Sandeep and Pavitter Singh realised that their seven-year-old son, Gurinder, found himself struggling immensely with two fundamental tasks – writing and art, as he entered class V. Looking back, their son never had any problem in academic life. But complaints about him not finishing homework or not writing notes in the class started reaching them.
This was in 2015, and Gurinder’s parents were confused. They failed to understand the problem initially. When they asked Gurinder, he would only say that his writing speed had reduced and he was not able to cope with the pace of the class.
The parents started analysing Gurinder’s writing style and technique to realise his problem. Gurinder was left-handed. Realisation dawned upon them – writing becomes difficult for left-handers as the hand blocks the view between the eyes and the previous word written in the sentence. The natural solution to solve the issue is to lift the hand to increase visibility. Unfortunately, for left-handers, the position of the hand becomes like a hook – ‘hooked position’ – which slows down the pace of writing.
The problem went beyond just writing. For example, cutting paper with scissors in craft classes also caused difficulty in holding the scissors. When Sandeep and Pavitter first researched stationery products specially designed for left-handers, they found that they were all pretty expensive. On an online platform, for instance, a pair of scissors cost Rs 1200!
This surprised Gurinder’s parents no end. While they could perhaps afford the specialised stationery, it seemed strange that more people weren’t showing any entrepreneurship in this sector. They were told the cost was high because the ‘left-hand’ market was too small for it to be anything more than niche manufacturing.
Research showed them that about eight per cent of the Indian population is estimated to be left-handed. So, the left-hand population is about Rs 10 crore. They couldn’t believe Indian manufacturers were overlooking such a huge market. And that’s where the idea of filling the gap themselves came to their minds.
Their first step was to approach several Indian stationery manufacturers. Unfortunately, the realised that Indian manufacturers were still talking about ‘scale and cost’ and that is when the couple figured they could get the stationery manufactured and imported from the international market.
They reached out to stationery manufacturing companies in countries like France, Germany and a few other countries. They showed them the potential market in India. But importing those goods to India would have kept the cost high anyway.
They decided to do something about it. They took over a year to talk to domestic and international manufacturers to convince them and provide a few stationery items at affordable Indian prices. A Pune-based company making rulers agreed to customise them for left-handed users, and a Gujarat-based firm agreed to manufacture pencil sharpeners.
Other companies agreed to customise clipboards, blade cutters and hand-writing books catering to the needs of left-handers. The other products include a pouch, clay and playing cards.
They also got a French company – Maped – on board and started The Left Hand Shop in 2016. MyLeftHand supplies scissors and pens made from Maped, while the remaining products are made in India under and sold under the brand MyLeft, registered under Diffstuff E-commerce Pvt Ltd.
The next step was figuring out how to cut down on pricing. It was agreed to cut down on profit margins, logistics and on marketing. They decided to ship their products along with other products in small amounts, and spend nothing on marketing. he Rs 1,200 Maped scissors now cost Rs 200, while a Rs 600 pencil sharpener costs Rs 28. The other products are in similar budget price ranges. Today, the startup has about 50,000 customers and is increasing satisfactorily. The company does not have an advertising or marketing budget, and the business is purely by word of mouth or online search results. Even with about 100 per cent increase in customers annually, the company has just been able to break even with investments.
The company now wants to expand beyond the stationery products. They are working to explore opportunities if scissors can be manufactured in India and hoping to reach a viable figure for sales on those lines. They are planning to add other products like can-openers, vernier callipers and guitars that potentially have demands.
The parents have come a long way from their struggles with Gurinder’s writing. But the journey of this startup is a lesson to us all – all problems have solutions, and quite possible a business proposition buried in them as well.