Three college friends, Mulchand Dedhia, 24, Simi Sailopal, 23, and Ishan Mehta, 23, started working on the concept a year ago. After completing his graduation in mass communication, Dedhia, who is also a part-time photographer, got a job at an advertising agency. He quit after an altercation with his boss and decided he would finally work on his dream of starting something on his own. Sailopal was working with a public relations agency and Mehta was a content writer with Hungama Digital Media Entertainment. Sailopal left the project midway, opting for further studies.
Read and ride: Dedhia (left) and Mehta successfully partnered with autorickshaw drivers. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
The three friends got together for a brainstorming session and hit upon the idea of exploiting spaces within and outside an autorickshaw for advertising. This led to the idea of launching a dedicated magazine for auto travellers—this way they could sell advertising space in the magazine. In October, they discussed the idea and the first issue of the monthly Meter Down was launched in March in Mumbai. They realized a consumer usually spends at least 10-15 minutes in an auto. The brands would get audience attention for those 15 minutes, more than any other medium could provide, Dedhia adds.
They commissioned a survey of 200 people and studied travelling patterns. “There’s so much traffic now and the people who are travelling get bored. We found that they either call friends and increase their phone bills, listen to music or just don’t do anything. We thought we’d make their boring ride a little fun,” says Dedhia.
“Initially, we were the heads and the peons of the company. We were doing everything, from getting quotes from printers to talking to 500 autorickshaw drivers,” says Dedhia. Convincing the drivers was the most important part. Auto drivers get a fixed amount at the end of every month. They get to share 30% of the magazine’s advertising sales among themselves or, if there are no ads, each gets Rs 200 that month.
They approached the heads of two autorickshaw unions and got permission from the road transport office (RTO), besides registering with the Registrar of Newspapers for India. The autorickshaw drivers soon realized they were serious and knew exactly what they wanted.
Mehta, the editor of the magazine, has a team of freelance writers who contribute every month. The magazine is supposed to be a “time-pass” read, so the content includes everything from movies and music to fashion, food and humour. The venture broke even after the first issue and they have been making a profit since the second.
Their biggest challenge was to convince media planners to buy space in the magazine. But it was by no means the only challenge.
An auto ride is not a smooth one in a pothole-ridden city such as Mumbai, so it’s difficult to read. They restricted article length to 300 words and increased the number of photos.
They also had to prevent passengers from taking the magazine with them. So they punched a hole on the top left hand side of the magazine and it’s now tied to a shelf in the auto. At the end of every month, Dedhia and Mehta check if the shelves are in good condition and if the magazine is still there.
“We had some 19 ideas after our brainstorming session. We can work on any of them,” says Dedhia. For now they are completely committed to the plan and have taken it forward by advertising at the back of the auto and on the auto curtains during the monsoon.
Hard work and a lot of patience. “You need to handle people with care. I quit because my boss wasn’t good at handling people,” says Dedhia.