Your problem can lead to a solution for many, and become a company.
Ask Manak Gulati, 27, founder and CEO of Notesgen.com who launched last January a company that ushered into India an e-commerce site for study notes: handwritten, scribbled or whatever works.
The Delhi-based company, in effect, has found a global market on its own within months. This is not just an OLX or Quikr for discarded notes but a whole new way to perceive how students learn and grow.
“A handwritten copy is not copied. So the inclination to purchase it is manifold,” says the bespectacled, bubbly-eyed entrepreneur as he oozes student-like enthusiasm.
Gulati, who studied computer science at the Jaypee University of Information Technology in Shimla and later, e-business at the Carnegie Mellon University in the US, and Roman Khan, NotesGen’s 28-year-old technology lead, recall how class toppers were rock stars in their student days just before exams but lost their sheen later – all because their notes made it simple for fellow students.
“I have bought physical notes as an engineering student from photocopiers,” says Khan. “So I could relate to this problem. Handwritten notes are precise and can match the frequency and the wavelength of the student in question. Practical students often get distracted by theory. Who needs theory?”
Gulati draws inspiration from his mother, an educationist at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), and has had home dinners and breakfasts discussing how learning really works.
“NotesGen is based on the premise that knowledge grows by knowing and sharing from one another,” he says. “My mother says peer learning is less threatening.”
What Notesgen, which calls itself a platform for peer-to-peer learning, does is to help students discover notes they can relate to – as different peers have different styles and mindsets. This it does though a mobile app (currently on Android and iOS). Sellers simply scan and upload their notes. Users pay for the notes but cannot download the notes (this discourages piracy). But they can use the notes anytime within the app memory– even when there is no Internet connection.
Notes can be accessed on desktops as well. NotesGen also has software that detects plagiarism. If somebody tries to switch on the “print screen” mode of a computer to swipe it, the technology responds with a blank screen.
NotesGen.com has been angel-funded by successful technology entrepreneurs including R. Satya Narayanan, the founder of Career Launcher, which runs a chain of learning centres for advanced examinations like civil services and business school entrance tests.
There are already casual Indian sites like LectureNotes.in in which students can upload and share notes. The US also has FlashNotes.com, an online marketplace for study guides, notes , digital flashcards and videos. Similarly, US-based CourseHero offers students crowd-sourced study documents, expert tutors and customizable flashcards. CourseHero works on subscriptions and FlashNotes works on paid downloads.
In a variation suited to the Indian market, NotesGen gets a commission on every note sold and also charges for “quick views” where buyers “taste” the notes for a short while before deciding whether it is worth buying or not.
Gulati is betting on how India is different.
“Flashnotes is focusing on American schools though Indian schools are listed. The bifurcation starts there,” Gulati says. Also, India colleges have similar syllabi that enable sharing of notes across universities, batches and even nations, while the US approach is more narrowly focused on specific universities, he adds.
NotesGen says it is only a marketplace and hence gives the control on sale of content, including pricing, to sellers. It is also giving a “follow” system to sellers –often creators of the notes themselves, making the site a social media platform similar to Facebook or Twitter for identifying like-minded or suitable tutors or peers . A rating system for them is on the cards. Typically, this would mean that someone who comes to sell notes can eventually turn a tutor. The social element is unique to NotesGen, says its founder.
The site now has 50,000 users and claims users from 18 countries including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Kenya, Pakistan, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Three out of every 10 users are sellers of notes. Some 10,000 notes are listed and app installations have crossed 4,000.
Going with the simple sale of notes is a system where learners can post requests for notes, answers or clarifications. NotesGen sees itself becoming a platform with a “Q & A marketplace” in which video replies from preferred peers or tutors may offer instant gratification for students with doubts.
“People from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kenya are Whatsapping me, asking for international currency support,” says Gulati. “And there are requests for notes in specified languages, topics and style.”
The idea is to eventually sell short videos, audio recordings, e-books and even live lectures– or anything that makes sense for students to learn in their own style of comprehension.
Think of it as an ever-expanding buffet table for learning. Or a mental gym with personal trainers.
Gulati says coaching institutes have stepped into to sell their notes or attract students using NotesGen – which in effect can be a platform hub where students,
alumni, tutors, coaching institutes and random people interested in learning or teaching can come together. Like a Flipkart or Amazon for education.
The founder is dreaming of a future where he will use artificial intelligence to identify who exactly needs what in the business of learning.
“It is Go Big or Go Home,” says Gulati.