How We Started A $12K/Month Business Selling Cosmos-Inspired Fine Prints
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Artur Kurasinski and I'm a co-owner of Astrography - a company dealing with printing and selling fine arts related to space. During the last 20 years, Adam (CEO) and I have established a lot of different companies and businesses. Many of them have not survived and we have gained a lot of experience in setting up and running startups (mostly technological).
In early 2019 Adam invited me to co-create Astrography and since then we have been running e-commerce together, which has a mission to educate in space. We try to interest our customers not only with a nice photo but also with the scientific facts related to it.
Adam has been an avid astrophotographer for 15 years and devotes a lot of time to it. One day he decided to print his pictures and give them to his friends. It turned out that his pictures are so great that people were willing to pay for them.
From that moment on, an idea was born for Astrography - a place where you can buy great, original and printed on super paper (gallery quality) fine arts with the author's signature and numbered.
Each of our photos has a hologram, a certificate of authenticity and is signed and packed in a beautiful and ecological tube. We send them to customers all over the world and we take great care that each shipment arrives and the customer is satisfied.
During the 12 months, we managed to print the fine art for $160K, which we consider a good achievement given that we started with a zero marketing budget and a brand that was not recognized.
Since we had a bad experience with loans and investors we agreed to finance and develop the company only from current revenues. We agreed that we did not want to create a huge entity but a small, family business. The times of dreams about creating a unicorn are behind us :)
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As I mentioned earlier: luck. Adam never assumed that he would have something to do with the print business. When there were a lot of positive comments and then the matter went to the media: information about Adam's hobby appeared in the national media.
We couldn't leave it at that and decided that we would risk creating MVP - in our case, it was a simple website based on WordPress and WooCommerce. We connected a payment operator and...on the first day we sold our first job. We set ourselves a milestone that "if we have 10 sales a month, we'll take this business seriously". And it happened very quickly to our surprise.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Because our business is printing, we decided that we would have control of the whole process. Adam from his savings bought the first printer for $10K and put it in the living room of his house (so we are not an example of a "garage" startup :) He started experimenting with the quality of printing, used papers and thanks to the opinion of the first customers we quickly realized that our product must be directed to customers who are able to pay more for a top-shelf print. We did not want to compete with cheap and mass marketplaces where you can buy a poor quality poster for several dollars.
It was the first time that we saw a professional printer and started making trial prints. Of course, we did a lot of prints wrong, destroyed a lot of paper and lost a lot of money before we could get it right.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Having purchased the printer, we did not have to bear any additional costs apart from the shipping costs. We printed-on-demand - it didn't really matter whether we printed for one ten or twenty customers. After a few months, we reached break-even and bought another printer (thanks to which we were able to print several thousand words a day).
Because we financed ourselves with revenue and no credit, we were able to pay off the second machine very quickly. After 6 months we were self-sufficient - customers recommended us to each other on a word of mouth basis, other customers came back who were satisfied with the quality and we gained a lot of praise from customers. It can be said that we had never been in such a situation before - after a few months we had a company that didn't have enough to make money, had no financial obligations or investors to whom we had to give our shares.
The beginning was very simple - we sent a few links to the pictures to our friends and wrote: "such cool pictures you can have even tomorrow on your wall". It worked. Friends started to pass these links on and thanks to word-of-mouth we got first partners.
And then the miracle happened - we managed to persuade the creators of The Witcher, the CD PROJECT RED company, to print out fine art posters for them for their new game Cyberpunk 2077. And this way, after a few months, we became a partner of the most famous company creating games in the world working in a small room doing everything with 3 people. :)
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In a world ruled by social media, applications and widespread digitization, printing has never been more important. Something that is analog can be touched is invaluable. Especially if it can't be replicated or sent as an email attachment. In fact, this is our biggest advantage - we have a unique IP, which through the facts of being a high-quality print becomes a gallery value. Our customers receive exceptional works of art in a limited quantity which justifies their price.
In my free time, I love going to the bookstore, touching and browsing through albums, books or comic books. I appreciate a beautifully published book and I am glad that there are still so many people in the world who can enjoy our fine art.
Of course, we could probably earn more by selling our works on the mass market and for a lower price but we don't want to do that. We prefer our works to be appreciated by a smaller group of recipients but more valuable for them.
We have been gaining our first customers through our extensive social media. A Facebook post with a short description and an incentive to buy was enough. Then we started creating paid campaigns (Instagram and Facebook) because we were curious about what level of ROI we could achieve with this.
After a few months, we know that investing in paid advertising was a very good idea (we manage to reach $3-$4 out of every dollar invested) and we will increase the budgets a few dozen percent in the following months.
When we started spending money on online advertising, we quickly saw that we couldn't supervise it ourselves. Too many things change with the Facebook algorithm itself every month. We asked for help from a small company that specializes in creating advertising campaigns and started with small amounts ($1000), increasing them by 20%-30% every month. This gave us the opportunity to control ROAS and at the same time, we managed to organically increase our resources related to printing and sending posters. Our best medium is Facebook and Instagram - without a doubt with very cool products you can quickly build a loyal audience on Instagram that buys your products.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
From the very beginning, thanks to our resistance and happiness, we are profitable. We didn't want to start our business adventure by going to an investor with an idea written on a napkin and it paid off - I have 100% control over the company, we grow organically and have no KPIs or milestones "to bring". We try to learn all the time from other and better entrepreneurs, and we do what other, similar companies do. Among others: Starter Story. :)
In the near future, we want to try to sell through other channels - among others on Amazon, but for sure we won't be exhibiting our works on popular marketplaces.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The mistakes we made were a lack of faith in our value and market size - we thought that if the profits cover the costs of one printer, it would be a huge success. We're now thinking about buying entire collections of works from other artists and licenses from NASA or ESA. Literally - the sky is the limit. :)
I'm sure it's a great merit that we're in this place and the company looks good this is Adam and my experience. Without hundreds of thousands of badly invested dollars, many disappointments and business failures we would probably think differently about building Astrography. We don't take part in a 100m run but in a marathon so we have to spread out our strength differently.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Google Analytics
- Instagram & Facebook
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Learning: I have one rule - I do not read biographies of famous people because in most cases these are PR projects without real knowledge and calculated for sale. If you really count on Bill Gates to tell you a secret about how to make a lot of money in his $25 book, you have to be very naive. I love browsing niche blogs and YouTube channels for people who are passionate about sharing knowledge not because they're coaches but because it makes them happy.
Book: Personally, I am very impressed with Phil Knight's Shoe Dog memories of building Nike. It's just amazing how such a global corporation was created at a time when shoe prototypes were made at home with a waffle iron!
Podcast: I love listening to everything Naval Ravikant says. Amazing personality, mind, and ability to "connect the dots".
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don't try to imitate or follow trends. If Bitcoin or AI are fashionable, it's a sign that you're not likely to come up with anything interesting about it (usually it takes 10 years to make a breakthrough. So if something is fashionable now, it means that you would have to spend a decade to really make it better than the competition).
It sounds banal, but listen to yourself and find out what you enjoy. If you love to sleep until noon, work at 6.00 am is not for you. If you don't like Excel tables then work as a consultant or financier is also out. If you have a grudge against accounting, marketing or management it may not be a good idea to start your own business.
Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur and not everyone will run a business that works well. You don't really have to be a businessman. Maybe you'll be better off working in a bigger team, in a company with a stable market position, which doesn't have to fight for survival. It's not bad to work in a bank or corporation like Facebook or Google. You will learn a lot of things there and someone will pay you for it.
The most important thing is to find what you want to do and try to turn it into a business. Are you a fan of MMO games? Maybe you have a talent and can draw portraits of game characters and you will sell them? Do you like watching Netflix? Start a blog or podcast and become a critic. Are you interested in science or sport? Start writing about it or making a video and then write a book and sell it through your community.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not looking for anyone to work, but we are very willing to cooperate with anyone who is interested in space and does something related to it. Do you have pictures, or can you glue together models of ships from the Apollo mission? Or maybe someone from your family worked for NASA and you have some cool stories about it? Write to us!
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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