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Rediff.com  » Business » Lumoid: A unique start-up's success story

Lumoid: A unique start-up's success story

June 06, 2014 20:30 IST

Starting in January, Lumoid’s revenue has been growing on average at 35 to 40 percent month over month. Founder Aarthi Ramamurthy, speaks to Chaya Babu about what makes it tick.

 “We’re kind of like Uber for consumer electronics,” is how Aarthi Ramamurthy describes Lumoid, her startup that launched in the New Year and has since taken off. Lumoid is a rental service for cameras and photography equipment - with the option to use credits from rentals toward a purchase - and has seen a consistent stream of customers returning for more and high-profile mentions in the tech news media since its launch. 

“So just like how you press a button and a shiny black car shows up with a driver (via Uber), and you pay a fraction of what that would cost to own it and you have it for the amount of time that you need it, it’s the same thing, but with photography gear,” she tells India Abroad.

The Lumoid site a is clean and user-friendly e-commerce experience, prompting visitors to select a category, like ‘Landscape,’ ‘Sports,’ and ‘Student’ for recommended custom created kits or ‘Shop All Gear’ for those who prefer to pick and choose the pieces they need. Rental prices start as low as $5 per day, but in the ‘Travel/Vacation’ category for example, kits range from $12 to $80 per day.

And with jetsetters being one of Ramamurthy’s top customer groups, not only is getting a temporary camera as easy as picking a start and end date and hitting ‘Add to Cart,’ but items can be shipped directly to a hotel or other accommodation. Many people would prefer not to carry expensive equipment on their journey, and Lumoid has found a way to cater to just that.

And the items or kits come with a battery pack, memory card, and return label ready to be slapped on for the return trip. Ramamurthy officially launched Lumoid in January, but had been building its operations for eight months prior. She had support through Y-Combinator, a seed accelerator for startups that provides funding, advice, and connections for a select number of entrepreneurs.

The program is competitive, and Ramamurthy applied with the idea for Lumoid already developed in her mind. Since then, she was able to garner about 7,500 potential interested customers on the waitlist.

Starting in January, the site’s popularity has been primarily due to word-of-mouth, revenue has been growing on average at 35 to 40 percent month over month, and about 50 percent of customers have come back for repeat transactions.

“That’s kind of huge for just a few months of operations,” she says. Ramamurthy, who grew up in Chennai and has a master’s in software engineering in Coimbatore, has been working in the tech space in some capacity or another since finishing school. She started her career at Microsoft in Hyderabad and then transferred to their Seattle office, which she referred to as ‘the mothership.’

She was there for about six years, and she got married in 2010; her husband was also an engineer at Microsoft. On their honeymoon, they built an app while just tinkering around with the idea to have something like Instagram on their Windows phones. But this “goofy little app,” as she called it, got mentions in Tech Crunch and The New York Times as well as offers to buy.

“We just thought, ‘Hey we’re in Hawaii, we have our phones and all these beautiful photos but no way to process them with filters and stuff, and we’re both developers,’ so we just did it,” Ramamurthy laughs. “And we got some acquisition offers for it in the Valley and we turned those down because we really didn’t think it was valuable enough to the point where we could sell it. But we decided to move down there, to San Francisco and eventually go build a startup — that was kind of our dream.”

With Ramamurthy at Netflix while her husband joined Yahoo!, she gained a wealth of knowledge about consumer electronics and saw the gadgets market exploding.
“You were seeing different types of Bluetooth of speakers and headsets, phones, tablets, wireless computing devices, cameras, etc were blowing up. And companies were releasing multiple versions of a product a year, which was never the case before.”

While at Netflix, Ramamurthy co-founded True&Co, a website to digitally shop for intimate apparel while taking into account the various sizing annoyances of bras without awkwardly getting help from a Victoria’s Secret salesperson. True&Co is still running now, but Ramamurthy knew she wanted to do something more in the consumer electronics sector.

She left Netflix and thought up the concept for Lumoid while working briefly as entrepreneur-in-residence at Battery Ventures, a VC firm.

That was when she pitched the idea to Y-Combinator and the focus on photography stuck with her from her own experience of taking pictures at weddings and on trips and understanding the market. She knew that as a non-professional photographer but one who wants quality equipment - the enthusiast audience — it can be daunting to pick a camera and a lens and the accessories and know if it will all work out, particularly based on the cost of such items. 

“I wanted to make it easy for them to find the right stuff,” Ramamurthy says. “And it’s a fraction of the cost: You don’t have to pay $2,000 or $3,000 to go buy the item and then figure out if that’s the right thing for you. We wanted to make it super affordable and convenient to get gadgets and try them at home. The idea was that if people could do this, and try things, the chances of them converting that into a purchase was higher.”

Still, she stresses that ending with a purchase is not the goal. Ramamurthy is happy with customers returning their rentals and going their merry way. About 1 in 5 customers do end up buying, and Lumoid makes a margin off that, but the concept is intended to keep people from collecting gadgets they don’t want and are not going to use.

Moving forward, the company is scaling up — right now, Ramamurthy has four full-time employees, a few part-time employees, and an office in San Francisco and there is hope to expand out of purely photography equipment over time. She’s looking at the medium-to-high-value consumer electronics space, but after that, she doesn’t know.

At the moment, she’s enjoying how far she’s come and trying to pay forward her good fortune, trying to sponsor employees the way Microsoft did for her.

“I feel really good; I’m kind of living the dream,” she says. “When I moved from India, this was just unthinkable. My husband now works at Facebook; I’m building this startup; we’re in the valley. I feel like we’re onto something. It’s kind of surreal. It’s really cool.”

Chaya Babu