Blinkstore · Rajat Dangi & Mofid Ansari & Madhurendra Sachan

Blinkstore's bootstrapped success: From zero to $250K ARR and over a million monthly visitors

June 25, 2024
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Table of contents

  • Rajat Dangi & Mofid Ansari & Madhurendra Sachan
  • Gurugram, India
  • Started in 2022
  • 14 Employees
  • $250K ARR
  • 72K subscribers
  • 1.1 million monthly visitors
  • Bootstrapped

What's your backstory?

Hi, my name is Rajat, and I'm from India. I grew up in a very small town in the central part of India. After finishing my schooling there, I went to Indian Institute of Information Technology to pursue a BTech in Computer Science, and I graduated in the year 2018.

Right out of college, I worked with a company called Falcon X, which is a crypto hedge fund in the US, as a content writer. I was working very closely with the founders on content strategy, Twitter threads, and blogs. Immediately in 2018, I co-founded my first startup called HapRamp Studio. Back then, we were building social media on blockchain, and I was heading product and marketing there for almost two and a half years.

By 2022, I left HapRamp and I joined in OnDeck as a founder fellow in the ODF program. During that time, I learned a great deal about the software industry globally. I was aware of the markets in India, and OnDeck helped me broaden my horizons and thinking.

In 2022, I joined Blinkstore as the first marketing hire. The co-founders at Blinkstore were already my friends from college. I quickly became a co-founder and headed the growth through organic channels. When I joined in, it was a very new product with close to zero revenue. From January 2022/Feb 2022 till now, I have grown this store Blinkstore from zero to 70,000+ sellers on the platform and more than $250,000 in annual sales. Blinkstore is similar to platforms like Teespring or 4thwall in the US.

In the last six to seven months, we started one more side project within Blinkstore called Mocky AI, an AI mock-up generator. I got busy in growing this new tool organically. In almost six to seven months, I have grown this one to around 60,000 monthly traffic and around $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

So that has been my journey so far. I'm still figuring things out how to grow Blinkstore into a million-dollar or more annual business.

What does your company do & how did you come up with the idea?

Blinkstore enables content creators, social media influencers, or individuals to launch their own merchandise business online. If you are someone on YouTube or Instagram with a good audience, what you can do essentially is you can sign up on Blinkstore and create your own e-commerce store for free, just like you do on Shopify. Beyond that e-commerce store, we help you with an inbuilt inventory of customizable apparel, accessories, and home decor items. For example, if you want to sell t-shirts to your audience, you can pick t-shirts from our inventory catalogue, design them by uploading your own logo or design files, set your own profit margins on top of the product prices, and start selling them through your social media. As you make sales, Blinkstore will print, package, and ship your products to your end buyers. As a creator, it saves you a lot of time, money, and effort, and you can create and sell your merchandise within minutes from your mobile phone or laptop without doing the hard stuff like managing inventory, printing, shipping, payments, or website creation.

We got this idea around 2020-2021 I came across Teespring and 4thwall and saw that a lot of top YouTubers globally sell their merchandise. But if you look at YouTube creators in India, they are still not selling their own custom merch or building their own brands. I thought the reason was a significant gap in the Indian market, so we started building Blinkstore. Our biggest goal was to keep Blinkstore free forever. If you create a store, list a bunch of products, and put them on your Instagram or YouTube, then forget about it. If it makes money, you can double down on your designs and strategy. If it doesn't, you still have a merchandise line on the side.

The platform and technology have matured so much that we are now preparing Blinkstore to go global. We are also building AI automation within the platform, from creating merchandise designs with AI image generators to editing your e-commerce store theme just from text prompts. These innovations make it even easier for anyone to launch their merchandise online.

While focusing on this use case, new use cases emerged. For example, big and established brands are using Blinkstore to set up merch stores for their employees. Brands in different businesses are designing quirky and interesting merchandise just to sell it on their websites just to see what the reception is so these are the kinds of use cases people have developed on top of Blinkstore. We are also moving in the direction to helping digital content creators sell digital goods. Writers can sell e-books, and designers can sell presets. We aim to enable the sale of both print-on-demand products and digital goods from a custom e-commerce store that is free forever.

How did you get your first 10 customers?

Getting to our first 10 customers was not a very big challenge because we initially thought that designers would be the right target audience for Blinkstore because designers know how to design stuff and can easily create merchandise. My co-founder, Mofid, is also a designer, and we had many friends from college who were UI/UX designers and graphic designers. We reached out to people in our network to get the first 10 sellers on the platform and then we also asked these first 10 sellers to recommend more designers and let them know about Blinkstore.

However, these initial 10 sellers did not make any sales because, although they were good at designing, they were not skilled at marketing. That's when I explored other methods. I created profiles for Blinkstore across the internet on platforms like Quora, Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, and started writing about Blinkstore.

The first breakthrough we got was by writing an article about the best print-on-demand websites in India, in which we mentioned Blinkstore. That article started ranking on Google, and SEO brought us the real users who made our first few bucks in our journey. The article generated a lot of traffic, leading to a few hundred people creating their stores in a couple of weeks. This breakthrough occurred over three to four months as we tried social media, reached out to people directly online, and built backlinks from different places. What did you do to confirm that your product/service matched what your customers needed?

What did you do to confirm that your product/service matched what your customers needed?

To confirm that our product and service matched what our customers needed, we initially conducted a lot of interview calls with our customers. When new sellers or creators signed up and created a store, I would reach out to them via email, saying, "Hey, thank you for trying out Blinkstore. I went through your store, and the products look great. Would you be happy to take 10 minutes to talk about your experience and how we can make it better?" We were very sure of what kind of product we wanted because we as co-founders were also users of our own product so that initial content helped us a lot.

Over time, we implemented two more things to understand our community's needs better. First, we created a WhatsApp group. When users sign up on Blinkstore, there's an option on the dashboard to join the WhatsApp community. While not everyone joins, those serious about building their merch store do. In this community, users share feature requests, report bugs, and discuss challenges. This feedback helped us a lot to set up our product roadmap.

Second, we created a public forum where users can write down the features, they want on Blinkstore, and others can upvote these features. This forum, called "Voice of Creators", allows users to request various features, such as pricing adjustments, coupon codes, product collections, and website footer edits. We regularly review this forum, marking feature requests as "working on it," "prioritizing it," "deprioritizing it," or "not working on it." This transparency helps the community understand what features are coming up on the platform.

How did you reach and acquire your first 100 customers? 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been the biggest source of growth for Blinkstore so far. Beyond that, we identified the keywords our competitors were ranking for in India, wrote great content on those topics, and started ranking ourselves. This strategy helped us quickly grow from our first 100 customers to 500, 1,000, and beyond.

Some of our highest-paying customers and top-selling clients came from my personal LinkedIn account. I have been sharing our progress on LinkedIn and Twitter, writing about Blinkstore's growth, the solutions we're building, who this solution caters to, the money people have made on our platform and the payouts and profits we've provided to our clients and sellers. This content attracted not just individual creators but also businesses looking to launch their own t-shirt or apparel brands, helping us acquire a lot of high-selling clients.

In summary, SEO and the founders' content on social media were the two main channels that helped us reach and acquire our first 100, and then our first 1,000, customers.

What distribution channels did you try that were crap and didn't work?

We tried paid advertising, but that channel did not work well for us. Partially, the reason could be that our budget for paid advertising on Instagram, Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn was not very high. Initially, we spent some money on those channels creating ads targeted towards content creators. However, we realized that the reason those ads were not converting was that the decision-making journey for launching a store is not taken in a single day or instance.

Creators were already searching on YouTube or Google for information like "how to launch a t-shirt brand," "how to create merchandise," "what are the print-on-demand businesses in India," and "what are the top-selling print-on-demand products." so all these topics people were already searching. These people had already made up their minds, so we realized that SEO and content creation were the distribution channels that worked for us, while paid ads did not.

At one point, I spent a lot of money on LinkedIn to attract more businesses. I thought that if my content was getting organic reach and converting into clients, then putting money on LinkedIn ads might work. However, I realized that everyone is trained to ignore LinkedIn ads, and unsolicited messages on LinkedIn also get ignored a lot. So, we concluded that LinkedIn ads were not effective for us. I'm sure many businesses benefit from LinkedIn ads.

What tools, software, or resources have been most helpful in growing your business?

The software tools that have helped us the most, I would say SEMrush for keyword research around SEO topics and figuring out what keywords our competition ranks on. We use SEMrush a lot and subscribe to its premium version. We also use Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

We have started using Zoho Campaigns, for email automation and marketing. On Twitter, I follow many founders and startups active in our space to see what kind of content they are posting, which has been very helpful. Additionally, I closely watch our global counterparts—platforms similar to ours but operating in different markets—to learn from their successes.

Apart from these tools, we do not spend a lot on any other paid tools and software.

How did you make the transition from a side hustle to full-time founder?

I wouldn't say that I made a complete transition from a side hustle to a full-time founder. When I joined BlinkStore, I was also part of OnDeck's founder fellowship, so that helped me stay afloat for a while. After that what I did, which was for the entire 2023, I kept my expenses low to focus full-time on my business. My advice to other founders is to keep expenses low, especially if you are young and don't have many responsibilities. Figure out how to make money early on and ensure you can cover your daily expenses and living costs.

I've done a lot of consultation work and part-time gigs on the side to support myself financially. As co-founders, we kept our burn very low on technology, ads, and customer acquisition, which helped us save a good chunk of money. We also made sure to set aside any extra revenue during good weeks and months to build a good runway. Currently, we have a runway of almost eight to ten months, allowing us to sustain ourselves and remain full-time founders even during down months.

If you are a side hustler, there is no shame in accepting it. Talk to your close friends, other founders, and makers in the community, talk to them one-on-one, and share your issues with them. If you can take a job that helps you learn key skills, like figuring out revenue channels and making money online, that's a great place to start. You can do a job and continue your side hustle on weekends. When your side hustle can sustain you, that's when you should transition to full-time.

From the very beginning, be frugal with your technology spending while maintaining high-quality work. Keep your costs low and find ways to make money from the start. Look at the competition and other startups to see how they are doing it. If you have a big vision, consider reaching out to angel investors, accelerators, and incubators to secure funding.

What advice do you have for founders in the earlier stages?

In the very early stage, I wouldn’t say anything surprising, my advice aligns with what Y Combinator has been advocating for years: make something that people want. Focus on creating a product that people want. Once you've done that, find those people for whom you're making the product and maintain close contact with your key customers and users. This will be the best thing you can do for your product and business in the early stages.

What drives you to do what you do?

Two things drive me for what I do. First, the fact that the product I'm building is being used by thousands of people every day brings me immense joy. We receive over a million of traffic to our website and blogs each month and knowing that our product touches so many people is incredibly fulfilling.

Second, I highly value the freedom to build, innovate, and pursue what I want to do. This freedom allows me to experiment and try new things, which I enjoy immensely. Along with this freedom comes the responsibility to keep the system running in the best way possible.

What unpopular opinion do you have about entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is hard. You might go on Twitter, YouTube, ProductHunt, or Reddit and read stories that someone made a million dollars in a month or raised $10 million in their seed round. These stories make it look very shiny from a distance, and you feel that you can achieve these things quickly. However, it’s an unpopular opinion, but even though the industry looks shiny, it requires a lot of hard work and sacrifices at your end. If you have good financial backing, you can take up a lot more chances in entrepreneurship. If your first venture doesn’t succeed, you can try again until you hit that sweet spot. Many founders don’t have the privilege or freedom to afford that. So, if you are pursuing entrepreneurship, understand that the journey is going to be hard. It may look shiny from a distance, but once you are in it, it requires a lot of hard work and grit.

What do you do to keep sane being a busy entrepreneur?

There are a few things that help me stay sane and manage my mental health while pursuing entrepreneurship and building my startups. The first one is the great support from my friends, family, and loved ones. Their understanding and support helped me stay calm.

I have also built a strong network of fellow founders, hustlers, and builders, both in my city and on the internet. I keep in touch with them through messages, video calls, simple calls, and offline meetings. When you connect with fellow founders and fellow hustlers, you see the kind of difficulties and stress everyone else is going through, and you can share notes on what is helping each other. This community you build around yourself is incredibly helpful in keeping you sane.

Additionally, I have many hobbies that help me relax. I play guitar and do gardening, I also have a lot of plants at home, enjoy long walks and morning runs, and love cooking. Whenever I get the time, I cook for my friends and host house parties almost every month, inviting close friends to hang out on weekends.

All these activities help me stay sane and mentally fit. I believe that if you are pursuing entrepreneurship, it should become a natural part of your life rather than a big burden on your related activities. That's my takeaway.

Who are some recommended experts or entrepreneurs to follow for learning how to grow a business?

I've read a few books that helped me a lot: Shoe Dog, No Rules Rules, Blitzscaling, and The Difficulty of Being Good.

Any quotes you live by?

"Do what you do best but change with time." - Paula Scher (American Graphic Designer and Painter)

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