Startup stories are as unique as the pain point they are addressing. What started off as a little side project and finally took off in between exams with a total investment of Rs. 1321 and no payment gateway except for Instamojo, is now a profitable lean startup that prints and delivers your Instagram photos.
Founded by friends, Shobhit Bakliwal and Raghav Rawat while at undergraduate school at BITS, Pilani, Inkmat is a young startup from Jaipur that is fully focused on Instagram photo printing. Users have to login through their Instagram account, select the photos they would like to get printed, add them to the cart and click checkout while sharing their contact details. Printed using high-quality commercial photo equipment, the Instagram photo prints would be delivered to the user within a week.
The story behind the founding of Inkmat is an interesting one, as much as how the bootstrapped startup started small with whatever was absolutely required to begin operations.
Inkmat – from idea to the first sale
The idea for Inkmat first struck Shobhit back in November 2013. His mother wanted to send his cousin’s pictures to his grandmother. As the pictures were on Instagram, she didn’t know how to go about it, while his grandmother asked them to be sent to her through post. He looked for a solution but found such services to be based internationally, and also expensive.
Shobhit made a note about the idea in Evernote and forgot about it, as he didn’t have the confidence to cut, package and send the photos safely. Later when he went back to college in January this year, he shared the idea with Raghav. As Raghav said he could do the packaging, the duo decided to start up. The word ‘Inkmat’ was chosen randomly and also after checking whether the domain, the Instagram, the Facebook, and Twitter handles were available for it.
Being placement season, they didn’t work on it for 4 months until May, when it was exam time. After giving one exam and waiting for the other, a bored Shobhit decided to give Inkmat a start. He completed the website in a day and shared it on Facebook and Twitter, while Raghav shared the post on HackerStreet India. Suddenly, people online took up notice, leading to the first sale.
Unlike big cities, Pilani doesn’t have many printers and courier companies. So they went to the only place they knew to print the photos and used the Speed Post from Government Post Office to send the photos. The costs were high but they had no choice.
While they nearly made a loss on their first sale, as they weren’t anticipating people to buy it so soon, and had not started marketing, it paved the way for a streamlined process.
“Since then, we have streamlined some processes, and have used different services so we may get better margins,” Shobhit shared on their experience on the first sale.
Starting really small
The focus has strictly been on Instagram photo printing at Inkmat. The decision to not include other types of photos was an intentional one, so the duo could serve their audience with the ‘highest quality of service’. Working from their respective homes, the duo meet twice a week but communicate mostly through WhatsApp. While Raghav is responsible for all the offline operations at Inkmat like processing the photos, making the envelopes, and making sure they reach on time, Shobhit looks after the marketing.
Having a programming background was of immense help; the co-founders have created some apps together in the past. The team used Twitter Bootstrap for the design of the site with a free theme, and developed the site with some self-learnt coding. The site was launched in a day, as the team decided to start off as lean as possible.
Shobhit began by reaching people organically on social. Initially, he searched for #India on Instagram and engaged with users who had really great photos on their stream. These users starting taking notice, when he followed, liked and commented on their photos. He did the same on Twitter by searching for “Instagram India” and trying to engage with people.
Though this method takes a lot of time and can get quite frustrating because of the amount of manual work required, he did this for around 2 hours a day and was able to get around 100-200 hits every day. It also led to their first sale.
Later he bought an ad on Reddit.com and targeted via demography to Indians. Though the ad made a loss, it did teach him some lessons about conversion.
The team had no prior tie-ups with any courier companies or photo printers, but Shobhit did have a chat with some service providers to get an estimate on how much it would cost to process an order. The startup had priced their services accordingly on the website.
For implementing payments on the website, the startup decided against using a payment gateway as that would take time and incur huge cost. Instead, they used Instamojo as a payment service, where Shobhit himself would send the payment link to customers. This also enabled him to offer them discounts when required.
Also, there are no automation mails in the app, Shobhit talks directly to his customers which has also helped yield valuable feedback for the startup.
More than a week since the launch, the startup is receiving one order per day, and the total money spent on domain, hosting and the Reddit ad comes to about Rs. 1321 only.
The success of Inkmat goes on to prove that you can always start with whatever is absolutely necessary and not wait until you have the fancy design and functionality.
“Starting small makes you focus on the most fundamental part of your product and make it as awesome as you can,” Shobhit sums up in his article on Rodinhood – “How starting really small has made me profitable in a week.”
Staying lean and other challenges
Apart from the advantages of starting really small, it is also challenging to stay lean and be profitable. There is the obvious problem with cashflow and plans being shifted to the backseat. Inkmat wanted to send photo frames as well to better serve their customers at low costs. To do that they would have to buy the frames in bulk, but not having enough money in the bank forced them to delay their plans for 2 weeks, until they had the required amount.
Besides, one of the biggest problem Inkmat is facing is driving a constant source of traffic. In spite of all their marketing efforts leading to spikes in traffic, they are still trying to figure out ways to drive a constant stream of traffic with least amount of money possible.
The other issue is with people logging in and leaving. As Instagram doesn’t provide their email addresses, there is no way the Inkmat team can contact them and try to convert them.
Starting small has made them learn a lot about selling online, moreover, the growth lies in their hands. “Although this hasn’t made me a very rich guy but I have something which has sort of taken off and now it is in my hands to grow it from here,” shared Shobhit, while advocating the thrills of starting small.