Why this investment banker aspirant decided to manufacture notebooks and paper products instead
One can never grow tired of the simple pleasure of putting pen to paper. While we live in a world of digital diaries and reminders on the cloud, the habit of writing things down has its own charm. Shreshtha Poddar loved jotting down little notes even as she tapped away at her phone and computer. This led to idea for Notex Notemakers, a notebook manufacturing company.
Shreshtha’s father, Kailash Poddar, had always wanted to start a notebook manufacturing company, so that his four children could work together. But Kailash was unable to see that desire through because of his commitment to the family’s offset printing business.
Shreshtha, on the other hand, had a completely different game plan. The world of finance and stock markets enthralled her and she wanted to get into investment banking. “Starting a business wasn’t on the cards for me,” the 29-year-old recalls.
She had a clear vision of what she wanted to do: pursue research and investments, and do her post-graduation in finance at the London School of Economics. But things changed when her father suggested she take up notebook manufacturing as a project, and work on an in-house label.
From stock trading to making notebooks
While a little unsettled by the sudden change, Shreshtha embraced it because of the gap she saw in the market. “It was a difficult decision for me but I decided to go ahead and create something of our own as the variety of stationery available in India is very limited. The products are very simple and basic in comparison to international standards,” she says.
She, however, wanted to go about this in the right way. So she decided to pursue an MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, to understand the different nuances of running a business.
And despite not wanting this path for herself initially, Shreshtha says she has no regrets.
“My interest for the stock market didn’t pan out as I expected. I lost some personal money I had invested in the markets. It was then that I realised that stock market investing wasn’t for me,” she adds.
And giving LSE a miss for ISB too worked in her favour.
“It has helped make my network in India stronger and better. I did an MBA in Family Business, so I just need to put a message and it reaches the group,” she says.
Starting from scratch
Thus began Shreshtha’s serendipitous journey with Notex, which caters to working executives. Shreshtha’s father, while in the allied business of printing, wanted his daughter to find her feet on her own.
“Since my father wanted to make me independent, I was not given adequate capital investment, so I got credit from a few suppliers and an office to work out of. We worked very hard and now have over 150-200 SKUs - products in the paper-based segment,” she explains.
At the beginning, the team started with economically priced writing pads of Rs 10.
Shreshtha adds that they focus on three types of consumers - the price conscious ones, the midrange segment, and premium consumers.
“I always wanted to be in the premium segment, and the existing products are extremely expensive. Moleskine, for example; the pocket diaries cost close to Rs 800,” says Shreshtha, adding that such a high price range has curtailed the widespread use of such products focusing on quality.
So Notex concentrated on mid-range paper products. The company has paper-based stationery – five-subject notebooks in quirky colours, diaries, bullet journals, paper cubes, premium quality sketch books, and their latest range being reversible dual-design gift wrap paper.
Paper products for the digital generation
Shreshtha spent the initial year or two in recce, checking different products in the market. She then realised that she had to take the plunge and start creating products.
Notex designed products priced from Rs 10 to Rs 300-400. The mid-range products are priced at Rs 150- Rs 200.
Testing out dated diaries initially, the team realised that with mobile planners, people hardly found the use for them. So Notex instead focused on regular journals and diaries, as there was more demand for them.
“We even make customised diaries for companies. We use their logos but in a subtle manner, so that people would like to use it,” Shreshtha says.
At present, Notex manufactures the products partly from Shreshtha’s father’s printing facility, but has tied up with a different printing press. “We benchmark a lot of international brands and we want to make our Indian brands and products on par," says Shreshtha. The designs are made in-house by Shreshtha herself.
A note on perseverance
Notex now supplies to leading retail chains across India, including Crossword, Landmark, Star Bazaar, Hypercity, Dmart, as well as to ecommerce biggies like Flipkart, Amazon, etc.
The founder refused to share revenue numbers and order size.
But this popularity and reach did not come overnight, Shreshtha notes.
“I remember the Landmark deal took a while. I had made cold calls, wrote to a few people, and once even met the team but nothing happened for a couple of months. So the first thing I did was contact my ISB network, took boxes of my products to the Landmark Chennai head office and waited at the lobby,” recalls Shreshtha.
She says perseverance helped Notex power through the initial days of uncertainty. “You need to be on the field to figure things out and understand what is happening. You need to talk to people understand your product line and what works and what doesn’t work,” the young entrepreneur adds.
Now, Shreshtha has other plans for her small company. She is now working towards her own small way to help the environment.
“I am an avid nature and tree lover but creating paper implies cutting down trees, indirectly at least as the first time of use requires what is called as virgin paper. We try and use as much recycled, reusable materials as possible in our products and are progressing towards reducing wastage in every product. An example would be the detachable book band on our journals -- we have perforated the band so it can be cut and used as a bookmark, and have printed a scale at the back so it comes in handy as well,” she says.
She adds that Notex also initiates the planting of close to 3,000 trees and upward in several parts of Bengaluru every year. “A major chunk of our profit goes for charity in various places,” Shreshtha adds.