All of us love to click and chronicle every special moment in our lives and the proliferation of smartphones has only made it easier. But too many photos doing the rounds has also increased the danger of our pictures getting lost in the "digital noise".
Identifying the need for a service to sort the hundreds of photos we click and arranging them in a meaningful manner, start-up ZoomIn has made a smart debut.
"Most of us click hundreds of photos at every party and share them on social networking platforms. But the photos that are really important to us are personal ones, with our close friends and family. That's what we focus on - you and your family," claimed ZoomIn Chief Executive Officer Sunny Rao.
So what's the difference between ZoomIn and other social networking sites that allow patrons to share photographs?
"The way I see it, Facebook and other similar sites are about chronicling. ZoomIn is about storytelling," said Rao.
Founded in 2008, ZoomIn specialises in digital photo personalisation and printing. Its unique product, the photo book, accounts for 70 per cent of its business, according to Rao.
But in India, this product poses a challenge, as most people haven't experienced it at all. "Here, most people talk about the wedding photo album," said Rao.
The photo book offers various formats in which pictures are arranged in a manner to provide a coherent narrative. For this, ZoomIn's main target is the "chief memory officers" of families, that is, the mothers. Be it a child's first birthday or the time when they lost their first tooth - mothers want to capture all such moments in pictures so that they can revisit these again and again.
"When you have kids involved, people are more likely to get a photo book made as it keeps them more in touch with grandparents or relatives, as compared to sharing pictures on Facebook," said Sandeep Murthy, a partner at Lightbox Ventures - the lead financier for ZoomIn.
Photojojo acquisition and Phoneography
ZoomIn acquired San Francisco-based Photojojo, which sells cameras and mobile accessories, in a bid to realise the potential of mobile photography.
In a niche business, it is essential to have content and community driving the commerce, not deals, claimed Rao.
By tying up with Photojojo, ZoomIn has access to a large community as well as to unique content and products. Photojojo's business specifically targets the phoneography segment.
"Most of the story-telling is happening on the phone. That's called phoneography, not photography. We want more of that space. We'll help you tell your story through your phone."
The acquisition helped ZoomIn gain a global footprint, which will help it differentiate itself from the competition through its products.
Murthy said, "The Indian market allows economies of cost and production, helping a business venture into other markets. ZoomIn is poised to enter markets in Australia and Singapore."
Rao said ZoomIn helps you tell your story. "We help you celebrate the moments that make up your story," said Rao.
Photojojo helps ZoomIn achieve this aim by providing a wider audience. ZoomIn has its own printing infrastructure, with all processes being conducted in-house.
Printing the photo book and selling camera and mobile accessories is the main revenue source for ZoomIn.
"ZoomIn and Photojojo combined have about three million customers at present. We have almost 60,000 'likes' on Facebook," said Ajay Menon, chief operating officer, ZoomIn.
It is targeting revenue of Rs 180 crore this financial year, with a 50 per cent year-on-year growth.
But ZoomIn is more than its finances.
Murthy said he and Rao have been working together for six to seven years, since 2007-2008. "The real value of ZoomIn is its team and how they have evolved with the market," he said, adding that though ZoomIn began by selling cameras to establish a relationship with customers, it soon realised that mobile phone were the way ahead.
ZoomIn's business has an inherent "social" aspect to it, as its products are sold through a cellphone app, and its primary content - photos - can be shared. Photos, with their virality element, reduce customer acquisition cost.
How? "Just take a photo and share it," said Murthy.
Photo books have caught on in the US, but in India, it's still a fuzzy concept. Customer education and providing products priced for the Indian market are the main challenges the company has faced.
Reach was another hurdle that the ZoomIn team had to overcome. "Most of the chief memory officers - the mothers - were not online," said Rao.
So, he and his team began by exploring the offline retail space. A tie-up with bookstore chain Crossword helped educate customers.
"Once people saw the product, they wanted it," said Rao. "We tried to get our product into as many hands as possible and offered free trials."
Now, the target customers are being approached on the phone.
"Moving from one market to another is challenging but the team has the experience of working together and that has helped it," said Murthy.
Rao said his company's focus is to expand the Indian market and take a leadership position, while also focussing on the international market.
Localising is a major challenge but in the international market, there is still some competition. Shutterfly in the US and Photobox in the UK are two examples.
"What we're trying to do is differentiate ourselves by creating unique products and curating specific categories," said Rao.
India, on the other hand, is still a new market, with smaller local players. So ZoomIn has a monopoly.
"I don't think there's any other company addressing the specific need that we are and doing it at this scale. There are lots of people who try to just create apps, not a business. It requires a lot of infrastructure. ZoomIn has raised over $22 million," said Rao.
Innovation of products and differentiation lead the way forward for ZoomIn in both the Indian and the international markets.
It is likely to face two big challenges: Given the niche nature of the service and the limited product set, ZoomIn might find it difficult to scale-up. Also, this business - which doesn't require a significant capex - doesn't have any entry barriers. So, ZoomIn will have to explore multiple content and products. Also, it has to keep itself distinguished through innovative technology-driven platforms or services.
The recent acquisition is a positive step for content expansion, the product set seems to be quite limited. ZoomIn should concentrate on its core competency.
Nilesh Parwani is the managing director of Vistaprint India, an online printing services firm