This is a follow up story for PortraitFlip LLC. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I am Sunny Choudhary, a 25-year-old co-founder of PortraitFlip with a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai.
For three years PortraitFlip e-commerce has been serving as the bridge between artists and customers who need Handmade Portraits.
We deliver handmade portraits globally with a major clientele being the USA. We provide all types of medium for portraits from Charcoal, Oil, Acrylic, Pencil, Color Pencil, and Watercolor.
Interestingly, we never thought of making this big. It all started as a college side hustle because we needed money to fulfill our whims and fancies.
When you covered us last year, the company was yielding 3.5crs with capital of merely Rs. 23,000. Today, after three years of launch, PortraitFlip has a turnover of 8crs. We have seen a growth of 60% in the last year.
What makes PortraitFlip stand out even today is our 100% customer satisfaction guarantee.
We not only provide free shipping worldwide but we also give our customers the privilege of getting unlimited revisions of their painting and provide them with a 100% money-back guarantee.
We make sure to choose the best artists across the world so that there are no doubts in the hearts of our customers. PortraitFlip firmly believes that the customer is the King and to get the best sales, it is important to provide the best service.
Quality is our priority and a hassle-free customer experience is the driving factor.
Funding is not always an option but bootstrapping is.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The business, in terms of revenue, has definitely made a bigger space. Since most of our traffic comes from organic marketing, we decided to have a team of digital marketing strategists work on the website front.
One aspect that we were lacking from the beginning was our Social Media Marketing which took a boom this year. Instagram and Pinterest were the two most growing platforms that got in traffic. Social Media is a GenZ concept and as difficult to understand as the generation itself. But we also realized that the only person that could do this the best was a GenZ.
And so happened. We hired a social media strategist who worked diligently on growing our social presence and creating a brand name on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. From nothing, to getting a considerable amount of website traffic, this is how our social media gain looks like.
We are also trying to make space for our brand on Tiktok. However, that has been one of the biggest challenges for us. Art market has a lot of influence on Tiktok and while we knew that we could have made it big there, we hail from India. TikTok is clearly banned here and so became our idea of expanding on TikTok.
But, like I always say “Outsourcing is the Key”, we outsourced TikTok Marketing to a Social Media Marketing agency in the USA. Voila! We are now slowly progressing towards a better reach on TikTok as well.
Any startup is a series of ups and downs. You either learn from it or give up completely. I would not say that PortraitFlip did not face any setbacks since last year but it is a part of growing. Our traffic saw a considerable decline this year and we had to rely on Ads. However, other things like Instagram and Email marketing worked out for us. We practiced Email marketing the entire year and I can say that we generated 20% of our sales this year through Email Marketing. Instagram stories have also brought in traffic.
We often forget that Social Media, although a marketing platform, is a great customer service tool as well. If catered with the right responses, you can generate a decent sale from Social platforms in spite of not having a shop on it.
Which brings me to the point of keeping existing customers happy. The Gifting industry does not give you a lot of scope to retain customers but it does give a lot of space to acquire new customers. PortraitFlip’s mantra is to keep your customers happy. Your customers are never wrong. Even if they are, they still deserve to be treated in a way that keeps them happy. As long as your customers are jubilant, you keep generating sales.
One of the biggest challenges right now is our wavering traffic. It is getting a little difficult to understand exactly what is hitting our website but we are constantly trying to make the user experience of our website more user friendly. The in-house team is trying to make things work and we are assertive that this year we will see an increase in organic traffic again.
You are not an expert in everything. Outsourcing can make a lot of things simple for you. By the time you learn and implement something, the time will be gone.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
PortraitFlip has learnt the biggest lessons by making mistakes and we as a team are never scared of making mistakes. One of them was the idea of shifting from WordPress to PHP. Our biggest dream has always been to create an aesthetically pleasing and hassle-free Order Flow through PHP. With that thought, we decided to hire a set of highly skilled website developers and put in a lot of resources to make the team strong.
Unfortunately, it did not work out for us. It was saddening that all the efforts and resources went in vain. It can be counted as a poor decision on our part but that did lead to one good thing. We are revamping our Order Flow through WordPress and are trying to achieve a similar appearance.
Which also takes me to another very careless mistake we fell prey to and is worth mentioning. The making changes to the order process of our website occurred to us in the month of July, 2021. Without thinking twice, we started burning our midnight oil towards making designs and layouts for the website. By the time we could finish off the work, time was already hitting our peak season. Tampering with the website during peak felt risky and totally not worth it.
And so, once again, we had to put the website changes aside and focus on catering the needs of our customers. It took us a while to realize that our decisions were impulsive and not thought through.
It often happens with entrepreneurs that their dream drives them more than logical boundaries. Dream office, dream team, dream website and sometimes the dream product. The force is so strong that entrepreneurs end up falling prey to it and forget their limitations. One needs to know when the time is right. We learnt it the hard way, but if any entrepreneur is reading this, I would like him to know that you will get there. However colorful the dream looks, you need to have patience and stop taking impulsive decisions towards it.
PortraitFlip has always been very proactive when it comes to learning new things. It may sound a little off to people who do not like reading or learning, but one of the coolest things that we launched in 2021 was a library of books and courses for the team. The access is given to all our co-workers who can pull out any book they want to read or take up any course they want to learn. It just does not limit to reading books that grow business but we have also kept a few self-help and fictional books. The courses range from sprouting out to lessons like “Learn to play guitar.”
It has worked wonders for our co-workers and their mental wellness too.
Another cool update for PortraitFlip is the fact that we, and I say this with utter pride, are now a registered company in the United States of America.
Things went a little haywire in the hiring front too and we ended up hiring a lot of wrong people. But again, you learn to understand people with time. And although there have been a few wrong hirings, there were a few right ones too.
In our previous meeting, I had told you about the logistical blunder that happened in the year 2020. Bright side, we had all the logistical errors under control and worked out way smoothly this time.
All in all, 2021 has also been a pretty good year not just in terms of revenue growth but also in terms of learning.
A piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs - keep a constant eye on moving trends and make very smart use of social media. One does not know, but social media is a boon to B2C.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
There are few things planned that we need to prioritize. Social media reaches the top of the list. We have gotten better than before but that is not where we want to stop. With TikTok, Instagram and Facebook working for us, we are planning to expand further in those areas.
We are working towards bringing back our organic traffic back and look forward to a dramatic increase in the traffic too. With Google’s Page Experience update and the urge to constantly make it smooth for our customers, we are also looking forward to changing the order process. The idea is to make it as hassle-free and systematic as possible so that our users have no complaints or issues while navigating through our website or placing an order.
PortraitFlip is also looking forward to hiring people on every front. The stronger the team, the more the company grows.
It is difficult to state a clear cut long term goal because it is heavily influenced by the decisions we take.
If put correctly, achieving our short term goal is our long term goal.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Groucho Marx wasn’t a fool to say that books are a man’s best friend. It serves as a guiding light in every failing moment.
One of the most recent books that I have read is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. It teaches you to define metrics to evaluate the actions and success of those actions. Once defined, you perform according to those metrics. It also help you decide upon things you really want to give f*cks about.
It is a challenge for any budding entrepreneur to make the right decisions. When to say yes and when to say no. The Subtle art helps you prioritize, evaluate the returns of those priorities and take action accordingly. It has helped me make a lot of strong decisions without brainstorming much.
Another book that I have often talked about is Zero To One. I keep going back to that book because it has taught me to be ready for any given situation that arises in the business.
Going off topic, one of the major self help books has been The Road Less Traveled. While Zero to One makes you a better entrepreneur, Road Less Travelled makes you a better human. It has taught me to be welcoming to perspectives and be open minded to ups and downs. It caught me off guard and has taught me to live a mentally and spiritually balanced lifestyle.
A few other books to name have been Cashvertising and Building a Story Brand which have guided me every step of the way. We often read one book and depend on it for all our answers. But that shouldn’t be so. Reading as many books as possible. Reading to find answers to the same question from different books can really create a lot of difference in what you think and how you behave.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Every business struggles through their own set of hurdles. Each entrepreneur learns by taking the risk of starting their own business. And there is not a better teacher than their business itself but certain things can be kept in mind.
- Bootstrap your way up. Funding is not always an option but bootstrapping is. Don’t end up using the profit for something that is not needed at that moment. If needed, don’t be salaried for a couple of years but make sure to put in the right amount of profits at the right place.
- Times are absolutely uncertain. Make sure that you have all the resources ready to remote work anytime, anywhere. Don’t attach yourself to comfort because you may find yourself sitting in the lounge room of the airport and working. Covid has created a mess of business but the only way to fight through it is to be comfortable working in any given situation.
- Be ready for the worse. Calculate your risks. Always have a Plan B ready.
- Outsourcing is the key. You are not an expert in everything. Outsourcing can make a lot of things simple for you. By the time you learn and implement something, the time will be gone. It is better to hire experts to do that for you.
- Keep trying to retain your talent. As an entrepreneur, you may have a lot on your platter. But as an individual you have a few talents. Always try to retain it, however tough it gets.
As young entrepreneurs, we often make mistakes. But there is a thin line between positive mistakes and negative ones. The one that has topped my list is showing off. As soon as our business takes a flight, we end up buying expensive phones, cars and sometimes even homes. I am not giving an idea that doing so is wrong. What is wrong is showing off. Because like I said, business is uncertain and it demands humble people.
One of the other most common mistakes people make is to lack patience and give up. Setting up a business, progressing from investment to profit and finally making it big takes time. There are going to be distressing times and breaking points. Pause for a bit, go take a trip, don’t meet people for a few days and curl up in your bed but do not stop.
Giving up results in bigger regrets!
Third most importantly. Do not be a spendthrift. Control your urges to buy certain things which can wait. Instead save, save for the company. Save for your team. Spending on right things and deciding what is right should be the first step towards any kind of monetary expenditure.
While all this remains, there are two most essential pieces of advice that I would like to offer:
- Don’t be secretive about your startup. Be open about it, tell as many people as possible. Don’t be scared that someone else will steal your idea. It does not work that way. Success comes to people who don’t give up, who keep coming back to give it in the face of troubles and hardships. Keep trying and the best shall always conquer.
- Learn to say no. No to friends partying in Goa, no to new gadgets, no to spending uncontrollably. No to all things that are not going to help you in any way. It will get difficult and you may end up with a handful of people by your side but it is worth it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We keep on hiring continuously across departments. The following designations are mostly available:
- Content Writer
- Graphic Designer
- Social Media Marketing Executive
If you are interested you can send your cv to [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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