Building A $1.2M/Year E-Commerce AI Photo App

Published: September 24th, 2023
Vaibhav Prakash
Founder, Blend
from Bangalore, Karnataka, India
started March 2021
customer service
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

We're Vaibhav Prakash, Jamsheed Kamardeen, and Vishwanath Kollapudi, the founders of Blend. We started this venture in March 2021 because we wanted to solve a common problem faced by direct-to-consumer (D2C) businesses: the struggle with photography.

We noticed that 9 out of 10 businesses fail to succeed due to high costs and strong competition. So, we created Blend, an AI-powered design and product photography tool for e-commerce sellers.

With Blend, creating captivating product visuals for marketplaces, social media, and advertising is a breeze. All users have to do is upload a photo of the item they want to sell, and Blend takes care of the rest. Our AI technology automatically removes the background, selects the best backdrop, and even adds engaging copy and call-to-actions.

We're passionate about helping entrepreneurs worldwide by providing them with photo-shoot-like content without the hefty investment. That's not all—we've also expanded our portfolio to include online free catalogs for easy use.



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

First, we want to share how the idea came up and then we want to talk about our individual backgrounds so you can know us better.

We have to be honest, we didn’t think a lot before deciding to start this business. I (Vaibhav) was involved in some API projects and one day I thought that it would be nice to create an app for e-commerce sellers. I called Vish and you know, when you have a different idea, you need courageous people that support it.

Vishwanath was enthusiastic from the very first moment and told me he knew someone with a lot of experience who could help us develop this idea (which happens to be Jam). We reunited and thought about different sides of the idea. This is one day!

We had different options to start with. However, an app specialized in product photography sounded amazing to all of us. Then, we were thinking about how to materialize our idea, and one month later with no upfront investment, we had our first Blend version.

We are very different and that’s why we’re a perfect team. Vaibhav is reserved, not a fan of crowded places but great to find problems to solve, with creative and disruptive ideas. Vish is an outgoing person who is always ready to speak in public, creative, and fun.

He makes our app look dope and fun on the ‘’outside’’. Meanwhile, Jam is the mix of us both, he takes creativity and problem-solving to coding and gives Blend a meaning behind what you can see.

We have different backgrounds.

Vaibhav has always been a free soul, with the right amount of commitment and detachment. Went different ways than his family because most of them studied to be lawyers. However, he wanted to be an engineer. He eventually became one and worked in many different fields, with different people.

He was even involved in politics and helped other brands succeed. But, as soon as the project was floating, He wanted to leave because he felt that his work was done. It wasn’t something that belonged to him.

Jamsheed has been an early coder. The kind who starts coding at 8 years old. He would hack his way to get good internet in India in the dial-up connection days. A tech prodigy. After graduating, he started as the first engineer of Locus, one of the largest logistics algorithm startups. He gradually became the VP of Engineering there.

However, when we came up with Blend’s idea to hihe felt passionate about it and wanted to create from scratch something unique that had his name printed on it, and to put his hard work into the hands of someone who truly needed it.

Vishwanath, like Vaibhav, saw what hyper-growth means at Ola. He then co-founded a startup in the Bike repair and maintenance space, called Drivojoy. From there, he moved into product roles at emplan oyee expenses management company called Happay and finally Locus.

He has always been a leader, and there’s nothing better than when you lead to make something you have helped create and grow. He has always been enthusiastic about being an entrepreneur and building something that contributes to a better world.

The 3 of us always believed that small businesses give the world an opportunity for equality and the excitement and purpose that Blend is impossible to compare. The 3 of us became family and welcomed a team of people from different backgrounds and countries and made them feel comfortable. We have a strong culture and peaceful climate as an organization and focus mainly on our worker's happiness. Happy people create better things.

We’re all fixers, and by fixers, I mean that all of us like to find ourselves in complex situations and create solutions. Honestly, being an entrepreneur is not easy, you go through highs and lows, and every day there’s a new problem to fix. There’s not even enough time to celebrate accomplishments but we wouldn’t change the life that we now have.

We believe that commerce is moving online across the world. Traditionally, e-commerce has been dominated by larger brands and sellers who can afford teams of professionals to help them create stunning visuals and compelling marketing materials, while smaller sellers are often left to struggle on their own.

We have personally seen people who owned traditional shops gradually struggling to meet both ends as their customers shifted to buying from the Amazons and Walmarts of the world. Even though they want to sell online, they struggle on all fronts - from taking photos and writing product descriptions to creating catalogs to getting demand on online channels.

We started Blend with the vision to level the playing field for small businesses and larger brands and help them grow. With AI, we aim to democratize content creation for online sellers so that they can grow their businesses and sustain entrepreneurial journeys.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

Blend was born out of an intrinsic desire to solve a prevalent problem faced by many. During our nascent stage, we identified a challenge that many users faced: the tedious task of removing backgrounds from product photos and the subsequent need to replace them with a basic, uniform color.

Our decision to hone in on this core functionality was deliberate. We wanted our maiden version to be simple yet effective, enabling users to easily remove and replace backgrounds. As we delved deeper, we realized that platforms like Canva, although popular, didn't cater specifically to product photos in the way our envisioned user base required.

Our research also brought to light a significant number of sellers on platforms such as Meesho, Flipkart, and Myntra. With the understanding that being a seller is more than just a hobby—it's an occupation—we tailored Blend to serve this community's unique needs.

Rather than investing heavily in widespread marketing campaigns, our initial approach was grounded and organic. We reached out to potential users through Facebook and WhatsApp groups, fostering a sense of community and gathering invaluable feedback right from the source.

In an unconventional twist to the typical startup narrative, Blend started its journey with negligible startup costs and no initial revenue goals. Instead of rushing into monetization, our gaze was fixed on creating a tool that resonated with users and met their needs.

As time progressed and feedback poured in, we adapted. Introducing an alternate flow within the app was one of our earliest pivots, ensuring that we remained attuned to our user's evolving requirements while keeping overheads to a minimum.

The initial iteration of Blend was a basic mobile application developed by Jamsheed within a month's time. Despite resource constraints, we were determined to launch as quickly as possible and dedicated ourselves to the project. Interestingly, we managed to develop the app at zero cost with Flutter.

During the initial phase, our logo differed from the current version, but our underlying concept has remained consistent—a butterfly symbolizing evolution, transformation, and inspiration. Our research primarily focused on seller communities in India and Indonesia, where we identified a prevalent struggle faced by individuals in removing backgrounds and finding suitable backgrounds for their online sales platforms.

Additionally, we observed that numerous marketplaces highly recommended product photos with a white background. Recognizing the challenges sellers encountered in capturing such images effectively, our first version prioritized this feature.

Study your market, and make sure you’re selling an experience behind any product or service.

In May 2021, we officially launched the beta version of our app which was free so we could get more users and their feedback to improve it. While it required considerable effort, we persevered through numerous obstacles, remaining steadfast in our commitment to Blend's success. Throughout this phase, our small team of three individuals, without any employees, dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the project.

Describe the process of launching the business.

First, you need a desire to do something on your own. We don’t think everyone is built to experience uncertainty and launching a business is all about uncertainty. You suddenly have an idea and you share it with more people that eager and want to be part of the project but you never know if it will work or not.

Then, you start thinking about which is the best way to present your idea to the world. You prepare a plan and just jump into a sea of possibilities and try to take the best out of it.

We had our first version and we tested the app in Private Beta for a few months with a few thousand users who were e-commerce seller from Indonesia and India we reached out to them using Facebook groups, and added new features like editing and templates, we launched Blend in public in September 2021. We think a misinterpretation people tend to make is that they want to be fully prepared to materialize their ideas but most of the time you just need to get started.

We started with Indian and South East Asia markets and reached out to e-commerce/marketing/graphic design influencers to collaborate which have has us from 50 dollars to 500 dollars and help us promote the app. For us in particular the translations of the app took a lot of effort and time. After launching, we grew steadily and are now among the top 3 design apps in Indonesia and Malaysia. We didn’t know if this was going to work or not, but we needed to start to see it.

First and foremost, you must have the urge to build something on your efforts. Everyone is not adaptable to uncertainties and launching a new business inevitably contains in it the threat. It is not always that you come up with an idea and share it with others, and it wouldwillly work out for the best. But, one must start somewhere. If you never start, you never know. You have to be ready to jump into the sea of possibilities, hoping that you will swim.

People often misinterpret that they need to fully materialize an idea before even starting to venture into it. This is a common mistake. At times, you just need to get started with whatever you have at hand. Sometimes it is just an idea, with a handful of people who believe in it and support it equally. We started despite our competition which are anisesign apps and we have been growing, we just needed to start and thankfully, here we are.

We were doubtful if we would accomplish the goal, but it was important to take that risk. We started this business self-financed and eventually, we turned to VC.

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

We want to satisfy our customers above all and we think that is key if you are looking for customer retention. Love your clients, find their problems, and solve them gracefully.

User focus is important, they are always your priority. Being empathetic to their cause will help the company grow.

Here are some of the strategies that we use:

Customer Acquisition

  • Organic - With our unique value proposition, many of our users share the app in their communities and we acquire a large part of our user base with word of mouth.
  • Influencer marketing - We collaborate with relevant influencers who create and distribute content about the Blend app.
  • SEO - Our website has a rich blog (Blend Seller Academy) in multiple languages that answers several questions from e-commerce sellers and content creators.
  • Ads - We run performance marketing campaigns on Facebook, Tiktok, and Google
  • Social Media - Pinterest Instagram @blendnow on TikTok
  • Referral - Blend has a referral program wherein a user is rewarded 10 Watermark free exports if one of their friends signs up with their referral link

Customer Retention

  • Design and Product Photography is a very frequent use case for an online sellers. Blend naturally has high repeat usage and retention
  • Templates that serve all occasions
  • Life cycle push notifications

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

Currently, we are among the top three design apps in South East Asia and Latin America. We have been growing constantly at more than 30% monthly with strong revenues.

We are building products to help sellers with more chores they need to master to compete with larger brands. The idea is to equip them with everything they need to get more sales. Parallelly, we are looking to expand into new geographies and deepen our reach in strong markets.

The future looks like Blend is the number one ally of content creators and e-commerce sellers to create high-quality content the easy way, fast, and fun.

We are among the top three design apps in South East Asia and Latin America, at present. The growth has been gradual and steadfast, at more than 30% each month with substantial revenues.

Our products are constantly being created with to aiders with more amenities they require for competing with larger brands. Increasing their sales is one of our main goals. Simultaneously, we are trying to expand into newer locations and strengthen our reach in important markets.

Developing Blend as the number one ally of content creators and e-commerce sellers and helping them create high-quality content, in an easy and fun way, is the future we envision.

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

Never sleep on your dreams, if you have an idea, build it. You’ll regret it if you don’t do something. You need to understand that things start when you start them. Study your market, and make sure you’re selling an experience behind any product or service.

We have also learned in the last two years to fall in love with the problem and not the solution. The solution and product are transient and evolving. It should keep on changing and what we build today can turn out to be completely irrelevant tomorrow, However, as long as we have an eye on the problem and a deep empathy for the user, we can keep iterating and churning out better solutions.

Never sleep in your dreams. If an idea strikes you, work wholeheartedly on it. Regret, as they say, is often harsher than failure. Things begin only when you are up to the task. Study your market, and make sure you’re selling an experience behind any product or service.

Something that is surely a take-away and also advice, is that stay dedicated and passionate towards the problem and not the solutions. That is a vital key to achievements in the future. Solutions are transitory, one needs to identify the problems. User focus is important, they are always your priority. Being empathetic to their cause will help the company grow.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Aside from the most commonly used tools like Google Docs, we use Mixpanel for analytics, for retention, and a few other developer tools like GitHub.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

  1. Paul Graham’s Essays
  2. Lenny’s podcasts and newsletters
  3. Strachery
  4. This week in Startups

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

Don’t give up, if you believe that you can do it, do it! Self-doubt prevents you from succeeding. Failure is not something you should be afraid of, every failure is a lesson to learn from and do better next time. Always focus on solving problems and truly caring about your clients. Have a clear vision of what you want to do and create a step-by-step plan to achieve your goals. Every day and every effort counts.

Everyone would advise this, but we cannot stress enough how important it is actually to never give up! If you have the grit that you can do it, and a couple of equally enthusiastic minds to help you through, hang on to that dream.

It is only a dream as long as you achieve it. As soon as you reach the destination, it wouldwillnother milestone in the journey of your accomplishments. Focus on problem-solving and assisting your clients. You can go only so far without humanity and humility. Keep your focus, unfettered, and plan accordingly. Do not forget that each day counts towards that milestone.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are looking to hire community growth interns in France and Computer Vision Engineer in India.

Where can we go to learn more?

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