Love is a Four-Legged Word
Meows and paws bring many respites to our mundane lives and pet parents are definitely loved a little more than the rest. Needless to say, fur babies make our lives better and offer love and companionship like none other. It is rightly said that cats choose us and dogs wag their tails into our hearts. Once they are in our lives, they are there to stay. While cats love to explore heights and are inherent climbers, dogs like to sprawl across the floor or lie on the couch next to their humans. To make our homes more comfortable for our adorable four-legged friends, our pet parents are always on the lookout for new pet products.
Home is Where the Cat Is!
Up until late, dogs have been the preferred pets for most Indians while cats have not been as popular due to various reasons. Due to this preference, the pet product industry has an abundance and variety of dog products but the cat product range remains largely unexplored. However, now with changing times, cats are slowly and surely paving their way into our hearts and homes as adorable and cute pets. Many cat parents have to compromise on quality despite spending a lot of money on imported cat products due to the unavailability of the products in India. If you are a cat parent, you would definitely resonate with us on this. Since the popularity of cats as pets is increasing in India, the need and demand for cat products are also on the rise.
Chota Pakoda: A Cat Tree for Every Cat
Shruti and Gaurav, like other cat parents, discovered a glaring need for good quality cat products in the Indian market. They had a tough time finding sturdy cat towers and cat trees for their cats. Unable to find a good one in the market, they took up the challenge and used their engineering mindset and creativity to design and make a cat tree for their cats all by themselves.
The cat tree was a big hit and was met with much enthusiasm by their feline babies. This cat-approved cat tree soon turned out to be the niche in Shruti and Gaurav's venture and with this, Chota Pakoda was born. We had an interesting conversation with Shruti about their startup journey. Read on to see how these two engineers quit their jobs to follow their dreams and turned their passion into a successful business idea.
"When you are buying a cat tree for the first time, it is better to invest in a medium sized compact cat tower to see how your cat reacts and plays with the tower. You should buy the cat tree so it is useful to your pets and is not just for show off or bought out of peer pressure." Shruti, Founder, Chota Pakoda
Q&A with Shruti, Founder, Chota Pakoda
- Q. Please tell us about yourself and your background.
- Ans. My husband Gaurav and I started Chota Pakoda when we were dating and within a year of starting it, we got married. I am an IT engineer and I completed my MBA from IMK. I was inspired by Craftsvilla and similar handcraft-related companies that were very popular and trending during that time and I knew that I wanted to do something similar. So instead of going for placements after my MBA, I straight away went back home and started working on my ideas. I also used to run some classes with my mother for underprivileged kids around the area who did not have access to good education. I decided to continue the classes and make that a venture. I met Gaurav during that time because he wanted to volunteer for these underprivileged kids. Actually, we had already met on Tinder but I didn't tell my parents at that time. Since he was willing to volunteer for the classes, it seemed like a good opportunity to meet him. Gaurav had just returned from the US. He is a mechanical engineer and he returned to India to pursue his own interests and to follow his dad’s passion. His dad has a school in Mathura and he is also into upliftment of village children and giving free education to girls. This way our thoughts and ideas matched immediately and we decided to go ahead with the classes although I hadn't given up on the handcrafted items plan.
- Q. What inspired you to start Chota Pakoda?
- Ans. While we were dating each other, we adopted a few cats from this shelter in Mumbai. They were very active and played around a lot at home, so we decided to get a cat tree for them. At that time in India in 2017, cat trees were a distant dream. It was a category that was not explored at all so the only manufacturers were Chinese and the sellers were Indian distributors who used to buy in bulk. The high quantities were accompanied by low-quality products and the people who required them had to suffer a lot because of it. We wanted to buy good quality cat trees being the kind of people who prefer to invest in quality products but the good quality ones turned out to be very costly. Since we were anyways working out ideas at that time, we decided to build a cat tree on our own despite having no knowledge of woodworking. Gaurav had some ideas about tools, being a mechanical engineer but I had none. We made a cat tree and our cats loved it and that is how we began to understand what cats like. When we started brainstorming ideas on how to go forward, it struck us that we can get into this because in India the market for cat trees was actually untapped. Instead of looking for investors like it was done in the past, we bootstrapped and collected money from our friends and family and started the venture. Since our funding was limited, we decided to go with the cheapest form of marketing i.e. social media. We got our first order from social media and to date, most of our leads come from social media. So that's how it all started.
- Q. From engineering to pet furniture is quite a transition. Do you still keep your day jobs?
- Ans. I was a programmer for seven months and Gaurav worked for around 2 and a half years in America. He worked in his field but he left it because he didn't like the job. I left because I didn't like the job. We are fully invested in our startup and we were both very sure about doing it full time.
- Q. Was there anything else after making this cat tree that was the deciding factor for you that yes this is what we are going to do?
- Ans. When we started making cat trees, we got a lot of good responses and leads from people. At that time it wasn't easy to convert the leads because people were still not aware of the usefulness of the product. Aside from making cat trees, we also made Diwali lanterns and Ganpati festival decorations. In the first year of our partnership, we ventured into a lot of areas to test out and keep backup plans because, in the beginning, we were not very sure if cat trees would be successful. We also did decorations for two weddings. We were pretty creative with the work that we did. Even during that time, we knew that making things or making products would be the forward for us.
- Q. What is the current Indian market like, for pet furniture of the kind that you offer?
- Ans. For dogs, there is very little furniture because dogs like to sit right next to their humans but for cats it is a good market, considering the number of cats people have these days. Three years back, when we used to do a lot of research, the cat population in India was around 20 to 30 Lac but the number has changed now. Our main competitor is Amazon and both the quality and the price of the Amazon cat tree is cheap because they are imported from China. So it's a pretty good market out there in the cat category as compared to the dog categories.
- Q. How do you come up with new designs and ensure quality of the cat trees?
- Ans. In the beginning, we used to buy Chinese products to assess their quality. Now we are aware of the good materials available in the Indian market. Gaurav does the calculations and the balancing part. The first thing that any customer would look at is that the quality of the fur covering on the cat trees should be nice to touch and feel. Also, when the cat jumps on the trees, it shouldn't fall. On paying close attention to the Amazon cat tree reviews, we realized that most trees fell or broke when the cats jumped on them. Keeping that in mind, we ensured bigger sizes of the trees and we maintain a defined proportion. If the base is of a certain size, then the height of the cat tree cannot go more than a certain foot so that it doesn't stumble when the cat jumps on it. We also inform the customer to keep it aligned to the wall or keep it in a corner so that if they have multiple cats it doesn't fall. Over the years we've been trying a few tree designs and our designs have evolved. We keep a few trees in our house and we have literally tested the trees on our cats. Even if it starts wobbling, we know that it's not a good design. Our experience and engineering background also help us to identify whether it's a good design or not. We have been testing materials over the years so we ensure that the quality is good.
- Q. Please tell us about some unique or interesting customisations that you have done for clients.
- Ans. Cat Cafe is a very cool cafe in Mumbai where they rescue stray cats and you can go and sit there and eat. In India, cats have a really bad reputation of being feral or being unlucky, so this cafe is trying to communicate that cats are not bad and that they're also super cute. They have around 30 to 35 cats are there at any given time. They offered us to redo the whole cat theme of the cafe to give it a jungle-like feeling along with an aesthetic appeal. Their existing things were old and there were no scratching surfaces or things for cats to climb on so we made a big tube across the room through which the cats could go. The cats loved that structure in the middle of the hall. These were wall mounts and later we introduced them as a product also and it was a big hit. This Cat Cafe was a very iconic project for us and we are very proud of the work we did there. We did everything on our own including making and installation. In the first year, we tried to hire people to do the job, but most carpenters that do our home furniture lack the precision required for this work. They just cover up the home furniture with sunmica which is why we don’t get to see how bad the work is underneath. They charge a lot too which eventually increases the amount we would have to charge the customer. Keeping that in mind, we decided to do all the work ourselves for a year or so and then we hired a few people. Now we have three people and we don't do manual work anymore. Cat Cafe was one of our very good projects.
- Q. Can you tell me what makes Chota Pakoda products better or unique from those of other brands?
- Ans. There were a few brands that tried to make furniture for pets such as dog beds etc. The major issue with pet furniture is that the shipping cost should be less. If the box or the dog bed is big, the shipping cost will be high and the customer will end up paying a lot for shipping alone. As a result, the product has to be assemblable, to avoid the extra cost of shipping. If you order furniture from Pepperfry, you will receive all the parts and a person will come to assemble it for you. A similar trend can be seen at IKEA and Home Depot etc. In India, people are not in the habit of assembling furniture on their own. Cat towers by other companies are also assemblable but ours is made in such a way that it is easier for people to assemble them on their own. We offer customizations too and we give people options in colours since some people are very specific regarding those things and only purchase if the colour choice is available. We even cater to very specific orders. For example, if somebody has a mix of Persian and Maine Coon which is a really big cat, then we increase the size of the tower to suit the cat. If it is a special needs cat that cannot climb properly, we make a ramp for them. People come with their special requirements and we customize the product for them within our limits and we communicate that to the customer. We also have had a very good social media presence since the beginning. We have a very good connection with our customers and we know them by their names and by their cat names. We are like online friends.
- Q. Did lockdown affect your operations in any way?
- Ans. Lockdown was not a very nice time for us because we almost decided to shut down and we had not told anybody about this decision. A day before we were going to shut down, we got a few orders and we had to fulfill them. We had so much work on our hands that we couldn't shut down. I think our customers and our luck pushed us not to do it. Our savings went into paying rent and the salaries of our employees during the lockdown. There was no business so we decided to continue doing this work but shift to a remote village. We shifted from Navi Mumbai to a small town called Mangaon and we shifted our workshop to our farmhouse. We got featured in The Hindu Business Line and also on the radio for that and that was a big moment for us. We took a really big risk with this company and by moving but it turned out quite positive. Our followers and customers supported us. We got more eyeballs when we got featured in the newspaper and our business picked up really well after shifting here. In a way, lockdown worked very well for us. There was this campaign, Vocal for Local, that helped us a lot. People used to feature us and other startups also and I'm very glad about that. Somewhere the lockdown did us a favour.
In the beginning, we made both dog houses and cat trees and tested them. The dogs never took to the dog beds and it made us realize that dogs have the habit of sitting with their owners right next to them on the sofa and on the bed. On the other hand, cats want their own space and will not always sit beside you. They will need a place at a height in the room. We realized this behaviour difference between dogs and cats. At home, our cats savour our cat trees. We shot some amazing videos of our cats playing on the tower and it got many other cat owners wanting it too. We let it flow naturally, and we registered the feedback of not only the humans but the dogs and cats too.
Chota Pakoda Products You'll Want for Your Cat
James Herriot very aptly said that "Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.” Having said that, Chota Pakoda's beautifully and carefully crafted cat trees and towers are sure to meet the high standards of our feline friends. Here are a few recommendations from the founders that you should not miss.
Large Mini Cat Tower Condo Scratcher with 2 Sided Top Borders for Adult Cats
This cat tower is big enough for adult cats. It is 2 ft tall and comes with a 12" scratching pole. The two-sided borders on the top 14"x14" platform makes for a comfortable sitting for the cat. Bring it home at a discounted price of Rs. 1,900 from here.
Marshmellow Cat Tower Condo Scratcher
If you have more than one cat at home, then this 6 ft tall cat tower would be perfect for you. It is available in several fur colours and you can contact Chota Pakoda for customizations as well. It comes with 2 boxes, 3 top platforms and 2 mousey's. It is priced at Rs. 10,500 and can be purchased from here.
Capachinu Cat Tree Scratcher Condo House
A 5 ft tall cat tree that would fit in a corner of your house and make a fun hangout for your cats. It has a sturdy 24"x24" base and is available in a choice of colours. It can be easily assembled at home within 30 minutes. It is available on Chota Pakoda's website for Rs. 7670 and you can buy it from here.
What's New and Exciting at Chota Pakoda
- Cat Toys And Accessories: Be sure to check out the cute bow ties, cat masks and mousey toys here. A Mousey Singh can be purchased for as low as Rs 50
- King Cat Tower : A 5 ft condo scratcher, good for 1-3 cats, this cat tower is great for mental and physical stimulation of your cats. It can be purchased for Rs 6800
Where Can You Find Them?www.chotapakoda.com
Tips for Shoppers (Q&A Contd.)
- Q. Please can you give some tips to people shopping for pet furniture?
- Ans. There are a few things to keep in mind. In Mumbai, where it is very hot and it never gets cold, if you order a very cozy bed for your dog or cat, they will not use it. But if you are in Delhi, where it gets really cold, then a bed will be a hit for your cat or your dog. Also, your purchases need to be breed-appropriate. If you have a dog with long hair, he would want to be in an open space or somewhere where it is very airy.
Next, the product you purchase should be value for money. Some people buy out of peer pressure. I might end up buying the cheapest Cat Tower only because a friend said that I should. The tower would be lying there and the cats would not use it and I'll end up writing a bad review on Amazon that my cats never used the tower. When in reality, this would be because you did not choose the right product and did not understand the behaviour of your pets before buying.
If my cat is not a climber, likes to sit on the floor and has really long hair then I won't have to buy a really long 6 feet tall tower. For those people whose cats climb everywhere in the house, buying a 6 feet tall tower would be the right thing to do. We need to communicate this to our customers. It is probably one of the reasons why we connect with them to advise them on what to take and what not to.
When you are buying a cat tree for the first time, it is better to invest in a medium-sized compact cat tower to see how your cat reacts and plays with the tower. You should buy the cat tree so it is useful to your pets and is not just for show-off or bought out of peer pressure.
- Q. What are some good gifts for pet parents?
- Ans. There can never be enough pet collars in a pet house because they tend to get worn out and get dirty after a few days. Since pets don't usually wear clothes, you cannot make them wear a lot of fancy clothing. So a collar would be the best thing to give since good quality collars are not easily available on Amazon and other websites. Also, a T-shirt with a pet photo is sure to be a hit and they will love you forever if you give that to them.
Future Plans for Chota Pakoda
- Q. What's next for Chota Pakoda?
- Ans. I love to support women and small businesses. We have collaborated with two women, one of whom makes toys from home and the other makes beautiful masks and I am trying to sell their products through our website. I am trying to make a discovery platform for local brands in India. Instead of going full-fledged with it like other startups, I'm going slow but with the flow. I am letting people consume what I am giving them, slow and steady. There is a new product that we are getting into and it's a cat's bed. We are in Raigarh which is a very backward area with no infrastructure, no development and not even a road. My mother's foundation donated a few sewing machines to the women here as part of the Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign that her NGO follows. Three of those women were very enthusiastic and took orders for making masks for a company, so we gave them the contract of making cat beds for us. These cat beds are made by women from a village and we are also promoting the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Campaign through this.
Getting to Know the Founders
- Q. What are some of your own interests?
- Ans. I am an artist and that is where it all began. I wanted to do my own handcrafted business and I wanted to be surrounded by art and handcrafted things. I paint mostly to calm myself down and I love it. I paint on the leftover ply from our workshop. We have some very beautiful ply and we sell it as a canvas for painting. After lockdown, we haven't travelled much but we both are travel bugs and we love to go on road trips. Luckily we have shifted to a very scenic location. We both love to cook as well and we are planning to open up a cafe of our own in future, something like a cat and dogs cafe. I used to have a blog to make crafts and I would make videos when I was in college. In short, I've been planning this all my life. Doing crafts, writing blogs, making videos for my social media are the things I have always enjoyed doing and that's what I took up as a professional.
Where to Put Cat Tree?
Put your cat tree somewhere that has a broad, panoramic view and in an area that will promote a feeling of safety and calm. Alternatively, cats often enjoy watching the world come and go from the top of the fort, so a position that has a view of high-traffic areas in your household is also a great option. Avoid placing it anywhere that gives your cat access to breakables and keep them away from loud noises. Experiment if necessary and see which locations your cat prefers.