Student expression on a giant platform – The Campus Diaries dream

If you’re a student, you would know about them; if you’re a business with a young consumer base, you should know about them.

Campus Diaries is just a year old (well, they will be on the 11th of May), and they’ve made great inroads into the student community already. “The kind of traction we receive and the number of stories that are published on the website would be the best gauge of the reaction of our users. We have about 50,000 registered users online. On an average, we get 40 stories published in a day, which translates to about 1200-1500 stories in a month. To achieve such numbers in just a year is pretty awesome,” beams Raj Chourasia, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, at Campus Diaries.

Campus Diaries, an online platform with an offline magazine called ‘UNMAGAZINE’, was started with the intent to bridge the gap between an untapped talent pool of students across the country eager to express and a lack of any platforms or means to fulfill this urge.

Roobaroo - Creating conversation, socio-cultural exchange and creative collaboration among youth communities of India and Pakistan

Roobaroo – Creating conversation, socio-cultural exchange and creative collaboration among youth communities of India and Pakistan

Why?

“Initially our model was based at targeting ideas and stories. It was fuelled from the fact that there were very few open expression platforms for students, which has been our USP from day one. At the moment, we’re at the cusp of evolving from a stage of just stories and ideas to talent and creative showcasing,” says Sumit Saurav, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. Both Sumit and Raj graduated from MIT, Manipal, in 2010.

They’re in the works to launch a new mix media content platform with a new user interface to allow the users to fully express themselves using multiple forms of media like video, pictures, text and audio.

“We’re trying to evolve into something we always intended to be. We want to be a medium for users to be able to collaborate and connect with others. The new mix media platform will be easier to navigate in terms of allowing someone to fully express themselves. We initially started off with two distinct forms of expression; the regular text heavy method and something we called a ‘Picture Story’. We saw the Picture Story being used a lot by student photographers, illustrators and the design community. But now, we want people to use our platform to create a portfolio of their work and talents, rather than just tell stories.”

The target audience for Campus Diaries is the student community, but they have been trying to change the perception that it is only the student community who can contribute. “A lot of people miss out on the fact that teachers, parents, businesses, colleges and institutions are distinct stakeholders in the student community. The biggest consumer of the content will always be the students, but we are trying to boost the contributions by these stakeholders,” explains Sumit.

A project encouraging meaningful and constructive conversation among the Indian youth about bras.

Braject – A project encouraging meaningful and constructive conversation among the Indian youth about bras.

Where is the money?

Campus Diaries generates some of its revenue from working with different brands and organizations to create sponsored content to reach out to the community. The said brands and organizations get to use a combination of online and offline events, the online platform and the magazine to connect with a younger crowd. The platform also gets some revenue from the subscriptions to their magazine.

“We were partners at the Construkt Festival, where there was a mutual benefit. Close to half of Construkt’s audience are students, which is exactly the demographic we’re looking for. So we become the gateway or the channel to connect with this community for them. Construkt offers great value to us, not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of the exposure we get and the networks we get to build,” explains Sumit.

The 20-somethings are hoping to raise about Rs 2-3 crores from their first angel round. Their first order of business, with the money, will be to grow their user base and their team. “We need to grow our team since that’s the only way we can think of expanding platforms, marketing and product development,” said Sumit. They also plan to finally get an office. “We’d like a swanky office, but not a corporate suit-up office. We want something the size of the Playboy Mansion!” he jokes.

From L to R - Sonic Prabhudesai, Raj Chourasia, Sumit Saurav and Nishan Bose

From L to R – Sonic Prabhudesai, Raj Chourasia, Sumit Saurav and Nishan Bose

The Team

Raj and Sumit graduated from MIT in 2010. Shashank Shekhar, Sumit’s younger brother, is a Co-founder and does most of the Data Analysis in the team. He’s currently studying in Boston University. Sonic Prabhudesai, also a Co-founder, heads the business and operations of the company. He had initially joined as a summer intern, but later got bumped up to Founder status after taking charge of a lot of things. Nishan, Head of Product Operations and Samata, Head of Content make up the rest of the six-member team.

Challenges

“One of our biggest challenges has always been to make sure we attracted high quality content. Since it was a differentiator between other platforms, we really had to get it right,” revealed Sumit.

“Another huge challenge was to get our product out in the open initially. A lot of planning went into the design and development of the platform. The question of how many features to launch at a time, or how many to hold back, was really important. We finally decided to start off with just two pages, the text heavy segment, and the Picture Story,” said Raj.

“We want to reach a user base of at least 5 million across three continents in five years. But more importantly we want to impact a huge population.We want to see Campus Diaries enabling young people in finding what they want to do, where they can experiment, talk to others, share ideas and find themselves,” says Raj.

The founders are looking to make an impact in similar high potential markets like Brazil and Singapore. Their goal is to establish themselves in about five to six countries by the end of this year.

Advice

  1. Fail. Fail a little. Fail small. The crime is to make the same mistake again. People tend to do the same thing again and again. They need to adapt and improvise
  2. Stay persistent. If you indulging in new-age content based startup in India, you really need to stay put. Picture it like an empty playground in our case. If you want to be the big kid at the end of the day, you really need to have grown up in that playground.
  3. Make sure your content is useful. Make sure your content is not for the sake of content. Your content needs to be original, and of really high quality.

Epilogue

“The magazine isn’t an end goal, but it’s an incentive for people to write. If they get through, it gives the author a mainstream national platform. Campus Diaries isn’t just about content creation, it’s also about content consumption. If you have someone in an MIT, or a Harvard generating content, then there’s someone in Kanpur, or Vietnam, or Singapore using that content. This is the opportunity we are looking to tap,” signs off Sumit.

So, what do you think of the Campus Diaries story. Let us know via comments below.

Arjun Mehra

Arjun Mehra