys. We are publishing an interview of Mr. Tushar A Amin – Co-founder, CMO/CSO/CCO of Smartivity. He holds PG Degree in Communication and Journalism, B.Tech (Chemical Engineering).
Previous Experience: Product Head – worldoo.com; Editor (Special Issues): GQ India; Editor: FHM (For Him Magazine) India; Editor (Multimedia) and New Media Strategy Consultant – FILMFARE (World Wide Media); Creative and Programming Head – B4U Television Networks; Channel Head – indiainfo.com; Project Head – kisan.com
Over the past 19 years, Tushar has led Editorial, Creative (design and new-media innovations), Strategy and Operations (production and post-production) teams across Print, Internet and Television media organisations including B4U Television Networks, FILMFARE magazine, FHM India, GQ India, Living Media India – Hearst (Harper’s Bazaar) and NOTCH Interactive. His writings have been published in a wide range of publications including Forbes India and India Today. He was the founding member and project head of www.kisan.com, India’s first website dedicated to agricultural community, and www.indiainfo.com. He is the author of Bollywood Themes (Brijbasi Art Press) and was involved in the writing of film-based books, The Making of Asoka (Santosh Sivan, Shah Rukh Khan) and Devdas – The Indian Hamlet (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Shah Rukh Khan). He has also worked as screenwriter and director’s assistant on indie film projects. Tushar’s last assignment before founding Smartivity was as the Head of Product at worldoo.com, a digital platform for children.
At Smartivity, Tushar heads the Marketing, Strategy, Product Development (Technology Products) and Creative functions.
He is passionate about design, writing, travel and films. Tushar counts Italo Calvino, Jorge Louis Borges, China Mieville, John Le Carre, Carl Sagan and Amitav Ghosh among his favourite writers. Inspired by Ted Chiang, Tushar spends his free time developing his speculative-fiction series. He is married to Travel Writer/Author Sharon Fernandes.
Q.: Please tell us about the founders
Ans: They are Ashwini Kumar (Chief Executive Officer), Apoorv Gupta (Chief Operations Officer), Rajat Jain (Chief Product Officer – STEM) and myself (Tushar A Amin – Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, Creative Head, Chief Product Officer – Tech Innovations). We started working together in 2014, and had launched with another product. We pivoted and rebranded as Smartivity in 2015. Ashwini, Apoorv and Rajat are batchmates and hostelmates from IIT Delhi 2011 batch.
Apoorv and Ashwini were also flatmates. I met Apoorv at the birthday party of a friend’s daughter. We saw kids interacting with toys and realised that there was very little engagement offered by even the most expensive toys. Since I was heading a digital platform for children at that time, I was also aware of parent’s reluctance to phones and tablets.
We got discussing how we can create toys that would actually engage children in a meaningful and constructive manner, and over the next couple of months, Ashwini and Rajat also got on-board the idea of creating a range of engaging toys that new generation demands and deserves.
Since we all are from Engineering background, we are passsionate about Science and Technology. We believe that future is going to be shaped by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, (Arts) and Math) fields… and those who have thorough grounding in practical application of STEM concepts will shape the future. It is this belief that led us to focus on designing STEM educational construction toys that deliver hands-on, practical application focussed STEM learning through play-filled engagement.
The living room of Apoorv and Ashwini’s flat in South Delhi became our first studio. A handful of retailers in Gurgaon allowed us to stand in their stores and sell our products. We sold around 100 products in the first six months. This was a big learning experience as we were able to understand our customer – the parents – first hand. Based on the learnings, we revised our packaging, the material we used, and relaunched as Smartivity. From 6 shops in Gurgaon in 2015, we are now present in over 1000 stores across India, and in 18 international markets, including USA, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Russia. We are the only Indian toy brand that exports to China. Along the way, we have moved to a proper office with over 65 technologists, product designers and creative professionals designing over 24 toys every year, and now have a factory in Manesar where we manufacture over 600,000 toys every year. It has been an exciting, challenging adventure. We are grateful to the parents and children who have supported us through this journey, and we look forward to further play-filled adventures ahead.
Q.: Please tell us about the investors (if any)
Ans: Smartivity has raised 3 rounds of funding amounting to INR 18 crore. Investors include S Chand Group, CFG Offshore Singapore, Advantedge Capital, Tandem Capital, Mr. Ashish Kacholia and individual investors.
Q.: What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Ans: We are providing kids with constructive STEM learning focussed, playful engagement through our patented toys and activities that bridge physical and digital worlds. A parent’s biggest worry is to ensure that their child is prepared for the future. Through our wide portfolio of toys and activities, that span from purely physical STEM educational construction toys, to Augemented Reality, Virtual Reality and Blended Learning products, our focus is on creating fun, engaging learning experiences that win children’s love and parents’ trust.
Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Ans: Smartivity’s product portfolio spans three categories and includes both physical and digital products.
- STEM Educational Construction Toys: This category includes physical, do-it-yourself construction toys, made from environment friendly re-engineered wood, that introduce children to STEM concept through construction and gameplay. Our patented STEM Educational Construction Toys have found world-wide market, and we are exporting these to over 18 countries.
- Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Activities: This category includes AR Colouring and AR Jigsaw Puzzle activities and our Virtual Reality Science modules. Our AR products are part of the curriculum at Asia’s largest chain of pre-schools, and reach over 200,000 children annually. Our virtual reality modules reach over 6,00,000 students between 6-10 standards.
- Blended Learning Products: This category includes products that are based on bleeding-edge Computer Vision technology, and introduce children to learning through a mix of physical and digital interactions.
- Apart from product designers, technologists, teachers and parents, to ensure product-market fit, we involve children in the our design process through our STEMNinja program, where children guide us to the best version of our creations. Since children are part of the design process, they are built to engage children our products are accepted readily by the consumers.
Q.: What is your USP?
Ans: Our USP is continuously designing the highest quality of innovative, world-class and cool STEM focussed engagement for children, and delivering them to parents at extremely accessible price point.
Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learnings that you have? Who in your mind is your ideal customer? Do you have atleast one of them signed up?
Ans: We believed that parents will always want the best for their child. We also followed our passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, with a belief that STEM fields will be critical for the future. Fortunately, these assumptions have been proven right.
Our ideal consumer is an evolved parent, who is discerning about what engagement she offers her child, and is conscious of the value of play in a child’s development. We have over 1.2 million paying customers for our STEM Educational Construction Toys, and over 0.5 million users of our AR/VR products.
Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it??
Ans: We had very poor financial management systems for the initial period of our journey, which almost brought us to the brink of closure. Our biggest learning over the past 3 years has come in the form of cash-flow management.
Q.: How are you pricing the Product? Explain your thought process.
Ans: Our products are consumer physical products (B2C). We sell them through retail channels and school channel. Our objective is to make our toys and activities accessible to the maximum number of children. We price our products to ensure the optimum balance between business margins and accessibility.
Q.: How did you get your first customer?
Ans: We got our first customer by standing outside a toy store in Gurgaon at the peak of summer, and convincing a parent to give us a chance.
Q.: Is there any interesting success story? If yes, please write about it. ?
Ans: Our most challenging moment came in Diwali 2015. We were selling around 200 toys a month at that time. But 10 days before Diwali, we got an order of 9,000 toys from Axis Bank. They had selected our toys as gifts for a nation wide colouring contest organised by them for Diwali. We had to deliver this huge order in just 9 days. It was a turning point in our journey, as successfully completing this order gave us the confidence to grow and seek bigger challenges.
Q.: What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Ans: Our goal is to be the world’s biggest STEM toys brand, and introduce children across the world to a “smarter learning” experience through our STEM Educational Construction Toys.
Q.: What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
Ans: Continuous Innovation and extreme focus on Quality is the only mantra to success in our (toys) industry. Our ever growing, innovative product portfolio, our strong relationship with our retailers and our team of passionate creative professionals, are our unique assets . They are our biggest strength.
Q.: List all the names of the core Team Members, along with their Designated Roles.
Ans: Vineet Kumar – Technology Head; Sampada Sehgal – Graphic Design Head; Adishree Kakkar – Digital Graphics Head, Pooja Shetty – Trade and Experiential Marketing Head, Surjeesh – Product Design Head, Nishant Ranjan – Operations Head, Ashutosh Kumar, Nishant Kaushik, Ashish Kumar
Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself with them?
Ans: We regard Lego as our competitor. We differentiate ourself by focussing on STEM fundamentals, and delivering dynamic and gamified educational experience, rather than static construction sets.
Q.: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months?
Ans: To increase our footprint to 9 more countries, and to release 10 new designs.
Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Ans:Focus on quality. If you focus on delivering the finest experience, the world is your playground. Raising money is not equal to success. It is just the first step… the real challenge is once you have raised money.