How 3 engineers scaled their Rs 23,000 dorm-room idea to a Rs 1.2 Cr startup

Pune startup PortraitFlip, which acquired its first customer through a Facebook ad, has served customers in India, the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada.
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Gen Z may be the most photographed generation, but chances are that most of those photos remain in phones. Pune-based PortraitFlip is flipping things around by offering people a chance to convert loved photos into treasured paintings. The picture-perfect idea, which was born from a personal pain point, has now grown into a startup that last year recorded a turnover of Rs 1.2 crore.  

PortraitFlip was born in the dorm rooms of Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai, in September 2017.

It all started when Lavdeep Chahal (25), a mechanical engineering student, walked up to his roommate, Sunny Chaudhury (23), for help; he needed to find a website that would help him order a handmade painting from a photo of his girlfriend.

“We did a lot of research but couldn’t find anything apart from Paint Your Life, which charged a lot to deliver in India,” Sunny recalls.

The duo realised that a gap existed, and shared the potential startup idea with their hostel mate, Shubhanshu Maheshwari (23), who was studying electrical engineering then. Shubhanshu immediately started working on building a website. The trio put together Rs 15,000 from their pocket money and savings and later, collected another Rs 8,000 from friends to start the website.

PortraitFlip cofounders: Sunny Chaudhury, Lavdeep Chahal and Shubhanshu Maheshwari (L-R)

PortraitFlip was officially registered in July 2018, as the “ultimate hub to create genuine handmade paintings from photographs”.

“We locked in on the PortraitFlip name, which signifies flipping your images to portraits,” Sunny says.

PortraitFlip partners with studios and individual artists to create portraits from photos. At present, the startup has tied up with two studios (with more than 100 artists) and up to 30 individual artists. The startup now has one full-time content writer, one full-time graphic designer, and two interns.

 “We provide business to Indian artists in the comfort of their homes while we do the legwork of delivering their creations to various corners of the world,” Sunny says.

How it works

Once a user uploads a photograph on PortraitFlip’s website, they has to select a desired size and medium of painting. There are six choices of mediums, including oil, charcoal, watercolour, pencil, coloured pencil, and acrylic. The paintings can be finished in three options: rolled, gallery wrapped, and framed.

“Once we receive an order, we connect with one of our partner studios or artists,” Sunny says.

Once an artist is done with a painting, the team sends a photograph of the painting to the customer for approval.

“If they doesn’t like it or wants any changes, we execute those and seek approval again. Only after a happy nod do we start the framing process and ship the painting to the customer’s doorstep,” Sunny says.

The startup was initially bogged down by challenges like shipping delays. “To avoid delays and miscommunication, we have partnered with industry giants like DHL and FedEx,” Sunny says.

Portrait Flip also offers services to revive old black and white photographs.

Turning photos into artworks

PortraitFlip receives most orders for occasions such as Christmas, Diwali, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, wedding anniversaries, and the like. It also gets a lot of requests for weddings and from pet parents.

The startup, which acquired its first customer through a Facebook advertisement, has served over 4,000 customers till now. Their handmade portraits are shipped worldwide.

“Seventy percent of our customer base is based out of US, and 15 percent is from UK, Australia, and Canada,” Sunny says. The rest of their orders are from India.

Under the free shipping category, PortraitFlip delivers paintings within 24 days; for express service, they charge a delivery fee and the painting is delivered in 14 days.

“We are happy to knock at any door across the world,” he adds.

PortraitFlip charges between Rs 1,900 and Rs 30,000 for paintings, depending on the size and medium. Revenue comes from the margins they charge their customers.

“We have recorded 30 percent revenue growth per month, since inception,” Sunny says.

The startup recorded a turnover of Rs 1.2 crore last year, most of which came from the US. The company is targeting Rs 4 crore in revenue this financial year.

“Our profits are being reinvested into the business,” Sunny says.

PortraitFlip receives orders from pet parents

Market overview and future plans

According to a report by KPMG and FICCI titled Visual arts industry in India: Painting the future, the global art industry registered total sales of $56.6 billion in 2016.

PortraitFlip competes with the likes of US-based companies Paint Your Life and My Da Vince.

But the founders believe that PortraitFlip’s USP lies in the fact that they allow unlimited revisions to be made by customers. “We make sure that every customer is 100 percent satisfied,” Sunny says. Clearly, they’re not worried about a photo finish!

The startup, which claims to receive 70 percent orders from pet parents, is now keen to further explore the pet market.  Besides that, Team PortraitFlip is “aiming to raise funds in the first quarter of 2020”, Sunny says.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


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