Sramana: Did you fund the business with just friends and family?
Manish Sharma: I did have two angel investors when I started Printo. I met them at conferences and gave them a basic elevator pitch. I was looking to raise 2 crore rupees but ended up raising 1.4 crore rupees. I did not raise a lot of money but it was enough to get the business started.
Sramana: What were you able to accomplish with that first bit of money?
Manish Sharma: The most important aspect was to get a shop setup. We needed to have a place for customers to come and place print jobs which would allow us to make money.
Sramana: So you had a very straightforward retail model. Was it a profitable model?
Manish Sharma: Yes, we were able to get our stores operating profitably.
Sramana: How did you get the word out about your new print business? In retail, if you can get a pilot together that works, then scaling is all about putting in enough money to replicate that model everywhere else. The first pilot store is incredibly important. I’m trying to understand what you learned in your first pilot store.
Manish Sharma: The most important lesson I learned is that people were willing to pay for premium customer service, even in India which is a price conscious market. The whole idea was to make everything as easy as possible for the customer. People could come into our store knowing exactly what they needed or wanted and we would complete that job. Others would come in with ideas for materials or the banner, but needed help bringing their vision to reality. We kept everything simple. If they wanted a banner we could show them indoor or outdoor solutions. We simplified the ordering process as much as possible. We basically productized a commodity market.
One of the big hypotheses that we had to prove was that people would be willing to buy their business cards from predefined templates. We already knew that it was happening in the US at Kinkos. We had to prove that we could do that in India.
Sramana: It sounds like your first store really validated your ability to productize commodity print jobs for Indian consumers.
Manish Sharma: Yes, absolutely. The other thing that sounds simplistic about our model, but was something that I felt was important to validate, was to prove that it could be supported by walk-in customers. We did not do any marketing. We put up a board and people started walking in. I was used to B2B sales, so that was my biggest mental block. The fact that our business was profitable based on walk-in customers was fantastic validation to me. I had never been in the retail business before.
Sramana: With the $200,000 dollars you started with, what kind of revenue were you able to generate on the first pilot?
Manish Sharma: We had a 60 lakh run rate on the store.