When Sakthivel Panneerselvam founded his start-up 9 years ago, the idea of professional surprise planners was unheard of in Chennai. It was 2009 and the city only had a handful of well-known event planners, let alone surprise planning services.
This was when Sakthi and his friend successfully planned and pulled off a friend’s wedding. The wedding became such a hit among friends and family that the duo decided to translate this success into a business opportunity.
“We discussed a slew of ideas and finally decided to do something that was totally new to Chennai’s culture – planning surprises,” Sakthi recollects. The initial years were full of struggle and the two moved from all possible business ideas, including midnight cake delivery to personalised gifting.
“We started off as a midnight cake delivery company as we could not find a market for surprise planning. Back in 2009, midnight cake delivery was a big deal. Today it is the most done and dusted thing ever and people want to do something different,” Sakthi says.
Six years later, the team finally established itself and zeroed in on its core focus – surprises.
Thus was born the6in, the city’s first professional surprise planning services. And although Sakthi and his friend realised that their niche service required a market to be developed, little did they know that in the years to come it would literally set off a viral trend, kicking open a huge business opportunity in the city with 20 odd players in the market as of 2018.
Sakthi’s team and several other planners offer full-fledged surprise services in Chennai, which include flash mobs, quickies (impromptu guitar performances), acapella services, cabana dinners and so on. They even offer private yacht and luxury car rides and can recreate entire movie sets for surprises.
If there is one thing Sakthi and his team reiterated to themselves very often, it is that they should not be confused with event planners.
“We don’t plan entire birthday parties and anniversaries. Ours is only a 5 or 10 minute service which we plan, discuss with clients and carry out,” he clarifies.
Sakthi is also clear about his target audience, which is, in his words, sentimental Indians who are willing to pay. However, the firm does offer pocket-friendly surprises based on their clients.
Ranging from anywhere between Rs 3000 to Rs 1 lakh, the team under Sakthi’s leadership has executed several big budget projects for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and proposals.
“Once we recreated an entire set from Sivakarthikeyan’s film Remo for a client. He wanted to propose to his long-time partner and they loved the film. So we arranged for everything, from fire crackers to the elaborate fairy lights. The in-house team of 5 along with our freelancers meticulously planned and designed the sets and the results were fabulous,” Sakthi recounts.
Another time, Sakthi and his team organised a musical surprise in Spencer Plaza for a client’s best friend.
“Our client’s friend was obsessed with Parai, an ancient drum still used in Tamil Nadu. So we hired 6 professional Parai artistes who performed and closed in on him from all directions in the arcade of the mall. He was thrilled and so were we,” Sakthi laughs.
Sakthi also surprised a client’s mum on her 50th birthday by taking her to a TV store where her daughters (who planned the surprise) and grandchildren appeared on 9 or 10 screens and wished her a happy birthday.
“It was a very emotional surprise which I enjoyed organising,” he says.
Perhaps a pivotal reason why Sakthi’s business venture took off and set a trend was his clever marketing strategy. The team does pocket-friendly advertising, called “guerrilla marketing”, by taking to the streets with unique surprises and garnering free media publicity in the process.
In 2017, Sakthi and his team pulled off a Happy Pongal surprise where they dressed up as ninjas and hit the streets around Marina Beach, T Nagar and Kodambakkam and gifted people on the road Pongal kits.
“We scaled walls, did somersaults and jumps, hugged people and gifted them Pongal kits. The kit included a veshti, a block of jaggery, 1 kg of rice, a saree and a piece of sugarcane. We distributed only 100 such kits, but the event was a huge success and even got picked up by local newspapers. All this we managed by spending only Rs 10,000,” Sakthi says.
Another idea which garnered them much praise and publicity was when they surprised the city police with cakes right after the demise of former Chief Minister J Jayalalitha in 2016.
“The cops were on duty 24x7 to prevent any rioting on the streets. We saw cops sleeping on the roads and eating food by the roadside. So we made a huge banner which read ‘Keep Calm and Respect Police’ and distributed cakes to them. Cake Square was nice enough to sponsor the cakes for us. We only had to print the cards (with messages) for the cops and it cost us 300 bucks,” Sakthi recollects.
The move became a huge hit and several NGOs followed suit and surprised the city police.
The team is also credited with organising the largest mannequin challenge involving about 65 people in December 2016. The challenge included anybody they found on the busy streets of Pondy Bazaar on a Car Free Sunday.
“We had auto drivers, school boys, flower sellers, shopkeepers and IT employees. More than the mannequin challenge, it was hard to get them to stay still to shoot the video and we finally ended up shooting for half an hour. But our efforts paid off and we got plenty of publicity in the press and on social media as well,” he says.
With several such impromptu surprises, the team started naming themselves ‘The Happiness Crew’ as they spread smiles around the city.Today the crew under Sakthi’s guidance have made Chennai a happier place. They have pulled off several surprises for kids suffering from terminal illnesses and others who require a little extra joy in their lives. They also carried out a ‘make a wish’ surprise for a kid suffering from cancer.
“The boy wanted to meet Vijay Sethupathi as that was his favourite actor. I recalled that we had once planned a surprise for Vijay Sethupathi’s son. So I got in touch with the actor and ensured that the two met. I still remember how excited the boy was after the meeting,” Sakthi says with a smile.
Nine years later, the happiness crew is unstoppable. They have exciting plans for the future. And as for their boss, with his innovative ideas and surprises, Sakthi plans to light up Chennai with unchecked happiness.