I started my undergraduate degree in engineering from India in 2004. Since, mechanical engineering was the most in-demand field, I blindly choose to go ahead with it making an assumption that indemand=best. The engineering colleges in India have the same courses for all engineering streams during the first year, consequently I studied a variety of courses which included C programming, electrical engineering, chemical engineering and what not. I somehow managed to score better in the mechanical engineering related courses and planned to go ahead with that particular stream. Couple of my friends tried really hard to show the shiny side of electronics and computer engineering and advised me to change my stream. The electronics guy, Praveen Kulkarni, showed me simple robotics circuits, nand gates, flip-flops and other interesting stuff. Now I am more than sure that praveen wouldn’t make a good lawyer, his convincing skills certainly need honing. The other guy, Rohan, was a Comp guy. He gave me examples of Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji, the founders of Infosys and Wipro Technologies, to show me the bright side of software engineering. Somehow I managed to ignore what both Praveen and Rohan were trying to convince me and continued being a hardcore mechie.
Three years of my engineering passed by and I landed into the final year of my engineering. By the final year I already had couple of job offers from Infosys (a software company) and Tata Technologies (a designing solutions company), and I had almost given up on putting anymore efforts into improving my grades. I shifted my attention to extra-curriculars and topics other than mechanical engineering. I knew a few Kashmiri guys ( the northern part of India) in my school who were entrepreneurial but distinctly lacked the technical skills. We came up with an idea of publishing a book specific to a course being newly introduced in our University. We received information from our internal sources about the content of the course. The course name was “Basic Electronics and C Programming (BECP)” and it was a mashup of all the topics you wouldn’t otherwise find together. I took up the challenge and decided to author the C programming part with whatever basic knowledge I had, whereas Praveen, the electronics guy, started working on the other part of the book. The deadline for compiling and publishing the book was all together less than 10 days. I started reading the most commonly used C programming books in India, ‘Let us C by Yashwant Kanetkar’ and ‘Programming in C by Balaguruswamy’ and began to compile data and some examples. I am more than sure that I have violated quite a few copyrights while doing that. With the limited knowledge of C programming I had, I could only modify the existing examples, run them and add them to the book. I bunked classes, worked at nights, hardly slept and finally finished the compilation in about 8 days. It was quite an experience writing a book on something you are not an expert at. I assume Praveen put similar efforts, but he had a detailed knowledge on how circuits work and put a bunch of text which freshman would find difficult to comprehend. Anyways, end of phase one.
Phase two was publishing the book and marketing it. A quick reminder, the Kashmiri guy (whose name I forgot) was the one who would put in the money for publishing the book. To be honest, this was my first experience, I barely had any pocket money and I wanted to be completely risk averse. I decided not to invest a single penny in the publication and other foolish mistake was to not negotiate the percent of profit I would receive in return for my efforts. I had absolutely no business sense then, I had an attitude ‘baad me dekh lenge’, which means ‘lets think of it later’. And let me explain how I learned that this is not how things actually work. So getting back to the story, the Kashmiri guy got the book published from some cheap printing press on a paper thinner than a tissue paper. The book chapters were misaligned and every new chapter started from the bottom of the page, it looked terrible. Since already 200 copies had been printed, we had no other choice than to sell it the way it was. We began aggressive marketing of the book. Here was our unique selling point (USP), there was no other book in the market with specific content as aligned to the BECP course as our book. In other words, the course content for BECP was exactly the index of our book. We had absolutely no competition, since we were launching the book within 10 days after the course was announced, we had a headstart of atleast 3 months. Taking (undue) advantage of no competition in the market, we priced it at 160 Indian Rupees. I went to each and every college under out University system and started marketing. There are roughly 5-6 colleges under our university system and the number of freshman students being 450-500 in total. So we had a market size of 500 and we had 200 copies of the book. So we just had to target 45% of the audience to sell out. We managed to convince the lecturers who taught this course to advise their students to buy our book. To be honest, we dint offer a single penny as a referral incentive. We proposed that using our book would reduce the lecturer’s efforts to create a completely new set of course notes. The plan worked pretty well and we sold off all our copies in less than 2 weeks. We had a small party that night and next morning we went back to our original business, studies. All this sounds pretty interesting as we sold off our books and actually earned money, but there was one key thing which I missed during this whole venture, I hadn’t negotiated earlier about the percentage of profits with the Kashmiri guy nor was I bold enough to ask for any monetary benefits. A bottle of bacardi breezer was the only thing I had earned from all these efforts. The ‘lets think of it later’ game dint really work out, atleast for me. All my efforts turned into vain as I was not able to capitalize any of it. Forget about the money, I dont even mention that little book writing gig in my resume, as I have completely forgotten how to even run a basic C program. I remember this episode as a business lesson which can only help me make better deals in the future. I realized that negotiations need to be made upfront and being bold is the only way you can get what you want.
Key takeaways or lessons learnt from this story:
- Before starting a venture, always fix the terms of deal with your co-workers or team.
- Never hesitate to ask compensation for what you deserve.
- Use the lessons learned as a guideline for your next venture.
I would write a second post shortly. Meanwhile you can comment if you like this post.