In these unusual times, many who once dreamed of funding are forced to bootstrap. Well, bootstrapping is good during good times, and necessary during bad times.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Nishant Shah: I was born and raised in Ahmedabad, India. I studied Civil Engineering at the university, and then went on to do my masters in construction management from Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
After doing my Masters, I started working for one of the Fortune 50 engineering construction companies. I looked after project schedules, finance, and project management. I did that for about 10 or 11 years. I was able to travel around the world working on different projects. I was part of the Iraq reconstruction work.
During that time, I always wanted to try out my luck in the business side of things. In 2007, I started a steam car wash business. It’s basically car wash with high-pressure steam. The concept was that you can clean the whole car with about a glass of water. Since it doesn’t have residue water, you can do it without water recycling.
I was the first one to start that in South Carolina. I got a couple of grants from Michelin. During that time, there were different promotions and signs out there for car wash. Looking for signs for a car wash business, I realized that to go to a local print shop was quite time-consuming. There was mainly eBay, Amazon, and some electronic stores.
That’s when I thought of an idea of putting a website where people can design and order it. We can print it and send it out.
Sramana Mitra: What year was this when you started?
Nishant Shah: The car wash was in 2007. BannerBuzz started in 2010.
Sramana Mitra: How did you get BannerBuzz going?
Nishant Shah: The way it started was that I would go back to India once a year to visit my family. While I was there, I would just go to a local store and get banners printed because there was a huge price difference. I started like that. I came in and carried a couple of banners with me.
I got the contact information of the company that was printing it. We started talking to them over the phone and then had them ship it to me to the US. I didn’t have to pay for the designing and all that.
My brother was into building websites at that time. I gave him a project where he can build a two-page website for me. I got a couple of orders. That’s how we got started.
Sramana Mitra: What was the scaling strategy? You got started in 2010. What was the point at which you found something that would go faster? What strategy clicked in gear that helped you move faster?
Nishant Shah: We started with a smaller vision. The idea was to have those banners mainly for car wash companies. The first two or three years, there was a lot of learning about how the logistics work and how the product needs to be right. It was more of setting it up correctly to understand the technology, logistics, and customer needs.
In 2014, we saw the bigger market. The internet was coming up much faster. That’s when we saw a scaling aspect to that. It’s not just banners and to car wash businesses that we can sell it to. There are multiple other advertisement products that we can add. It was a much larger market. The whole mindset went from growing slowly to growing much faster.