Two decades after playing together on IIT-Bombay's cricket team, Dhiraj Kacker and Peeyush Rai came together in Bangalore in 2008 to open a new innings as technology entrepreneurs. While Kacker, 38, had specialised in digital imaging (his PhD was sponsored by Hewlett-Packard), 39-year-old Rai's forte is building scalable enterprise IT systems.
Thus was born Canvera Digital Technologies, which offers professional photographers high-end photobooks of their assignments in 48 hours. Canvera's photobook, with the photos bound like a regular book, and the flexibility of its processing system (clients can suggest colour correction during processing) set it apart from processing shops.
Kacker says some 60 per cent of Canvera's business comes from weddings and related ceremonies.
"The wedding photography market alone is a billion-dollar opportunity," says Mohanjit Jolly, Managing Director of DFJ India, which invested in Canvera along with Footprint Ventures. Canvera's packages can start from as little as a few thousand rupees and go up to a few lakh, depending on the size of the book, paper used and number of copies ordered.
Much of the wedding market, Kacker claims, is concentrated in the hinterland and reaching these locations - often with limited or no Internet access-is Canvera's biggest challenge. In Tier II towns, Canvera has opted for brick-and-mortar outlets manned by franchisees, who make money on adding a margin to the company's products and solutions.
Technologically, too, it's a challenge, says Rai, the technology chief. "Around 80 per cent of our collections are in cash, so the challenge is to make sure these charges are reflected almost immediately," he says. In 2009, when everyone was cutting headcount, Canvera added 200 people and plans to have some 350 employees soon. "We expect to break even in 18 months," Kacker says.
FOCUS: Digital imaging products
FUNDING: DFJ, Footprint Ventures and Mumbai Angels
ADDRESSABLE MARKET: The 10 million-plus weddings said to be held in India every year. Sees 2 lakh professional photographers as customers
COMPETITION: Photo studio chains
BEST ADVICE WE GOT AND FROM WHOM: You can do lots of things with money, but the one thing that money can't buy enough of - especially for a start-up - is time.
- Andy Wood, ex-CEO of Shutterfly