Building a Robust Digital Printing Platform in Bangladesh: An Interview with Nizam Uddin Shipan, Founder, Print Wizard
Print Wizard is a digital printing platform that calls itself “the robust printing and packing ecosystem with an innovative business model.” Printing remains largely a traditional industry in Bangladesh. Companies that need regular printing solutions routinely face challenges. Print Wizard aims to solve these problems. The company is building an ecosystem bringing together vendors aka printing shops, smaller photocopy shops who don’t have the capacity to do large printing as resellers, and automation with an ambition to make printing cost-efficient and hassle-free for business and customers across the board. Using the Print Wizard platform, you can do almost everything related to printing from design to printing without leaving your office.
In this interview, we sit down with Nizam Uddin Shipan, Founder and CEO of Print Wizard to learn more about his journey, and the inner workings of Print Wizard. We talk about his early life and his motivation behind pursuing entrepreneurship. The origin of Print Wizard, the early days of building the product, putting together the team and resources together, going into the market and convincing the first handful of users, and overcoming the challenges of beginning from the scratch. We talk about the state of Print Wizard’s business today and ambition going forward, reflect on the trials and tribulations of being a founder, the importance of taking risks, and much more.
Future Startup: I want to start this interview by learning a bit about you, could you please tell us about your background and your early career, and your path to what you are doing?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: Since my childhood, I had a neck for creative pursuits. I was into the design and drawing from my college life. The way my career started is pretty serendipitous. After completing my master’s, I came to a senior brother who was living in Arambagh at the time. Arambagh is known for press and printing. While staying at my brother’s place, I came to see that I liked the always-on style of the Arambagh area. I liked the design and scent of the work. I had a little bit of knowledge of illustrator and photoshop from before. I stayed with my senior brother and started to learn graphics design. I eventually got into the design profession and worked in advertising as a visualizer, art director, and in many other roles. I spent almost 12 years in the advertising industry. While working in advertising, I had an intimate connection with the world of printing.
Around 2012-13, I realized that the printing industry in Bangladesh is quite unstructured, by that time I saw the industry for many years, and there are opportunities to help the industry structure and ensure better services for customers.
Although these were the early days of internet penetration growth in Bangladesh, I felt that we need a platform where you can take the printing services digitally. But the amount of sophistication required to build such a platform, I did not have access to that resource at the time. I kept the idea to myself and started to slowly gather resources. In December 2017, I finally managed to put together some resources and start this business on the side of my full-time job. I rented a small space in Uttara and with one chair and one table, we started the Print Wizard. I hired two people to manage the operation i.e. taking the orders and delivering the works. I remained at the job while working on the side at Print Wizard. I could not leave the job at the time because Print Wizard was not at a stage where it could pay me the money I was earning from the job.
I told my team that I don’t need to make money at this point in time, you focus on acquiring more customers. We started to do all kinds of work. We designed some good offers to attract customers. After six months of operation, we had a good customer base. I analyzed our growth and decided to leave my job and start working full-time at Print Wizard. So after about seven months, I started working full time in the business from about September-October of 2018.
The first MVP we made of the platform, we had to struggle a lot. We tried WordPress but we came to realize that with the limitations in WordPress, it would be impossible to build a platform of Print Wizard’s sophistication. We took a rather deliberate strategy to build the platform. I kept my focus on growing the business and at the same time, I also paid attention to building the MVP from the scratch. We did R&D and worked pretty hard to build the MVP that you are seeing now.
Future Startup: You started Print Wizard on the side, which is always a good strategy. How did you put together the initial resources such as initial capital and so on?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: In the first seven months I had a team of two people. I did not raise any external funds. So I had to pay the salary of my two people, which I invested in my pocket. We used to promote our work on social media in the early days and we were getting quite good responses.
We were offering good prices, for example, for 350 taka we were giving you a thousand business cards. We did not make any profit there. Rather we had to give a 50 taka subsidy in every order. My two teammates were tasked with reviving the order, entering the client database to our CRM, and delivering the product on time with quality. We did this for six months. I invested my own money and was not concerned with the subsidy I was giving.
After six months, we already had about 100 clients who were taking our service regularly. I sat down one day and reviewed the list to see whether there are clients who need regular service and are taking it from us. I wanted to find a reliable source of revenue on which I could rely upon to make a decision and leave my job. I came to see after the review that we had about 15 corporate clients, who need high volume printing support and who take our service on and off. I thought if we could set meetings with these customers, tell them about Print Wizard and convince them about our services then we could get a certain volume of regular work from them.
We then set meetings with some of our clients. The first meeting we had was with Purbachal Real Estate. We had a number of other corporate clients such as Aziz Group, Republic Insurance, etc. I met personally with all these clients. From 100 clients, we were able to convince 15 clients to work with us on a regular basis. This was between 2018-2019. Once I had the commitments from our clients, I decided to leave my job and start working full-time at Print Wizard. We never had to look back again.
Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of your team, services, and how your tech part works?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We were a team of 17 people before the Coronavirus pandemic. We had to reduce the team size a bit due to COVID. The reason I could build the team this quickly was because I had excellent exposure to both the advertising world and the printing world. I could take the advantage of both worlds and build the team quite quickly. Since the team already came from a relevant background, I did not have to invest much time in training the team.
From two people, when we started to get regular work from some clients, I slowly built the executive team, production management team, business development, and the rest of the team. I reinvested all the money that we earned from the business. When I left my job, the business could support me financially. We then hired a few software engineers and started working on the product. We did some research on developing the platform before starting the work on development. This is quite a complex platform. There are a number of things that need to be taken care of and there are calculations that need to be accurate. The first MVP we designed did not do the job well. As a result, we had to discard the site. We then started working on a second version using the lessons we learned from that initial misfire. The MVP version that we now have is the second MVP version.
Future Startup: Could you tell us about the services you provide from Print Wizard?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: Printing has a lot of different types and variations. There are digital print, PVC, packaging, offset, and many more. Our ambition is to integrate all the printing services in one marketplace. When you are on the Print Wizard site, you can find everything related to printing from PVC to digital print to everything else. What a company does when he needs PVC he calls one vendor when he needs digital, calls another vendor, and so on. It means for printing you are maintaining multiple vendors and it is a management hassle. That is why we are trying to integrate all the printing services into one platform. We have listed almost 1500 products on Print Wizard’s platform. Apart from these, we have a custom quote option where customers can request a quote when they need custom service.
Future Startup: How does Print Wizard work as a platform?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We are trying to build an ecosystem for printing. We have enlisted vendors who provide these different printing related services. We have almost 2500 vendors on our platform. For example, you placed an order for printing from Rangpur. Once you place the order, the system will automatically check the nearest vendor who provides the service in Rangpur or the nearest region and send the work to that vendor if that vendor provides the service and is available. This is if your volume is of small to medium quantity. If your volume is large, we involve our production team who work closely and take care of the whole operation.
We are trying to create an ecosystem that we are calling “Physital”, which stands for physical + digital. How so, we are not only bringing on the printing service providers on our platform, we are also taking printing to your doorsteps through resellers partnerships with small printing shops who are available in every corner of the city these days.
We are partnering with small photocopy shops across regions that can have access to the Print Wizard platform and provide service to customers and get a commission from us based on their sales. It means you will be able to place your order at these corner store printing shops and get your printing done from them. What they would do is that when they get a printing order, they send it to us, we complete the task and deliver it to their place and the customer collects it from there.
We aim to grow our resellers’ network under this program from across the country, from remote villages to Dhaka City. This is how we are creating a whole ecosystem for printing and making printing easier for customers and businesses. We allow customers to choose from options with regard to home delivery or picking from the place of printing. If you choose home delivery, we take care of the delivery.
One of the main challenges companies face when it comes to printing is design. If your design is not of high quality, your print is not going to work. To that end, if you want to do the printing business, the design is a must. The printing begins with design. If you need a brochure you begin your task by looking for a good designer. You then develop the design first and then once the design is ready you go on to printing. We have three options when it comes to design. If you have your own design, you can upload your design and we will print it as you want and deliver it to you. We are integrating a design tool where you can design anything without any design knowledge or software. We will have templates and you will be able to make custom designs. If you don’t have time to design yourself, we have our in-house design team who can help you for a small fee.
We are creating a printing ecosystem. We help you with design. We make it easy for you to place an order through our reseller model. We ensure quality by working with professional printing shops. We then deliver the design at your doorsteps at the time you want. Resellers will also work as our delivery channel. We want to create an ecosystem and that is the ambition.
Future Startup: How does your relationship with vendors work?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We are not taking any commission from vendors. We work with vendors on a fixed rate basis. We consider vendors as our partners. We give resellers profit based on their sales from the profit margin we make and vendors also get extra margin so that they do our work well.
Future Startup: If you are not charging anyone of these partners, how do you make money? One option is charging customers more. But would not that increase your price compared to the market rate for your customers?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: No. We would be able to give a competitive price to our customers because we have developed processes in our system and we help customers save time, resources, and money in other areas. Process development is such that, for example, when you need to print something, you need to call a vendor, a vendor comes, he has to spend money to come, he looks at the work, he goes back, sends you a proposal after two days, all these things involve cost. We have compressed this whole process to five seconds. You go to our website, configure order, make payment and everything is done there. You don’t need to do anything extra. When you are working with us, it saves you time, effort, and money. Using this process we have just helped you save some of the most useful resources.
Future Startup: How does your relationship with resellers work? You give them a commission for generating sales for you? Is there any uniform percentage of commission that you offer?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: The commission depends on a number of things such as type of printing work, volume, and so on. We have a commission chart, which we share with the resellers.
Future Startup: Resellers help you to get customers. But you also said you are going to launch a subscription service for them where they will have to pay you a fee to use your platform to generate and complete orders?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: Yes. This has a process and there are reasons behind it. There will be a trial period for resellers when they would not have to pay. But if a reseller generates substantial orders every month and if they can earn a good commission from our platform, they will eventually have to buy a subscription to open an account in our platform and use our support to deliver orders. This is because we want to help these retailers generate revenue but it has to make sense for them in the sense that the money they earn has to be substantial.
Future Startup: My question is that you already have a relationship with these resellers, they generate orders for you, work as a delivery hub, and you pay them a commission on sales. Why would you then take a subscription fee?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We are sharing revenue with these resellers. Whatever revenue we generate, we share it with these resellers. On top of that, we are doing a ton of things for these resellers. We are managing a backend for them. We are managing their orders. We are promoting them through our platform and network. It means we also help to get these orders they generate for. So for managing their operation on our platform smoothly, we are taking this small fee. Similarly, it makes the collaboration a serious one and they see benefits in it and take it seriously. We will not take fees from everyone. It only applies once you cross a certain threshold of the monthly commission that you get for sales volume. For this reason, we are taking a 2000 taka subscription fee. We hope it would be a motivating factor for these resellers.
Future Startup: In many ways, you are a marketplace where you generate orders for printing vendors. The common model for almost all marketplaces is that they charge a commission to vendors/sellers.
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We are not charging any commission from vendors because we are counting them as our partners. We think that if our vendors support us our business will run smoothly. Vendors are more like our service partners.
There are some 6000 printing companies across the country. If you can bring these 6000 printing companies under one platform, that is going to be something meaningful. Now, these vendors have their existing business. They have clients. They make money. They would only come to your platform when they see some benefits. This is why we want to make sure that doing business with us is a win-win deal for our vendor partners. They get businesses from us. They get a better rate. And all of it happens in a smooth manner.
In the existing market, a vendor needs to manage their business. They are required to deal with clients. They need to go to meetings. They need to show proof to clients. Now if they get all their orders in the mail and can manage the whole business without leaving their office, it makes sense for them. If they earn more money from us they would be with us. If they don’t benefit from us, they would consider us as competitors. We are trying to make these competitors our service partners.
Future Startup: Do you also have in-house printing service?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We don’t have our own machines. We do have our in-house production team who are experts at dealing with printing. When we have big orders, we don’t want to take risks. Our production team collaborates with our different printing partners and ensures the smooth delivery of these big orders. We have plans to get into production in the future but we don’t have one right now. That being said, our production team remains involved in every order that we handle. Our team checks the quality and checklists of clients to ensure the best quality and excellent on-time service.
Future Startup: How many vendors do you have on Print Wizard now?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We work with about 60-70 vendors. Our goal to onboard 2500 vendors within 2021.
Future Startup: You mentioned that you worked with some 1096 clients in 2020. Do you have any subscription type service for clients?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We don’t. Clients are always on-demand.
Future Startup: What were the challenges in the early days? How much have you evolved as a company if you compare between Print Wizard 2017 and Print Wizard today?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: I got the work of Purbachal Real Estate through a referral. I did total branding work for a company called NRF Security. They liked the work very much and referred us to Purbachal. Purbachal did a design project that cost them about a million taka but it was of poor quality. As a result, they rejected the whole project. The NRF person I worked with was there and he referred us. They called me from there and asked me to come for a meeting. I sent my team to take the requirements and that I would analyze the requirements. I sent my two teammates who have been in the printing business for the last 20 years. They went and they were quite traditional people. The next day they gave a proposal, about taka 250 per brochure. The next day Purbachal called and told us that we would not do these brochures because we have already wasted similar quality brochures because these would not be of good quality. If you have something better, let me know, they told me. My team called me out of the meeting and I said that I would go and meet them tomorrow. Tomorrow I took an appointment and went to meet. I tried to understand their requirements and I later gave an 1800 taka per brochure costing. We designed that brochure and delivered it on time. They were super happy and we continued that relationship for almost two years where I did almost 70-80 lakh taka worth of work for them.
Our team did not have this understanding of analyzing customer’s needs and understanding what customers want. They used to give a quotation with a 30-40% margin. If you get the job, good. If you don’t, it does not matter. We had to work quite hard to change the mindset of our people. We worked to develop a mindset where we as a company started to pay attention to what customers want, why they are doing the work, understanding customers of the customers, and their genuine needs. The biggest challenge for me was to develop a process where I would be able to work in a competitive market, offer a competitive price to our customers, and maintain the quality of our work. Plus on-time delivery. We worked hard in these two areas working with the team to continue to develop their skills and capacities. This was a major challenge for us.
Although this is a big market, it remains an unstructured market. People necessarily don’t practice the corporate way of doing things. The total printing market is almost 23,000 crore taka market. 4000 crore taka revenue only comes from accessories. But only a small number of operators maintain the professional approach to doing things. We hired people from this industry. We had to work hard to develop processes and bring a sense of professionalism to the team. That was the biggest challenge.
Future Startup: You have experienced quite significant growth over the past few years. What are some of the things that helped in achieving growth?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: One of the main sources of our growth is retention. Most of our customers today are active with us. Of the 1096 customers that we have, only 8-10 are inactive. Customers stop working with us for many reasons. The two main reasons that we have identified are: change in people who used to deal with printing. The person who was working with us on behalf of the company left the company. In some cases, companies went out of operation.
Rarely customers leave us because of the quality of work and service. Customers value the professional approach our people maintain and the kind of quality and service we provide.
On top of that, customers see our e-commerce service as something that is hassle-free and easy to work with. Our entire system is automated. It helps customers save time and effort. Due to these processes, customers see us quite positively. We put a lot of importance on referral.
At the same time, we use all the promotional channels that we can afford to generate leads and acquire customers. We have benefited most from the referral. Businessmen is a close-knit community. When one customer sees others’ work, they ask where they did it from and when they mention us, we get new clients.
Since we are looking to expand across the country. The referral will be there. At the same time, we will have to adopt other strategies to acquire and attract customers. When you are working with a small number of customers, the referral is a good strategy but probably not so effective for scaling your platform across the country. To that end, we are trying to understand what our customers need and organizing our website and services accordingly such as what a real estate company needs or hospital needs. We are trying to organize the website in such a manner that every business can see what they need and that we offer that. We can fulfill the orders and needs of every customer.
Future Startup: What percentage of your orders come digitally and what percentage otherwise?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: Digital is difficult. Most clients prefer offline communication. However, we are putting a lot of effort into pushing digital adaptation. One of the reasons being is that we do large volume and expensive work and people essentially don’t feel comfortable dealing with this amount of work digitally. For example, we are doing this project of 12 lakh taka value and people would not feel comfortable doing this completely online. A face to face meeting is much more convenient in this situation.
People do place orders digitally but eventually, we meet with clients and close the deal in person. The digital transaction is limited. But I would say that customers do understand that digital is better than physical. But it will take some time to take the market there.
Future Startup: How are you doing business-wise?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We are a profitable company. Our cost of goods sold is around 50%. In the last two years, our average net profit was about 17.8%.
Future Startup: Have you raised any funding?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We are in discussion with a number of venture capital firms for our seed round. We are hoping to close it in the next few weeks.
We did not raise any funds. We bootstrapped. We reinvested the money we generated from the business. We started off with a one-room office and we currently have a four rooms office. The whole expansion has been funded by the money we earned from the business.
Future Startup: You are a solo founder?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: I’m a solo founder.
Future Startup: Is it difficult to be a solo founder?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: Building a company from scratch is a lot of work. There are too many things happening at all times that you need to take care of. So it is not easy. Moreover, we are building a product that is complex and which requires a lot of my personal involvement. Similarly, things go wrong often and it is stressful. But we have been able to come to a point where we have developed processes and systems to run the operation. As a result, it has become quite easy for us to manage things. But being a solo founder, everything becomes doubly complex and challenging.
Future Startup: What are your priorities for 2021?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: We have two goals for 2021. One, we want to grow our reseller network. Two, we want to make the entire printing experience completely hassle-free for our customers. We have some development-related work but this would be the main focus.
Future Startup: What are some mistakes you made that you think early-stage founders should avoid?
Always you should have an R&D mentality. I have found it useful.
When you are making a decision, it is better to think before making a decision instead of resorting to emotion or impulse.
Startups always struggle financially. To that end, I think it is useful to be frugal and make decisions thoughtfully.
Future Startup: How do you deal with stress and challenges?
Nizam Uddin Shipan: I set priorities and go accordingly. It makes it easier to deal with things. Stress is a common denominator. But it is also more so in our business because we deal with volume and we always are in need of large working capital.
Future Startup: What have been the biggest lessons from your journey so far?
When I decide to do something, I must do the task. I remain dedicated and focus on that task until it is done. I keep trying till the end. This has been the case with Print Wizard. When I started Print Wizard, I was married at the time. I was getting a good salary. I was quite confused because I did not have a large savings that I could access if the business does not work in the short run. I thought that with the lessons I learned over the years, I could take the challenge of building a startup. I took a month’s time and decided to move forward.
Entrepreneurs must have a mentality to take risks. At the same time, you have to be mindful when you are taking the risk. Focus and dedication are two important things. Because if you don’t stick around a thing, you will lose your path.