Exclusively.in founder creates a new ‘Bond’ – a start-up that lets users send ‘handwritten’ notes from any device

Indian American entrepreneur Sonny Caberwal is also the founder of Sher Singh brand (acquired by Myntra); he was also the world’s first Sikh supermodel to be featured in top fashion magazines including GQ in 2009

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India At Large staff

Sonny Caberwal is a man of many talents. While working as a business developer for IT companies and running his own tea firm, the San Francisco businessman was discovered by Kenneth Cole, the American fashion designer, early in 2008. He featured in a video called We Walk in Different Shoes and was signed up by the American and South African model agency Boss.

In 2009, the 37-year-old Indian American was picked by GQ’s Style magazine for its spring-summer spread, thereby becoming the first Sikh supermodel to be featured in a top fashion magazine.

More recently, Sonny co-founded and sold Exclusively.in and Sher Singh. Founded in June 2010, Exclusively.in offers a variety of ethnic wear products including apparels, jewellery, handbags and accessories for the US and the UK markets. In contrast, launched in 2011, Sher Singh specialises in sports-inspired lifestyle apparel for men and women.

These businesses were e-commerce pioneers in India when they began, and were backed by some of the world’s leading investors, including Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management. The companies were acquired in November, 2012 by Myntra.

Caberwal’s latest venture is Bond, a tech start-up that lets users personalise greeting cards with their handwriting, written by a robot though.

Bond, headquartered in New York City, mixes the traditional with cutting-edge technology: it harks back to a time of fountain pens, creamy sheets of writing paper and wax-sealed envelopes. Plus robots to deliver the personalised message.

Caberwal, founder and chief executive of Bond, describes it as “the opposite of Snapchat,” as per a report in The New York Times. Started in 2013, Bond has about 50 full-time employees and several high-profile backers, like Gary D Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, and the rapper Nasir Jones (known as Nas).

Although handwritten notes and cards may seem like artifacts of the 20th century, greeting cards are still a strong business. As per the Greeting Card Association, Americans purchase about 6.5 billion cards a year and annual sales are estimated to be $7 billion to $8 billion. Despite a culture awash in digital communications, the greeting card and stationery industries have not declined precipitously but have remained largely flat, said Patti Stracher, director of the National Stationery Show, an annual trade show and business event for stationery, greeting card and gift companies, said the Times report.

Bond built its own writing machine, which can produce personalised notes for every customer. Designed by the company’s chief technology officer, Kenji Larsen, the machines have robotic arms that can hold a pen, a paintbrush or a marker. The paper is moved around using static electricity — rather than a roller — so it stays pristine, with no wrinkles or marks. Bond also seals each envelope with wax, adds postage and mails it.

Customers can choose from a variety of handwriting styles, or they can have their own handwriting copied and digitised for $500. Each customer’s original signature is uploaded to Bond via smartphone, to be used on cards and notes. Customers also upload recipients’ addresses. If an address is unknown, the service will send an email or text message to the recipient asking for it. An invitation-only premium service, Bond Black, costs $1,200 a year and provides clients with a personalised mobile app to send notes in their own handwriting on custom stationery, the Times reported.

Many of Bond’s biggest customers are commercial, including Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and small independent businesses like professional services firms and real estate brokers.

“Companies spend $23 billion on customer relationship management tools to understand and have a more personal relationship with their customers. We are the physical implementation of that,” Caberwal, who studied corporate law at Georgetown Univeresity, was quoted as saying by the Times.

Earlier last year, Fast Company, in a story on Bond, quoted Caberwal as saying, “We think there’s a lot of friction points when it comes to doing something nice for someone else. Nobody has ever said, ‘You know what’s awesome? I had the best experience at American Greetings.’”

Bond wants to bring the romance back to letter writing with a more modern experience.

“We have really set out to reimagine what that would look like—how we can create a truly personal experience that lets people deliver that personal touch that is truly theirs, but let them do it from anywhere,” he added.

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Pics courtesy: Sonny Caberwal’s Facebook page, NY Times

indiaatlarge@gmail.com

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