Last week I made the choice between topping up my HOP card or buying bread for my morning toast.
That's a serious reality for almost all the students in tertiary education, and choices have to be made about your diet, your clothing, your transport and multiple other areas all because the costs of living are much higher than what's possible to earn.
Niesh was founded on this struggle.
This incredible young business was founded by a couple of young broke students themselves, who wanted to give their friends an opportunity to save at least one cost, printing. With the digital age moving almost all of university curriculum online, printing is another cost that keeps growing and growing. So through some good old fashioned B2B marketing, a little bit of passion and a whole lot of long hours, Niesh has moved into its own, filling a much-needed gap for the tens of thousands of students that call Auckland home.
Through its growing repertoire of free services, ranging from its original free printing, through to graduation photos that were running the day I came in for the interview, Niesh is growing so fast its founders are becoming household names amongst its adoring fans. We were honoured to sit down with co-founder Jae, to discuss what makes Niesh special.
Liam: How did two young students come up with such a creative idea?
Jae: The idea itself came when we were students at university. It was quite a funny situation, I had $10 left in my bank account and I had to choose between a Kebab for lunch or to print a past exam paper for a statistics test, which was an absolutely excessive number of pages and was going to cost almost all of my money. It was then that I realised just how unfair it was that students are paying for printing, especially with the massive fees already, it just felt like an unjustified cost in addition.
Printing is a key component to student life in our generation, with the majority of work shifting from books to online, so printing is only increasing and the cost per sheet isn't budging at all. In my eyes, if I made printing free I'd be providing a service for students all around university as I knew I wasn't the only one struggling.
The concept of Niesh then began, and started as a free printing service, funded by companies we approached to advertise on the bottom of each sheet printed. The more we approached businesses the more we realised companies would jump at the opportunity to advertise to students, and so Niesh took off.
L: What has been Niesh's biggest wins and biggest losses?
J: Our biggest win can be narrowed down to two things. The first is the fact we are now able to provide a free service to over 7500 students, something we could have never imagined.
The second is how we've managed to get the word out there through our own personal branding and the incredible success of word-of-mouth around the university campus. This helped us establish who we were quickly and connect with our audience.
The biggest loss would easily be any form of my personal life, Niesh has become my world completely and I'm really starting to enjoy it now, it's become who I am.
L: What lessons have you learnt that have shaped you today?
J: The lessons are almost endless and especially coming from a student background, straight into my first venture establishing a brand. If I had to choose just one thing, however, it'd be the focus of what the business really is. I remember writing an essay in my first year of university about how the main goal of a business is always to generate profit and to maximise it.
However the further I've looked into Niesh I've realised modern business isn't just about money, and it actually has a lot of ethical and morality behind it. I quickly noticed that consumers recognise that and connect with it, and people catching the motivation behind the business is attracting customers consistently as they align with our morals.
Personally, for me, it was huge that my morals and Niesh's lined up and that's how I've created the business to be relatable for so many of our regular clientele. We started out so focused on profit but we've so very quickly realised that is not actually our goal.
L: Whats next for Niesh without giving away your secrets?
J: Our final goal is to provide a platform which offers a whole range of different services, free for students and do whatever it takes to enhance student life. The short-term goal, however, is to generate enough revenue for the company to actually expand into different areas of NZ, particularly other tertiary institutes outside of Auckland.
L: How have you managed to grow your exposure to the level it's at?
J: Our social media has been our best friend. My theory behind marketing is you really have to get involved in platforms, events and other areas to develop a reach and with over 50% of New Zealanders using Facebook, it's ridiculous not to consider it the biggest marketing channel that exists right now.
We chose to focus purely on Facebook rather than any other channels so we could focus our attention and mould our content to hit our target market effectively and repeatedly. This gives us an opportunity to connect with our clientele, almost all of whom are on social media and we know that's where we can really put ourselves up for comparison against competitors. We've been incredibly innovative on Facebook and this has generated our growth in leaps and bounds, with multiple different campaigns run to hype up the brand and its offerings.
L: If you had one piece of advice for a student planning a start-up what would it be?
J: When you have your idea, sit back and think about it again before you jump head first in. Start-ups need a lot of time, passion and energy committed to them so if you're half-hearted about your idea then maybe hold off jumping into the deep end.
I had no idea before I started just how hard it would be to build a business. You have to be super careful what you're getting involved with, but once you are involved you have to put your foot to the floor and seriously commit. Everyone talks about ideas and visions, selling you on how special it is to create something and how you should also chase your dreams but you have to be prepared to give it everything and give up most of your life as you know it, there's no half-hearted effort in the real world.
It must be a pretty cool feeling to grow so fast you can't expand quick enough to match, and it also must be terrifying. Niesh has had such unprecedented success it's hard to imagine anything other than growth being an option. For a couple of young guys, with the world against them, they have done what every young entrepreneur dreams of, birthing their idea and growing it into a reality.
However, they are two of the most open and realistic people out, knowing the challenges of becoming your own bosses and all the tribulations that come with trying to break into the dog-eat-dog world of commerce. This is what they have built their success on, being young, student-minded ‘heroes' to other students who instantly connect with them and the businesses morals and they've consistently grown this through everyone singing their praises.
As they continue to grow their business model of keeping their offering free through keeping other businesses involved, the possibilities are endless, so don't be surprised if Niesh is soon used in the same sentence as ‘student life' in New Zealand.
My only gripe about Niesh is I wish it had been here sooner. Nothing is more demoralising than watching your bank balance collapse because you had to print off week 7's slides and then having your fourth night of two-minute noodles. Niesh knows that students aren't in a position to fork out money and they have managed to still create a business which targets them perfectly without costing them a cent.
Their ‘B2B2C' style approach is not only ingenious it's a sign of how times are changing and how the future of our business sector are already innovating and preparing themselves for a society which is going to have to get much more creative in its approaches to commerce.
If anything, Niesh is not only an incredible business, it's a sign of the incredible minds of the future of our business sector, and it begins with James and Jae at Niesh. I'm excited to see what they can come up with next, and all of our future students should be too.