The Young Entrepreneurs Behind The Postbox Tell Us How They Put Their Creative Startup On The Map In Less Than A Year
By: Niharika Krishna on Aug 13th, 2015
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If you follow us, you'll know that recently, we've collaborated with The Postbox on a couple of stories on upcoming artists and the covetable desks of creative professionals in India. Through their online store, they're bringing customers one-of-a-kind products displaying great design and aesthetics, while giving young, upcoming artists a platform to be discovered. What astounds us is that the young pair behind this startup is full of energy, brimming with ideas, and has found incredible success in a very short time. We sat down with Madhuvanthi Senthilkumar and Nikhil Joseph, the founders of this creative startup, and asked them to give us some of their secrets and share their experiences in the creative industry.

How did you get the idea to start something like The Postbox? Why did you feel there was a need for a business doing something like this?

Nikhil: Madhu and I shared a common interest in art and how it’s taking shape and being recognised in this wonderful country. What we also realised is that there was a need for a platform, not just any platform where an artist could upload their content and sell their work, but a platform where they feel important and know we care about how their work is being promoted. Design across various other platforms was getting boring, mundane and stale. There was never an evolution happening; it was just a new set of prints. If you come to The Postbox, it’s versatile; you have contemporary art as well as traditional Indian motifs on display.

Madhu: With both of us being artists, we felt there was a need to build a platform for upcoming artists and designers to have their own individual space. A space that is unique to their style of art, is recognised and acknowledged by others. We didn't want to give any room for a dilution of this space.

 

Who approached whom and how did you set it all up? How did you wrap your heads around the various rules and intricacies of setting up a company?

Nikhil: I think it was just over a glass of whiskey at one of our favourite hangouts in the city. I took out a tissue paper. We came up with the name and first list of products. We even decided to first launch the platform with prints designed by Madhu on photographs of mine. We wanted people to know we’re serious about this, and we had to prove it to them through good design, initially.

Image credit: The Postbox

Handmade terracotta davara set, The Postbox - Rs 449 

You are both quite young and started this venture without having racked up a lot of work experience first. Do you think there is a right time in your life and career to start your dream company, or do you feel that it doesn't matter as long as you have a great idea? Why?

Nikhil: I'm 25 and counting! I’ve worked for three years on the Ads & Pages team at Facebook. My experience there helped more than I could imagine. Having had the experience of setting up two teams, one which, at the time I was present, was working globally out of our Hyderabad office, the importance of keeping in mind and tracking key metrics, revenue, product development, traction, talking to customers, setting up operations and more than anything else, moving fast, has played a vital role so far and will play a vital role going forward.

Experience does help, but at the end of the day you have to really just believe in your idea. I’ve had days when I’ve just sat in front of the white board, sketching out this entire dream, and another day when I’ve carried cardboard boxes of our first ever corporate order. You have to be ready to understand that when you build your dream, then whether you're packaging a box or whether you're working on your next product, what’s important is commitment and passion.

Madhu: There are two sides to this, and while one school might say age is just a number, the other school still believes that "there is a right age for everything." I was just a design school grad when we launched The Postbox last year in September. Most of all this was only possible because of the support system I had and continue to have. Experience will come irrespective. It's important to take the plunge and to be conscious of the fact that it was you who made that choice. And at the end of the day, it is belief above everything else.

 

The Postbox sells products bearing the work of talented young artists. Was it hard to approach and convince the artists to hand over their precious creations to you?

Nikhil: Of course it was. Neither of us had any sort of experience. I think what made this a whole lot easier was that we were a lot more approachable, we had ideas and processes already set in place and we also knew what exactly we wanted from them. When you give clarity to a person about what you are trying to get from them or why you want them to be part of your platform, it makes their work a lot easier.

Madhu: Heading the design team has been a revelation of sorts for me. Our artists are very young. People did hesitate. They didn't quite get how this could work. But the entire process of getting an artist on board, with a one-on-one every week dedicated to their own collection, eased them out and settled them in. Our main objective is to keep supporting them, help them reinvent their work constantly, and challenge them to step out of their comfort zones and explore.

Image credit: The Postbox

Aztec Tribes phone case, The Postbox - Rs 729

Why did you choose to sell your products via e-commerce rather than setting up a brick-and-mortar store?

Nikhil: It was a tough call, to be honest. In this day and age when every day there are a 100 other e-commerce businesses being set up, it was a tough call. But the main reasons would be: the ability to reach our target audience faster, being able to scale our vision quicker, and validation of the idea over a huge audience. Most importantly, something as unique as our platform would not be successful by just having a brick-and-mortar store in one geographic location, as we knew we had the kind of audience we wanted (in the age group of 19-45) across the country, who will actually appreciate art and also be willing to make a transaction for it.

 

Do you feel the internet has changed the way we consume things? How can a budding entrepreneur in the creative industries harness the power of technology?

Nikhil: Of course it has. I mean, take a look at how we order food today. Before, it used to be across a phone, now it’s across an app.

You need to be smart about how we can use technology. For example, for us, if you go to our Instagram profile, it’s our story from when we started to what we do now. Personal and engaging. We keep our audience updated about everything going on. We crowdsource ideas on product development, on new designs, and so on. Internally, we make use of various different tools, which help in day-to-day operations and communication, like Google spreadsheets and Evernote.

Madhu: Today, whether it is the artist approaching us or the other way 'round, it has been through this medium. Be it Behance, Facebook or Instagram, the internet has been our main facilitator in getting in touch with artists and designers. It has worked wonderfully well for us. We crowdsource ideas and seek opinions on Instagram, and our quickest gateway to artists, designers and the customers has very clearly been the internet.

Image credit: The Postbox

Autumn Square notebook, The Postbox - Rs 229

Your products are niche and the entire website has a very closely curated, boutique feel. Why did you choose this approach and what are the benefits, in your opinion?

Nikhil: I think it just happened. It was never a conscious effort to make our store look unique. We always knew what we wanted. Our approach lies in a unique, evolving design sense, a clutter-free platform, a platform where people could explore and view products with ease. Too much of anything is not good.

Madhu: When we started planning the entire structure of The Postbox, Nikhil and I scanned through the internet for websites that any layman in our country would buy from. We were clear that the entire use and experience of browsing through our website must be clutter-free and peaceful, and allow the customer to understand what they are looking at and give them the necessary space to reflect upon it.

 

What was the best piece of advice each of you ever received, that you've kept in mind through this journey with The Postbox?

Nikhil: 200% always. Plan ahead, get your data right and make it happen.

Madhu: Follow-up. Follow up till you've closed down on the matter.

 

How did you get yourselves exposure amongst your potential clients and how did you get them interested in buying for you? Do you have some tips for other startups trying to get a foothold?

Nikhil: We did it the hard way. Organic and only organic through the initial months, building up a loyal customer base through good service. We focused on product quality and great word-of-mouth marketing. What we also did initially was to go to exhibitions, a platform where we could validate our idea much easier.

What, in your opinion, differentiates a great company from a good one?

Madhu: A company that identifies an opportunity in every challenge, that allows its people to practice their independence through inter-dependance, and honours its customers with utmost care, is what will set it apart.

Nikhil: I'm talking specifically when it comes to our sector. Externally, it's important to accept customer feedback to work on product development and services offered. I think at the core, it's that. My second point would be to hire great, passionate talent and build a strong internal support system.

 

Nikhil has worked on the Ads team for Facebook and Madhu has studied fashion design in Singapore and brand management in Italy. How have your respective backgrounds helped you in your journey with The Postbox?

Madhu: Fashion School trains you to look at the larger picture. I've always believed that design is holistic and is always about that larger picture. It's about coming up with solutions. And it worked perfectly for The Postbox as we are constantly on the lookout for launching different, affordable, daily-use mediums. Heading the design team today and speaking to artists and designers from across the country, I feel the empathy levels are quite positive, as I'm able to connect with them in terms of their work disciplines, their approach to deadlines, and so on.

Image credit: The Postbox

The Bicycle embossed canvas art, The Postbox - Rs 325

How do you plan to grow The Postbox in the future? Is a big expansion in the works or are you comfortable with your boutique outfit as it is?

Nikhil: Whatever we build, we build to scale, so every product we have on our platform is built in such a way that we can scale it, and so, yes, to answer the question, a big expansion is already on its way. We’ve launched more products than we planned and have a lot mo

re in the pipeline both in terms of designers and products.

That being said, we’ll remain a curated, evolving platform for only upcoming designers and artists, where design will change every second week. We want to build a platform which remains versatile and will be accepted globally.

Madhu: We started out by getting to know our customers through organic marketing. For instance, we had one period of major crowdsourcing of ideas when we began the #ArtYourself campaign solely through Instagram. We partnered with three initiators from across India who practiced their own form of art. They, along with us, put up two posts weekly and encouraged our own followers to come out with their work. The entire campaign revolved around artists showing us what their work meant to them. Four artists were featured every week on our page and within a month, we saw over a thousand entries for this campaign. It brought together a common platform of artists from different countries learning from each other and getting to know foreign pieces of art.

Startups today who are building a product must understand that they should know their customer as well as they know their product. It's all about having an effective two-way communication in place.

 

If you had one tip for a young entrepreneur setting out with a startup, what would it be?

Nikhil: Nothing comes in easy in life. You need to have patience and the ability to pick yourself up in times of failure and move ahead, knowing very well it’s all part and parcel of working towards your dream.

Madhu: Keep working hard. Every single day is a day to learn more.

 

Are you an entrepreneur with a startup or a young professional with a big idea? What else would you like to know about making your creative business a success story? Tell us in the comments.

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Niharika Krishna
Niharika is a procrastinator who calls herself a writer when she wants to impress people. She has studied history and worked as a freelance editor. Don't get her started on the English Reformation or the French Revolution, or she'll never stop talking. She's currently loving learning French, and is a sucker for all things Harry Potter, ...   Read more
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