Nov 24, 2021
Startup
4
 min read

Cloakroom - My first try at a startup

Golden Temple

Amritsar, my hometown, a place where daily hundreds of thousand tourists come to visit Golden Temple (holiest place in Sikhism), Jallianwala Bagh, Wagah Border and a lot of great food. As per Punjab Tourism, 2.59M tourists visited Amritsar in the year 2017, obviously, the actual number is a lot higher. I had been a solo traveler for a while now, traveling to places unknown and alone is a refresher for me. I was traveling to Pondicherry in 2016 alone, visiting Auroville. I faced trouble, my return flight was later at night and I had to check out from Auroville and go to Chennai during the day. I wanted to travel to Chennai and explore it, but it wasn’t convenient with 2 luggage bags. I couldn’t keep the luggage bag at an unknown place and then this idea stuck to me. My father has a shop in Amritsar, there is empty space in the shop’s first floor, which is not used at all. It can be used to store luggage and we can charge tourists per hour. The whole way back to New Delhi, in flight I kept thinking about the idea. As soon as I landed I bought “cloakroom.in” domain, since cloakrooms are quite common in India at religious places to store luggage. That marks my first startup.

“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes playing a poor hand well.”  –Jack London, Author

I realized that this is a demand-supply problem, where we need to provide a supply of cloakrooms and thus provide an app where people can register their cloakroom. So it becomes an Airbnb for luggage. I was excited like a teenager who gets a new video game. In the coming few weeks, with the help of a friend, I was able to make a website up and running. The MVP consisted of –

  • A simple landing page, where people can find the location on Google Map of my father’s shop.
  • Contact Details.
  • Price for storage per hour per piece

We knew people will be worried about storing luggage with someone unknown, so we got special big plastic bags made, in which we used to put the luggage and then got them sealed by duct tape. This duct tape was then signed by the owner of luggage and on the return of luggage, duct tape was removed in front of them. The plastic bags were reusable, and thus it was a very basic MVP. Mostly operational and not technical.

We were charging Rs.200 per 4 hours per 1 piece of luggage. We got a few pamphlets made and distributed near the Golden Temple. I also started posting about my website on review websites like Tripadvisor and Facebook pages.

I was at the same time working full time in New Delhi and thus wasn’t able to give full time to this startup. I was coordinating with my brother in my hometown and used to travel every weekend to home to get things moving.

Suffice to say that this was very operation dependent startup. We were able to get on average 4-5 customers per day, which generated Rs.800-Rs.1000 per day. From which we were paying commission to Auto-rikshaw (cabs) or unorganized sector labor who was helping us with operations. The startup worked for 2 months before I decided to discontinue it and focus on my next job at Airtel, which I had said yes for.

There were a couple of reasons because of which the startup didn’t work and I learned a few lessons from it –

  • Target Audience – Most of the people visiting Amritsar were not tech-savvy and thus didn’t do Google search or read trip advisor. Thus we were wrong in market sizing.
  • Trust – Humans are very private about their belongings, and trusting other people for their luggage sounded absurd to them. We didn’t focus much on this human need in our marketing efforts.
  • Operation Work – I was in New Delhi and my brother was working at his office, so the coordination required more dedication. I learned that you cannot rely on unorganized workers and their behavior towards the guest can affect you and the brand.

Nonetheless, the whole experience was super thrilling for me. I learned the following things –

  • How to make websites
  • How to use Google Maps API
  • How web hosting works.
  • How SEO and SEM work.
  • I learned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • How different it is to work on a product and make your own startup. You are not making the product, but most of your time is consumed in operation works.

While writing this, I googled to see if there is any other startup, and I found a couple of them sprung up recently. Mentioning a few of them –

  • https://vertoe.com/
  • https://stasher.com/
  • https://bagbnb.com/
  • http://www.luggagepub.com/
  • https://luggagehero.com

Now when I look back, I feel that probably I was not very motivated by the problem, I felt the problem, but was not in love with it. It’s not something which will keep me awake at nights. I think that is very important for a startup and entrepreneur to have a problem, which doesn’t make you sleep.

This is not going to be my last try and I will try again in the future but for a problem, I am more passionate about. Currently, I am thinking a lot about the state of education around the world and if you have an idea to revolutionalize the education sector, ping me, and we can have a talk about it.