[Note: This was way back in 2014. Things have changed a little bit since then :)]
I am currently running a service called inkmat.com for people to get their instagram photos printed in India. I am a programmer so I made the site from scratch launched it as soon as possible with only the features needed the most.
The site is fully focused on only Instagram photo printing. I have not included other form of photos intentionally so I am able to serve my audience with the highest quality of service.
How I got started
I started working on the site on 7th May 2014 and launched it on 8th May 2014, going as lean as possible.
To start off, I thought, I didn’t need any automation for sending mails as I could do them myself, so I didn’t code up the automation mails in the app. This led to me talking directly to my customers which gave me a lot of valuable feedback, which I gradually inculcated in my site and service.
I also didn’t want to integrate a Payment gateway because it took time, so I used Instamojo as payment service, sending the payment link to customers myself. This allowed me to easily offer them discounts when it was required.
For the design of the site, I used twitter bootstrap and then later used a free theme for it.
For the development of website, I’ve taught myself how to code and even shared some tips on forums.
People loved that they got a mail from a human and not from a machine and it worked wonders. Not even one of my customers have abandoned their carts and most of the people who have signed up have placed an order.
I had no tie-ups with any courier companies or photo printers prior to starting the site. I contacted them after I had gotten my first order. Although, I did have a chat with some of the service providers to get an estimate of the amount it’d cost me to process an order and so I priced accordingly.
This goes to show that you don’t require everything to start working on your idea. Instead of waiting for everything finished, just start with what ever you absolutely need to start operating your business. You can add the fancy design, functionality, integration or partnerships later. “Start small” is a good advice and I would never advice to go against it. Starting small makes you focus on the most fundamental part of your offering and make it as awesome as you can.
Getting first customers
Initially, I got customers by searching for #India on instagram and engaging with people who had really great photos up there. I followed-liked-commented and people starting taking notice. I did the same with twitter by searching for “instagram india” and trying to engage with people. This method lead to my first sale. Later, instead of India, I targeted metros, which, for some reason, gave better results. [In hindsight, it was because they are the ones who are really using instagram]
Another great thing which helped me was the copy followers feature of JustUnfollow [I later joined JustUnfollow which got rebranded to Crowdfire].
I copied followers of Mumbai Instagrammers, Bangalore Instagrammers, Indian Instagrammers (you get the point). This has also helped me in getting real followers for our instagram account. Another helpful feature from JustUnfollow was the keyword follow which had support for location, but that was available only for twitter accounts.
I did this for around 1 hour a day and was able to get around 100-200 hits everyday. I also later bought an ad on reddit.com and targeted via demography to Indians. I had put in ~ Rs. 300/- ($5) in that ad and made a loss of 40 bucks. But it did teach me some lessons about conversion (You can read about its analysis here).
I haven’t gotten any mention on any big media sites (or even small media sites, for that matter) but one incoming link from a forum called hackerstreet.in.
The road ahead
It has been more than 3 weeks since I’ve launched and I’ve grown a lot getting more than 2 orders per day. I am learning a lot about selling online and have already made inkmat profitable.
I’ve kept expenses as low as possible, and apart from printing and cost of mailing the photos, I have spent only Rs. 1321/- (about $22). The money was spent on domain + hosting + one small ad on reddit.
Next step is to reduce the operations cost and streamline all the processes required. I’ve also started offering photo frames to people before they checkout thus improving the Life time value of customers.
People have liked our prints and have sent love using our beloved Social Media.
Checkout some of the love we've received -
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. It still kind of a side project but has immense scope (at least I like to think so). Not big enough to NOT take up a job soon and not small enough to just kill it. The baby has started talking and walking, time for him to start running.
P.S. This was written in 2014 and I've added little comments in the places which feel confusing now. Interestingly, working on Inkmat has helped me spin off a new product which helps you send browser push notifications without an app. :)