Building An On-demand Printing Startup In Bangladesh: An Interview With S.M. Waliullah And Mugdho Sapiens, Founders, Rubik Print
Founders of Rubik Print S.M. Waliullah And Mugdho Sapiens reflect on their entrepreneurial journey, discuss their on-demand design and printing startup Rubik Print, share their ambition to disrupt printing industry in Bangladesh and explains why it is important to maintain a healthy doubt about your ideas instead of getting irrevocably attached to them among other lessons in entrepreneurship and life.
Could you please tell us about your background and what you are working on now?
My name is S.M.Waliullah. I was born and brought up in Narayanganj. By education, I’m an electrical engineer. Our area is famous for business. Growing up, I had the opportunity to see many of my relatives running their business. I was fortunate to observe how business works and what it means to be an entrepreneur. I could see from where the products come and how are they sold, how profit margin works, what is customer relationship and so on.
I have certainly been influenced by my early life exposure to business and entrepreneurship. I loved the autonomy it offers, which eventually motivated me to take the path of entrepreneurship.
I am currently working on to create a fully integrated eco-system for the printing industry.
My name is Mugdho Sapiens. I was also born and brought up in Narayanganj. I studied Marketing at the University of Dhaka. I have been involved in business competitions, startups, and branding throughout my student life.
In my five years of experience in multiple startups, I realized that I have intrinsic ability and passion for entrepreneurship. I am currently involved in Rubik Print, and Packvel and multiple idea stage startups; some of which complements Rubik Print and others are focusing on some pressing social and environmental issues.
Could you please elaborate on your path to entrepreneurship?
In my last year of engineering education, I came up with a product idea that would allow users to save power. I was super excited and wanted to market the product as soon as possible because I thought that since the product helps to save energy, it means it would have a good demand in the market since energy is a challenge for us.
Around this time, I came to learn more about marketing and the importance of branding. I started to research to learn more and eventually realized that almost all new electrical products have some form of energy-saving features, which means a standalone energy-saving product would be a hard sell. Moreover, it is a highly competitive market and I was thinking to start with a small investment.
While doing all these things, I met my mentor Rishad Ahmed. He saw my design skill and invited me to work with him as an intern in his new startup Horin Branding. In the next 4 years, I have learned and improved myself and grown as Chief Design Officer of Horin Branding and eventually became a partner.
I have worked with 40+ brands including Halda Valley, Chalo, Priyo Bazaar among others. I also had the privilege to meet with many entrepreneurs, listen to their ideas, understand them and design for them, which along with my childhood experience eventually culminated in my decision to start my own business.
Even since I was a freshman year in university, I was involved in many business competitions, some of which made opportunities for me to present ideas overseas i.e. the USA. This repeatedly helped me understand my capabilities and limitations. I found interest in entrepreneurship and started Horin Branding with Rishad Ahmed while I was still a student. We got an unexpectedly positive response from both the industry and our clients.
Later, I was involved in some personal projects. I’ve worked closely with a lot of companies from numerous industries and I feel privileged to be a part of their journey of success. I found interest and potentials in Rubik Print when S.M. Waliullah asked me whether I would be interested to join as a partner. It’s great to be part of a venture where we are on a journey to disrupt this history-defining industry.
When and how did you get started with Rubik Print? What motivated you to start Rubik Print?
We are designers, we design for brands. We want our design to be printed exactly what we’ve designed. But we could hardly get that. It is tough to get the printing quality that you want. For us, hardly anyone provided us the printing quality we expected.
My real kick came from an incident I experienced. I needed to print some business cards. I gave one printing guy a perfect printing friendly design. After 10 days he delivered my card. But when I opened the box, I found that quality was below standard despite providing print-friendly designs and everything. I was frustrated.
That’s when I started to learn about printing. I realized that printing is not a problem for me alone. It is a problem for a lot of other people. In the next 2.5 years, I studied print and gathered enough knowledge and eventually decided to start my printing startup.
When I came up with the idea, I shared my ideas with my co-founder Mugdho Sapiens. He helped me with the business model, as well as the “go-to-market” strategy. We’ve built an ecommerce site with a good collection of designs. People could choose and order design online. We request a 50% advance for printing. The site also has a canvas option where users could design their designs and print the ready design from Rubik Print.
What went into building the initial operation of Rubik Print? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and the challenges you faced.
As I mentioned, it took us two years to prepare before launching Rubik Print. We were new to printing and we know almost nothing about printing. We spent two years learning about the industry, gathering information regarding feasibility, profitability and other aspects of the business.
Once my cofounder Mugdho Sapiens joined, we started to build Rubik Print online platform. We started with web design and strategy plans.
In terms of investment, initially, we started with our savings. Then we took financial aids from our close relatives.
We started our operation with just a website and working out of a shared office space. The first month was almost like a pilot project for us. When we started to receive an expected response, we rented our own office and started working full-time.
The first few months were very challenging as we started with little investment. We had no employee to assist us. We had to do everything by ourselves.
We emphasized on quality from day one, which has helped us to build a relationship of trust with our customers. Today, we receive good business from returning customers and the deals we get are increasingly getting bigger.
Through our initial research, we came to know that printing customers are skeptical of ecommerce. They want to see paper and print quality physically. That’s why we deliver a FREE sample kit to our potential customers so that they could examine our quality physically. We have been doing it since day one and it has been a game-changer for our brand.
Could you please give us an overview of Rubik Print in terms of the services you offer and your business?
The printing industry can be traced back to the industrial revolution. The printing industry helped change the course of history by complementing the spread of information, even in Bangladesh. But the quality of printing and inconvenience faced to print something hasn’t changed much in decades.
Businesses often spend an unnecessary amount of time just for printing, which is resulting in a lack of productive output in our economy. Despite that, the quality is not assured. We believed that this industry is in the vital need for digitalization and quality upgrade.
Rubik Print acknowledges that everyone is not equally equipped and aware of printing factors. We introduced layers of services depending on customer needs. If a customer doesn’t have any design and want to use readymade design, we have a collection of hundreds of designs for our customers. If they already have their design, we provide them with upload and print options.
If they neither have their design nor any preference from our readymade collection, they can design on their own using the design canvas feature on our website.
We have multiple delivery options depending on the urgency of customers. To ensure complete trust from our customer, we also provide a quality assurance guarantee that means if any product is inconsistent with our commitment we will provide reprint it with our own expense.
What is your business model? How have you grown your revenue?
Imagine a world without Rubik Print. You need something to print and you are looking for the best quality. You will visit the press or go to printing companies. If you are like most people, you have moderate or little ideas about how the printing industry works. You don’t even have “printable” designs, so printing quality will be compromised. You will be looking for proper paper materials, but you will potentially get lower quality or gsm than expected.
Eventually, you will get something you didn’t expect. But you have to deal with it, because “That’s how the printing industry works”. You have to spend your valuable time and energy on such insignificant work. And even by bearing so much hassle and traffic, you are far from satisfied. This is my own story. This is what triggered me to build Rubik Print.
Rubik Print is an on-demand printing service company. Customers can choose from our design collection and buy from our website or social media. Design canvas and upload options are also available to our customers. We also take care of delivery via a third-party logistics company. We’ve made all convenient online payment methods available for our customer.
We earn our profit by predetermined margins from product orders.
How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at Rubik Print?
Currently, we are a small team of five full-time team members. We also rely on project-based and/or contractual team members for specialized client requirements.
Rubik Print encourages transparency and innovation. We acknowledge new ideas to make our process efficient. Rather than operating on a task-oriented approach, we focus on a target-oriented approach. That means each team member knows what they need to do and they can find their unique way to do it. It’s surprising how much internal innovation goes behind each order.
We are quite horizontal as an organization. Every decision is made with inputs from all teammates who will be affected by that decision, which ensures that all of our members feel important and recognized.
How have you attracted customers and grown Rubik Print? How do your sales and marketing work?
We have put a lot of importance on ensuring quality services and building trust with our customers in the process. From the very beginning, we send a FREE sample kit to our potential customers so that they can examine our quality physically because for print people don’t want to rely on ecommerce. This strategy has been quite helpful for us to build long term relationships with our customers.
We primarily focus on social media marketing. Most of our sales come through social media ads. Today, a significant portion of our sales come from returning customers and referrals. We also invest a bit in direct sales.
What are the lessons you’ve learned in terms of growing a business? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your growth journey?
Be your customers’ friend. If you are trying to only sell but not listening to your customers, eventually they will move to other companies because you are not trying to understand and serve their needs.
You need to care for your customers to the extent that you should go up and down of your boundaries to ensure that they are happy with your service.
We realized that many companies are very strict about their product policies, but in a fast-moving world, nothing is static in terms of offerings. We didn’t acknowledge that several times in the past and failed. Now we don’t rely on short term income, rather we want to build relationships and brand value in the long run. It has helped tremendously.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What are the challenges now?
Printing is a quite disorganized industry and operates in a rather informal setting. We have been trying to build some sort of process and systems.
One of our commitments to customers is a quality assurance guarantee. That means we reprint on our own expense if the quality of our products is not right. We consistently face quality gap from our suppliers and vendors who don’t provide as much quality assurance. As we are a small startup, such bold steps sometimes affect our expenses significantly.
Second, we rely on third-party logistics companies for delivery. We used to miss ETA because we expected delivery companies to be true to its word. Now we have learned that it’s quite challenging in Dhaka for delivery companies to manage time where traffic congestion is highly unpredictable.
We had suffered from these challenges in the past. However, we have learned and now make realistic commitments. With months of traffic data, we know improvise our process and inform our client beforehand regarding any possible issue.
The most important thing we have learned from our challenges is, “Be honest with your customers”. We can’t withstand all the problems our cities and business environment has, but we can make a better environment through professionalism, trust, and transparency.
What are the goals for the future?
Rubik Print was founded with one vision in mind: transforming the printing industry for the convenience of customers. Our goal is to make the lives of entrepreneurs and businesses easier and help them save time and energy by making managing print easier for every business out there.
In a competitive world, efficiency is critical for every economy; and Rubik Print wants to contribute to this movement.
How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder?
The printing industry is competitive. It’s challenging for new companies like Rubik Print to win in price competition. That’s why we are working relentlessly to counter this limitation with better service. But in B2B, good service is not as significant as cheap products for many companies. So sometimes we don’t get orders we expected to get by only offering superior service and professionalism. It’s frustrating. But what I’ve learned being in B2B business for five years is that giving up is not a solution to any challenge.
We acknowledge that problems can happen. I always believe that seeking solutions and improvising is the key to dealing with stress.
What is your advice for founders who are just starting out?
It’s great to see a boom in entrepreneurship in our country. But I think young entrepreneurs are more focused on their “big idea”, but not focusing enough on value generation. We should understand the problem and demand in a market before getting into it. Sometimes, even disruptive products are not getting enough attention because customer’s demand and current status quo is considered poorly.
We make mistakes when we strictly define our businesses, but in a constantly changing world where industries are transforming rapidly, we should constantly redefine our businesses. We shouldn’t be too emotional about our ideas, just because we dreamed of it. Instead, I think we should learn to think critically and make a decision accordingly.
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