How I Started A $27K/Month Business Creating Custom Handcrafted Photo Albums

Published: July 23rd, 2021
Pranjal Kumar
Founder, CandidShutters
from Gurgaon, Haryana, India
started October 2018
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I am Pranjal, co-founder of CandidShutters. Having had a passion for photography and filmmaking since childhood, soon after my MBA in 2012, I embarked on a hugely satisfying creative journey into the field of reality filmmaking in the wedding industry in India.

While the emotional value of candid pictures and films is matchless, all couples and their families had always longed for a good keepsake that could bring their best wedding moments to life during get-togethers in a more tangible fashion. Thus was born the idea for CandidShutters Store in 2018, which specializes in custom-designed handcrafted photo albums.

We at CandidShutters, offer a range of exclusively made-to-order, personalized albums designed to suit your taste and preference. Our customer base is couples/families (a chunk of our customers are NRIs) wanting to create memorable keepsakes in the most comfortable hassle-free manner.

We are currently catering to close to over a hundred customized albums monthly. All our customers reach us through our strong organic presence and word of mouth. The fact that we can create truly memorable photo books out of the most simple and most exquisite of pictures, is great creative satisfaction and keeps us going.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Our journey as a brand specializing in candid pictures and films took us to many countries across the globe, having covered more than one thousand multicultural and multi-ethnic weddings. This laid the foundation of brand CandidShutters that became synonymous with creativity, professional conduct, and customer-centricity.

Hefty discounting, price drops, massive advertising is never the key to building a successful brand.

A lot of couples contacted us for a professional service in wedding album designing and printing which is a highly fragmented service in India. The kind of attention each album requires owing to the priceless emotional value attached to them, nobody existed which could meet the need.

To mitigate this gap and also to provide a logical and more futuristic extension to our existing gamut of services, we formally started our custom album designing and printing service in October 2018 (the service existed informally since our inception in 2012 but in 2018 we started it in a formal and focussed way).

Though wedding albums are one of the most important and most awaited outputs of wedding photography, yet owing to their busy schedules, couples/families never find enough time to shortlist the best pictures and sit through a grueling process of designing with their photographers. We have to understand that for photographers, while a wedding album is one of the outputs, it is one output he/she has the least control over and least profit margin in. The design service is usually outsourced to freelance designers or made in pre-defined templates and never sees the light of the day.

Couples with a discerning eye never find such designs and photo products palatable. Moreover, the entire customer experience goes for a toss, not to forget the amount of time spent in creating each album which after so much toil, effort and money is never a treat to look at.

Having a rich experience in wedding photography and understanding the nuances of different customs in Indian weddings, coupled with professional brand backing, CandidShutters had all the necessary ingredients to excel in this.

With weddings, owing to the creative nature of work, we can do a handful in a year, but from a business perspective, with wedding albums, the customer base expands immensely. With our extreme emphasis on precision in design, product quality, and finish, we have been able to carve a niche space for ourselves in the area of bespoke photobooks in India.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Every album at CandidShutters undergoes a detailed process where it is nurtured into a creative masterpiece that gets passed on from one generation to the next.

The process starts from gathering the customer preferences to understand their taste; a human designer is assigned to each project who works to create a visually and emotionally satisfying design of the album. Couples get a chance to preview it and suggest changes and only upon their satisfactory approval, is the design sent for printing.

We have been following this practice from the day of our inception. The whole premise of the business model is around convenient collaborative customization.

Being a creative product, we build on our existing product portfolio, modify and improvise based on customer feedback and keep creating innovative products to appeal to the changing taste and needs.

A host of technological improvements in processes over the years has enabled us to offer a hassle-free user experience.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We started off catering to our own wedding clientele. Soon through their word of mouth on having received products that surpassed their expectations, we started catering to their extended families and friends.

We always believe in the strength of organic presence. Having sensed the importance of it from our early start-up days while doing our research, we worked on creating a brand that not only sold great products but was reliable, customer-centric, and was organically strong i.e. people could find us for the purpose they were looking for.

Being an engineer, and having an inclination towards web designing, I have been personally overseeing the creation of our website since inception. The kind of functionality, colour scheme, products, overall appeal that I envisioned for the brand called for my creative and technical involvement in its website construction and design.

We are bootstrapped and since we operate it more like a creative boutique for bespoke albums, our focus is more on building a strong brand presence organically and use our funds judiciously towards building the brand rather than get caught in the discounting game and head towards an inevitable closure.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We take great pride in the kind of products we create. Being one of the only service providers for the kind of product offering, and customization and customer experience we offer, we have been trying to build onto this strength of ours.

A huge chunk of our customer base is NRIs. While there is no dearth of great album makers in the west, but brands that understand the Indian taste and requirements do not exist.

One thing we have learnt from our own mistakes and having read about so many successful ventures and ventures which couldn't last long is that, marketing your brand the right way to the right target audience. Hefty discounting, price drops, massive advertising is never the key to building a successful brand. With a great product comes a responsibility to nurture it, grow it the right way, just like you would take care of a child. No parent would just rush through his/her child’s growth process nor would they pamper their child with unnecessary gifts to set a wrong example. The same goes for a brand.

Honesty is indeed the best policy and helps you win the trust of your customers. Ensure no compromises in product or service for that is what sets you apart from others.

Being in an internet-savvy world, you must reach your right customer at the most optimized cost. Never play around with product quality, and listen to your customers so they are your biggest critics and your biggest teachers.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are a completely online-only model. You can be stationed in any part of the world and if you have pictures of any event (wedding, travel, birthday, or any other memories that matter to you) that you wish to make a photo book of, you can get one done with us.

Our service is for people who value excellent world-class products, customised to their taste, and professional experience.

We have received an overwhelming response from our customers, have created photo albums not only for weddings, but also for numerous other occasions like milestone albums, and have worked with some of the most prestigious institutions in the government and corporate sector.

Yes, we are profitable. The whole point of being in business is that. Since our orders come from our strong online organic presence through our own website, marketing spends are channeled towards optimum brand building.

We are working on introducing a new website and a new range of products and service offerings to make it a one-stop shop for custom-designed personalized products. While the current mode of operation is online, we plan to open experience zones in the coming future in the middle east since a chunk of our clientele is from there too.

We envision CandidShutters to be a brand that is synonymous with customized and personalized product experiences.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We are where we are today on account of the various mistakes we have made and the lessons we have learned over the years of learning.

Since we depend on a lot of outside suppliers for our products, placing our bet on the wrong supplier has cost us dearly not just in monetary terms but in product quality and overall experience. It is of utmost importance that you screen your suppliers and tests them, for the relationship between a business and a supplier is a marriage, more the trust, better the output, more the growth.

Likewise, you have to be careful about what team you set up to be a part of your vision. Ensuring that your colleagues, be it the design team, our technical team, or creative artisans, are all in sync with the overall vision of the brand and what it stands for. Any mismatch of vision amounts to having people who bring bad names to the brand and become roadblocks in the path to success.

One important quality cum a lesson we have always worked with is the trust we place in our customers as much as they place in us while associating with us with their lives most precious moments. It is important to be transparent and honest with the customers if some experiences are resulting in delays. A classic case is an ongoing pandemic that has resulted in supply-side disruptions across the globe. We like working with like-minded clients and make sure they are kept updated on the status of their order at all times. If there are delays, we keep them informed. And I feel happy to share that all people understand and in fact they heap praise after they receive the final product. That ensures that all stakeholders in the chain are satisfied and completely happy.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our website is built on WordPress. For shipping, we use logistics support from some prominent logistics partner aggregators in the country like Pickrr and direct logistics company associations too. There are other tools such as Piwigo, Hightail, etc in use.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Be passionate about the product/service you are offering, Always, trust your customers and be willing to take their feedback as they are your biggest critics. Ensure you test and screen vendors or your suppliers to build a robust supply chain. Stick to your commitment of timelines, and inform in case there is a gap.

Honesty is indeed the best policy and helps you win the trust of your customers. Ensure no compromises in product or service for that is what sets you apart from others.

Just use funds judiciously be it yours or your investors. The key to any successful sustainable venture is prudent spending while generating profits for all stakeholders. Be innovative, and think beyond discounting and focus on creating value. Pricing plays a critical role in ensuring product success but competition around price point is not a sustainable way to grow.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

As a brand, we try to engage with customers who are like-minded and work with vendor suppliers and employees who resonate with our vision and brand promise. We are always eager to find, work, and learn from such exuberant employees.

At the moment, we are not looking to hire, but are eager to associate with and partner with talented people.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!