Back in 2013, Amit and Misha Gudibanda were 7 years into running their own design firm Sky Design (www.skydesign.in). They were successful, had a team of 15, a whole lot of large prestigious projects, and yet... something was missing.
As Misha put it, "We weren’t enjoying ourselves, and neither were we creating as much value as we wanted to, through our work. We wanted to do stuff which made us happy and made people happy, something that was uplifting and calming in this crazy stressful world. So first we made a video game company - but more on this later :D"
We zeroed in on DIY products, because these products actually make an emotional connect with the customer. Every time someone assembles a DIY kit we have designed, they are adding a bit of their own effort and soul into it.
MG: The product becomes priceless then, with memories of the time spent making it, becoming an inherent part of the product. It creates love, joy, satisfaction... all positive feelings. We chose paper as our medium because it is versatile, inexpensive, and most importantly, not scary to work with for the end user. Through our products we want to make people lose their fear of craft and enjoy the process of making.
So once this was clear in our heads, we started by making some DIY templates which we listed on Etsy.com. Much to our surprise and delight, within a couple of weeks we got a great response from international customers and a whole lot of features from cool platforms like colossal.com and babble.com. This led to sales and a demand for more. So we continued and put lots of new products out there... and meanwhile started slowly cutting back our design services work. Cutting back consciously on our services work was a difficult and nerve-wracking decision, as we had worked very very hard for seven years to build the company. Starting a new business meant curtailing our lifestyle and pouring our savings into creating inventory of products. It felt risky, but we believed Sky Goodies and DIY had immense potential for earning and growth, and we could focus our energies on something we truly enjoyed doing. So that’s how Sky Goodies began.
Sky Goodies was actually our third business.
The first was Sky Design, a services firm. The second was a video game company we started with partners, and worked for 3 years to release a full fledged game called ‘Mystery Messages’ on the iOS and Android platforms. It was a crazy crazy time- we were bursting with ideas, full of dreams, and had a big appetite for risks. The team was motivated and we went to great lengths to shoot and design Mystery Messages. The game got some awesome reviews too! Though the business aspect didn’t quite work out as we had underestimated how much marketing effort was needed for such a game... and we eventually folded that business, we don’t regret a single moment of those years of hard hard work. We felt really proud that it was an addictive game and the music was lovely. It was an achievement for ourselves- it filled a part of our souls, and even today we enjoy talking about the Mystery Messages days.
AG: Tell us about the process of creation. From concept to execution.
MG: Everything that we make in Sky Goodies must qualify as a ‘goody’... something that is beautiful and desirable, and gives joy. The idea for a product could come from anywhere. We choose things that give us joy... like typewriters, hot air balloons, and cameras and add a layer of vibrant happy art to them. Once we know what we want to make, we either work with paper directly if it is a simple shape, or in a 3D software if it is a complex shape. We make lots of paper models till we are happy with the form. We pay a lot of attention to how the template is cut and where the tabs are placed so that it is easy and intuitive for the end user to assemble. Then comes the addition of colourful happy graphics to the form; we want the goodies to be exuberant and dripping with a happy feeling. We use a lot of hand-painted truck art inspiration in our work. Once we’re happy with the graphics we create instruction manuals for each DIY. Photography is important as a piece of communication in DIYs and a lot of time and effort goes into it. We also make video tutorials. Next comes package design, followed by printing, and a stringent manual quality check in our office. We can’t stress enough on how much trouble is taken to fine-time and make the product user-friendly, to meet international standards. Once packed, the products are listed on our website and sent to retail stores, and then they set off on their own unique adventures.
AG: What are the challenges that you faced in manufacturing and retailing your own product ?
MG: Manufacturing is a challenge in India, because the market is full of low cost products that are not so high on quality. For us to achieve a balance of great quality and affordable prices in our products was initially a challenge, but we worked it out. It required a lot of testing of paper and techniques, and many hours of supervision of the processes.
Retailing was also a challenge initially as we had to build an audience for our products in India. DIY for adults is not even a category! In fact, when we started, we had to constantly explain to people what DIY stood for and why a creative hobby is good for you. Thankfully, that’s changing now and many realise the benefits of mindfulness and making, for mental health and recreation. For the first few years we supplied products to other stores. Later we opened our own little store as well, about 2 years ago. We’ve received a fabulous response from it so far; a physical presence is a powerful way to build a brand... the experience is real and uplifting.
Another challenge is the accounts and management related work that is part of this kind of business. It is a lot of work keeping track of inventory, sales reports and logistics. We had a background in building online back-ends for clients in our previous business... so we spent a year custom-coding our own mini ERP to manage inventory and orders.
AG: We love the DIY videos of the product assembly that have been shared on social media. Tell us more about them.
MG: Thank you 🙂 happy you enjoy the videos! We’ve been making videos and stop-motion animations to express the magical feeling of making something 3D from a flat piece of paper. We make all these videos in-house and are constantly experimenting and learning.
The stop-motions are all made by 3 members of our team who are all non-animators, with no training in this. So it’s been a full process of discovery.
AG:You have also created custom builds for clients. Do tell us about some of these...
MG: Barbie DIY Kitchen and Salon sets- custom-made for Mattel, for sale in the Indian market. These DIY kits come with colours and kids can colour and make their own Barbie kitchen and salon from paper. The idea was to provide a non-plastic toy and a creative activity, for brand Barbie. We designed these kits from scratch for Mattel, and manufactured them as well.
Hot Air Balloon Lamp Shades customised for Ferrero Rocher. Ferrero wanted to engage with their employees during Diwali. We customised our existing product- the DIY Hot Air Balloon Lamp shades with Ferrero Rocher graphics and brand colours, adding a praline in the basket of the balloon. It was a no-plastic Eco-friendly activity and gift for employees of Ferrero.
DIY Mars Kits for Nat Geo. For the launch of their TV show MARS, Nat Geo commissioned us to create DIY kits for adults, replicating the Rocket that goes to Mars in the show. We watched footage of the show to get details of the rocket correct, and designed and manufactured the DIY kits in record time to meet the deadline. The kits were used by Nat Geo in on-ground promotions as freebies.
AG: Any tips for upcoming designer who would like to launch their own products?
MG: A few basic things to think of-
1. What value does your product or service bring to the lives of its users? It is good to be clear on this point, so that all products and marketing can be based on this value proposition.
2. It is helpful to know about accounting and taxation and have competent help in this area.
3. Make a great product... work hard at it till it is actually different or better than the competition.
4. Think long-term, because short-term thinking usually has a way of coming back to bite you!
AG: How have you adapted with the current scenario?
MG: For the past few years a large part of our revenue has been from reselling through other stores and bulk custom orders from events. Now after Corona, many of the shops we supplied to have shut down. No huge gatherings and large scale events are happening, so those bulk orders dried up. So we are now focusing on selling directly to customers though our own digital channels and e-Shop.
On the bright side, the need for our product and mindful activities has suddenly become evident and urgent. Many people, especially kids, are bored out of their brains at home or facing mental health issues. At this time our DIY kits are great little mindful projects for adults and kids. So we are focusing on communicating this through our social channels. We are also making some tutorials for stay home activities using household stuff. We are happy to see an uptick in our direct B2C sales, the core part of our business.
AG: What does the future for sky goodies look like?
MG: I think the future is great and full of potential. Of course, from a financial perspective this period has set us back a bit, but we feel that the pandemic has also encouraged realisation and consciousness among people, about mental health and the importance of art in life- both being the core thought behind our products. We also hope that the new consciousness will help people choose paper products over plastic.
On that optimistic note we would like to thank Misha and Amit Gudibanda for their time and are really happy to have personally used and played with some of their awesome products! More power to you and your super talented team! If you, dear reader, haven't checked out their creations yet, you can do so with the links below:
View this post on Instagram
#Repost @officialhumansofbombay with @make_repost ・・・ “You should’ve seen the look on my husband’s face when I showed him a handmade paper rickshaw & said, ‘We’re going to sell this!’ He thought I was bonkers. 7 years ago we’d started our company & were finally profitable–why would we take a risk? But I knew it’d work! We live in such a fast paced world–I wanted to give adults a chance to relax. So we revamped the company to ‘Sky Goodies’–a world of DIY crafts! But before we could launch, someone broke into our office & stole our computers & work. With those losses & a 4 year old to raise, we almost shut shop. We had many difficult conversations & realised we’d just have to figure out how to raise both our babies! We put our savings into the business & even built a play corner in the office for Ashi. But no one understood our concept. We cold-called customers & did exhibitions in vain. On bad days, Ashi would make us laugh by pointing at the crafts & saying, ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like!’ After 3 months, we finally sold out at an art fest! One girl said she made up with her boyfriend while using our kit & an old lady gave us a hug & said she had something to look forward to now! Word spread & orders poured in–even airports wanted to sell our products & in 4 years, we launched our own store! All the while, we put every spare Rupee into our business. When COVID-19 broke out, we anxiously prepared to cut back our expenses. But when stores shut down, our sales dropped by 90% & our online orders got delayed. We were worried that we’d have to let the team go. So, we stopped drawing our own salary & took up freelance jobs to pay our employees. Ashi eagerly pitched in too & said, ‘Don’t worry about the dishes, I’ll do them!’ Even our customers backed us up–those who didn’t get their orders said, ‘Don’t give us a refund, we’ll wait!’ Now, we’re just taking it one day at a time. Honestly, the uncertainty is scary, but the only thing we’re certain about is that we’re not giving up–we live for the hustle!” — @paypalindia with HOB is shining a light on small businesses & the humans behind them. Let’s come together to #SupportLocal heroes & help them thrive during these u