The 21st Century Bookmaker

Aadithiya Raajan, a theater artist at heart, and a recent engineering graduate from Anna University, was going about his 9-to-5 job, dreaming of ways to build a Creative with a group of fellow passionate actors and dramatists from 5-to-9. Little did he think that he would have to take up his family printing business on sudden notice. At this crossroad in his life, he pushed these dreams to the sidelines and shifted his focus to the printing press, which at that time was working on a B2B model, serving publications and corporate orders.

In an attempt to not get completely thrown off by the turn of events, Raajan did what he knew best. Improv. “Being a theatre artist, I hang out with a lot of creative people. I recalled one of them complaining about how they couldn’t get good quality sketchbooks in India.” Assuming the character of ‘the Bookmaker’, he went back to the artist and dived deeper into the problems with the products available in the Indian market. “Either the paper quality or the binding wasn’t great. If both were good, it was too expensive.”

With the primary set-up already in place, the facility was rebranded as ‘The Bookmaker Store’. While the printing press served existing clients’ orders, Raajan assigned a section of the company to work on R&D for about three months. His aim was to expand the market by catering to artists and youngsters with affordable, good-quality sketchbooks, and journals. Simultaneously, his team began to build out an e-commerce presence as well. “My previous job was in the IT sector so I was aware of how to leverage technology to streamline the process. My theater background helped me connect with artists, so I just put the two together.”

Having spent his entire life in Chennai, Raajan believes that his network has been integral to the creation and growth of The Bookmaker Store. “We didn’t employ any big companies or agencies to help us kickstart our ideas. It was a collaborative effort between a bunch of us young people: friends from college and a few artists from my theater circle.”

Taking over the printing company at 22 came with a long list of challenges for the young graduate. “I was the youngest in my business circle, so it took a while for people to start taking me seriously. Both clients and my staff were at least twice my age, so getting them to believe in me and gaining their trust was a big challenge,” he recalls, “However, my College of Engineering (CEG) alumni tag helped. You definitely raise an eyebrow or two when you mention getting your Mechanical Engineering degree from Anna University and it’s a great conversation starter, you build on it, and work it from there.”

The rebranded printing press and the e-commerce portal were launched in January 2020, with an active focus on digital marketing for a larger reach. “Only 10% of the sales happen in Tamil Nadu, the majority of our orders are from Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi,” explains Raajan, “There was even a time we got an order from Jammu and we were figuring out how to send the books there,” he says amused, “That’s the thing about e-commerce. I wouldn’t say it’s easy to scale, but it makes our products accessible.” Today the store ships pan-India, to all of the 28 states.

For Raajan, starting a product business was simpler as he relied on partners to automate several of the processes. “Being a small team, we wanted to work as efficiently as possible.” The Bookmaker Store uses Shiprocket, a logistics company that makes the delivery and ‘cash on delivery’ payments process simple. “In the eleven months we have been in business, we spent four of them under lockdown, and it has been tricky to assess progress.” However, during this period, he also spent time working on the e-commerce site for the obstacle course racing company Wild Warrior Race, which according to him was an immense learning opportunity that contributed even more to the successful online presence of The Bookmaker Store.

Earlier this year, one of his clients, a Chennai-based business magazine invited him for their annual award ceremony. “It was only a few minutes into the call that I realised that I was being invited to receive the ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award’,” recalls Raajan laughing, “It was an amazing experience, I was sitting amidst businessmen who ran thousand crore turn-over businesses!”

Chennai is seeing a rapid growth of start-ups from a younger generation today, with the government becoming increasingly supportive of the growing spirit of entrepreneurship. Catching the wave, groups like Youth Networking Group (YNG) have begun to emerge, where young entrepreneurs from different fields get together to interact, engage and cross-ideate, especially with platforms like Instagram and Shopify making it much easier to gain wider traction.

We live in a world where paper and books are slowly beginning to diminish as their digital counterparts begin to take over. The Bookmaker Store successfully thrives in these conditions with its young team leveraging technology to enhance the essence of paper products. Raajan’s journey, stepping into the shoes of the Bookmaker, was not smooth, but he does not let that stop him at the end of the first chapter.

The Bookmaker is part of a bigger story. Although its primary focus is on paper goods and innovative binding techniques, there are plans to diversify into other stationery products like binders, corner bookmarks and much more.

With the online store gaining a wider audience, the team is also working on a new initiative, Artist Central, a collaborative for up-and-coming artists. The collaboration aims at providing artists a platform to monetize their work and give them a wider outreach. Besides supporting artists, the brand has popularised Bullet Journaling, enabling creative expression amidst the organisation trend. Further down the line, the company has plans to go digital by infusing tech into journaling.

Raajan’s advice to the younger generation of entrepreneurs is, “If you want to start a business, just go for it. It might not be profitable initially but if you plan for contingencies, it’ll be fine. There have been days when my bank balance was in two digits. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. You might be pleasantly surprised by the people around you. If you have a monthly income, don’t give it up and go all in. Work in the evenings and use the money from your job to develop and refine your ideas. Moreover, the hustle will be a sweet reminder of how much you value your business and it will definitely make a great story to tell people—or perhaps even for your journal!”

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