It’s boom time in India for startups. Name a need, and there’s a startup for it. From home delivery of prasad to getting massages for your cat, Indian entrepreneurs are picking at problems and finding innovative solutions. But every once in a while, you come across a startup that takes your breath away. And simultaneously makes you very excited.
Indiabongs is an ecommerce startup that delivers “smoking and party accessories” straight to your doorstep.
It’s all legal and above board, co-founder Arpit assures us. He’s no hippie sadhu parading his wares – he’s an engineer from NIT Himachal Pradesh who worked in Mu Sigma before quitting and starting the company. He and his cofounders, Amrit and Nitin, both seniors from college, work out of a very suitably decked office in Delhi.
“It was like, dude lets sell these products online, we can feed some needy people out there.” says Arpit, talking about this rather unconventional line of business. “We had no idea of what we are getting ourselves into.” He says their parents were okay with doing this for a living. “Chillums have been sold in this nation since the beginning of time, there’s pictorial evidence to prove it. They just disappeared and became illegal and unacceptable in the society in the recent past. We are just trying to bring back the good old times.”
And India has embraced the good times. Business is flourishing, and they boast of 20,000 happy users. They’ve been funded by a private investor from Singapore, and the team has expanded to 14 full time employees and 8 contractual workers, and their office cat, Bijli. “We sell around 500 products, and are making profits. There’s a lot of variety. Mini party laser lights, papers and glass percolators are bestsellers.”
It’s helped that the 3 co-founders are smoking connoisseurs themselves. “Yes, we are just like Bob Marley, Shahrukh Khan and President Obama.“, laughs Arpit. We understand the needs of their target audience.” The attention to detail is apparent. As you log in to the website, an image of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree on the background of a shop shutter which cheekily asks you to “roll it up”, sets the tone for what is to follow. The product range is remarkable (saxophone-shaped pipe, anyone?), and designed to satisfy even the most demanding smoker.
It’s not surprising that this company has developed a cult following. It is audacious in its intent, and proudly embraces what is a bit of a social taboo. As the Indian startup ecosystem matures, one could expect to see many such ventures that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.