Little Canvas for Big Dreams – Igniting Imagination, Sparking Creativity and the Joy of Creating Something Unique!
It is said that what we truly love comes back to us eventually. Dr. Manvi Goyal’s journey reiterates this beautifully. She painted when she was young but chose the conventional route for further education. A dental surgeon by qualification, her first tryst with entrepreneurship was in the field of supply chain and logistics.
When her daughter was born, the artist in her came to the fore and she founded Little Canvas – an award winning cultural startup that makes Indian culture and heritage focused dolls and craft based activity products for little ones. Little Canvas products are child and environment friendly, sustainable and proudly made in India by local skilled artisans.
In May 2023, Dr Manvi Goyal was selected for a unique mentoring initiative – NICE Aarohana with Jaipur Rugs Foundation This program is curated by Network of Indian Cultural Enterprises in partnership (NICEorg) with Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF). She believes this program is a wonderful learning curve, where she was made aware of real life challenges and how to tackle it, learn from peers, understand their struggles and more. She believes that the program is a very interesting learning space that helped her to understand marketing, PR, digital marketing and more. She says, ” a platform like NICE – that helps entrepreneurs like us connect with each other is a blessing. Our sector is a very niche, unorganized sector unlike big sectors like IT, an initiative like NICE is trying to bring all stakeholders together.“
Manvi says Little Canvas is an attempt by a parent to make the early years of a child a “happy space” via their products. It hopes to provide a canvas to the little one’s imagination, sparking creativity and the joy of creating something unique with their own hands.
In this article, we speak with her to understand her story about how a girl who loved to paint as a child, came full circle to building a business that rekindled her love for arts and craft, her struggles during the pandemic, her insights and learnings and future plans.
As a young girl, colors and patterns fascinated Manvi. As she grew up, her family encouraged her to follow the conventional path and she opted to become a dental surgeon. Her career began as a dental surgeon at a charitable hospital. She believes it was a very important decision because she was assigned cases she wouldn’t have had, if she had served in a private practice or hospital. Dealing with a variety of patients whose priorities were diametrically opposite to her, taught her humility.
In 2008, Manvi and her husband co-founded ThinkLink, a leading Indian company in the warehouse automation domain. In 2012, they co-founded ThinkLink Learning, a specialized integrated provider of skills development in the supply chain sector. This experience was also unique as she had no experience in the supply chain industry. Manvi was one of the few women who were an active part of this industry.
When she took a sabbatical to have her first child, Manvi’s creative side kicked in. She wanted her child’s room to be bright and beautiful but the only stickers and wall-decor available were cartoons like Mickey Mouse etc. This got her thinking. She bought some canvases and started painting again. It surprised a lot of people close to her to see she still had the skill.
Encouraged, she painted 15/16 canvases and was pleasantly surprised when they all sold out. Thus Little Canvas was born in June 2018. They built a website but they didn’t optimize or spread the word about it. They added more handmade kid’s room products and began to explore various exhibitions. Manvi believes that people connected with their products in these exhibitions and the human connection helped them pick her products.
Her stint as a Supply Chain entrepreneur gave her hands-on exposure to the world of Logistics and Supply Chain. She says, “for any organization, a robust supply chain is the backbone of the business. I could apply my learnings of inventory management, operational
efficiency, demand forecasting, vendor management, logistics management, lean operations, procurement, marketing etc. into my new venture.”
And then came the Pandemic:
A large part of the business depended upon the exhibitions and word of mouth. With the pandemic hitting, things came to a standstill. With no exhibitions and a tonne of restrictions, the team had to rethink their strategy. Manvi continued to add products to her catalog including felt and crochet products made by talented mompreneurs she met in the course of her exhibitions. She made a deal with them saying “I will take your products across the country.” But the trouble was she could plan her inventory when she sold offline, she had no idea how to go online with her business.
This was the time her husband suggested online marketplaces. She was skeptical as she knew nothing about how to go about it. She researched and read up, identified her core audience – children from 0-10 years of age and customers are parents (85% mothers), took a relook at her website and managed to get her products displayed on Indiproject store, natty.com among others.
In the midst of this, she got pregnant with her second child. Things got crazier but she hung on. She rejigged products and started thinking about where Little Canvas was headed as a brand.
This was when she had a moment of epiphany and picked up Indian culture as the core theme. Earlier, they dabbled in everything but then chose to stick to remain Indian. Eventually, they phased out the room decor part, and by the year 2022, they had streamlined their story, vision, mission and the brand started coming together.
The Game Changer:
The pandemic was both a bane and a boon. When Manvi was looking for a mask for her daughter, she couldn’t find one that a child would wear happily. So she went through the WHO guidelines and came up with a kids embroidered mask. The masks were 3 layers cotton masks, sizes specific for kids and in colors and designs that the kids loved. It was the need of the hour and when she promoted through their Instagram page, ran ads, 60-70% of their sales came from just masks!
Little Canvas not only clocked more sales and revenue in the pandemic chaos but they got selected for the prestigious USD 100M Facebook Small Business Grants Programme which was being run across 30 Countries worldwide including India. They started selling on Nestrey and First Cry and began focusing on building their social media.
They spent on Ads conservatively initially, but with a bit of experimentation they understood the game. Her logic is to work the Ads basis the time of the year and localize and seasonal demand. They spend about Rs. 20-50 thousand and believe it pays for itself via resulting sales.
Manvi says she learned Instagram on her own and now Little Canvas has 20+ k followers and their Linkedin page has a sizable number of followers as well.
The creative process:
Manvi designs all her products and the primary inspiration are her children and Indian culture.
Little Canvas is associated with two NGOs based in Maharashtra and Gurgaon. While one NGO helps with printing, the other one helps with stitching and printing.
Dispatch is still handled from Manvi’s house where she has hired temporary help for dispatching and packing, to keep things agile and manageable.
Overall, they sell 40-50 canvas products throughout the month. The numbers go up by 4x to 5x during Diwali. Her idea to focus on Indian mythology has paid off, today, the dolls based on Indian Mythology are her best sellers.
The plan for this year is to introduce several new products, improve upon the Indian cultural range, take Little Canvas to the retail channel (retail model stores), get back to the exhibition circuit (more than sales it is about live interaction and feedback – ears to the ground). She wants to try hitherto unexplored channels like Amazon, Etsy, Ebay and others.
She says, “we have been conservative with our approach but now with more understanding, this year we will really push it forward.”
A doting parent, a doctor, a supply chain enthusiast, a cultural entrepreneur and a proud Indian, Dr. Manvi has a message for young entrepreneurs – “India has such a rich history and culture, it is our duty to bring this to the youngsters. We are going to be a superpower and our brands need to reflect this.”