Cubs and Calves is a manufacturer of quiet books (also known as “busy books/soft books”) for Children that essentially double as games. The fabric books open up page by page and become colorful, mostly wordless playsets that appeal to children of all ages. Due to the largely text-less nature of the books, they can be enjoyed by children all over the world.

Cubs and Calves was started in India by Priya Ravishankar who was then joined by Amit Verma and Aditya Sharma as business partners. The books are hand-crafted using high-quality materials and all of them can be ordered online and shipped worldwide.

Essentially, Cubs and Calves is on a mission to create these books as fun developmental/learning tools that can be shared with children all across the globe.

Via an exclusive interview, Priya Ravishankar discussed her startup company, its mission, and the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur in a creative field.

Books, design, and play

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to create Cubs and Calves and why was that specific name chosen?

Priya Ravishankar (PR): I have always loved art and enjoyed creating.

However, it wasn't until I became a mother that I discovered how I wanted to apply my love. When my daughter was two years old, I stumbled upon the concept of “Quiet Books” on the internet and went looking for one. I soon realized that my options to buy a good quality quiet book were limited, not easily accessible and affordable, and so I decided to make one myself. That was when I realized we could fill this gap in the industry with our own line of locally made quiet books that are easily accessible to many.

The name chose us. It was inspired and intuited. We were sitting on the couch after dinner discussing business names and my husband said "Cubs and Calves.” The phrase made me think of things like fun, kids, animals, nature, love, connection, and bonding. It had a nice ring to it, wasn't taken, fairly unique so it would show up if you Googled the name directly, and most importantly was meaningful to all of us.

So far, we've found the name to be a good talking point and it has worked really well.

MM: Why did you decide to focus on quiet books and what kinds of benefits do these books have for small children?

PR: Deciding to focus on quiet books was easy, it was a fun-to-play toy loved by all that was difficult to find. And it blended perfectly well with our inspired lifestyle and advocacies, since they are handmade, earth-friendly, and encourage play-based learning as well as imaginative and free play.

Quiet books are a rare kind of toy in the form of a book that does the LEAST and inspires kids to do the MOST.

It is made out of fabric, has an activity on each page and a skill to work on. The activities are straightforward encouraging a child to simply start playing while they learn colors, shapes, numbers and more. They wouldn't even know they're learning and it is pure fun!

What is beneficial about a quiet book is that it allows the child to explore and work on skills that strengthen hand dexterity, fine motor, concentration, order, logic, vocabulary, sensory perception, and independence. Remember, it engages the child, encourages them to use all their fingers, physically feel the objects while actually actively playing with it.

They are also easy to carry, so they are great for car rides, planes or around the home. They are a wonderful way to engage your child when you are at the doctor's office, for example. They are easy to store, too. Imagine a shelf full of toys in a single book that you can carry anywhere!

MM: Your book “Unicorn” has a different subject on each page while “Me All Day: Everyday Routine” is more like a dollhouse within a book, or a continuing story. Why did you design these items to be so drastically different?

PR: Yes, I approach each book differently. Every book has its own rhythm, its own story to tell.

While “Unicorn” focuses on colors, shapes, numbers and sorting (a mixed theme), “Me All Day” is all about pretend play (a single theme). The idea is to cater to a wide range of needs, interests, and age-group. Someone wants a book to hone their child's fine motor skills, someone else wants cars, someone wants a magical dollhouse while someone else loves a cat, dog, and mouse! Everyone who visits our store should be able to buy a book that suits their unique needs and we are pretty close to achieving this.

MM: What are some of the coolest features you added into your books and how do you decide upon them?

For example, who decided to include the “fishing” game in the “Unicorn” book?

PR: Imagine tying shoelaces, zipping up a jacket, learning to button a shirt, braiding hair, telling time, solving puzzles, hanging laundry, harvesting fruits and vegetables, making a flower, baking a cake, dousing fire (firefighter and fire engine), sequencing planets in the solar system, matching continents on the world map, scoring a goal (a football maze), playing tic-tac-toe, even peek-a-boo…all by turning pages of a book! It's a magical, joyous world of play out there.

When we design, we ask ourselves which age group the book will be for, how many pages the book will have and what skill sets we are trying to focus on.

This sets the rhythm for the book and then we play around till we get the right flow. For example, to include the fishing game in the “Unicorn” book was my idea and then one of our designers said: "Hey why not have fish of different shapes?” That way we were able to include the concept of shapes as part of the book too!

I also keep a finger on the pulse of worldwide trends and ideas on play-based-learning and try to build on those ideas and translate them into something that would appeal to me as a parent.

What we're very happy about with our designs is how we've avoided all kinds of stereotypes in the toy industry.

In our books, you can find a firewoman, cooking activities and games for boys, cars, and planes for both girls and boys. and dollhouses that are not just for girls!

Fabrics, startups, and advice

MM: Was it difficult to get your company established, what has the response to your books been like so far, and what kind of media attention have you received?

PR: Registering the company here in India was a long-drawn process, the documentation and manual work were consuming. Building the brand thereafter through social media marketing was smooth because the offering was great, reception fantastic, and word of mouth helped.

The response has been extremely encouraging, both within India and outside. We're growing 25 percent month on month and expect more momentum in the coming months. We were really thrilled about international sales because of the universal mass appeal our books had. Cubs and Calves quiet books have made their way to six continents and forty countries so far…and the journey is far from over! In fact, a sea freight with Cubs and Calves books begins its journey from India to Europe as we speak!

Startup focused digital media, especially those interested in women entrepreneurs were the first to feature Cubs and Calves.

It helped us grow organically. We are now gradually gaining relevant media visibility aiming the audience we have always been targeting.

MM: What fabrics do you use in your books and are they all hand-made? If so, is that why they are so expensive?

PR: We use cotton fabrics and felt which are among the best available, eco-friendly, non-toxic, and is soft and gentle for little hands. Yes, all parts of our book are handmade. Every single piece, no matter how tiny, is sewn (by passionate hands). A tremendous amount of labor goes into making each book. It isn't like sewing trousers and tops. These are difficult to maneuver and involve a lot of intricate work.

As such, our prices are suitable for the impeccable quality we provide and the most competitive you'll find. We have brought in a lot of innovation and technology in our processes with the single aim of making great quality quiet books easily accessible and affordable worldwide. Kids love our books, parents feel good about buying them - it's actually priceless.

MM: What is the best thing about working with Cubs and Calves and where do you hope the brand will be in ten years?

PR: Cubs and Calves is a lifestyle-driven workplace; a home-away-from-home workplace. We believe in growth that is sustainable as a society and a commercial enterprise. We all have our share of sleep, smiles, and exciting work! Ultimately, we want to own the quiet book category and turn it into a viable one (today, it is not even mentioned as a category in a children's store). We will take this success and translate it into new, innovative categories (across age groups) waiting to be brought to life, and hopefully become a household name!

MM: What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those who want to go into manufacturing/retailing and/or designing playthings for children?

PR: You can be an entrepreneur whether you are building a startup, working for an organization, or a teacher. If you have come up with new processes in your company that are innovative and entrepreneurial in nature if you have devised a new way of play and learning in your school, even if on the smallest scale, it is just as impactful as starting a new business.

So, look closely around you, your everyday life. Be open to change, flexibility is a mandate. I am a huge advocate of simplicity- people at their core are fairly simple: irrational love, deep passion, persistence and hard work. Impossible is nothing. Oh, and a pleasant, smiling face. Care. It wins over hearts like nothing else. Business is all about people, right?

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