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Swetha Ramamurthy

Baptised!!

Being a company that makes beautiful wood prints that immortalises people's memorable moments, we came up with the idea of naming our company Pinocchio. But even better, Nathaniel tweaked it a little and made it Pine - o - Chio; "Pine" as in wood and  "Chio" as in slang for beautiful. And that's exactly what we do - make beautiful wood prints!

Baby Steps

I tried my first wood print prototype and it was our first stepping stone - A failure. 
Making of the wood prints is not as straight forward as it looked in the YouTube video sadly. It is very easy to over scrub the picture and end up pealing the paint, which exposes the wood underneath. And at the same time, it is very easy to under scrub it, which shows white paper striations once the wood dries. It is quite tricky indeed!
At some places, the colour from picture had transferred to the wood so strongly that it wasn't coming off on scrubbing while at some places, the colour was peeling off like paper. I believe we need to use more gel medium on the wood to stick the picture so that all of the colour from the picture gets transferred to the wood properly. Another mistake I made was leaving the wood in the bag after sticking the picture instead of leaving it out in the open to try. But one thing I figured was that it is more effective to scrub the wood with hands than using a scrub. It gives me a good estimate of how much pressure I should use and how much I should scrub further. 
Nevertheless, we are still motivated to try harder. We have stuck another picture to the wood. This time, with a lot of gel medium and have also left it to dry under than fan. Hopefully it works this time. Fingers crossed!
Here's my first prototype:



Finally success!!

Finally, we are all delighted today. It was only yesterday that we worried about our prototype not turning out well. But here I am today, with our latest prototype and it looks perfect. 
I neither over scrubbed it nor under scrubbed it. I purposely put lesser gel medium at the ends to see if that was actually the reason for the colour peeling off. I just found out that insufficient gel medium is indeed the reason for the colour peeling off from the wood. That's why, in our latest prototype, the end has peeled off while the rest of the picture looks perfect. 
I just wish I could see how it would look with some nice matt varnish on it. But sadly, I could not open then varnish bottle :(
Have a look at our new prototype:



Eureka moment!

posted 7 Mar 2017, 08:06 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA

For the past few days, all of us have been quite troubled because we have a lot of inventory left in hand. And finally, when we are getting orders, we cannot process them. More than half of the wood we bought is damaged and needs replacement. However, due to some budget issues our supplier is not able to replace the wood until mid march. And lately, our technique has been backfiring too. A lot of products are requiring redoes and this is wasting a lot of wood. On the other hand, the vendor who used to scrap the spoilt wood for us refused to do it anymore. 
We found a solution to all our problems exactly at the right time. On Friday, while we were all processing the orders that we could with the wood we have, I accidentally damaged a photo that was stuck on the wood with my nails. Since, the picture was freshly stuck , Nathaniel suggested that we run some over water over it and try to scrubbing it off to save the wood. It was not surprising that it worked because we had stuck the picture only a few minutes ago. It then struck us that we could try scrubbing other spoilt wood in a similar way. And believe it or not, Eureka! It worked!
This means so much to us because this will not only enable us to process our orders but will also help us cut down our cost tremendously. But yeah, it requires some muscle to be able to scrap of the print from the wood!

Tough days, tough decisions

posted 16 Feb 2017, 00:18 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 16 Feb 2017, 00:22 ]

As I had said before, we had bought double the quantity of wood that we normally would just because we were getting it for $250 cheaper. I was against this idea, but I had to go with it anyway because the rest of my teammates were convinced that it was a good idea. I understand that entrepreneurship is all about taking risks and trying new things. But I personally believe that this is not a calculated risk. Firstly, because I wasn't able to understand why a completely strange wood vendor whom we had dealt with only once before give us $250 discount randomly? Is there something wrong with the product he is delivering? Secondly, we are still a new company that is relying on word of mouth and online publicity. Will we be able to sell all the wood? I understand that MAAD and U Flea are big events, but will we be able to sell 110 pieces of wood? Through my research I tried to understand the kind of market in U Flea and MAAD. I found that U Flea is more student centric. And I feel students won't shell out $35-$60 on buying an 8x10 or 11x14. The maximum they might buy is a 5x7 for $15. And as far as U Flea is concerned, there is a lot of crowd especially during the Valentine's season. But they are not people who would invest in buying expensive artwork. They like special things that are affordable. 
I hate to be right in this case, but as I feared, the wood vendor had indeed cheated us. He gave us poor quality wood that had marks all over, making it impossible to use. Thankfully, most of the wood pieces had this mark only on one side, so we could use it. But there were some pieces that had marks on both sides. I was always in favour of buying more 5x7's considering the kind of market U Flea and MAAD were. But my teammates though otherwise. They believed that people coming to such art fairs will be art lovers who wouldn't mind investing in artwork. And so we orders large amounts of 8x10 and 11x14's also, which are just lying as inventory as of now. 
We seem to have run out of 5x7's. And lately, we are having to redo a lot of our orders because many of them were getting over-scrubbed. And that is when I decided to do whatever it tales to find a foolproof method that will work at the first go and we won't have to redo orders. I tried 2 other methods, out of which one worked really well. Unfortunately, despite searching everywhere in Singapore, no printer had a smaller inkjet printer that could print on the special kind of paper that we use. And, so we were back to square one using our older technique and redoing orders. However, I realised that for the smallest (5x7) orders I could use my small inkjet printer that I had. It cannot be used for bigger sizes because of its poor resolution. So we use this method as a back up option for urgent orders. 
What makes me happy amidst all this is that we have found a way to recycle our wood for cheap. So none of our wood goes waste. Moreover, the recycler makes our wood with marks look good. That is like two hits with one stone. Also, my team and I never give up. No matter how many times we have to redo orders, we do it and deliver only the best product to our customer. It is a bliss when customers message/mail or tag us on social media thanking us for our loveable product, punctuality and going out of our way for delivering or hurrying up some special orders. 
U Flea, if not MAAD, was more than successful. We sold a lot of 5x7's to students and also exchanged business cards with AIA representatives there (sponsors of U Flea) for bulk orders. The AIA representative was so impressed that she voluntarily gave us her card and asked for ours. She said that it was a lovely product for gifts and would definitely consider us for both personal gifts and gifts for retiring employees or momento for well performing employees. Owing to U Flea rules and regulation, we could not make people pay in advance for products. So we requested them to give us their contact details to contact them later on. And to my surprise, a lot of these contacts translated into happy customers. MAAD, on the other hand, wasn't very successful but it definitely was a good experience!
Now being the Valentine's season, we are getting quite some orders. Also, we had U Flea and MAAD, both together on the 9th and 10th of February. So we have a lot of work at hand. But anyway, despite the quizzes and assignments, the team is doing a very good job at striking a balance between the two. 
Here are some of our memories from U Flea, MAAD, happy customers and also some constructive criticism:
  



        





Tough decisions are a part of entrepreneuring?

posted 23 Jan 2017, 08:57 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA

Our website is finally up and running. Hopefully this, in addition to our social media marketing will boost our sales further. Also, one of my friends who purchased our products loved it so much that he recommended us to his aunt in Singapore, who is willing to place orders with us to redecorate her house!! In addition, I was also successful in registering for MAAD. Luckily, despite a lot of demand, we have been added to the participation list. Moreover, we got our MAAD participation for free because of student promotions. 
Talking of MAAD, I get reminded of the first tough decision that we all had to make as a team. We had to choose between:
(i) Maxconn enterprises, our regular trusted supplier, who was charging us exorbitantly but we were assured to get well in time delivery of good quality wood for our major selling period: U-Flea, MAAD and Valentine's. Moreover, for the sake of the relationship we shared through previous transactions, the dealer was also ready to waive the surcharge applicable for calling in the workers during CNY to process our order
(ii) New supplier, whose product we haven't yet seen or tested. And also, he can give us the wood only a day before our first major event; U-Flea. But the major plus point with the new supplier is that we were getting it for half the price. 
However, we could not afford to not have wood during our selling season and hence we made the tough decision of going for the expensive but trusted supplier. We shall try out the new supplier next time to cut down operating costs. 
On the other hand, I have still been unsuccessful in finding a supplier for cardboard cartons to package our final product. I am currently liaising with a vendor in India, Chennai. Since, his mother tongue is the same as mine, he is more willing to listen to my requirements and also negotiate prices. But, as Plan B, I am also looking for other cheap packaging options such as bubble wrap with our logo stickers, brown paper bags with our logo and so on, in affordable websites such as Alibaba. Once, we have all the quotations, we will be making a decision about it soon!

A few hick ups along the way

posted 20 Jan 2017, 02:13 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 20 Jan 2017, 02:14 ]

The team is performing quite well as far as the orders are concerned. We recently finished our first 15 orders and are all geared up to finish our next 12. 
Recently, I also registered for the biggest event in the art and design market, MAAD. We are still awaiting the confirmation of our participation. Before we actually go for this mega event and one other u-flea market in NTU, we have to fix our website, find a solution to the hanging problem and find suppliers for our packaging material. While Monisha and Nathaniel are working on the website, I have mailed numerous customized cardboard box suppliers in India, China and Singapore for packing boxes, and awaiting their quotations. 
After realizing the dissatisfaction among the customers regarding the hanging of our products, we have been trying to find several solutions for the same. After researching a lot, I found that the 3M heavy duty tape can hold upto 2kg, and can be easily ripped off the wall when required without causing much damage to the product or the wall. I have mounted on of our wasted 11x14s using this tape in my room to test its viability. If it works, the team might settle for it. 
Have a look at our first few orders, all ready for delivery:
 

When things don't go your way!

posted 9 Jan 2017, 22:25 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 10 Jan 2017, 06:35 ]

Things don't always go our way. And it happened to us too!

We had paid a freelancer on fiverr to make a professional logo for us. While we had built up hopes and were waiting patiently in the hopes of getting a beautiful professional logo, what we actually received was pretty disappointing. After making several corrections and asking him to make news logos altogether, he finally gave in and proposed that we get a refund. So there we were, once again, without a logo. 
Hence, with the little photoshop knowledge that I have, I decided to make a new logo. I would be honest and accept that I did take a few inspirations from online logo generators. Finally, I came up with a logo and after a few corrections, my team and I settled for one. 
Here's a view of our new logo. Hope you like it!
Another development in our business is our marketing idea. 
Believe me when I say that the brightest ideas pop in your head when you have peace and solitude around you. While I was sitting alone in my room and making the Facebook page for our business, I realised how difficult it is to actually get online publicity, that too within the course of the module. That's when it struck me that we had decided to give a $5 discount to all our customer as an opening offer. I thought of tweaking this offer a little and my teammates actually loved it. I thought that we could give our clients a $5 discount in return for a post of the customer with our product on Facebook and Instagram with #Pineochio#woodprint#beautiful#iloveit in the post. 
We believe that this will fetch us the initial online publicity we need and show new customers the satisfaction of our previous clients.
I hope it works. Fingers crossed!

A fulfillingly productive day

posted 7 Jan 2017, 03:27 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 10 Jan 2017, 06:34 ]

Monisha, Nathaniel and I met at Monisha's house today for our professional photoshoot for our website. Thanks to Monisha's friend "Bhavi" and her exceptional photography skills for helping us with this. Now that our samples and photos are ready, we are sell to get our website, FaceBook and Instagram pages up and running. While all that is yet to happen, "Pine-o-Chio" seems to be quite famous among people already. We have 2 orders of 5x7, 8x10 and 11x14 each. We have already processed two of the orders and they are just waiting to be delivered. 
Well, it is true that 5 of the 6 orders received so far is through personal contacts among friends and family, one among all those orders were received because one of our customer's word of mouth. We hope that "Pine-o-Chio" continues to do well similarly. 

Here's a short sneak peak into our photoshoot pictures. I have put up my most favourite ones here:



Keep an eye for our website and place your orders soon. 


Visit to Maxcon Enterprises Factory in Singapore

posted 15 Nov 2016, 20:28 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 10 Jan 2017, 06:37 ]

Today, I, along with Nathaniel, visited the Maxcon Enterprises factory in Singapore. I must say that it was a very fruitful. We actually visited the factory to get a feel of the normal plywood that we had gotten quotes for in the first place. However, we realised after seeing in person that normal plywood did not look very great. Instead, we saw two other types of plywood: a custom made one that was ethereal and another birch plywood. We could not take the custom made plywood as it had to be ordered in quantities as large as containers. However, the birch plywood was very impressive. As seen in the pictures of the wood here, the birch plywood (larger piece) has natural wood ring marks on it,  has the candid hairy and rough feel and visible wood layers on the sides. This gives a natural woody charm to the piece. The normal plywood (smaller piece) however looks very smooth and polished thus making the wood look very unnatural. Both Nathaniel and I agreed that the natural unprocessed feel, touch and look of the wood will give a wow factor to our product. 
As a matter of fact, the normal plywood that we had gone to see was cheaper in its raw form. However, it was costing us a lot for laminating it and doing the side veneering. which give the wood a polished look. The birch plywood on the other hand looked naturally spectacular without the lamination, thereby saving us the lamination and veneering costs. The birch plywood though slightly more expensive than normal plywood, is worth the cost and is also well within our budget.


Our visit to Maxcon Enterprises factory

                                                                  

Larger piece: Birch plywood; Smaller piece: Normal plywood

Exam or no exam, the business goes on!

posted 14 Nov 2016, 05:44 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 10 Jan 2017, 06:33 ]

It would be a lie if I said that it is not taxing to handle business operations simultaneously with exams. Nevertheless, I did try to do my best to stop business operations from getting stalled. 

During our last Skype meeting, we decided to open a bank account for the sake of easy payments and transactions. We unanimously decide to open a Frank account as it does not require any minimum balance. However, when I visited the bank today, I learned that I am allowed to open only one OCBC Frank account. The other available options were: (i) Savings account with $2000 minimum balance every month 
(ii) Corporate account with minimum $3000 balance every month. So we all have decided to open a personal Frank account under Nathaniel or Monisha's name as they do not hold a Frank account yet. 

We are also trying to make time to visit the wood manufacturer this week, before our exams start on the 21st of November, to check the quality of the raw materials before we finalise the deal with the manufacturers. Once that is done, we will be all set to serve our already long awaiting, long line of customers. 

ACRA Registration

posted 11 Nov 2016, 00:24 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 10 Jan 2017, 06:33 ]

I know it has been a while since I last posted. Thanks to the fast approaching exams and the never ending Final Year Project work. And yeah, I did take a few days off work to celebrate my job offer from PwC!!!

Meanwhile, Nathaniel, being the only Singaporean in our group had applied for ACRA Registration. During the application filling process itself, there were some issues regarding the office address. Vaya and I are international students and don't have any permanent address here. Monisha's address was finally used as the office address in the application form and it was submitted for registration. However, Nathaniel had mentioned all of the four of us as business partners. So when Monisha, Vaya and I tried to endorse the application as required, we could not login as none of us had a SingPass. Sadly, Nathaniel could not apply alone for the registration as it would not qualify as a "Limited Liability Partnership" anymore. So Monisha has applied for SingPass. However, Vaya and I could not do so as SingPass application required us to have a local address in Singapore. Monisha's SingPass application is near complete and once that is done, Monisha and Nathaniel will endorse the application and finally Pine-o-Chio will be legally registered :)

As per Adrian's advise, Vaya and my share in the company will be legitimised by signing the partnership agreement that would entitle all of us to 25% shares each of the company.  

Some ray of hope

posted 26 Oct 2016, 11:21 by RAMAMURTHY SWETHA   [ updated 10 Jan 2017, 06:32 ]

As I had mentioned before, discussions with Benedict, the professional photographer have caught pace and he has even agreed to work with us. He had initially quoted a very high price of $35/hour. However, he empathised with us entrepreneurs as he was an entrepreneur himself. He agreed to charge us at per photo rate instead of per hour rate. From such an exorbitant price, he reduced to $5 per photo. I further explained to him that we couldn't afford that high a price as even the cost price of our product wasn't that much. After long hours of negotiation, Benedict has agreed to provide his exceptional photoshop services to Pine-o-Chio at just $1.5 per photo. 
Benedict, being the professional that he is, has suggested that we print a photographic colour wheel on the wood of our choice to visualise how the different colours will appear on the wood. This, he believes will help him edit the photos more efficiently. Once we decide our type and colour of wood by the end of this week, we will try sticking the colour wheel on the wood for Benedict. After that, we've requested Benedict to make a sample edit for us, so that we can be sure about collaborating with him. If all works out well, Pine-o-Chio shall work with Benedict to produce some extraordinary wood prints. 

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