Watching a four-year-old’s antics, the way the child handles objects, all of these are fun. But for Arunprasad Durairaj, Vijay Babu Gandhi and Shreenidhi Srirangam, it was more than just fun. Their idea for a business venture itself came from watching Vijay’s barely four-year-old son use objects and do things. “Our ability to observe him at close quarters and see how a child behaves, how a child grows was interesting and led to how Flinto should be built,” says Arunprasad Durairaj, Chief Executive Officer, Flinto Learning Solutions.
The three of them know each other for almost 15 years now, having worked together in TCS. In 2013, when they decided to do something on their own, they first came up with an idea of a car pooling platform for Bengaluru, a city known for its commuting woes. But that didn’t take off as they thought it would.
This is when observing with Vijay’s son and playing with him gave them the insights needed for their next venture. The formative years of a child, points out Arunprasad, are important in how it grows up. Most people take the first eight years of a child’s life for granted. They invest a lot on higher education, but the foundation has already been laid, he adds. “How do you lay the right foundation is what we saw as an opportunity,” he says, explaining the idea behind Flinto. The science and the opportunity behind it are what the three decided to pursue.
The theme-based curriculum
Flinto, according to Shreenidhi, is a curriculum delivered in a play-based manner. It has two products – Flintobox, which it sells directly to customers; and, Flintoclass that it sells to pre-schools. The products target children from two years to 12 years, according to Arunprasad.
Through Flinto, they are in the process of creating the most loved and the largest brand for early learning out of India. The idea was to provide meaningful engagement and positive experience during the early years of a child, because the first eight years of a child’s life matter more than any other phase. That is when a lot of the attributes, skills and talents get cemented.
Flintobox, explains Arunprasad, is a consumer-focussed product, which is meant for homes. It is what the company calls an unstructured or free play. “What we provide in Flintobox is enough amount of open-ended creativity that every child can use,” says Arunprasad. Take any object and each child will relate to it differently and handle it differently. That is basically the concept behind the theme-based toys that Flinto ships out to its customers, enabling the children to use toys in their own unique way and in the process learn.
Flintoclass, launched about 15 months ago, is meant for pre-schools and gives them not just the creativity but also a structured programme for the educators to execute for the entire class. Although the science behind it is serious, Flinto makes it fun and engaging, according to Arunprasad.
Subscriptions for the Flintobox can be for three months or more and the boxes are delivered every month, with each box offering a different theme. For the Flintoclass, the subscription is for 10 months, the duration of an academic year. Every month the theme is different and every theme will have 3-4 experiential activities. The subscription fee is about ₹595 a month. While Flintoclass stops at six years, Flintobox runs up to 12 years of age.
Flinto shipped its first product out in October 2014, nearly a year after the company was founded. This time was taken to design and develop the product. Flinto worked with experts and consultants in various fields such as psychology, paediatrics, story telling, product design, illustration and content and came up with various iterations of the product before getting the first prototype ready. Since it was based in Bengaluru then, the first customer came from a residential apartment in Bengaluru.
Shortly after launching its product, the company, unusally, shifted base to Chennai. According to Arunprasad, this move happened because the founders realised the company was operationally heavy and would be better off being based in Chennai.
According to Arunprasad, Flinto works with nearly 200 suppliers across India and makes the products in various cities. “We are a predominantly design company now. Central to everything that we do is our Early Learning Foundation. It is a research foundation that comprises people from psychology, product design and other disciplines. We now have 55 employees who are in the core of product design,” says Arunprasad.
He says Flinto has adopted the European Safety Standards for Toys (ESST), the highest standards for children’s toys and play things, and uses this standard uniformly across its early learning kit in all the markets it sells to.
It has sold to over 500 pre-schools and also ships the product to customers in South-East Asia and West Asia. Right now, Flintobox accounts for 95 per cent of the business, but Arunprasad expects Flintobox and Flintoclass to contribute equally in the next four-five years. The overseas market is also expected to grow to 20-25 per cent of the business in the next 3-4 years. They are targeting ₹1,500 crore of revenue in five years from now, from about ₹45 crore now. This jump will come as it expands its business in both the segments.
The company, says Arunprasad, is close to profitability. Their confidence about the growth prospects come from that fact that the early learning market is a huge one and they believe they are the only ones offering the kind of products they have. The market is a nascent one, which is their biggest challenge, as they will have to educate their customers on what they are trying to do. Second, the industry is also a new one, which makes it difficult to find the right talent.
At present, Flinto sells only through its own website and recently started working with offline retailers. It may look at the prospects of opening experiential centres. How difficult will it be for someone else to do what you are doing and beat you at it? The challenge, says Arunprasad, is not in looking at Flinto as just a product, but in how it has been designed. There is a reason why the company has 200 suppliers. There is so much emphasis on quality and cost, which cannot be replicated overnight.
Flinto has built a brand, which has its own momentum. So, the competition has not just to beat the product, but the brand momentum too, says Arunprasad and adds, “it is like asking why can’t someone make toothpaste and beat Colgate.”