Print-a-joy with an inspiring story of three idiots of vibrant Gujarat
Making beautiful and affordable Instagram printing a reality in India
Our story begins on a bright morning on November 5,2013 and it was 8:10AM (if I recall correctly). I called Sohil just to inquire about some of the hacks/projects he had been working on. Who is Sohil? I met him during our undergraduate studies at Nirma University. We had a lot of common friends and used to hangout in the same group. That’s how I got to know him. Eventually, I ended up working with him on a couple of projects and events. At that time we shared a lot of mutual interest and hobbies such as robotics, computer vision, HCI(Human Computer Interaction) etc. We would daily discuss new technologies/ideas, take part in robotic competitions, hack stuff etc. – soon Sohil became my best friend. One incident that comes to mind when I speak about Sohil occurred during my 7th semester. I got a nasty viral infection and high fever. I was staying at my grandfather’s place and my health was getting worse(no I was not dying!) . I ended up calling Sohil and he took me to a hospital. A dozen syringes later, the doc advised me to stay the night at the hospital. I was in deep shit! I was having a practical examination (viva) the next day and I had not prepared for it(If you fail in viva, you have to basically repeat an entire year of college). Sohil sat beside my bed the whole night and we chatted and laughed. I insisted that he go home and prepare for the exam but he refused. In the end both of us managed passing the exam. At that moment, I realized that if I ever do a startup in the future, it would be with Sohil. Many startups end up failing because of co-founder disputes, hence it is very crucial to find the right co-founder(s). It could be your best friend, someone you have worked with for a long time and now there are even co-founder dating websites/meetups. Some of the qualities I still admire in Sohil to this date are: practical, realistic and will say shit right in my face without ‘sugar-coating’ it! A hardcore hacker with unbelievably high IQ, Sohil’s passion to learn and seek knowledge has never died.
Sohil ended up working at a startup and I moved to US to work for a big company. Yet, even after college got over, me and Sohil would often work on projects , discuss ideas and having worked at startups, we both were inclined to start one, sometime in the future. This continued on and after sometime Sohil quit his day time job to pursue his spare time projects and hacks.
One important thing that I have learnt so far from reading, attending Startup School 2013 and talking to people is that “Don’t start a startup” ! You are probably gonna curse me now or think that I am smoking weed! Well, there is quite a bit of depth in this sentence and one needs to read it probably a couple of times to understand its true meaning. What it actually means is that don’t just start a company/startup just for the sake of it or just so that you can call yourself the CEO! Try to solve genuine, real world problems and before you know it, you will be running a startup.
Our story goes on. Wait. I did not introduce myself only. I am Jayneil – hardcore arsenal fan, trance lover and advocate of FOSS(Free Open Source Software). I just love technology in general and documentation is my day time job. More about me later on. While meeting/networking new people in Ahmedabad, Sohil bumped into Kishan – a 20ish dude who is a kickass web developer! Later that day, Sohil told me about Kishan and told me to talk to him. One thing I should note is that most of the people we knew during that time in Ahmedabad were not ‘startup’ minded people or were just traditional in sense. Work for a big company and have the robotic routine of: Work-Home-Sleep. (Read as “Where the f**k is the adrenaline, excitement?) So, it was like winning a lottery when you find someone who matches your frequency and shares similar ideas, interests etc. I called Kishan and we talked about some random stuff. I don’t remember what we talked about. Sorry, I am getting old.
So, flashback to the present where our story has just started. Sohil, is explaining to me about Instagram printing. There were quite a few Instagram printing websites at that time in the world but none in India. I mean technically speaking there was one but he was just doing it on a part time basis, was expensive and you had to email him the pics. So, this was a great opportunity. Sohil was already working with Kishan on this idea. Kishan had already designed the front and back end for two major Instagram printing websites! The guy is just badass! So, he wanted to start a similar service in India. He had bumped into Sohil at a local hackathon where both of them teamed up. One thing led to another and Kishan shared this idea with Sohil and things just started falling into place after that. Soon, I was also on board. Printajoy is the name of our startup and ‘Your Joy. We Print. You Smile’ is our tagline.
Why were we doing this? Definitely not for the money. But, just to learn and get some experience and solve a problem. “Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” So, that was our start like every other start!
We were excited and nervous at the same time as this was going to be our first startup. A google hangout was going on at that time between the three of us. Will our website be responsive? What about the design of our products? What about marketing? What will be the future of our startup? Me and Kishan were sort of playing tennis and bombarding one other with questions that should have been discussed at a much later stage. Sohil stepped in and stopped us from arguing, stating that such fictitious, imaginary discussions would lead us nowhere and it would be better if our time was spent on actually doing stuff. Do not dwell in the past, do no dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
The first thing was to do a thorough research. There were already a couple of Instagram printing services in the US. We spent the next couple day visiting their websites – analyzing the different products offered by them and their potential feasibility in the Indian market, studying their website design as well as the user experience(UX). This was a very useful exercise as the above research became our reference point and it gave us something to start with. Our conversations were spread over various social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Google chat etc. I remember searching through all the above platforms, for almost an hour, looking for a certain link that Kishan had sent me. It was becoming very difficult to keep a track of everything. Hence we decided to use a project management app called Asana to keep all our conversations, conclusions, links/media, tasks etc. in one place. Being organized definitely increased our productivity and saved a lot of our valuable time.
One big question that we had yet to answer was money. How were we going to finance our startup? There were 3 options in our case – bootstrap, crowd fund or raise VC money. The last option was out of the question as this is not one of those next Facebook/Google type ideas (read as “very difficult to raise VC money”). The first part was also a bit risky in a way and we did not have the budget of a multinational corporation for marketing. Considering the fact that the success of this product would be based to a large extent on marketing, bootstrapping was out of the question. So, the option of crowd funding seemed very attractive and enticing. We had been following the crowd funding scene quite closely and it was amazing to see so many startups being launched via the same or brilliant ideas getting sufficient cash to turn into reality. Instagram printing is a also creative project in its own accord. So, we felt that by doing crowd funding, we can connect with our beta buyers, get their feedback and hence improve our products as well as get some initial traction. Hence, it was decided that we would launch a crowd funding campaign on Wishberry(Kickstarter of India).
The focus was now on designing an awesome Wishberry campaign that would for sure raise the required money. After a lot of brain storming, we decided to raise Rs. 1,00,000 (~$1600). To all the abroad readers, this might sound like a small amount, but in India this is definitely a big amount in regards to our context. The concept of crowd funding is still growing and has not been adopted/accepted fully at the time of writing this article. So, we had to make sure that we nailed the campaign. This essentially boils down to having a great pledge (Why do you want to raise money, what are you raising the money for? etc.), a bad as video and a nice reward description. You want to connect with your backers on a personal level and not just sell them stuff. But before we could launch our crowd funding campaign on Wishberry, a lot of items had to be taken care of – website design, content, product video, box design, logistics etc. The sooner we had those items ready, the earlier we could launch our campaign. Rather than everyone doing everything approach – we decided to divide the responsibilities based on our individual talents. Kishan took up website design, Sohil took up logistics and I took up marketing and product video creation. Each one would then give a soft as well as hard deadline for submission of their tasks and would follow it accordingly. Since Kishan had already designed websites for international companies in the past, we were not worried much about the website part. I took care of the content part. We now needed to take care of the logistics part as it was the most crucial element that could potentially damage the entire campaign if not taken care of properly. The logistics in our case consisted order generation, printing and delivery. Once a user logs onto our website, selects his favorite Instagram photos and submits the order – our website should generate a PDF of those photos and email them to our printing facility. The dude at the printing facility has to then print them, cut the photos into nice square prints and make sure that the quality is excellent. After that, he has to package it and call the delivery guy. The delivery guy has to collect these photos and ship them to the corresponding address. Yea, sounds pretty simple on paper but it isn’t so in real life.
For the next couple of days, a major part of the time was spent by Kishan and Sohil on visiting local vendors, manufacturers who could be “relied” upon and were reasonable in their pricing. Being Gujjus, I feel it is in our blood to bargain. So, after talking to a lot of potential printing facilities, we finally settled with one. We also found a courier service which would take care of our delivery problems. Next up was box design (the box in which the photos would be packaged). We felt we needed a designer for this task and so we started our search for the same. One of our friends had referred us to this girl at CEPT (one of the top most colleges in Asia for architecture and located in my city of birth – Ahmedabad). So, Sohil and Kishan set out to visit her. We had already chatted with her online and explained to her about our project. The aim of this meeting was to finally convince her to get on board with us. After the meeting got over, she said that she needed some time to think about it and would let us know (“Read as I don’t know what the fuck you guys are doing? Are you out of your mind?”) Eventually we got a text from her saying that she was not a good fit for this project and did not want to waste our time. Fair enough. In all honestly, this pissed me off and I have decided from that day on to rely as much as possible on the core talents of the team. Let me explain this point in further detail. We were not designers by trade and hence we had to go outside and ask for help from others. It is not bad to ask for help from others – this works when that bad ass designer is a good friend of yours and you can rely on him/her to deliver the work on time. Also, we did not have any money to pay these people apart from a potential share of our future profits. We even floated the idea of paying them after our crowd funding campaign was successful but they wanted the cash up front. So, either a person who really likes your idea (very hard to find such people too) will help you out or people will turn down your offer. In the case that the person agrees to work for you for free, it is very hard to have them follow your crazy deadlines. They are doing this as a side project and already have other work to finish for which they are being paid. The best scenario would have been to hire someone or contract it out (I wish we had the budget to do it). Hence, the wise option in this case is to learn that skill on your own if possible (considering you have sufficient time and it is not that hard to learn). That skill will definitely turn out to be a valuable asset for your team in the future. Exhausted with all the traveling, Kishan and Sohil sat down pondering if they could have pitched better to that girl and got her on board. But that time had already passed and there was nothing that could be done. And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward. Kishan & Sohil went back to the printing facility and bumped into this designer who ended up designing a kick ass box for us! Amazed by his awesome work we agreed to pay him after our crowd funding campaign would be successful. Funny how things work out in the end.
So, with the logistics part taken care of, I focused all my efforts on the product video creation(we were planning to use the same video for our crowd funding campaign as well). Now, I am not that bad ass video guy who has worked with Steven Spielberg on one of those transformers movie but I had the willingness and patience to learn. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and started messing around with Final Cut Pro X. In the first iteration, I recorded my own voice and used that as a background score along with some music to describe our concept, products etc. In the background I had clips showcasing people walking through the busy Indian streets, the traffic in Bombay, people celebrating the Indian cricket team winning the World Cup etc. – an all Indian theme. In case of an argument or disagreement, we would put that matter to vote. So, in the above iteration of the video, Sohil did not like the background music track. So, we put it up for a vote. Me and Kishan voted in favor of the track and that was it. No more un-necessary arguments, discussions or time wasting. We sent this over for review to the Wishberry folks. The feedback we received was that the narration was a bit fast and the clips in our video had nothing to do with Instagram printing. This was true actually. Often when you design or create something on your own, you feel that what you have made is the best. The audience/viewer may not feel the same way. It is always a good idea to get feedback from people around you as well as the experts in that field. So, we chucked the first video. I now decided that to make an animated video. Sounded like a pretty good idea. After all lot of big companies, startups are following that trend and making animated product videos. I am not a flash expert and so I started looking on the internet for a web based service that would help me make animated videos by just dragging and dropping stuff. I stumbled upon PowToon and decided to give it a try. The interface was pretty simple and easy to use and within a couple of hours I was able to make an animated video. Now all that was left was to download my video from their site. When I tried to do the same, it gave me an error. So, I refreshed the page but was not able to do so. It was showing some kind of error. So, I contacted the PowToon support team for an explanation. I got an email within 30 seconds saying that their servers were down and they were trying to fix the problem. I was really impressed by their amazingly fast customer service. After an hour or so, I got an email from PowToon saying that the service was up and running. I quickly logged in and found out that all my data was lost. All my hard work had gone down the drain. Pissed off, I sent an email to PowToon describing my agony. What happened next literally blew my mind. The support team not only apologized to me but also upgraded my basic plan to a premium one for 6 months for FREE! A premium plan would have costed me $762 had I decided to purchase it. I was so impressed by them that I even tweeted about it and spread a word about them to my friends. This incident taught me a very valuable lesson – Excellent customer service is very crucial to the success of a startup.
Later that evening I got a call from Sohil saying that he and Kishan were not too keen on making an animated video. So, we are back to square one. We had no product/campaign video. Knowing that a campaign video is what makes or breaks a crowd funding campaign, we knew we were in deep shit. All the video experts that we had met, either did not have the time or were charging insane amounts of money for making our video. A friend of ours referred us to this video expert Nayan Chhaniyara. Nayan was only 20 years old but he had already made tons of mind blowing videos for big companies like freelancer.com . Sohil and Kishan met Nayan at a cafe and explained the concept behind our startup and the requirements for our video. Nayan liked our idea but could not help out due to a busy schedule. After a few days, we had still not made any break through on the video front and things seemed to be falling apart. Sohil called Nayan again asking for help on the video. Nayan was fasting on that day, yet he agreed to help out for FREE and asked Sohil to come over to his place. It was 10:15 PM at night and both Kishan and Sohil rushed to his place. The next two hours were spent on making the script for the video. This was followed by a 24 hour marathon of video making with no eating or even drinking water – only work! Nayan was obsessed with the tiniest details and would not proceed ahead if he was not pleased with the results. The end result was just spectacular. We finally had our product video ready! We quickly submitted the video and got an approval from the Wishberry team to proceed ahead. We filled out the content for our Wishberry campaign and had to do a couple of iterations before it was ready to go live. A huge shoutout to Anshulika and the entire Wishberry team for taking a keen interest in our campaign and mentoring us.
Wow! Everything sounds great so far. Is this really a startup journey? Well, just a week before our launch, a major printing company in India launched a product similar to us. It was Nov. 22nd, 2:00 AM when Sohil sent me a link to their website. I was dejected and wished I had this idea earlier. So, the usual negative phase started creeping in. Will we able to compete with them? I immediately stopped whatever I was doing, took a break and asked myself this question, “What edge do we have over them?” The immediate answer was “Price and UX/UI(User Experience/User Interface)”. I called Sohil again and all three of us decided that we will follow through. It might actually be a blessing in disguise to have a competitor. They will spend a lot of money popularizing the concept of Instagram printing in India and we could beat them by offering a better quality product at a cheaper price. So, on December 5, 2013 at 5 PM, we finally launched our crowd funding campaign on Wishberry!
The journey had enlightened all of us by teaching us very valuable lessons – stuff that you learn sometimes only by doing! There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
P.S:- As of Dec. 19, we have already raised Rs. 52,300 . Help us reach our final goal by contributing to our campaign below or even spreading a word about it: