With a fast developing world, we have two kinds of startups today – ones that enhance technology and ones that showcase the best use of that technology. Every startup winning in the market right now has only one concern for the day and that is to survive in the competition. With the markets booming everyday the only option to keep businesses afloat is to have innovation and technological evolution.
With such an evolution, FreeCopy is a startup that’s in the business of providing photocopy and printouts. An “uberization” of the photocopy market in the Indian space.
FreeCopy is an app wherein the users can print or photocopy from anywhere to any FreeCopy associated store and their bill amount will be refunded in the form of coupons and vouchers.
People Believe in the FreeCopy Idea
Today, FreeCopy has received a funding of total 25 Lakhs from the Government of Gujarat and IIM Ahmedabad. Operating with 70+ stores and 8 colleges in Ahmedabad, FreeCopy is slated to expand their operations in Mumbai by June 2017.
The Journey and its Beginnings
Every success has its own story, the same way FreeCopy has its own book of tales. Three co-founders, aged 20, 19 and 19 started this journey together. Each of them, unsuccessful with their individual ventures found a common interest and teamed up to solve the problem of spending time waiting in lines while printing or photocopying.
Kunal Sheth, an IB student was already working on two projects named the HitFit (a web application where budding enthusiasts can get access to video tutorials and nutrition advice for free) and an IR remote control product that plugged into phones’ headphone jacks. During his summer break in May 2016, Kunal met his school junior Raahish Kalaria who was also working on a startup, but his other co-founder Tanmai Vachhani had quit. Raahish was in search of a team partner then, when he happened to meet Kunal to take his idea through the stream.
The initial idea was primarily about an app that provides absolutely free prints to everyone by inserting user-specific and relevant advertisements in the document, converting that document into a personalised magazine. Kunal showed his interest in the idea and they started their work in full swing. Soon Tanmai Vachhani rejoined the duo with Raahish and eventually became the third co-founder of FreeCopy.
Dropping out of College: Their Decision to Focus on the Startup
Kunal, after completing his schooling had taken admission in Mumbai University for Computer Science. Later, knowing that he was being taught was something he already knew, he decided to drop out of college and take a break to not split his time and focus. Raahish and Tanmai completed their 12th and have decided to take a break. Their families were supportive of this decision, which helped them be determined in working for FreeCopy. They then moved to Ahmedabad as they were more sure of succeeding in a market in Gujarat, where they’re from.
Pitching Their Startup
After brainstorming and seeing less opportunity in Rajkot, they moved to Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad had six incubators, wherein the FreeCopy team decided to pitch their startup. Four out of the six incubators had rejected the idea, one of them was the IIM Ahmedabad stating that the team was too under-qualified. From the other two incubators they chose the Innovation and Incubation Centre at PDP University. The IIC offered them a seed fund of Rs. 20 Lakh along with a work space in the university and mentorship (including a Stanford Design Thinking Course) from a Stanford Alumnus.
The Hurdles in their Startup Journey
With the available funds it was possible for them to spend Rs. 6 lakhs on product development and Rs. 3 Lakhs on website and iOS/Android app design. A work space was required, so they started two offices – one in Ahmedabad and the other in Gandhinagar. FreeCopy, while moulding itself according to the need of the market was invited by IIM Ahmedabad for pitching competitions and investors’ meets. This gave them an opportunity to meet a lot of investors and VCs.
After this the FreeCopy team started with their actual operations and one-to-one communication with the print shop owners. The response didn’t go as they expected. The store owners had a barrage of questions for the team in regards to the Why and How of their business model. This was the time to fill in the gaps and change the model.
Rethinking the Business Model
The model was changed to what it is now after incurring an additional cost of Rs. 1 Lakh. The local companies and shop owners in Ahmadabad now believed in the idea and provided coupons and were interested in having themselves listed on FreeCopy. As the work had increased it was also time to increase the work force. FreeCopy hired 3 MBA’s and a team 11 interns to have their operations on path.
The next point on the checklist was to launch FreeCopy officially and at a bigger level. On 13th January, their choice for launch was the 2017 Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2017 wherein the Cabinet Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Chiman Shapariya inaugurated them by starting the server button. Within two days of launch FreeCopy had shown its spark with 500+ app downloads.
Today, FreeCopy is successfully operating in Ahmedabad with their eye on Mumbai, then Pune, Bangalore and eventually all of India.
What Enabled their Grant from IIM-A
After receiving 500+ downloads within two days, they were once again noticed by IIM Ahmedabad who provided a grant worth Rs. 7.5 Lakhs. In our interview with co-founder Kunal, he expresses that their exact words were, “You are our startup, we like you.” In a 15 minute presentation, these words came out 5 minutes after the presentation had started. This gave them confidence in their business.
Incubation at IIC PDP University provided them much more than just investment – the contacts and support from their framework also played a major role.
The FreeCopy co-founders, with their tech expertise and their individual achievements helped them have a clear view of their work. Kunal Sheth himself has represented India in robotics competitions in the USA twice. The other two founders Raahish Kalaria and Tanmai Vachhani were also in a team for tech and robotics competitions. They’ve managed to utilise their skills to solve a problem and make a business out of it.
As of today the print locations are only available in Ahmedabad, but they’re fast expanding across other metros.