April 20, 2021 10:41:13 am
Every day, a fragile work of art is shipped by Pune-based startup, PortraitFlip, to destinations across the world. A newborn’s face in watercolour, an oil painting of a couple on their wedding day, a charcoal drawing of a beloved pet, and an acrylic of a woman in a black lace dress have been some of the pieces that PortraitFlip has been commissioned to make.
Handmade paintings have mostly been the privilege of queens, presidents and actors, who have posed for portraits in the studios of renowned artists, through ages. PortraitFlip is making this service more widespread, for regular people and without the bother of sitting still for a painter. A startup, which was founded by Lavdeep Chahal, Shubhanshu Maheshwari and Sunny Choudhary, who were final-year engineering students at Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai, in 2017, now services more than 10,000 customers and generates a turnover of Rs 6 crores.
“One of my friends, later a co-founder, wanted to get a handmade portrait for his girlfriend. We went online in search of such a service but didn’t find any likes in India. That’s when we thought of starting a venture that would fill the gap and help the artist community. My initial partners and I launched a website, learned the basics of digital marketing, and started spreading the word on Facebook,” says Choudhary over a Zoom interview. The team expected a few customers from India, to begin with, but received orders from the US.
“This was very exciting because we were majorly focusing on India. One of the many reasons could be that our product was a little exorbitant compared to the Indian market. The sales were so good that we decided to continue the work through college,” he adds. With money borrowed from our family and friends, they rented an apartment in Keshav Nagar and built a better online presence. PortraitFlip now employs more than 100 artists spread across the world who create paintings from photographs in less than two weeks. Their market has grown to include Australia and the UAE, though 90 percent of the business is still from the US. “Compilation Oil Paintings” are the most popular among their offerings as it allows customers to use multiple photos to create a painting.
Art is an essential part of the Indian social and cultural fabric, with every region boasting a number of folk styles. Art schools in cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi train hundreds of young artists in forms ranging from traditional to experimental. Yet, the art market in the country pushes most artists to the margins and a number of them take up alternative work to make ends meet. PortraitFlip has, possibly, found the balance between art and commerce by enabling regular people to commission artwork. “At the start, we had offered two options, paintings for home decor and portraits, and expected the former to be a hit. It turns out that people preferred works that either captured a special moment of their lives on canvas or depicted a special person,” says Choudhary.
PortraitFlip was swamped with orders in the last few months of 2020. In fact, they were forced to put up a banner on their website stating that they were not accepting any more orders. By January 2021, they could rent a bigger office in Kharadi, and hire a full-time team of 10 people. The team is working to hit a revenue of Rs. 16 crores by the end of 2021.
“Our latest innovation is to create paintings from two sets of people. This has become popular with families in which a grandchild may never have met its grandmother or grandfather. In the painting, we show the child and grandparents in a park or the customer’s preferred background,” says Choudhary. The other big demand, especially from Europe, is for the “Royal Oil Portraits” that comprise paintings showing a person’s face painted on the body of kings or queens, superheroes such as Batman, or historical figures such as Maharana Pratap.
“We have been reinvesting our earnings back in the business. Later this year, PortraitFlip is planning to start a round of fundraising in order to grow and reach more people. When people buy one of our oil paintings, they get a picture they like but also know that an artist’s hands have worked on it, an artwork that has the smell of colours and the strokes of brushes. It feels different,” says Choudhary.
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