Matthew: From idea to product launch, how long did it take and when did you actually launch?
Gagan: So, our path was probably a little bit more complicated than your standard website Internet company. And that’s because we have this sort of offline manufacturing component, and so it took us about six months to get from idea to live on-site. And then from live on-site to our first physical products, that was sold another two months. And the reason being, we had to spin up this whole supply chain around printing, book binding and actually building the design community before we could actually print the first set of products.
But, it’s a testament to my co-founder being able to build this incredibly large site in a matter of a few months alone, I think is huge. I didn’t write live code in the core platform, it was all Neel. I was doing sort of peripheral development, but he was writing the core platform. And then, I was doing all the deals with the printers and the book binders and designer outreach and all that. So, about six months from the inception of idea to launch the site.
Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about Chirply that you’d like to share with the audience?
Gagan: Well, I mean, our business sort of lives or dies on two things. One is that people actually care about design, and two people actually care about the products that we’re selling, as a result of the design. And it’s actually really exciting and encouraging to see the number of designs that have been submitted since we first launched the site and the majority of which are incredibly high quality. And you can kind of take a look at some of the designs that we’ve printed so far. So, this is an example of one. Here’s another one, this one is actually incredibly popular with your pop fan, it’s a really cute, fun card. And then this one’s another sort of popular one.
But a lot of great illustrations and the sheer number of them has been incredible. I think in the first week of launch we ended up with like 150 designs submitted. And then beyond the actual submissions, we’re seeing incredible engagement numbers in users, systems for the designs that we’ve printed in the first contest. The average design, the average number of votes that a printed design got was north of 600 votes. And to put that in perspective, I’ve seen thread lists get anywhere from 750 and 1500 votes for a winning design today.
So, a lot of engagement users are coming in, and I think the average number of votes per user today is 180 votes per user spread across multiple sessions. So, there’s a lot of engagement which just tells us people care and people are going to be really excited about the design.
Matthew: We know founders face new challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest part about starting Chirply, and how’d you overcome this obstacle?
Gagan: The hardest part is now. The hardest part is building the business. Starting a company is not easy, and you need to have a couple things lined up for you and they did for me in starting the company. One is the co-founder and finding the right person to start the company with. And so, like I said, I’ve been really fortunate that I grew up with my co-founder. For us it was trying to figure out the whole printing situation, right? So, we had experience in print but not necessarily in this sort of magnitude with this variety of options of high quality paper, recycled content versus not, all that kind of stuff. So, finding printers was a big thing. We churned through three or four printers before we finally found our current one, who is working out incredibly well.
So, you know there are a lot of challenges obviously, and then launching the site, trying to drive traffic, all the standard things that most websites and marketplaces have. I think our biggest challenges are ahead of us in terms of growing the site, growing the design community, growing the consumer community and just staying true to our roots and making sure that we build a really vibrant community that we care about and they care about us.
Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would’ve known before starting Chirply?
Gagan: I wish I would have known how hard marketplaces are to build. Marketplaces are incredibly hard, getting people to part with their hard earned money is not an easy thing. But aside from that, everyone knows or at least, I think it’s commonly known that starting a company is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. We were fortunate that I had been at personally, at least, six or seven startups.
This is the third company that I’ve started, the second company I started with Neel, so we were fortunate that sort of over the last ten, twelve years, we’ve seen a lot of startups from the inside. And so, I feel that we’re very fortunate that we’ve learned a lot along the way and there weren’t a whole lot of surprises, other than the day to day of the execution of the business and understanding how to drive traffic and users and purchases.
Matthew: What mentors played a significant impact in your development?
Gagan: Mentors throughout my career and even in the short tenure of Chirply so far have been huge. When we were fundraising, mentors were incredibly important and helpful, both from introductions, but also from understanding the process. Learning about deal structures and that sort of thing, right? Things that I don’t want to think about now that it’s done because there are more important things around execution of business, but mentors were incredibly valuable during that time.
And then, as we sort of geared up to launch, mentors were really important because I was actually on the phone calling people and it’s not mentors in the sense of people with years and years of experience, it’s also people that have relevant experience now, and they’re kind of in it building their companies. And I was able to call a lot of folks that I’m close to and ask questions about advertising, ask questions about driving traffic, creative marketing programs and those sort of things. And it’s been incredibly valuable. Anyone who is starting a company, I would recommend, surround yourself with smart people because you’re only going to learn from those people.
Matthew: What advice would you like to share with the audience about starting a startup? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?
Gagan: Don’t talk about it, just do it. Basically find a good co-founder. At least, one of your team should be highly technical, figure out a product and a niche that you want to build and make sure it’s a product that has legs, and just build it. Get it out there as quick as possible. The more you talk about it, the more you try and analyze it, the further away you’re going to get from actually launching it. Sometimes, you have to sort of put your foot down and draw a line in the sand or put a stake in the ground, or whatever you want to say and you just have to do it.
And the business from day one to day 500 is going to change. All businesses morph and change, but until you actually do it and sort of jump, like throw yourself into the fire, you’re never going to really get past the starting line. So, finding a co-founder, nail down the general idea and start building. And get it out there as soon as possible and get a social crew from your users in your community.
Matthew: Before we close, I’d love for you to give our audience your vision for Chirply and how you hope it will change the world?
Gagan: For us, it’s all about design on every day products. And it’s about taking design and enabling people to create beautiful products. So, the idea that we’re focused on is basically being socially responsible in paper goods because all of our stuff is 100% post-consumer waste, 100% recycled paper or recycled content. And we want everybody to get excited about these certain meaningful moments between people and meaningful or intellectual moments within yourself, and I think design has a lot to do with that.
And then, we want to also enable anybody who’s creating any kind of product to sort of share that vision with us and use the platform to sort of build beautiful design into their products as well. So, the long term goal is not necessarily just to focus on our paper goods, but to take our design community beyond what we’re doing and kind of help other people and other companies and other startups build products that are very beautiful and sort of meaningful design to their products as well.
Matthew: Gagan, it’s been a pleasure having you as guest at FounderLY, we’re rooting for your continued success at Chirply. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more, you can visit their website and become a member of their community at www.chirply.com.
This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much, Gagan.
Gagan: Thank you.