Tag Archives: Yazeed Peters

The #textbookrevolution and tough times

February 2014 saw the launch of the #textbookrevolution. We donned our Paperight #textbookrevolution t-shirts and made our way to Stellenbosch University. Once there the team split up: Arthur and Dez stayed at Jetline Stellenbosch to assist in store, Oscar and Yazeed trekked around campus to put up posters, and Philippa, Nick, Marie and I spent our time handing out coasters and getting students to sign the #textbookrevolution petition. Students loved our More Money For Beer campaign slogan, and were very receptive to the idea of Paperight. Mostly though, they bemoaned the high costs of textbooks and the lack of availability of alternatives.

We had the same experience later in the month on UCT campus. Again, we handed out coasters, chatted to students and explained what drives up the price of books. While students were enthusiastic, we soon realised that there were two key gaps that we had not been able to fill. The first was a content gap. We knew that we’d have this, and we’d structured our campaign around it, but the result was that while we had a lot of queries, we were not able to leverage publishers to make this content available (the same problem we’d been experiencing for months).

Additionally, and perhaps more worryingly, we realised that service in copy shops was not what we had assumed it would be. While the majority of registered outlets were very enthusiastic about the Paperight service, and had topped up their accounts, there was often only one person in the outlet who knew how to use the site, despite multiple training sessions with other outlet employees. If this person was not around to field customer orders, or if the customer encountered an employee who did not know of, or who had forgotten about Paperight, the customer was being turned away. More and more frequently we were receiving calls from customers who were going to outlets only to be told that these did not offer the service.

At this point Arthur and I started actively looking into potential pivots. We considered merging Paperight with other companies working in the educational sector, and to this end, valuated Paperight’s assets.

We were struggling to maintain enthusiasm as a team for the #textbookrevolution, and working on publisher follow-ups, reformatting, and uploads seemed futile given an imminent pivot.

Things became very difficult here. We were struggling to maintain enthusiasm as a team for the #textbookrevolution, and working on publisher follow-ups, reformatting, and uploads seemed futile given an imminent pivot. Yet, at the same time, we hadn’t decided on a pivot, so we couldn’t realign our priorities. The result was that we started to flounder a bit. While we continued on, the morale in the office dropped.

Publisher registrations

  • Cambridge Scholars Publishing Limited (12/2/2014)
  • Methodist Church of South Africa (25/2/2014)

The #textbookrevolution and hints of a pivot ahead

In our shift to focus on universities, we created and launched our #textbookrevolution campaign. This meant creating detailed messaging and plans: one liners, elevator pitches, detailed back stories, a manifesto, a petition, outlet advertising posters and marketing briefs, novelty coasters, and videos; campaign website (http://textbookrevolution.co.za); doing lots of PR work (emailing journalists and stakeholders personally); and organising a Twitter debate on the high price of textbooks. This was the main focus of Nov, Dec and Feb.

Much of this was written up elsewhere:

On the technical side, we finalised much better automation of book preparation prep (mainly tools to use online PDF layout tool DocRaptor to create better-looking books). And in finances, completed our audit with a clean bill of health.


I went to Johannesburg for pitching meetings with publishers (Pearson, Van Schaik, UNISA Press), UNISA, and PostNet, and our outlets manager Yazeed attended the ActivateSA event in Joburg, a conference of young leaders, to talk about Paperight and the #textbookrevolution.

Speaking out

I’ve had a bit to say, too:

  • 22 Jan 2014: A post by me on Medium, “Not Yet for Profit”, arguing that well-funded, as-yet-unprofitable startups represent an whole new industry, much of it in social impact, and that’s a good thing.
  • 24 Jan 2014: Interview on Paperight’s story with AFKInsider, a US website on African business.

Mainly I’ve been telling the #textbookrevolution story over and over again in meetings (with publishers, university administrators and journalists). E.g. interviews during Jan and Feb on SAFM, Rhodes Music Radio, UJfm (University of Joburg) and Jozi Today.

The focus of the #textbookrevolution campaign is to (a) highlight the fact that 70% of the cost of a textbook is the supply chain (printing, shipping, warehousing, wastage and retail), and that (b) print-on-demand on university campuses could save students and South Africa as much as a billion rand a year. See our blog post for the detail, and the #textbookrevolution site for the manifesto, video, petition and supporters.

Joining our thinking

SHAWCO (UCT’s acclaimed social-welfare organisation) and Boundless (open textbooks) are official supporters of the #textbookrevolution. See all the supporters here.

We’ve also had ongoing discussions about closer collaboration with RISO (copier manufacturer), Mega Digital (SA’s biggest short-run book printer) and Loot (online retailer).

We’ve counted 21 media mentions that we know about, of which the highlights are:

Big wins

We had a great response from students at Stellenbosch and UCT where we collected over 1000 signatures on our #textbookrevolution petition. In addition to the paper petition, students have left great comments on our online petition.

we’ve long underestimated the importance of putting people on the ground talking to potential customers

Students are highly sensitised to the issue of high textbook prices. Also, we probably reached more students in the 20 hours we spent on campuses than we would have in months online. A big lesson was that we’ve long underestimated the importance of putting people on the ground talking to potential customers (even if we don’t have the books they need yet).

We’ve also had big losses. More about that in this separate post.

Turning school sponsorships into great PR

As a social enterprise, one of Paperight’s main priorities has been to get essential educational materials to students who need it. The entire business model has been structured to cut out as many obstacles as possible to make this aim simple to implement.

paperight-sponsors-guide_20131113In this vein, we chose to actively search for under-resourced schools that we could arrange book sponsorships for. We also approached profitable businesses and copy shops themselves offering a means for them to fulfill their business CSR (corporate social responsibility) objectives.

We paired three schools with sponsors in 2013. The partnerships were:

  1. Silverstream Secondary School in Manenberg, sponsored by Minuteman Press Cape Town
  2. Imizamo Yethu High School in George, sponsored by Blitsdruk George
  3. Kwamakutha Comprehensive High School, sponsored by DES-ign (licenses), and ITEC and Transforming Minds & Futures (printing)

Yazeed did most of the leg work pulling these projects together and Nick initiated the Kwamakutha/DES-ign sponsorship.

All three sponsorships were arranged with the promise that Paperight would generate PR to match the value of the sponsor’s donation. In all three instances, we delivered on this promise.

Businesses were able to offer invaluable support to 2013’s matric classes that could give the students the confidence and means to achieve access to tertiary education. In the meantime, the sponsors would achieve their CSR objectives and receive great press for their input. All three sponsorships were arranged with the promise that Paperight would generate PR to match the value of the sponsor’s donation. In all three instances, we delivered on this promise. I put together press releases about the sponsorships and sent them off to carefully chosen media contacts, specifically community newspapers.

Community newspapers are particularly interested in stories like this, for obvious reasons, and are the best place for businesses to be seen helping the community around them. Of course, this PR has helped Paperight reach more potential customers too. So everybody wins!

In addition to the three school sponsorships, Yazeed also managed to build a strong relationship with Mr Cader Tregonning of Pelikan Park High School in Pelikan Park. Together, they arranged that Pelikan Park matric students could purchase a comprehensive pack of past matric exam papers from Minuteman Press in Cape Town. The pack would cover all of their essential subjects and they would simply have to order a copy to be printed and delivered in the first term of 2013. To see more about this story, head to the Paperight blog.

This official endorsement from a school has been an invaluable addition to our growing list of supporters and has helped us to show registered copy shops that it is possible to build a sustainable business relationship with local schools. Once a school starts using Paperight and sees the positive results in their pupils, the relationship will be set.

To preserve evidence of our work with the schools close to home, we sent Shaun (our awesome video intern) along with Yazeed to speak to the Silverstream Secondary School and Pelikan Park High School principals. Admittedly, the rest of the team didn’t know the remarkable nature of the relationships Yazeed had built and the following videos really brought home why an idea like Paperight needs to exist in the world. For all our flaws, we have definitely done something right.

The videos have been uploaded onto the Paperight YouTube channel, and linked to from the Paperight blog and Facebook page. They have also been released to media contacts as supporting evidence of what Paperight is about.

Pelikan Park High School

Silverstream Secondary School

In early 2014, we hoped to work with Pelikan Park again to initiate a Paperight Sponsored Brains programme. We aimed to sponsor two nominated matric students with all of their necessary materials for the year and name them as official Paperight ambassadors. They would keep us up to date on their studies and over 3 intervals (roughly May, September and a final update in January 2015) they would produce a piece of writing about how they are doing and what their concerns/interests are at that point. These updates would help us to generate content for news stories about what today’s matrics really need to thrive. In addition, we would also arrange 3 training sessions on subjects of the students’ choosing, for example, personal finances, applying to universities, writing a great CV, career choices etc.

However, this project was abandoned due to the large volume of work required to bring the #textbookrevolution to life.

External Marketing Advice: Zoom and the Stellenbosch MBA Students

On the 27th of June 2013, Yazeed, Nick, Arthur and I headed to Woodstock for an insightful marketing and communications workshop with members of the Zoom Advertising team. I should point out that I hadn’t been promoted at this point. That was still to come, after a week long holiday to the extraordinary Grahamstown Festival.

After seeing a Paperight-related tweet, Zoom had contacted Arthur to offer a free 3–4 hour session to discuss Paperight’s brand image, target markets, past marketing endeavours and to suggest future marketing strategies. This all based purely on their interest and delight in the Paperight project. The discussion was spearheaded by Rebecca Warne and attended by other senior staff, including Managing Director, Steve Massey.

As the biscuits were eaten and the tea/coffee making facilities kept well oiled, we shared our ideas about how to make the best of Paperight’s established reputation.

A lot of what was suggested was way beyond our meagre means for the foreseeable future, however they were useful points to bring up as long term aims. If we want to be able to reach a certain level of sophistication and complexity in marketing strategies, we have to preemptively build up provisions while also testing various strategies on micro levels.

After the workshop, we came back to Paperight HQ with lots of great ideas buzzing around and enormous enthusiasm. Rebecca then sent us a Powerpoint presentation with the distilled discussion points for us to refer to. This certainly informed my decisions when writing up the official Paperight 2013–2014 marketing plan. A lot of what became known as the #textbookrevolution was inspired by this great session.

Around the same time, Rachelle van der Merwe of the 2014 MBA program at Stellenbosch University contacted Arthur requesting to use Paperight as the sample company for the students’ end of year project. The team of students would have to produce a marketing plan for Paperight, based on interviews with Paperight team members, document analysis, sales analysis and independent market research.

Over the course of two to three months, we met with Rachelle numerous times and corresponded with the rest of the team by email to accommodate their requests for advice and further information about current systems in place. We were happy to oblige and for the most part did not feel that their investigation got in our way. We obviously had control over what we would share with them, but as a company with an open policy, they had access to everything they needed – all they had to do was ask for it.

The finished product, given to us in mid October 2013, ended up being far different to what I had been working on as the official marketing plan.

My plan was based on what actions, formed into sustained campaigns, would form the base of our efforts. These actions were swayed by marketing actions attempted before I joined the team, established target markets and available finances.

Their marketing plan … offered a very nuanced and brutally honest view of Paperight … the current textbook distribution channels and major players, as well as a razor sharp analysis of the Paperight business model

Their marketing plan had no such thing, but instead offered a very nuanced and brutally honest view of Paperight as it stands. A detailed analysis of the current textbook distribution channels and major players, as well as a razor sharp analysis of the Paperight business model, led into a projection of where our future sales need to come from in order to achieve sustainability. Their project brought together all that we thought we knew into one document and certainly bolstered our conviction that Paperight is the best solution to tackle educational resource shortages. At least, the best so far.

Both these influences were particularly well timed (thank you, universe) and helped us all to align our strategies around marketing. The base concern at this point became about turning exposure into sales. The Shuttleworth Foundation will not be funding the project forever, after all.

This shift continues to inform all of our decisions.

O’Reilly titles go live, and we revise the publisher agreement

July’s big win was getting the O’Reilly books on Paperight. These textbooks were not prescribed at universities, but are an important and oft sought out  supplementary  resource for first year computer science students.  Once these were uploaded I contacted lecturers about the books, asking if they would promote these to students. We had some positive results (particularly from Stellenbosch University), but ultimately saw minimal sales conversions.

Following my return from the London Book fair, I met with Elsevier South Africa about getting their titles on Paperight. Other ongoing meetings and follow-ups included Random House Struik,  Modjaji Books, Jacana, SelfMadeHero, Cassava Republic, Jonathan Ball and Pluto Press. We facilitated the transfer of CUP titles and Accent Press titles, uploaded the first 14 HPMG journals (we put the rest on the backburner pending sales), and sourced missing metadata and covers from Do Sustainability.

I spent time working on CSS (Prince), and Arthur and I revised our rightsholder agreement using feedback from our negotiations with Pearson and O’Reilly Media. I also spent the day at Colour and Copy in Rondebosch, worked with Nick to organise POS advertising and flyers for them. I also completed a survey of the staff as per Yazeed’s request.

Publisher registrations

  • Livity Africa (9/7/2013)
  • Better Life Books (9/7/2013)
  • Accent Press (12/7/2013)
  • Bisel Classics (12/7/2013)
  • Fatai Oladapo (16/7/2013)
  • Ispirato (23/7/2013)
  • Filipe Santos (26/7/2013)


Marie-Louise starts at Paperight

My introduction to Paperight happened fairly haphazardly, as all fantastic things do. While helping out at a book launch for the Bay Bookshop in the Cape Quarter, I was having a well earned glass of wine and chatting to a librarian from the Cape Town Central Library and a creative writing lecturer from UCT. Both were inquiring about my next career step- as everybody seems to do with young people. Admittedly I had no idea, although I managed to say that I might be interested in finding a job in publishing. Paperight was mentioned as this great new publishing start up and once I did some research, I was sure that I’d found the best place to really test my mettle.

The interviewing process was nerve-racking only because I’d already made up my mind that I wanted to be on this team. Nick and Yazeed made my first interview incredibly welcoming, but sitting in the meeting room in front of 7 people and trying to be the best ‘me’ possible (while balancing precariously on an exercise ball) made me very anxious.

But in the end, I got the job!

My role at Paperight started as a Marketing and PR Intern with my main priorities being to assist Nick and Yazeed with their burgeoning workloads.

I would have to describe my plunge into the deep end as both exhilarating and utterly frightening. The sheer number of programs I needed to download, along with online apps that I suddenly needed to learn to use left me feeling intimidated and wondering if I may have bitten off more than I could chew. However, I coped and eventually learned to type my queries to the team through Skype instead of asking them out loud (a real challenge) and started to wrap my head around what a company wiki is and how to use the back end of WordPress.com sites- among so many other things.

My first assignment was to collate a media list for Paperight to take over their own PR output from Nichole Sochen of Al Dente PR. I started by downloading a .pdf copy of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) media list before copy-pasting useful contact details into a Google Docs spreadsheet while also coming up with a system for housing this kind of information. I also backtracked through the Paperight record of media mentions to gather contact details of journalists and publications who had already featured Paperight’s work – the Paperight fan club, if you will.

The initial brief was to fill five separate categories of media contacts, namely Technology, Entrepreneurship, Education, Books and Literature Pages, and Human and General Interest. After trying to work with these categories for the first 2 months or so, I found them wholly useless and have abandoned using them since. However, I can imagine they would be helpful to those encountering the media list for the first time and not the umpteenth. :)

For every press release, a copy of the master sheet is made and all details of the release are recorded, for example who it is sent to, the date and which emails come back as undelivered. All of this information assists with follow ups and maintenance of the contact list.

From Nick’s side, I took over the responsibility of drafting most of our written output. This included, the weekly newsletter, blog posts, press releases and cover letters. My drafts would then be handed onto Nick for final editing to benefit from his keen journalistic eye and seasoned understanding of Paperight’s distinct brand image.

From Yazeed’s side, I assisted with the on-boarding process of new outlets (welcoming them, advising them on how to use Paperight.com and adding them to the outlet map), follow-ups with and support of old outlets, as well as initiating a small number of new outlet sign-ups.

These responsibilities became regular, weekly tasks over my first three months with the Paperight team. Specific projects during this time have been split into the months they occurred so read on to find out more!

Growing the team and its home

So I’ve been growing our team in numbers and, I hope, quality, for nine months now.

Tarryn and Nick, our content team, have been amazing. Both high-achieving type-As, they’ve ensured our products are meticulously documented and organised. A recent achievement has been their forty-page Paperight user manual for outlets. It’s beautifully written, and includes not only step-by-step guidance on using the site, but also clear guidelines and suggestions for how to use Paperight to grow a printing business, even beyond printing books out for people.

The content team has also been keeping our blog busy – Nick’s author-of-the-week posts are particularly enjoyable. We have a growing mailing list, and Twitter and Facebook followings. These will be increasingly important over time.

A major highlight of the last two months for me has been hiring our outlet team. Zimkita, Zukisani and Yazeed joined us in April with the job of signing up outlets and providing ongoing training and support to them. Each brings a different skill set to Paperight that’s been invaluable: Zukisani has contacts at almost every school in the Western Cape, especially in the underprivileged areas we’re targeting; Zimkita’s six years at Vodacom customer service make her our friendly and meticulous email- and phone-support person; and Yazeed’s experience running his family’s business, combined with a startling energy for producing high-quality work, brings great business-savvy to the team.

moving-in-arthur_2012-05-24 12.50.48An unglamorous but critically important side of our work over the last months has been Paperight’s back-office setup and systems (check out our view above).

Most importantly, Paperight is now a registered company with bank accounts. We’re days from moving into our new offices (sublet from Electric Book Works). We have workflows around various online tools for bug tracking, accounting, and document management, and our internal wiki is now a substantial store of invaluable info, from guidance to new staff and practical how-tos to recommended reading for team members.

Yazeed joins the team

My Paperight journey began by sheer coincidence, if one believes in coincidence. I believe, that if I gained nothing else out of this experience, that everything is meant to be. It was on the 5th of March 2012 that I was browsing the internet, doing nothing in particular. There was nothing profound or special about that Monday night and so, as with most life changing moments it came unexpected.

I decided to browse around the Linkedin website. A few people that I knew had spoken about Linkedin on Facebook but, I never really paid it much attention. As I was browsing around I came across a job posting by a company called Paperight for a Customer Relations Manager position. I decided to take a look and see who this Paperight was and what they were all about.

I was so drawn to the company and its mission that I immediately started drafting a cover letter and sent off an application for the position. I hadn’t been looking for a job and yet I had stumbled across an opportunity that I couldn’t pass by. Arthur Attwell responded to my application within 40 minutes and invited me for my first interview on the Thursday, just four days later.

The cause of Paperight was something that I was passionate about from the moment I had read the job ad and only increased as I met the people involved and learned more about the business’ culture and aims.

My first interview was at 3pm at the original Paperight office based at Arthur’s house in Wynberg. Upon entering I met Nick Mulgrew who had started working at Paperight the previous Month. The atmosphere and Arthur’s personality made this the most relaxing interview I had ever had. I was not nervous, merely anxious and excited. Battling to control my emotions so as not to come across too eager. The cause of Paperight was something that I was passionate about from the moment I had read the job ad and only increased as I met the people involved and learned more about the business’ culture and aims.

I impressed Arthur enough to be called back for a second interview along with two other candidates who were shortlisted for the position. I was determined not to lose out on this job to anyone and began researching the bookselling industry. When I went for my second interview I went prepared, and boy was I glad that I did. Arthur had surprised all three of us who were shortlisted by interviewing us at the same time.

Arthur, Nick and Tarryn started the meeting by introducing themselves and what they do at Paperight. Then Arthur had to select which one of us candidates would start introducing ourselves. I must have looked very nervous that day because, Arthur asked me to start and Tarryn jokingly quipped, ”Sure just ask the guy that looks the most terrified to start why don’t you?!” In my mind I wasn’t so much nervous as I was embarrassed.

Embarrassed to whip out the proposal that I had drafted, printed and bound for my interview. I had a colour copy for Arthur, Nick and Tarryn which contained my research, charts and suggestions on how I would proceed should I be selected as Customer Relations Manager. Tarryn had mentioned in her introduction that she is very analytical which helped me relax but, the looks on the other candidates faces made me feel like they were thinking, ”Wow! This guy is sucking up big time” Which I was. Successfully so.

Not long after, Arthur notified the three of us that he would be employing all three of us as Customer Relations Managers on a five month contract. Although it was never explicitly stated, in my mind I believed that Arthur would be using the next few months to determine which one of us would have our contracts extended. Also, three people can cover a lot more ground than one person alone could, something which was needed in the early stages of Paperight.

I started my first day at Paperight on the 28th March 2012. The first two days we spent on training and getting to know each other. My new colleagues on the outlet team were Zimkita Makwetu and Zukisani Pakamisa. Zimkita had come from a customer service background, having spent many years in a Vodacom call centre. She left seeking opportunities to move forward and doing what she loved – social networking. Zukisani had years of experience as a salesman for various publishers and therefore, had experience in dealing with schools – one of our primary target markets.

My previous experience included sales, marketing, customer service and management in an entrepreneurial position. At Paperight I would be given the opportunity to grow each of these skills exponentially. Zukisani and Zimkita got along very well immediately, which resulted in me feeling slightly like an outsider. In response to this, and the general lack of clear direction, I tried to gently take the lead and bring our team together into a productive unit.