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Printo's Manish Sharma on the philosophy of digital print - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

09 September 2017

The co-founder and chairman, Manish Sharma discusses the new acquisition.

Plus he shares his journey since 2009, when he had founded Printo with his wife Lalana Zaveri and how he still discovers the art of making print across 30 stores and three regional hubs spread across six cities.

The Sunday Column is about how the fast-growing digital print pan-Indian group hopes to benefit from the acquisition and leverage its expertise.

balu (From l-r) Manish Sharma, co-founder and chairman; Balu Iyer, CEO; Vinay Sharma, CTO

Congratulations. Printo has acquired 100% of The Print Bazaar, a multi-service print shop in the NCR region, from the Alia Group. What's the rationale behind this move?
Once Printo acquired critical mass in the south, we were actively looking at expanding nationwide. Print Bazaar presented itself as an ideal investment which helps us with a beachhead in the NCR market. We have saved time and given our enterprise customers delivery capabilities countrywide, while establishing our retail presence in a key market.    

It is said the future belongs to companies that embrace partnering. What's the level of integration with the Alia acquisition?
We have acquired 100% of one of their assets - Print Bazaar and integrated them completely into Printo operations. Alia has other, larger businesses which are not directly related to the quick print business.    

The print retail industry is growing at 20% and is expected to be a USD 7-bn industry by 2020.  Are you optimistic about where Printo is going to be in 2020?
Well, we hope to grow at 15% faster than the overall market and all our actions are directed towards that. One reason for this is that we are yet a small company. We may be the largest quick print chain but we are merely a speck in the print market. But then, the good part about being small is that we can harbour ambitions to grow faster than the market. In the last 6 months our investments in new markets like Chennai and Pune and now, Delhi which will deliver this growth. I am long on India in general and that is the bet we are making. 

Headquartered in Bangalore, Printo makes printing a simple and hassle-free process for both business customers and individuals. The question is, has digital retail print become degraded and more importantly have we undervalued the print brand? Instead of celebrating what print and print products can do for the image of a business?
I do not think this is something different from the commoditisation of print we have seen in developed countries. We need to wake up and accept the fact that print is a commodity product. Whenever a customer has a hundred options with varying price points, you are dealing with a commodity. So, while one may have a premium coffee from single origin Ethiopian beans, most of the market seeks well selected Coorg coffee.  The larger market wants reliability and availability. Printo celebrates the fact that we enable young businesses to create and grow. We deliver reliability to customers which no printer wanted to serve because they were too small. Printo too is a small operator in a very large market. So we love small customers who want to grow - from 100 visiting cards to corporate merchandise. That, for me, is exciting.      

Unlike the “mom and pop” shops, Printo's customers can order via a mobile app or the website and pick up at a store the same day or have it delivered to their office / home. This is a rapidly changing environment, which Printo is leveraging. What's the success rate on this front?
Significant. Customers are keen to transact over mobile and their standards for user experience are very high indeed. But omni-channel is tough to build and integrate into existing systems. We are investing in this and in less than 2 years, a majority of our business will be from digital channels. 

During the EFI meet you had briefly touched upon the power of the software and how it can be deployed for clearly packaged micro services that can be used by third parties to develop tools and services. What is happening on the software front at Printo across your 30 stores and 3 regional hubs spread across 6 cities?
We are constantly improving and building our technology systems. This year we will start work on a new platform.   

What kind of team do you have at Printo? And how does this team function?
While Printo is a professional, board managed company but I would like to believe all our managers have a strong sense of ownership. We have a CEO, Balu Iyer, who bring some fantastic experience including 25 years at Unilever. He understands how to build a large business and is delivering on that. Vinay Sharma is our CTO and is like a co-founder. He is unique as he is a software developer who also ran a pre-press business in Bombay. Vinay has the unique ability of understanding print and how software can be leveraged. Prethish Nandi is our General Manager and Nayeez Ahmed runs our biggest retail markets. Both are non-print professionals who have been with the Printo journey from close to inception. I contribute in growth areas - new markets, new services and digital. 

It’s so competitive in trade printing with digital print products, many people think there’s going to be a big shake-up. What do you think?
I think we are already in the midst of a shakeup but we do not notice it as the tectonics of this will play out over decades. GST will accelerate it to some extent but in general, the print industry does not like quick deaths, which is turn makes it tough for the rest. Because we are not a boom or bust industry,  the choices in front of entrepreneurs are not binary. Those with some vision can see easily sense if their competence is what the future will need. The smarter ones withdraw or make a concentrated bet.    

How are you faring on the price front? If you look at some of the retail print brands, some of them are the lowest price in the market. How does Printo fare on this front?
We are not the cheapest product provider. We are the fastest and the most reliable, for which we charge a premium. I believe there is a market for low priced products but that is a slippery slope unless you have a strategic reason like superior sourcing, lower customer acquisition costs or superior technology.    

What’s next, do you have more acquisitions in mind?
Yes. We will continue to identify and work with entrepreneurs who are culturally aligned and have realistic expectations. 

Printo acquires The Print Bazaar, looks to invest Rs 10-crore

Printo, one of the biggest organised high street retail player in the digital printing space has acquired 100% of The Print Bazaar, a multi-service print shop in the NCR region, from the Alia Group.

Headquartered in Bengaluru, Printo caters to both business customers and individuals. Unlike the traditional “mom and pop” shops, Printo's customers can order via a mobile app or the website and pick up at a store the same day or have it delivered to their office / home.

Balu Iyer, CEO of Printo said, “We believe consolidation gives us a competitive advantage and we can collectively grow faster. When I joined Printo, my ambition was to make this a national brand, which served customers across most metros. With the Print Bazaar acquisition we have not only fulfilled this goal, but also created a platform that will help us penetrate deeper into the north India market”.

While the financial terms of the Print Bazaar acquisition, completed last month, were not shared, sources privy to the developments said the deal valued Print Bazaar at Rs 8-10 crores. Printo is also expected to infuse cash into the newly-combined entity located in the NCR region, post the closure of the deal.

The deal marks the second buyout for Printo, which had acquired Bengaluru-based Lifeblob.com, a social photo service firm in 2010, for $2-5 million.

“The acquisition helps us achieve economy of scale and be part of a platform that serves customers at a pan India level. It will help us learn from each other’s experience and grow in larger geographies. Large corporates want a single supplier. National presence will help us cater to the needs of both SME’s and these large corporates”, shared Sanjeev Malhotra, Founder & CEO, Alia Group. A serial entrepreneur, Print Bazaar marks his fourth successful exit. Previously his companies have been acquired by Future Group, an IT major and a large French International conglomerate.

As PrintWeek India has reported in the past, Printo was founded in 2005. The firm offered a range of print services from internal signage to visiting cards. The company was backed by Sequoia Capital, which led funding with Rs 16 crore in 2007. The founder Manish Sharma, who had founded Printo with his wife Lalana Zaveri, bought back stake in 2009. While Sharma moved on as the chairman of the board of directors, so as to ensure expansion in other metro cities, Balu Iyer was appointed CEO in 2017.

Competition at a glance:

Canvera raised Rs 20-crore in 2016, which gave Info Edge a majority stake at 57%.

Printland received an undisclosed amount of funding in 2015 from SIDBI.

ZoomIn bought US-based Photojojo, and received an investment in 2014 of Rs 50-Crore.

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