Namit Maheshwari, Kagaz ke Phool
Namit was born in a Marwari joint family settled in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
“We were a joint family of 40 members living in individual houses within the same city. Our family is into manufacturing business”, he says.
Namit did his schooling from St. Mary’s in Meerut.
“Since my family is into manufacturing business, I was convinced to pursue engineering so that I am equipped with core engineering knowledge to handle our business”
However, soon after his first year at college, Namit was exposed to the usual truth like many others. Only a few realise. He was one of them.
“Seeing a board full of formulas and unknowns, I realised this was not where I belonged. So one day I gathered some courage and called my dad to tell him about my decision to quit engineering. Naturally, he was shocked”, he says as a faint smile spreads on his face.
More than a relief from incomprehensible textbooks and lectures, this was also a major turning point in Namit’s life.
“It hit me with a realisation that I could make important decisions about my life on my own”
In the coming academic year, Namit enrolled for Bachelor’s in Economics at Delhi College of Arts and Commerce. He asserts that this has to be one of his best decisions.
“I was someone who loved personalising things for people. It makes people feel much more special any day over bulk cards and gifts”, he says.
So what did he start?
“Packaging memories”, comes a quick response with a sudden excitement quiet apparent in the voice on the other side of the Skype call.
“It was my grandmother’s birthday”, he says recalling his Eureka moment. “It was her 70th and I wanted to gift her something that could sum up her life in the most unique way possible. So I met everyone close to her and asked them all that they knew about her, their favourite traits about her, etc. I spruced this up with a lot of pictures and handwritten letters by her loved ones.”
This was naturally followed by a lot of happy emotions on birthday girl’s face. And this served much as pilot study for Namit’s idea – Kagaz ke Phool.
“Kagaz ke Phool is a venture started to treasure nostalgia in all it’s essence. We bring an innovative and personalized gifting option for all the occasions. Be it wedding, grandparents’ birthday, family and friend’s special occasion or a gesture to express your feelings, we ensure our words do the job just right. And the best part is one can have their biography even if they are not famous and controversial, and can read when they are alive!”, he says.
“After seeing her reaction I realised that this is what all of us are looking for – appreciation and acknowledgement, not from the world but from the people we love. It was that night I curated the idea of Kagaz ke Phool, an initiative to write extraordinary biographies of ordinary people”, he adds.
So far, Namit has written over 21 biographies. He emphasis on how he is overwhelmed every time he delivers a human life compiled in a few pages of a book.
“Our world is populated with faces which hold so many stories within themselves. These stories need to be heard and preserved for the ones who made them happen. Kagaz ke Phool is about documenting these people and episodes of ones life”, says Namit pointing to one of the biographies he wrote recently.
“There is certainly a lot of learning in the process. One important thing I’ve noticed is how certain things were important in someone’s life at a certain point of time, but 20 years later, those things look so irrelevant to them”, he adds.
Talking about the process followed while curating a biography, Namit says,
“We interview the client, give them space to open up and talk about their life, and record the audio. This recording goes to our editorial team who structure it in the form of a beautiful narrative. Once the draft is passed by the client, it is sent to the design department. We then put illustrations in the book accentuating the depth of the narrative. Sometimes, if the client requests, we also include a collection of photographs”
Kagaz ke Phool also has a section called Tijori, which includes messages from people who are close to the protagonist. These messages are printed without editing.
“Next, the book is given a beautiful front and back cover with a matching title, the text is printed on handmade sheets, and presented to the client in a rosewood casing.”
Kagaz Ke Phool found its humble beginnings in a small Word document encapsulating the idea of a personalized book. He circulated this document among his friends on Facebook and within a couple of days, received a call from his senior, Pratiti. She wanted to give something special to her father on his birthday, and his concept had appealed to her. This is how they got their first client.
For a long time the company had existed as a detailed, complete but imaginary structure in his mind. For the first time he had reason to believe in the concrete reality of a company like Kagaz Ke Phool. After completing the interviews with Pratiti, he tried writing the book, but found that he lacked in skill. Also, he encountered the uneasy realisation that after the interview he had inadvertently formed a certain opinion of the client, which hampered the objectivity of the story he was trying to pen. An important lesson he learned was if the book was to be written from an unbiased and unprejudiced perspective, it was important to separate the writer from the interviewer.
Here began the search for people who had the kind of skill sets that he was looking for. This is how he met Gauri Bhatia and Baldeep Grewal, who have been with Kagaz Ke Phool since it first became a reality, acting as the head of the Writing and Editing departments respectively. Getting the book printed was another challenge since he had no prior knowledge about the process. He spent 12 hours at the printer’s shop learning about various printing and designing software. All the running around paid off, and the final outcome he says was overwhelming.
Pratiti and her father were in high spirits to receive the book. His team was in pure bliss, he was unable to believe he had actually managed to do it. Post Pratiti’s book they got more orders.
“While the frequency of fresh orders was slow, it was actually a blessing in disguise. It gave us ample time to innovate and improve our product”, he says.
In the pursuit of a better refined product he brought Siddhi Gupta on board. Her beautiful designs and illustrations gave life to the stories written by Gauri. Through her editing, Baldeep gave the stories a finer structure with better vocabulary. Together, they formed the core team of Kagaz Ke Phool to take major marketing decisions, and determine the direction of the company.
Over the past one year, they have had more people join the family. Punita Maheshwari mentors them through public relations, while writers Namrata Natarajan and Geetika Ahuja help them to articulate their narratives better. They have been in operation for over 20 months with 24 publications, and 3 design books (out of which one was released at the Jaipur Literature Festival). Ask them about the locations their service is spread to and he quickly brings in that they have also done some overseas orders to England and Australia, with further plan to centralise their operations in major metropolitan cities in India.
For something that began with an investment of INR 20,000, Kagaz ke Phool broke even in first 7 months of beginning operations. Since then Kagaz Ke Phool has been self sufficient.
“Though ours is not a business that requires a lot of capital investment, however we are hopeful to receive funding once we are strong enough to expand in terms of our clientele as well as products”, says Namit.
In the middle of the call, totally impressed by the concept of Kagaz ke Phool, I ask Namit if he can help me make something for my mother.
“Sure. How about using one of her sarees as the book wrap?” comes a thoughtful, yet quick suggestion.
Before winding up the call, I ask him if he has something to share with aspiring entrepreneurs. He pauses for a moment and then answers in bullet points.
1. Customer Relationship, I just cannot stress enough on this. For a business like ours, it is a pivotal core values.
2. I started with the habit of making a daily priority list and ensured that I finished all that I had listed by the end of each day. It helped me tremendously.
3. Over the course of time, I’ve realised that if you are to lead a startup, being the hardest working person in the room is mandatory. Set examples your team can look up to.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
A story by Swapna Viswanathan
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