Shubham Agarwal and Anubhav Goyal : The men behind low cost notebooks
About six years ago, Shubham Agrawal and Anubhav Goyal were looking for ways to kill free time in college. Frustrated with this free time, they started an online daily known as ofcourse.in, a portal where they recorded tales and experiences of students across all IITs. Although the site was running well, they were forced to close it down, as their Principal did not want stories from IITs to be publicized. During this time, they participated in a lot of business plan competitions and started working on a viable business model. They wanted to create value in the arena of advertising.
They discovered that although the cost of manufacturing a newspaper is very high, it is sold at almost 10% of the cost price because the money earned from the advertisements printed in it substantially reduces the price. They wanted to do the same for notebooks-subsidizing prices by adding advertisements to the notebooks. Also, since notebooks lasted longer than a newspaper, ads would remain with the target audience for a long time. This idea was brilliant because students were bound to buy low-cost notebooks even if they did not buy newspapers. Then, they inquired in the local areas about the cost of manufacturing a notebook and finally found a paper mill in Saharanpur, which manufactured notebooks at a reasonable price. Moving further, they xeroxed the ads they had obtained from local markets and put them in these notebooks. All these notebooks were given for free in IIT Rorkee, even then they managed to make a profit!! And this is how Adister was born.
Yes, their idea had worked, but the going was not easy for them as they were charged with carrying on an economic activity inside the campus and were faced with the possibility of strict disciplinary action. Since they had not ‘sold’ anything, they were let go with a warning.
They were facing problems, as they had not formally incorporated a company. Many advertisers refused to collaborate with them, as they were still students. However, these minor speed bumps did not discourage them. They won the IIT Rorkee B-Plan challenge and used the prize money to incorporate their company. After this, they went on to clinch a series of B-Plan competitions and invested the prize money in their business. They also represented India at the All Asia B-Plan competition and were the only undergrad finalists at Google for Entrepreneurs. Slowly, their business grew and they contracted with brands like Levi.
The idea is simple and the idea is brilliant. They've run a pilot project in Roorkee, which received the overwhelming response and they would have scaled to Delhi and Dehradun if not for their academic commitments. The bespectacled and unassuming Shubham took me by surprise as he shared his business idea; there is a consummate businessman under the soft-spoken exteriors of this young man in his early twenties. But we all know that the brilliance of the idea is only one part of the entrepreneur's story. The other is the grit to achieve it. Shubham's journey has required a lot of grit and it his persistence that makes the Adister team, very good entrepreneurs.
Does this seem like too much praise? Here's an account of a 5 year-long journey, which will show you exactly why I think so -
Shubham and Anubhav had the one thing that all entrepreneurs must have - impatience. Frustrated with the free time that they had at college, they decided to start up an online daily, called offcourse.in, which would chronicle the stories across IITs in India - "We ran it for a couple of months, after which we had to close it down, because our college's dean didn't want stories about IIT to go out. In this time, we used to also attend a lot of B-plan competitions. Most people who took part in this didn't present high-quality ideas; many of them were not feasible." With a focus on making a feasible business model, Shubham and Anubhav put their minds together on creating value in the advertising space.
"The manufacturing cost of a newspaper is about 25 Rs, but it is sold for a tenth of that cost. This was because of the ads that it carried. We thought of using the same on a notebook, as no one had done it yet. So we went about inquiring about the cost of making a notebook. Roorkee gave us very high quotes, so we went to the nearby Saharanpur instead, as there was a paper mill there. The cost of a notebook was about 20 Rs, which was feasible for us. We took simple photocopies of ads that we had cracked with the local dealers in Roorkee. We tied up the NSS IIT Roorkee and gave away these notebooks for free. The leftover notebooks, we gave to the students of IIT Roorkee." Despite giving away the books for free, they still made a profit.
At the end of college, Shubham and Anubhav chose to defer their placements by 2 years, which was the first in the history of IIT Roorkee. "Because no one else had done it, our admin didn't have the documents to process our request! Apart from us, only Vivek Prakash, the co-founder of HackerEarth, did this," said Shubham. Post this, Shubham went about looking to join an accelerator program which would help them become more professional in their operations. But they would face a problem here as well - "All the accelerators had advanced their registration times by a month and we missed the deadlines."
This led Shubham and Anubhav to travel to Bangalore and Hyderabad, in search of mentors and finance. "Nupur Punjabi was our mentor for the IIT Roorkee business plan and she has helped us throughout. She has founded 4 Companies. She and her partner, Sumit Punjabi have known us for a while and they believed in our business plan. They gave us office space and some seed funding which has stabilized us. We're hiring people and we should close in on this in another few days." Shubham shared that Adister's next batch of notebooks will be released in August and that they've signed on advertisers which will help them sell Adister notebooks at attractive price points. Here's an advertisement for Adister Notebooks, highlighting it's social impact -
It is heartening to see such a company come from India. While Adister's operation has a great social impact, it is the sheer simplicity of the idea that endears me to this business. Their ability to run a company and the grit to persist through adversities have been proven. I'll be rooting for their success.