Cover Image for Episode 46: The Art Of Scaling An E-Commerce Platform With Creativity
Issac Wesley of Inkmonk

The Art Of Scaling With Creativity-How Issac Wesley Has Built And Scaled Inkmonk

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Here Are Some Excerpts From The Episode:

Medium and Small Businesses: Backbone of The Indian Economy

India is home to lots of medium and small businesses that are run by individuals and families. These are called Mom and Pop stores. We have all had wedding invitations, business cards, posters etc., printed. When we need any of these, we turn to the neighborhood printer. But have we ever wondered how these work?

How Small Businesses Play A Key Role In The Growth Of The Indian Economy
How Small Businesses Play A Key Role In The Growth Of The Indian Economy

If there was someone that did not have a printer around them, how could they get their stuff printed? This particular analogy could be extended to a lot of local Indian businesses and professionals.

Let us look at the Indian Print Industry, where small and medium enterprises together make this industry a key contributor to the Indian Economy.

The Indian Print Industry

Indian Print industry has been flourishing at it’s own remarkable pace. All set to boom further, in India due to available technology, resources at a very economical cost, the future for the Indian print sector is bright. Also, the government is encouraging foreign direct investment into this sector.

The Indian Printing Industry has constantly evolved for the last 15 years. Consequently, it has flourished at the rate of 12 percent per year, which consists of 2,50,000 broad, moderate, and compact printers. 

How Small Businesses Play A Key Role In The Growth Of The Indian Economy
Projected Growth Of India’s Print Industry

The print industry is delivering and also promising at the same time! Many start-ups in these respective fields have scaled enormously.

Thus, from Opticians to Laboratories to Furniture Stores to Doctors, these independent, local Indian Businesses and Professionals make up the bulk of India’s small and medium businesses. Yet, apart from Oyo, no company has truly either tapped into their capacity or their potential. Or even acted as a bridge to use technology to help them organize and go mainstream. InkMonk is however an exception.

Our guest for today, Issac Wesley of Inkmonk, has not just scaled, but has shown what the art of scaling with Creativity really means!

The Art Of Scaling With Creativity: Story of Issac Wesley Of Inkmonk

Issac Wesley of Inkmonk
Issac Wesley of Inkmonk

From dreaming of being an engineer to then being an entrepreneur, the story of Issac Wesley from Inkmonk is truly remarkable. Low scores in mathematics led this young tech enthusiast to take up a design course rather than engineering. It was the artist in the family ie Issac’s father, who inspired him to start Inkmonk and the rest is history. Focused on small businesses who need printing of visiting cards, flyers, custom packaging, t-shirts, labels and stickers, Inkmonk has come a long way.

Inkmonk Logo
Inkmonk Logo

Listen to Issac Wesley from Inkmonk talk about the art of scaling an E-Commerce platform, growth tactics, his entrepreneurial and personal journey, Printo acquisition, and much more!

This episode of the Maharajas of Scale Podcast is not one to be missed!

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Here Are Some Excerpts From The Episode:

People for us in our market first of all cared about that “Aha” moment, it is when they open the package see the product touch and feel that experience so if that is failing everything will lose.

Issac Wesley 35:17
Importance Of Customer Satisfaction
Customer Satisfaction Is Key!


Usually in marketplaces, people tend to run after GMV, Gross Merchandise Value as a vanity metric. But, eventually there are other important metrics like retention and you know, your EBITDA and your own revenue.

Issac Wesley 01:25:36

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Listen To The Father Of Indian E-Commerce Talk About His Entrepreneurial Journey: Season 1, Episode 4

Show Notes

Follow Issac Wesley on LinkedIn (@issacjohnwesley)

Visit Inkmonk (inkmonk.com)

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Word Cloud for Episode 46: The Art Of Scaling An E-Commerce Platform With Creativity
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Episode Transcript

(Automated Transcript)

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

building, problem, product, company, printing, india, design, printer, started, orders, print, t shirt, stickers, people, feel, years, put, called, market, journey

SPEAKERS

Krishna Jonnakadla, Issac Wesley

Krishna Jonnakadla  00:02

Everyone, this is your host Krishna Jonnakadla from Maharajas of Scale. Today there's a young entrepreneur Isaac Wesley, with us. And the startup that we are going to talk about is Inkmonk. For those of you who heard our earlier episodes, I've discussed this possibility of bringing India's vast set of mom and pop establishments onto the internet bandwagon and actually tech enabling them. I didn't until I actually chanced upon in Inkmonk, I actually thought that was just a pie in the sky, kind of an idea. But not only has Inkmonk done that successfully. And they've done a whole host of other things as well beyond that, I don't want to get ahead of Isaac here, Isaac, welcome to the show. love what you're doing with Inkmonk.

Issac Wesley  00:52

Thanks, Krishna happy to be here. And, you know, pleasure to join the show and share about Inkmonk, and the journey I had.

Krishna Jonnakadla  00:59

wonderful. I know Inkmonk started some time ago, it's not every day, at least in the Indian Space, that we see that people who build something like this have been there and continue there. Take us to the very beginning. How did it all start? And what were some of the initial thoughts that went into launching Inkmonk?

Issac Wesley  01:24

Sure. So I would like to go a little bit rewind with before Inkmonk idea started off, because that's where the context started. So basically, a middle class guy born and brought up in Chennai, and I wanted to do engineering badly. And I ended up doing Arts and Science, because that's where I ended up being with my marks that I caught in my 12th standard. So I had very poor mathematics score. And when I went to engineering, I, I by default, didn't get a seat. So I had to switch over to taking a design course, taking visual communication, do it for three years. But naturally, I'm a little bit of a tech enthusiast computers where windows 95 was introduced in my home, back in 1997. So my dad is a an artist slash, printer, he has a small printing unit. So that also is somewhat influential towards what I'd built Inkmonk. Right. So but I'll come to that story later. So being a tech enthusiast wanted to do a lot in technology, but during my school days itself, I used to buy an after your C and c++ programming. I like Java a little so I used to collect college notebooks and go to my school library. And library has a very good computer and there and then non coding there. So while I was doing this, I wanted to passionately get into tech space, right? And data was booming at that time. Red buses were starting and flip cards were starting at that time. 2008 and 10. Right. So this is where I believe that I need to sink a little more teeth. But there is a different angle, which I come from because I'm not a hardcore techie guy. So since design is my background, and design is something which I naturally learned from a very young age. I was very good at front end, then, you know, building an entire full full, full stack developer. So but that Nisha that I was was I was creating a good level of portfolios, creating products, which I like launching them in marketplaces, and seeing some traction. So this kind of enticed two of my other friends who were in Chennai, back then were building another company called ballot kit. And this is in 2012 13, when I just finished college, and they said, Hey, Isaac, you're a good designer, why don't you join our team? We are building something called valid kit. And we are planning to do this big. And that's when I came to know about the new fund a word called startup, right. So back then I didn't know what is a startup and then I used to work there for a while and then create the SAS products. They were building a SaaS product by back then, which is for airline companies to send the mobile passport through an API. Right. So and interestingly, this was the first company that got funded by 500 startups in India. Okay, so finally startups if, you know for the viewers, it's one of the second best accelerator in the world, right startup accelerator in the world, after Y Combinator that many of you guys have heard about. So we we went through that program for three and a half months. And, you know, it was a very interesting journey. But eventually the idea was selling to enterprises. But you know, we had to do a lot of micro pivots, and eventually thought that this is not going to work in a big scale. So the company had to pivot in different areas. So I had quit that company. And there was another company in Chennai called hacker rank. Back then it was called as interview Street. It This was around 2014, or 13. And I joined them as a first designer building for this SaaS product, right? And so they said, Hey, Issac, I saw the design of ballad kit, it's brilliant. Why don't you join as a designer, you also have a good tech interest. So let's build something together. So I joined us, I think the eighth or the ninth employee there in hacker rank. And when I left, it was a 25 member team, I left in one and a half years, hacker rank was just incubated by the top most incubator in the world called Y Combinator. Right? So and interestingly back then I didn't know what is this incubator and not right I altogether I know incubator is this chicken and poultry farm are there. So that's, that's my definition of incubator, but this startup incubator where they take startups, nurture them for three, four months, and build them for a demo, and then produce them to VCs in front of the panel and then get funded. Right. So it was a very, very interesting game at that point of time. And you know, very interesting to see all the journeys of a startup, being in a crucible, right to see from, you know, starting up to choosing the idea validation, prototype, positioning, scaling, funding, hiring, firing, all these things, right. So I felt Enough is enough. So I have learned from two big incubators in the world. So let me start my own. So hacker rank was a company in Bangalore, and then I quit bank, quit Bangalore and went back to Chennai, I wanted to do something of my own. And I took an idea which is very unsexy. Right? So which is very boring, to be honest. But to me, it was very interesting, because printing is a very traditional industry, it's 100 year old industry. There is no technology there too much, maybe the maximum technologies in the design of critique, but it's a very mechanical world, right? And, for me, I decided, Okay, let me take this market, which is close to my heart, because my dad was doing printing for the past 25 years in my and that's from when I was born, right. So I felt something that I can do to this industry. And we started off building small, small products and starting launching in the website. And I used to create this small quickie cookie products. And, you know, even even before having a website, I used to sell it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. While this was happening, I met my co founder called Surya so he was just leaving Amazon. And I came to know Him through mutual friends and hackathons that were happening in Chennai. So I said, Hey, sorry, I'm building this website, which can sell good customized print products. I'm starting with stickers t shirts, and it is getting orders. So but I'm not able to handle it, because I don't have a website for it. So can you come and you know, can you help me in code. So we were actually fiddling around with a project for around six months, not really calling as a ourselves as co founders. And we were building Inkmonk. And back then it used to have a different name called sticky stamp, because we started with stickers, and then we rebranded it. So while we were building this, we never knew what is marketplaces at that time, right? So, we were this these products were actually printed in my father's manufacturing unit, and then we were shipping it out to India. So while I was doing this, I came to know that there is a common trend or a pattern with all the printers suppliers in India, what is that common thing is they all have underutilized machine capacity. So they usually, you know, by large infrastructures, nice missionaries, but if you see on a week by week day basis, right. So, three days will have good orders, and they will keep you know, printing them and usually in bulk. But the last two days will have no orders or which will have spare capacity. So this is when I felt like maybe if we can utilize these underutilized machine capacity and convert ourselves to be more like, you know, the Amazon or the Flipkart of the world, and not really put ourselves into the logistics of printing. Maybe this could be a great you know, modern model right. So That's when this idea started. And we ideally built Inkmonk as a as a as an open marketplace, and then we moved it to a closed marketplace. We listed around 550 suppliers inside Inkmonk. And we went out in the market. And yeah, I will leave it to you further more questions which you would like to steer in this conversation. But this is how Inkmonk originated and started, it was more of a thing that I personally like to know that I know a little that it was not even passion, right? It was this like, hey, there's I see, I saw an opportunity, an opportunity, which I felt like, Okay, this is something I can I know and I can do. Maybe this is unsexy to the world. But let me do it. Right. So that's how it started off.

Krishna Jonnakadla  10:50

So when you spoke about Windows 95, I suppose in 1997, you were What? Barely eight or nine?

Issac Wesley  10:59

 Yeah.

Krishna Jonnakadla  10:59

Okay, interesting. The funny thing is, I started playing around, right around the time basic existed. And I still remember windows 3.1. And when you went to the command prompt, you could do I used to play around with all the commands. And once, the worst thing that you could do is delete star dot star, and it would wipe out all the program files back then you had to put back the OS disk back in and then rebuild the entire, the hard disk was what barely a few mb 64 Mb back then. And so when you mentioned windows 95, that brought back memories, and I was doing it on my cousin's computer. And the funny thing was, he was running a CAD design shop. And once I did that, and all his designs crashed, and he had to repay that CAD designer all over again, to recreate those designs. Thankfully, some, some part of it existed in backup floppies. You remember those old biggish floppy disks that existed back then huge, huge ones. So interesting. And it is not every day that you run into a person that is actually more of a designer and an inspired techie. And I think maybe you got the sequence, right? Do you feel that today? You've got the sequence, right? Because the way I see it is, the techies like to believe that the magic is all in the tech. And the designers like to believe that the magic is all in the design. And the people who actually build products will know that each one has their own role. Each one can create its own magic, for instance, for our product that we are building right now. We keep we keep reimagining we know that there is so much technology at the backend. The fundamental question that we keep asking ourselves is, what is that design view that gives the user a sort of an instant, intuitive feeling of what the product can do for them? It's a very loaded question. But so for instance, and for me, the benchmark app is the Uber screen. On an Uber screen, you usually have overlay text in a lot of other apps, click here, and then you bring this up and click here. And you do that I've never seen an overlay text on an Uber app, fundamentally, because one is to their good luck, GPS existed, and our own location on a GPS map existed for quite some time by the time they started. And I don't even think you Uber was the first one to invent that interface where it would show you cabs around you, but just seeing that particular screen, and taking that and seeing maybe a car, which is a little away and just gives you that instant information, right saying, okay, hey, I'm here, there are cars around me. That's all you want the user to know. But that is a design. Of course, when we go into the backend, each of the cars has the Uber app, they have turned their GPS on. So the server is fetching all of their location information, and it's populating. So both of them are interacting, but they both have, but I still do feel getting designed, right can solve a lot more problems than just code. Just code. So do you feel looking back at your journey, we'll come into the income journey a little bit. Has has this given you a slight edge the fact that although maybe at some point in time you entertain the regret that you didn't get into engineering, which you badly wanted to, but the fact that you went down Designed first, and you're more of a designer and an inspired techie, have you ever feel felt that that was more of an advantage later?

Issac Wesley  15:09

Yeah, it was actually a great advantage to be honest. Because as and when we are progressing in time that like, I've seen it for the last 10 years, what I'll have had this innovation curve, right. So we usually have this curve of innovation where, you know, it starts off with something, but there is two weeks of everything will keep happening every three years or four years, or, you know, in sequence of that, right. But if you notice in technology with specifically with tech, and encoding, and you know, creating the tech part of it, right, it has only become more and more easier, navigatable and faster. And it's getting more and more easier and faster as we speak. Right. But if you see in design, it's getting more and more, I would say, simpler to understand and know that because we are we are bombarded with different distractions in front of us with different UI elements in front of us. But the most simplest way, can you solve it? And that's the hardest part right? design is actually, according to me, is not making it things more complex, which is the hardest part of it. Right? So how do you the example that you gave, like, when you open an Uber? What is the best way I can communicate that there are cars around, right have a simple map with cars in front of you, it was like actually, like a game like a virtual environment. Right? Like, like, you must have maybe Uber mimic did from the games that we played in Grand Theft Auto city, or all the, you know, the the map based games that we had. So that was what design should be solving. So I guess what was an advantage for me is because I see everything through a design angle, I see very everything very closer to the customer, because the tech is something people don't see the real tech. Right. So in while you're typing in the keyboard, it auto suggests you that is tech. But the way it auto suggests and that that the visual appeal, whether you're swiping or, you know, clicking, all those things is designed and user experience. So I feel because I am being more of design centric first person and tech is also the backing of me. It gives me an advantage to be more closer to the customers and more closer, closer to the users in that way. You know, I see that's, that's a very great advantage for me. And you're usually innovations happen here, right when you are more and more closer to customers. So that's how I see it.

Krishna Jonnakadla  17:53

Right? When you said the 2x innovation, if you were to read up about how more scored the other telegraph eventually ended up becoming the iPod. That journey we don't actually make that Association, the iPods credit predecessor was the Walkman. Right? So the actually there were there was an interim product called the MiniDisc MD, which the sort of it's only created. And then prior to that was the disc, compact disc player, and then the Walkman. And then prior to that was the basic boombox and then the boombox there is a whole host of but after the iPod happened, then acceleration because once things got electronic into the digital world, then that it went from here and then all the way till here, but all eventually innovation actually builds on top of all the work that others have done in the past, right, which is why the acceleration happens because you don't have to reinvent the wheel as much as what other people did. So let's jump into the ink long story and I'm glad you went into detail about what happened with whitey Kate and but I also want to get into What went through your mind when that got shattered. Right? I don't know if you saw that as a job only. Therefore, if you saw that as an outcome, even if you did see that as a job only. We don't see businesses going bankrupt or shutting down for some reason on a regular basis. right because if it is mom and pop establishment, it's a totally different matter because the issues are different. did that affect your psyche at all? or How did you take it?

Issac Wesley  19:44

Okay, so you're in the context ofWalletKit.

Krishna Jonnakadla  19:48

Why did you get okay what like you said? Yeah, okay. Yeah. Yeah.

Issac Wesley  19:54

Yeah. Got it. Yeah. So, WalletKit was a product, which was more have a very enterprise in nature and it we are building an api layer for right price products right so kevin and rama kanta two founders who actually built that company together and so i joined it as a designer and when we saw that product it was very clear like you know all our all all the founders are in my age so imagine everyone 23 year kids right i used to call them still kids so talking to airline companies like american airlines and you know trying to get them on board to use our api to send the violets the passbook the the tickets the airline tickets inside our app called apple has just launched an app called racebook app right so we built this layer we did not even to talk to enterprise companies but we thought the market okay this product right with and we also piggyback because apple is building there is already validation to it right so but that was the terrible mistake you know that we learned that you know markets are are the only source of truth whether this will this product is needed or not right i feel most companies fail there that they build a product which people eventually don't want right so that's that's when we realized that this is not going to be of a heavy enterprise model then we were trying to pitch it to other companies but eventually we said okay you know we had a great experience doing find at startups got into the incubator got a lot of network so let's pivot and do something else in life and that's when i moved on to another.

Krishna Jonnakadla  21:46

Did it affect you at all but you used to you it sounds like you were you felt really rejuvenated by actually having been part of the journey itself.

Issac Wesley  21:55

Yeah it was it never affected all the three of us so all in all were like first time it okay so all of us and we were just out of college so imagine getting you know 40 $50,000 funding in the us in silicon valley and asking them to ask to come to silicon valley and be in the program for three months and we felt that money was like Free hai free hai for us.

Krishna Jonnakadla  22:23

Interesting i want to touch upon the market is the ultimate truth factor a little bit i think some amount of qualification is essential for that there are two kinds of products or products a product that imagines a problem and a product that actually solves a problem today we live in we live in so as paul graham in famously said we wanted flying cars and we got 140 characters instead so it's sort of a swipe against twitter that he takes and i think he rarely tweets so in effect saying that innovation even if it's happening it's really not happening in the right places which which actually tells us that there is some truth to the fact that market is not everything people need to have hypothesis people need to have intuition to build something so for instance if you have a sofa with a heating heating stove in it now that's innovation but is there is it really solving a problem that's that's a question but if people are actually sitting down next to us next to us so far it's got a mixer in it if it is built for bars now after observing human behavior there now it is actually solving a problem nobody may have established a market for it yet so now there are there are two examples of nestle when initially they launched coffee when they wanted to nestle is more of a coffee company as opposed to a tea company when japan is was a trading tea drinking nation at one point in time and when they went there nobody was drinking coffee and you know the normal philosophy of market is right would say that okay there's no coffee drinker here so therefore looks like we should not even launch but they did they they worked with it for close to seven years in half a generation they built a huge coffee audience even the gramophone which edison created although the edison edison's version was very very sort of crude when he created had no takers for the first 10 years of its creation only after recording artists started putting music candle slight improvement happened that innovation really took off so in some sense i think there are two parts i think there is in some sense you are ahead a sometimes you are ahead and maybe the product itself needs A little more improvement for somebody to say, Okay, I think this is useful for me as long as it's solving a problem, as opposed to it being just an invention of the mind. So interesting. So let's jump into the, I want to touch upon this concept called founder market fit, which you may be familiar with it. And here, my question really is, and you, you, you said, the problems of the printing industry, people find it unsexy. And I think that's more to do with the maturity of the Indian industry, as opposed to the industry itself not being unsexy or not being sexy. There is there is a company called Kinkos. In the US, you may be familiar with it, unlike what you have built with Inkmonk, Kinkos, built every location by itself, and it was so hugely successful, that eventually FedEx acquired cutting costs in a multi billion dollar deal. What it served was pent up demand. And we also know the story of vistaprint, how Vistaprint scaled as well. So there is demand there. We don't need to do real tests here. And like you said, Mom, and pop shops. So what was unique? Because you were immersed in your father's business to a certain extent, you had certain maybe innate understanding, would you say that understanding of that business, gave you some insight into the printing industries problems, and therefore, in essence, there was some founder market fit when you initially started working on it? And that's also the reason why the idea resonated with you.

Issac Wesley  26:43

Yeah, so it was a bit of a natural progression, I would say. So eventually, when I was, you know, sitting around with in my house with a lot of inks and design and plates, and, you know, the all the products around print, right, so naturally, it was literally being tuned to, Hey, I know this some this industry pretty well. So can I see if I can innovate a little bit here in this industry? So I would put it like if I was a doctor, right? And if I was also a techie, then I would have said, you know, maybe and if I let's say if I'm a orthodontist, right and i would have innovated how people wear braces, can I build 3d technology on braces right? So, this is similar like, because I was there in that environment tuned in that environment for many many years. Naturally, it came to me that maybe I will take something so it was also going against the fact right, can I build So what I mean by sexy is sexy ideas are like, at that point of time, in 2015, if you remember, all the ecommerce companies in India were getting like left, right and center of funding, right? So the oils of the world to the travel industries of the India and you know, all your hospitality, ecommerce, everything right, so was getting a big hype. And, you know, in the last one decade, if we see the highest investment that we have done by FDI, in India itself would have been more towards this ecommerce segment. And that you and me agree, right? But But when I took print and print plus e commerce as a model, suddenly it was no, it was like, there was a small cringe among people who were looking at this model, right. But I did not believe in you know, external money than I believed in customer money to start with. So I was actually bootstrapping for about 10 months. And while I was also building the product, so I was profitable by back then. But then I feel that there is this leverage that each enterpreneurs do have like found when you say founder market fit right? That over many years maybe to start with you cannot do anything right so when I started you know, maybe think what what I would add maybe it's drawing maybe it's painting maybe it's something else maybe electronics maybe automobile something right. So, choose something random or choose something which I you feel that is comfortable to you and then you started but as in when you progress in the career, right? So maybe five years down the line, you would have you know, resonated one pattern of the industry again and again and again, right. So which will give you more deeper insight about whether this is working or not. Right, and in which which areas have that gaps in the market, right. And these intrapreneurs I believe are the people who are very smart entrepreneurs or people who find these gaps between very precisely and say, Okay, this is an area like you touched upon this in famous article by Paul Graham, right. There is another article by Paul Graham called a scale perfect, right? scale perfect is basically ideas which we don't find, which which is a problem that is there. But we don't find it interesting to actually work on it. Right. So what he tells is, like, the great great example is stripe, right? stripe is an online payment gateway, which is taking the world and stripe was built on and very boring infrastructure of banking IT infrastructure, right. So before stripe was built, they went to 40-50 banks and built API layers for them, and said, This is not how you run a bank in technology world. So here's an API layer that I'm building for you to clean up the backend to clean up the database. Once they did that. 40 banks, right, then they built a layer abstract layer called Stripe, which is developer friendly, which is so easy and and it took them at least four or five years, the both the founders to build that. So what Paul Graham said was, there are very painful problems like these things, right? The payment gateway infrastructure. In India, there are even bigger problems, still, logistics is not the greatest, we still are running behind bluedart and FedEx and, you know, trying to build a layer on layer on top of it trying to solve problem after problem and put people on top of problems. Still, cancer is not cured, right? So perhaps Paul Graham talks about it, there are enough problems in the world. But because it is hard, I just don't go there. Right. So that is what I feel as like founder market fit. So take an industry but first by intuition by carrier of choice or by, but go ahead for at least three, four years, build some momentum gained that knowledge gained that depth of it, and then you know, start again, and when you feel if you would like to start again. That's when you know, the depth of the industry would come into the picture, right? So and I think this will be motivated by a couple of things. One, you will be a little more ahead in the income curve. So because you're also building your personal life. So that will also give you some freedom to actually experiment on few things. So So yeah, for for me, I think that was an advantage. And I feel certain founders who have were friends of mine was building a few other startups have taken their experience as an advantage and said, Hey, in their pitch deck, it was very clear, right? Why are you the founder of this company? So they would have said, I worked in this bank, and they are if they're a FinTech company today, right. So I worked in this industry. So today, I'm at this FinTech company. So that's, that's how I see it.

Krishna Jonnakadla  32:51

Excellent. So I guess you either live some life experience that gives you founder market fit, in some sense, or you can establish founder market fit by taking passion three to four years, because unless and until you go, at some depth, collect some anthology of problems, you don't see connections, because most solutions are like a combination of multiple, low level problems, which when you elevate it at a high level. So in the stripe example. I still remember for our OTT startup back then we were when we were trying to integrate a payment gateway Stripe was still very, very early, it was still in beta stage. And the only choice we had was to go to bank of america and Bank of America would. And what if a customer came from some other bank, so you couldn't accept all cards in one place, the chance that that was still a problem. And our developers would take about a month to do the whole integration. And, and then when stripe actually launched, they took that entire one month, eventually that one month came down to seven days, a lot of banks simplified it, but stripe actually made it 30 minutes. So what you have given is an insight into how it became 30 minutes or even 30 seconds, right to put those couple of lines and sign up for an account. So it required all of that heavy lifting, of putting that infrastructure layer that would do all of that for them. But let's jump into the beginning. And when you mentioned you wanted to you looked at the underutilized capacity. But that was not necessarily the starting point, isn't it? Because you when you launched, you essentially took your design ethosce a little bit you designed a few products you directly sold them as opposed to building a marketplace of sorts. Was that a conscious choice? Or was that what you felt? This is what I know this is what is possible? Let me start here.

Issac Wesley  34:57

Yeah, yeah, but very good question. So eventually Krishna what we were trying to sell is commodity products right so this products have to be pleasing enough and enough people don't care whether you are a marketplace or you're an e commerce website do i need to purchase online or do i need to purchase offline right people for us in our market first of all cared about that aha moment is when they open the package see the product touch and feel that experience so if that is failing everything will lose whatever you're building whichever channel you're selling whichever infrastructure you run upon is going to fail right so that's when we we were we when i started when with my team we're very clear about you know tech problems and take products which had problems right and the first product which we took was a laptop sticker okay that's why we were called as sticky stand before ink mark you know what problem laptop sticker had was first of all if you want a die cut laptop sticker back in 2014 i don't know if it's still there local printer will ask you to print around 1000 pieces because they need they would write i need to make a die and for you know for that will cost you around 2000 bucks and then they have to print at least a bulk order of 1000-2000 pieces and then making charges by blade charges all these things come into the picture you will still not be able to see a sample of it or how it's going to touch and feel until the entire product is done and then finally given to you which is the product which you have to live by right you cannot say boy sorry i don't want this product at that moment right so i realized that okay this product has a lot of problems so let me solve that right so then i did a lot of r&d and buying materials from china importing machines from us i had some money which i saved in hacker rank around the around three four lakhs and then imported that machine and then made you know the proportion was to the market was i will give you 10 stickers completely custom dye card with high quality washable wash proof so which means you can put it on your laptop some coffee spilled or something or you know you wanted to wipe your laptop it will still be okay no problem laminated well laminated so all these things and i put it on twitter twitter was my first area where i sold it right so i put on twitter i on that day i got around 28 orders i remember that number because i was taking orders to excel sheet so you know this is the backstory but if you understand what happened here is that i never randomly took a product i never said i'm going to do printing for everything i took one product which had a problem of itself and said let me solve this product with a problem and see problem solution fit so there is a problem there is a solution i'll first validate problem solution fit only after i validate problem solution fit then only i can validate product market fit right and then i built that product i never knew that the techies were because i was a little of a techie it naturally was that product that i took but techies everywhere in india wanted that laptop stickers they wanted all the google to Amazon to you know Flipkart to everyone award and Uber and Ola stickers who are conducting lots of hackathons they wanted to put their stickers inside the laptops of all the developers who are attending these hackathons so they purchased in bulk from me and all the developers like the quality and everything so that's how one product started then the next product was t shirt which had another problem because sourcing t shirt was a problem that's when marketplace also was happening they actually marketplace idea came in when we discovered this product called t shirt because we were not printing we are i am not a t shirt printer i did not have t shirt machines but Tripur which is a suburb city in Tamil Naidu had is the hub of textile industry in the almost in the Asian country right so they there were like 40-50 manufacturers who print low quantity t shirts at good quality and you know at a reasonably affordable price but fully customizable so that i can wear what i want to write i today i'm wearing a t shirt which is printed on ink monk which is said customer delight matters right i like wearing this because i want to personally flaunt to people that customer delight matters to me that's it right as simple as that what if i want to buy one t shirt customized with my mindset right and and i have some designing skills i have some text skills and font skill so i choose the design and printed Nowhere in 2014, this was available at a affordable cost. And affordable was happening in throughput, right people were printing it Super Sunday, that's when we said, there are not only us who has to do mom manufacturing, there are like enough manufacturers in the world who are doing what they know. So let's be a distribution company. That's, that's when we change from a production company, to becoming a distribution company. Let's focus on marketing. Let's focus on sales, let's focus on website and technology and build these micro enterpreneurs. So that's how we started we, we didn't feel I think these are suppliers to us. They are like me, like micro entrepreneurs who want to supply to the world to third supply to India, I got inspired partly with jack ma was building Alibaba, because he also wanted to do that for China. Right? So and he is very successful doing that. So I thought maybe, you know, being a kid, let's do that. And, and and some board it was successful, not as big as Alibaba, but to some extent.

Krishna Jonnakadla  41:04

So then let me ask you a different question. That's pretty fascinating. How did you chance upon the laptop sticker problem? Or why why laptop laptop sticker first?

Issac Wesley  41:19

Yeah, so I, if you noticed, in both my previous startups, it was like heavily developer centric, okay, that I was sitting with. All developers had good, beautiful laptops, but ugly stickers in front of them, which was paper made. And whenever they was trying to tear the sticker, they know it, the GM video will be sticking on it. They have to put so pile and keep scratching it. And I also felt like I used to ask them, Hey, do you want to put one design, let's say developer of Firefox, right. And Mozilla Firefox, he wants to put a Mozilla logo there, he has a Mozilla logo. But he cannot put no more print that because he, you know, has the same problem. I told people who cannot print 1000 writers for just one laptop. So that's when I felt like this seems to be a good market for these people. And maybe I will sell it to my friends. That's how it started off. And ideally, I started off selling to my friends, my two first two customers. And then eventually it gets got spread to that every other developers had this problem. And they also wanted to print something.

Krishna Jonnakadla  42:27

Was it an accidental discovery that, obviously, this at the even at the outset of it, it doesn't sound like a viral problem, because you think, okay, laptop sticker. But otherwise, your discovery seems to be that big, because the essence of getting something right is that you see that maybe two or three people in your mind have that problem. But in reality, once you launch it, you realize that not just two or three problem, two or three people have a problem, a whole host of those people have that problem. And if you've done a terrific job at it, the word of mouth aspect takes care of most of the marketing for it, and then you're able to succeed. So in is it in hindsight? Do you see that? You? Was there a design aspect? When I say design? Did you see that aspect in the beginning? Or was it there? Did you notice it later on?

Issac Wesley  43:26

Yeah, Krishna. It was a conscious decision, in terms of understanding the market. So I was looking at, I never calculated how big the market was, right? I was saying, okay, you know, friends around me is the market. Right enough p developers around me is the market let me build that market product fit. So I usually, people coined this term called product market fit, right? I'm against that terminology, it's usually the other way around, where you already have a market and you then go and tell that the market needs that product. So then you you, you present that product in front of them, then they grab it, right. So understanding that, that market around me with developers and designers who wanted such customizable laptop stickers and T shirts was the initial you know, you can say research or maybe, you know, initial understanding of what is needed for them. The moment I understand their problems and their needs, then I I tell Give me a break for three months, I'll come back with a product then I went and did the product. And then it was like market wanted to adopt this product very faster because this was the This was addressing couple of their problems. So so that's how I you know came to know about this kind of ...

Krishna Jonnakadla  44:46

And when you started making t shirts is when you sense the this other extended problems in the capacity utilization was it was it the T shirt category that sort of gave you that inkling into it.

Issac Wesley  45:03

When we were printing stickers, it was ideally my dad's factory. And we were printing t shirts, which is when we started outsourcing to a couple of contract manufacturers in therapure. And we were selling giving it to three or four people back then we had to actually build them e RP systems where they will get the order, where they will have to process it, download the design file and print it, they have to choose the right t shirt size for the right design. And then you know, do that. So while we were building this tools, I started realizing the pattern that every other printer in India will have this spare capacity problem, right? So that's when I said okay, we will try and move shift inclined towards a distribution model. Focus because their problem their tripper manufacturers or the the other printers, for them, sales and orders were the problem they were they were sitting in a radius operated business. So around their vicinity, they're 20 years ago, customer will still be their customer, and they were serving them happily. But what if they wanted to do marketing, they are not good at that they wanted to do, they are again, not good at that. So that's when they felt, you know, maybe if I extend this a bit and say, I will be taking care of sales and marketing and bringing you in flow of orders, you take care of manufacturing, which you're already good at. And that's when that same pattern of solution, I was able to sell it to other print suppliers across India.

Krishna Jonnakadla  46:35

How was the beginning? What sort of adoption Did you see in the beginning?

Issac Wesley  46:43

It was crazy. People didn't understand what we were doing. So, we were telling you know, we will give you orders, you have to sign up in our dashboard, you have to put your catalog there and everything adoption was very poor. And then we did a hat which actually worked, we used to call India Mart and just dial and say that you are looking for t shirts. And suddenly there will be 20 t shirt manufacturer out of the 120 people will say sir, I saw that you have in quite an India Mart I motherboard manufacturer, I can give you the quote and what's your requirement. So then I will reverse which then saying that sorry, yes, I really don't need t shirt. But out of 100 people, you were the one for was interested in business. The other guys 80 guys don't really may may already have business, they are already doing something. So this guy is that enterprise kick, he has that kick, right. So I felt maybe this is the right guy to engage him bring him in the platform. So I used to have like 30 minutes, 45 minutes, all with him telling about the platform. And it is also a string, no strings attached, I don't collect payment fees, or any integration fees or something like that. So tell them, you know, give you a catalogue, spend some 20-30 minutes in my platform, adding your catalog, and then I will give you orders at least one order this week. So that's what I promised him. And you know, Krishna, building a marketplace is a huge thing, right? It's a very daunting task, you have to build two products, right to startups within the same startup. Right? Right. You have to build supply, and you have to build demand. So I would have promised this guy that I will bring you an order. Now I have to run behind Google Ads and SEO and do all the marketing demand generation stuff and bring him that order for and I repeat this for each and every category actually called us liquidity building. And this was the most painful thing.

Krishna Jonnakadla  48:43

Right, no, I can totally relate to that. For some reason, so many people jump into marketplace building, they think it's just a matter of launching a software layer and saying okay, list your list your stuff here. But unless and until critical mass until you have a critical mass of providers or suppliers, you will not attract a critical mass of buyers or users. And it is always a chicken and egg situation. And you will be toiling in obscurity for some time until you get to that point. That is bound to happen. And so, so then, and the talk, talk through that scale journey a little bit how what were the inflection points, that was one hack? How, how effective was it? And what were the what were some other tactics that you employed?

Issac Wesley  49:39

Yeah, so the moment we found that we have to incline ourselves to building a distribution company and a marketplace model where we don't worry about production and you know, building the missionaries or, you know, taking care of logistics. So we built all the API layers on that. So one API layer was to my production house, which are the contracted manufacturers into the poor and other places. The other API layer was the shipping companies, which always already took care of the delivery part of it. So I built that ecommerce layer now, all I need to do was focus on the landscape of products that I can build in. And also the distribution mechanism or how can I take this platform and then distributed in different channels like Facebook or Google and, and all the marketing activities to slow that. So then that time is when I met my first investor. Couple of angels we raised together. The first time when I raised a fund is fundraising was the most interesting one, because my investor was not an investor, he was a customer of ink mark. So garish I know many people would know is founder of fresh works. And we were had, we happen to deliver a 200 t shirt order to freshworks office, it had t shirts, stickers and a lot of things. And you know, the early days I was the delivery boy, I was the marketer sales guy, everything together, I was not the developer alone that Surya was taking care. So, I was I had a CT 100, Bajaj Olga bike, and then I put the box there, add a check, which has to be given to him, he has to be signed and envelop and I went there with an invoice and. And I met Girish while I was delivering this product at 10 o'clock in their office. And Girish was like Issac, I know you because you were in hacker rank. You're a techie guy, you are a designer, we, I wanted to know, like, what are you doing? What are you doing with T shirts and you're delivering these things? Are you working in something? So that's when I spoke to him for around 45 minutes I was telling about what we were doing. Next 45 minutes was actually like, I used to take the T shirt, make him feel it. And I was glowing in my eyes about the products and the problem that I was trying to solve. Right. And every every minute of that 45 minutes was had a lot of depth about this industry that I was working in the materials that I was sourcing, the cleanup that I had to do to make sure the I standardize all these products, right. So then he decided he thought, Issac, I know you're onto something. I don't know how big is going to be, but I would like to take a bet on you. So if you're looking to raise funds, let me know I would like to invest in your company. So actually, that day, I wanted to I raised an invoice for 25,000 I had to get a 25,000 rupees check. Instead, I got a I know $250,000 in, you know funding with the Girish and a couple of other angels I was very lucky to also have funny funny Indra sama phone, red bus, white belt red bus also participate in the round and have him as an investor funding also saw the same thing like we were building, almost like red bus for the riding industry like going down in the gutter, cleaning up that blanket and then building layers and layers on top. Right. So that that that kind of very inspired very much inspired as and where I didn't know how to raise funds back then. But it was like I was taking this direction of being a distribution company which needed upfront cost, right? So I need to build a brand, I need to go and talk to people about hey, this is a company you can engage with is a brand you can engage with to buy print products at good quality, affordable price and fastest to delivery. Because we have a hub of networks. And that was the proposition but then I cannot focus on in afford building that brand. And I need to invest a little so that night set decided okay, now we are still we are profitable and bootstrapped and everything but if we raise this fund, it is going to take away that bottleneck of growth. Right. So that was the only bottleneck that funding gave us right. So. So it removed that bottleneck and then we were able to grow much larger.

Krishna Jonnakadla  54:12

What sort of scale did you achieve then? And any inflection points along the way?

Issac Wesley  54:21

Yeah, so over the years in a couple of the first year, we were hitting around 500-600 orders a month when we started off. When we left when we sold in month two printer, we were doing almost 6700 orders a month. And that was almost four and a half years after building the company. Every year we were growing at around 75% year on year. We grew revenues up to around seven crores per year in terms of total revenue per year. And altogether cumulatively we would have jumped waited around, you know 15 to 16 crores of revenue. So for all the four years so, and we were almost always a tech company in our company, you cannot see a printing machine at all, the only printing machine you will see is this black and white Xerox machine, which is the finance team, which we'll use for printing. It's as simple as that this,

Krishna Jonnakadla  55:21

There's still much to be done in that. Because if you look at the original hypothesis, which has spare capacity, if you hang around enough stores, you will realize, today at least in Karnataka, or in Bangalore, a lot of people print agreements. And before you actually print an agreement, you actually go by their stamp paper. I'm not sure how Tamil Nadu is. Karnataka had a scam long ago where pre printed stamp papers they were counterfeited as a result of which people buys online live stamp papers. And the next set is most of that printing is around government offices, registration offices. And recently I went to a printing store near a sub register office. And we asked him for an electricity agreement, supply agreement. And when I hope when that fellow opened, I saw that he had some 50 templates, one for Bangalore, one for Mysore, one for hoogly, one for Darbar. So different different cities have different electric supply companies. So he had a template for all of them. So at that point in time, it occurred to me if somebody could call these stores ahead in advance, while cost of printing agreements at home has come down, and I'm here focusing only on a single use case, right? So agreement is a very simple thing to print. But people don't have an average printer cost decent printer cost 15-16,000. So at what point so that those people have some capacity, those are just your DTP, right? desktop printers. But then you have the traditional professional publishing industry, where they are printing posters, they're printing booklets, they're printing magnets, they're printing all these stickers, which takes a lot slightly more intensive effort. And when I see there are a couple of presses here, in Bangalore, at least when they launched, they, they were I think the first one to buy this huge color, print on demand color printing machine. They were supposed to be the first in India, they still they got a lot of press back then when they did that. And it's a friend. And I see that there are huge lines of people there. And I see that happening everywhere. And you have the same phenomena playing out whereby there are parts of the week where they're extremely occupied, and then there are there, there are parts of the week that they are not occupied at all. And you that is very easy to see. At what point did you ever contemplate a situation where you have the because of your design experience, you show design, you send the design, and maybe within a 10 kilometer radius, somebody fulfills the order and you pick it up. So you order our order home, and you're aggregating all of this capacity. And then that happens, did that ever happen?

Issac Wesley  58:37

It did not happen in Inkmonk. In that five years, we were actually building more of categories, which were not on demand, but more of a passive purchase, right? So like you wait for t shirts you you pre planned for if you're printing mugs or no simple bottles or caps. So we chose products which were more closer to our buyer persona, which were mostly mostly marketing managers, event organizers, who had a pre planned purchase program right. So that was that but I could answer this right now with printers acquisition, right. So what happened? What changed was so quick background about printers that it operates a large retail outlet, the kinkos of India, right so what you mentioned. So they have retail stores across six, seven different cities and operating in smaller hubs. We ultimately had this dream of can I send it to my supplier where in next few hours I can go and pick it up at store or it can be delivered through a danso delivery to my home. But in the five years of building ink mark, we were not able to do that because we were focusing on a different beast. With a question of printers suddenly it happened that printer how already had this infrastructure. So we said okay let me adapt that and it has built for Pinto that ecommerce layer. So today in print Oh, it is happening that if you want to buy a letterhead, your an envelope, and you go online, you put your logo, design it and submit it and buy it and cart, you can actually go in the next one hour or two hours to the local printer shop, which will should have given you and go and pick it up at that store in the next two hours. Or you can also dunzo the delivery back to your home. Right. All these were possible, because at that time, when we were building in kamanga, it was more of infrastructure play with people who were all distributed heavily in different states of India, right. So, we never thought West Bengal could be the third largest ordering city in India, or the state in India, because they for them traveling or finding local printers was itself a problem. So they were able to order from Delhi and you know, from Kolkata, or maybe actually from other cities, major cities, and get it delivered to them, because for them, finding a T shirt supplier in Kolkata was itself a problem. So suddenly, I was solving that problem in increments. But when it came to print, or the entire e commerce changed, where I was solving hyper local problems for people in already big cities. So that became a and with that omni channel experience.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:01:36

Let's talk about the acquisition a bit. Obviously, for Printo I suppose you were a great acquisition. Because that whole online experience you had already built out, you had validated it with remote, when you could validate it with remote shops and remote providers, if you had capacity right around the corner, and it could enable enable the on demand use case, it's just puts their own growth on a little bit of steroids, right, because it unlocks some demand. So, for instance, if somebody is planning an event Three days later, and all of a sudden, they came, they came up with this idea that I want to give away these things, and you had to print them. And three days is too short lead time. And most people don't plan these things thinking, Okay, we take it will take us one week to print this or less However, even two weeks out, in maybe established corporates who've done this many times over they they follow a pattern, they know what to expect. But in most of the msme kind of ones the day they are really we don't they're just living in the now almost all the time. And you're still very early in your journey. You've just built it, you've aggregated a little bit. You've not even scratch the scratch of the surface yet. So, what was interesting in the acquisition, why did you choose to get acquired? And how has the journey been post the acquisition?

Issac Wesley  1:03:17

Yeah, sure. So, foreigner print from a perspective of printer you have covered it very well for them, this is a very important piece on building a technology layer of a well distributed like structure, which are already present in all the cities from an informed perspective. My vision was also to build this huge commerce layer of you know, with distributed infrastructures across India, in in maybe in the next seven eight years of building that Inkmonk journey. With that only we converted ourselves to be a distribution company a marketing company to bring the orders in the platform and we were doing all the SEO magic and sem magic to happen there. But for this site, as I told you, there is a lot of upfront cost right. So, for this we had raised some money and we had to raise few more money to build that brand in the market and establish so that this becomes a recurring habit for people right a printing is equal to ingemann go back go there and now while I was building that, I realized one game right. So one is this is not going to be a billion dollar market scale, which would give great returns for any investors who are are VC funded investors who are going to pitch in. So when we are going we are going to take that route, right. I have to answer a lot of questions like can this Can I generate 700 crores revenue every year? Right? Maybe after five years down the line? Right What is what has happened? It cost me is 100 million dollars. Sound 50 goes What does 100 million dollars mean 100 million dollar is when you get $1 billion valuation and what does $1 billion valuation mean that's what the all the i don't want to name them but all the vcs of the world wants to be in that space right and that's fairly very very very understandable that's the game that they play so for us when if we want to grow to 100 crore business taking investment money it would take at least 15 years of patients capital that's how i came to the calculation i did that math and i told this is how it is but none of the vcs in india or abroad in different parts of the world do not have that patient's capital their patients capital is seven years or eight years max because their fund cycle is less than 10 years right so they have to show that investment return ratio of 20 30% within that 12 years so now it becomes a very clear understanding that this is not going to go the vc funded route right now what is the other route can i boot now to kind of take a bootstrap route of it and say okay can i build this you know five crores a year 10 crores a year 15 costs a year maybe grow at 10% year on year but that would not that would because we are a marketplace we also have to solve a chicken and egg problem and my biggest problem is demand generation where india demand generation customer acquisition cost is this a significant cost because we can all talk about you know i was able to run tv ads and do all those things but my cac is 700 800 rupees which no one you know cannot deny it right so who will find that cat who is going to retain that cat right and and loyalty factor i i know i'm in a public forum and talking to you in this podcast but i am very honest the loyalty factor in e commerce was super bad in 2010 was okay in 2015 still kind of okay in 2020 still we are not super associated with a brand and paying that extra premium just because we are associated that brand today only we are okay to pay that extra 500 rupees or 300 rupees to amazon because they are you know okay to they are good in delivery their packaging is good the convenience is clear of than flipkart right and i'm not saying this because of an amazon fan but that's what they are doing right so today only that loyalty factor is slightly calculated if five years that people open two tabs see product same product a and product a in two different websites buy the cheapest one and there was no loyalty factor on which websites they purchased it right so when you are having that as a fundamental problem in indian commerce how can you solve cac right how can you solve customer acquisition cost you will need to spend because you will spend but you will have to also have to retain on terms of in top of your gross margin and then get back that money in their second or third or fourth order right so that's going to be a problem right so this is when i realized in bootstrap also if i want to be a marketing lead company a distribution lead company it's going to be very hard for me so then i while i was contemplating this this was very lucky and it luck plays played a huge role and as luck played how girish found me wanted to give me $250,000 for a guy who have not even raised any round before and first time entrepreneur that same luck played me when manish the ceo of crypto found me and said hey isaac i see this is a great model that you're building a great technology layer we already have an infrastructure layer and can you build for us then that at that time one thing which kind of made me very very comfortable was what did i see they voted in moxie in that occasion to answer that right whatever things that we have built so far had a happy home right had a good longetivity and printer was already a profitable company were already at 12 years old company which were which have seen two bubbles one was the 2008 and right now the COVID bubble right so they are a very very profitable company evita positive and they have extra money every every year some very little not the vc side type of money right every small money every year which they can fund into interesting R&D projects and that became Inkmonk and printo.in which they started investing so i believe that this is going to have a good home and the longevity of the idea which i wanted to do so that and you know printer was actually willing to keep both the brands they the dream of inc wants to build that Micro entrepreneurs sprint entrepreneurs across India to elevate though their businesses building their spare capacity. They said I will continue funding that. And there is another dream where we want to build that omni channel experience for printer with the same technology that we have built. So now the team was super motivated, because they are building two different things, two things in the same technology infrastructure, which was super motivating for everyone.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:10:27

How is the journey? Because it's been a couple of years since the acquisition has happened. Everything looks like most marriages, everything looks great during courtship. And then reality, and I'm not and I'm and I use the word most marriages, right. There are happy marriages. It's just that nobody talks about them. People only talk about unhappy marriages. What's been the last couple of what what's it been like last couple of years?

Issac Wesley  1:11:01

Yeah, so there are both challenges as well as, you know, the goods and the bads, right. So the good is, you know, as I told you, all these things are happening. Also the bad I would say not the bad, but more of the challenge here is that you mean integrating an equation itself is interesting face, right?

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:11:21

Culture. Yes.

Issac Wesley  1:11:22

Integrating that to teams of different cultures, right? And different upbringing, right, you have a different father and a very different father, or mother here, right. So they if those two child's have to bring together with the synchronized fashion of running a business, it's it's a it's a challenge by itself. So we did have to make a few adjustments on both sides. So in printer had to learn a few culture of us, we had to learn a few culture of us. And today I can write a book about surviving an equation or integrating that equation together. But it's a add for an enterpreneur. That's, I would say, if I were learning how to build companies in the last 5 years in Inkmonk, I learned in the last two years and other free MBA course, through the model of acquisition, about how do you work with different management, different teams, in integrating them together in building a solo culture together? Because you cannot have two different languages in the same home? Right? And when when the people don't understand both the languages. So that's going to be a problem. Right? So then that's how I saw some of the challenges, but you know, eventually we named out a few things. So on the culture part, with the other side is also that how do we grow from here, right? So how do we take this manifest is and build a team around us and you know, so that involves, you know, when we need to think bonk, it was like 20 member team, or 25 member team to be precise, with printer, it is a 900 member team, right? And they are across India across different cities. Now, the hierarchy of nations also come in kick in the way of over communicating things also have to kick in. So all these were, you know, very interesting things which I happened and these are all other learning...

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:13:19

 I still think printing industry in India is much more than a billion dollar business. Because one part, the, I think the place where you can see in the Indian context, where some part of it gets changed, which is the oil example. Unfortunately, it hasn't lived, lived up quite to the promise, because the whole idea is to aggregate all of these disparate, living places and elevate the standards, at least to a certain minimum, because you know, what to expect, while still preserving the independence that the operators have. Right. So that's the basic premise of that promise. And these independent operators obviously, don't make life easy either trying to disintermediate the platform and do bookings directly, so that they can avoid all those those are those are understandable, but I still but I still think in India, in terms of having predictability to that order book, making sure that that capacity utilization has a certain degree of predictability to it certain constancy and they are printing more higher margin orders, because it may not necessarily be that only bottle bulk orders have larger margins or on demand, add orders have larger margins. So there there is a whole host of evolutionary problems still, right because the the other thing is the local print shops. They don't have standardization, either. What you see when you walk into a printer shop is not what you see in another printing shop. So there's a whole host of problems yet remaining unsolved in those places as well. And I'm sure you see that it is much, much more than a billion dollar business. But like you said, the patients aspect of it. But I do. It's just a personal opinion that many times I think it looks like a 15 year problem. But, but not everything takes that 15 year time frame. Some happen at three years, some happen at eight, some happened at maybe 10. Some ends up actually taking 15 or maybe 17 years. But most I think happened around eight, nine year time frame, something comes together, some industry context changes. And that brings in a whole host of things all together. So amazing. So now what's what's the next step building Inkmonk further, or you're onto something new?

Issac Wesley  1:16:11

Yep. So it's been around two years since a question happened. After that question, I I'd had a little setback, I said, Okay, it's a breather for me. Five years building in a very intense fashion. I got acquired the same year, I got married. So. So then, and I wanted to I was exploring a couple of things, what next to do and you know, one of the very interesting things, the mindset was to elevate lifestyles, right? So personally, for me, I have slogged at least like another seven years down in my career. So what there, there needs to be some happiness quotient to that. So what can I What can I go to a lifestyle with and which business can support that lifestyle, so that I was started starting to think that way. So then I put some checklist of things that I want to build a global company I wanted to build, I still want to be in India, and also move little to the rural areas, like down south a little, where cost of living is also a little more cheaper, but the quality of air and quality of things that you get inspired by little of Sridhar Vembu, from Zoho as well. Then, while and also build a global team across different parts of the world, and have an one one area which was always check checking that checkbox was SaaS, because SaaS had this all almost all the things that I just mentioned and also had a 7x advantage of Indian dollar pricing, right, Indian rupee $2 pricing. So sitting in India's doing sales and building that brand and building that, you know, that model of you know, making sure the global company and the global team happens already there were other people who have took the baton forward and running like gration, Cesar and Chris from chargebee and a few other people, right, they have done that game. So with all those inspiration, I felt like maybe I should start something in SaaS industry. And then I now today, I'm building this company called train.co and train is train helps basically SaaS companies to accelerate product adoption. And in mission critical areas like onboarding, right. And the problem was more like scratching my own itch when I was building ink monkey It was a software and people were introduced the software, an online designer for the first time where they have to put their logo on the T shirt and customize the text analytics. So there I have to teach them how to design interface works with a small video, which is like a two minutes video about Hey, here are the parts of the video this watch. So when I did that, when I had that video and when I did not have that video, the conversion funnel of people going to the next step increased drastically. So which means like videos were great engaging content for people to educate and then perform certain actions. So I was thinking this same problem will be applicable to other software companies who are building more complex systems right. So but why are they not using video we and and you know, traditionally from if we buy a DSLR camera, inside the DSLR camera, you will get 100 page manual book, which will have all the how to do and everything. No one cares about these days. They don't even read about it. So we go to YouTube and then start learning about it right. So people now these days a find videos has a great engagement platform. And but most of the companies still rely on textual basis. So then I decided that he there is some problem here. Let me talk to all the product people who are not using videos to solve the education product education problem or adoption problem. So I had around 72 interviews with product managers across the globe, which different time zones, different countries found them and LinkedIn, gave them a request, and had a chat with them for 30 minutes, ranted about what are their adoption challenges, and maybe why did not we did not use videos, and everyone said they wanted videos. So that was validation. But everyone said that they cannot make videos, because videos are painstakingly hard to create, because they cannot understand video, audio timeline, cropping, trimming, adjustments, and you know, playback speed and all these things, right. So they are not protect, or they are not from design or video visual communication, either. All right. So they're just simple product managers who know how to build products. So for them, I was thinking if I can create a tool, where they just need to go and click on multiple areas inside the software, and I can create a video out of that. And they can explain that with the voiceover, which is also automatically created for them, then that would be a beautiful experience. So I was building an experience level platform. So then I, you know, in my call, I used to show them a demo of the product, which I didn't build, I basically showed a prototype, which was like a design and then I showed this is a product which is live and I you know, fake it till you make it right. So then I showed a video output, which they said, which I asked them, hey, do you like it? And they said everyone liked it. So then that while I was doing that interview, one of my other friend, one of my interviewee, so the person whom I interviewed, was a product manager who had worked in chargebee before and had moved on to a different company. But two ex employees of chargebee, who could charge me last year were trying to build a similar idea. So their core engineers had worked around three and a half years in chargebee. Before that, they were in other SaaS companies in Chennai. Chennai also has this mafia group, right. So they all these big companies like Zoho, and Freshdesk. And charge bees have now started developing their next level of intrapreneurs, who are coming out of that company. So interestingly, I got introduced to these two chaps, we spoke about life, we spoke about lifestyle, which we want to build. First, that was the conversation for two weeks. Then we spoke about what was the interesting product, which we both were thinking at the same time. And interestingly, they had built a prototype, similar to mine, and we said, okay, this seems to be a great mix, because they were looking for a business person. I was looking for a tech people, right, so techie, and we all three joined together as co founders, we incorporated the company. We launched the product to public around the middle of September. And we it's been around like couple of months since we ran it like in public, we kind of started doing marketing from Jan, a very early stage we are roughly at around $550 MRR at this moment, with eight paying customers. validation is there like 70% of the people, the customers who have never even met them, they just came to a saw product. They tried to experience they liked it and they purchased it. So it seems that there is some level of validation here. So then I said, Okay, it seems interesting. So let's continue building that. So that's, that's about train and it's very exciting for me.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:23:50

Excellent at this awesome, more power to you. It does look like in fact, I'll give you one more validation. That video is what we need. That's the next thing that's on our list right now. For our payment protection product, I'm sure I guess we'll venture on to train and then see what we can get there. So looking back at your journey, what are the moments that you cherish? And what are the moments that you think you could have avoided? Or regrets? Maybe?

Issac Wesley  1:24:26

Yeah, maybe I'll tell you one in each, the one thing that I cherish the most is building a great team. I I used to tell very proudly to people that I used to hire like disciple, man,

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:24:40

You're speaking like conversion is

Issac Wesley  1:24:44

very, and I used to. So I have to have a flag. I'm not doing that. So yeah. Yeah. So So I used to spend a lot of hours talking to people before you and I engage with them. Because these are the people whom I'm going to be engaged for the next five years. Right? So my first employee of ink mark is still there, my second employee of ink mock installed system there. So as a very proud team that I built, so that's something which I cherish and something which I kind of regret that I didn't know very well, while I was building his monk is financial management, right? So I was always the top line guy running after top line numbers, sometimes even running after vanity metrics, right? So like, in US usually in marketplaces, people tend to run after GMV, Gross Merchandise Value as a vanity metric. But eventually there are other important metrics like retention and you know, your equity sorry, your and your own revenue. EBIT are positive and cashflow

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:25:51

Not GMV.

Issac Wesley  1:25:54

Yeah, and our own revenue, right. So. So, yeah, that's that's the, that's when but I perfected it over years, then now, I'm not going to do the same mistake again, with train, hopefully, but But yeah, these are some things which I wish I knew very far, very much early, because that could have given me a little more leverage in certain areas, and stopped certain decisions, which were forcefully done by certain, you know, people around me, right. So that could have been like, you know, hey, go after this guy. You know...

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:26:33

Who to listen to what to listen to is also an art in tself. I think one of the worst things is for a bootstrap or an angel funded company, because there's so much noise around us, which just permits from hyper funded startups, right, and they have their own problems. I don't think there is any merit in painting them in the wrong color. But they're what they're after is something different. I still remember for my previous startup, we put some incentives together, when he saw the product take off, when we took away the incentives, the product actually stalled. And I stopped doing it saying that I'm not getting a sticky customer, I'm not going to burn cash, because I'm not funded, like a VC company. You won't believe me, one of the investors in the board meeting eventually, when we presented our annual accounts, actually cursed me, saying, if you had come to me and asked me for more money, and you had put it all down the brand, building the brand and done more incentives, I would have given it to you. I said, No. Today, you're saying that in hindsight, but that day, if I because you you didn't have 5 million or $10 million to give me who didn't have that much that kind of money, you're under estimating what it takes to push there. And if I'm a bootstrapped, and a small Angel funded company, I, if I keep making the mistake of assuming that I have to measure myself by the same metrics that our VC company does VC funded company does, I'm making a grave mistake there. But look, because somewhere I'm going to crash and burn, right. A Cessna Citation, which is a two engine plane can only soar so high, it cannot soar as high as a Boeing, but it can still make the voyage it cannot make it as fast. So it there are some practical limitations that we have to work around. And I think that comes with trial and error it even for even for successful entrepreneurs, which is why you don't see the Midas touch with a lot of entrepreneurs. they succeed in one. And most of the time, if they're doing something the second time, it is usually an extension of what they've done the first time around. Because market changes or context changes. Excellent. great conversation, Isaac. Awesome. I'm glad you were candid and spoke from the heart. This is going to be a phenomenal episode. In closing the two things do you read? What's on your reading list right now?

Issac Wesley  1:29:04

Yep. I'm reading.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:29:11

Yeah, the professor of innovation. So that's, that's a that's a terrific book, by the way. And just one correction for our listeners. The Erst While quote that I attributed flying cars versus 140 characters is actually from Peter Thiel, and not Paul Graham. So Paul Graham tweets like crazy, but Peter Thiel barely does. And in, in closing, if there was maybe one liner that you had to share with people who are either battling out battling it out in the trenches, or contemplating beginning something, what would it be?

Issac Wesley  1:29:54

Yep, so Enterpreneurship is a very lonely journey as long as it's not for every it's not for the weak hearted so but there are over this is the the first wave of people that we are seeing we're building together as community we are all building internet based brands right so back then i told you i used to believe it it's it used to be super lonely for our fathers and grandfathers where they were also intrapreneurs were building solo right so now now that we have enough help so i'm a big believer of you know take care of your personal health and take care of your mental health as well so we don't generally talk about this but i there are one thing that i like to tell to all entrepreneurs is if you're feeling very very alone not lonely in that journey or very painfully going through that process and feels like everything is slowing down or everything is seems to be not working please seek help from nearby peers of enterpreneurs and communities of entrepreneurs who are building meaningful companies right and increased yocto a lot of people have that network at least build a network just for that not for business the business can come secondary but at least for that stressing down that mental pressure right so that because it's not going to be an easy one and and i am available as well i think krishna also will be available for the intrapreneurs who are listening to such episode so and everything i think all the yarn about you know passion grit perseverance everything is eventually you will learn on on your own that i think there is no teacher for that so so stick to that mental and personal health not because as a president because i'm telling this from a second time entrepreneur and Krishna is probably talking from a full time entrepreneur so...

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:31:05

Please no this is this is awesome in fact for quite some time i've been contemplating i'm part of this forum network called startup leadership program and we've lost a couple of people in fact who who to the to the challenges that people go through as an entrepreneur and you absolutely nailed it when you said it's a lonely journey i've been contemplating launching some sort of call me to talk so to speak for entrepreneurs because we reach out when we need connects or partnerships and there is also some sort of an ego that comes in between because then when you're reaching out for help in some sense you're admitting a temporary failure right trust me we are going through a couple of we've gone through that ups and downs in the last five six months the second day we launched a platform and we didn't even have a prototype all we had was a single page website and we saw a user do a 1.3 lakh rupee transaction and we said what validation can we ask for and we went ahead and then built the product and now all the people that said they have the problem they would it is like a problem that everybody has but refuses to use the product and it's not easy and now we realize that we have to be strong and we have to be resilient absolutely well said thank you for making yourself available when i put that initiative together i think maybe we should just put a team of entrepreneurs together who say hey if you want to talk we'll reach out to we help we'll help you reach out to one of them and then they'll be available so awesome Issac this has been a phenomenal conversation this is exactly what gives me energy whenever i come to a new conversation we are hitting close to 50 episodes shortly and the research that goes on before the episode we put in a lot of effort before and after it and it's a labor of love but it all of that gets validated when you have a great conversation a conversation like this more power to you and then more power to inbox eventual growth and then train as well it was great to have you on the show.

Issac Wesley  1:34:33

Thanks Krishna.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:34:35

Awesome Issac.

Issac Wesley  1:34:35

Thank you thank you same here.

Tania Jadhav  1:15:25

We hope you enjoyed the story. If this story made a difference to you. Tell us by leaving a comment on the website or our social media channels. help us spread the love by subscribing, liking and sharing our show. We welcome speaker suggestions and collaboration. Write to me at heythere@maharajasofscale.com