By Alison Massey
Perdeby recently interviewed JC Steyn, the Executive Director of a company called “Five Guys Notes and Summaries” that he and a group of friends started earlier this year. The business guarantees top-quality study notes and has seen a lot of growth in the few months since its inception. Steyn explains how this came to be and what the company’s plan for the future is.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
With the original team we started out as five people who just happened to meet each other throughout orientation week, and by the end of orientation week we sat together and had a conversation where we said “let’s try to do really, really well at our studies” and then someone came up with the idea to all put our notes together, and then I said ‘let’s sell that’. The whole business concept actually started with my girlfriend who bought a set of medicine notes off one of those flyers on the noticeboards for like R300 and it was terrible. I mean, I’m sure all the content was there but it was so jumbled and terribly formatted that if you had to study for a test you wouldn’t be able to pick out the work that was important. Nothing was labelled, nothing was clear, [there were] inconsistent fonts throughout the whole thing, it was terrible. And it was just an email so she [JC’s girlfriend] could then theoretically take that email and send it to everyone else and effectively stop the sales for this girl who had made the notes. So, for us it was just so important that our notes were really good, easy to use and that people could say “I need to revise this one topic” and open up the notes, find it on the index and go straight there and just revise it. For students, by students, in a way that we would understand.
How does your business work?
The way it works is that the business functions as a partnership. So, there’s the senior partners which are myself as the executive director, since I founded the company and I’m sort of the leader of the partners, [and] four other senior partners, two of them are founding members. Then below us [… ]we’ve got compilers (people who basically help adapt the notes to our format); we’ve got independent creators who are people who take subjects that we don’t have and they do those notes for us for a percentage […] Something that’s new is what we’re calling the “faculty teams” which are made up of four creators and a faculty representative, so for example if we wanted to expand into the engineering faculty we would have one faculty rep from that faculty who would attend the partners meetings with us, talk to us a bit and basically raise the interests and concerns of his specific faculty and then he would also function as the leader of his team. So, they would duplicate what we are doing in their own faculty and then report back to us and then in that way we can spread our brand across the university.
What is about your notes that makes you say they are the best on the market?
The main concept is the compilation (that we won’t miss anything because we’ve got so many eyes and ears around listening for tips and important information), I mean there’s a quote that says “no two people see the same tree”, saying that everyone’s perspective is different from the next person so if you’ve got five or more different perspectives looking at the same topic and interpreting it in their own way, at the end of the day you’ve got a couple of different ways to understand something.
We put all our notes on google drive, which is fantastic because people send us an EFT or pay us cash and as soon as we receive their proof of payment we add them to the drive and they get an email for that specific set of notes, and the link is personalized just to that customer. So they can view the notes as much as they want but the second they email it to someone else or try to copy another person in, as soon as their friend clicks on the link we get an email saying the name of the person who tried to send the notes, the name of the person who tried to access it, the computer they tried to access it from, the time that it happened and it asks us if we would like to grant them access, an obviously we can then check our database to see if they’ve paid for the notes and if not we can block their access. It’s google software but it’s not the free version. We’ve paid for a lot of the software and stuff that we have, just reinvesting into the business and so on. We’ve built up [some capital] over the last couple days that we decided to dedicate to a [new] website […] So, if we can have a website where all employees can log in, upload their content, have it checked by literally any other employee, that’s great. Then we can have clients set up their own account on our website, similar to what you have on Kindle, and that they can browse through a library of labelled notes, for example “this is for statistic, this is for semester test one of first semester”.
How do you price your notes?
Initially we decided R80 per semester test but as the semester goes on there’s more and more content and some subjects have more work than others, so that didn’t work forever. At this point we really look at the [volume] of content, the [number] of hours that went into it and then we price it based on what we would have priced something similar before […] so the price for a semester test is usually still R80. We have a lot of specials though, for example for BCom week we had bundles which were the “all in” bundle, the “double or nothing” and the “one shot” bundle. So, the one shot was R80, if you bought two it’s R140 so R70 per subject, three would be R60 per subject. And then if we have a subject like economics which is usually only a few pages but it’s very difficult work, we charged R50 or R60. It really depends on the subject. And we all discuss it and have a few clients who we work with to see what their impression is of our marketing, for general feedback and hear from them what they think we should price it at and compare it with the market.
At the moment you only have notes for BCom and Law subjects. Do you intend to expand?
Yes, it’s been happening quite rapidly; it’s expanding at hundreds of percents [sic] per week, it’s doubling in size almost daily. From the start we’ve known that we were going to do all faculties. It’s always been a thing of go big or go home, we’re going to do this properly and make a proper business out of it or not do it at all […] Moving forward […] the medical team is headed by my girlfriend and one of her friends and other people she’s met in her faculty. The engineering team is headed by someone who I know and he will then be responsible for choosing other people who he knows, who he thinks could work well. Next year we want to open up teams in every single faculty for next year’s first years. So, then our team, my specific BCom team, won’t be doing notes anymore, we will employ a team to do what we were doing and there will be a team in every single faculty which will then be duplicated very year so that eventually we should have every single subject that the university offers, any semester, any year, covered […].We’ve noticed from applications, and we receive six to ten a week from people across Tuks who want to work with us, that a lot of them don’t make notes at all but that’s the whole basis of our company.
Any lasting comments you would like to leave for our readers?
I would say that it’s extremely important for us that our clients are satisfied with our product. Out of the 15 subjects that we’ve provided only one of them has ever had less than 80 % of the test covered in the notes. Because obviously we are only students, we can only do our best to predict what will be in the test […] and we immediately sent out a public apology and offered a discount on the next set for anyone who bought that set. Our number one priority is customer satisfaction and making sure that people are satisfied with the product. So, if you have any comments, positive or negative, please contact us or talk about it on the groups, [message us] on Instagram, whatever the case may be, talk to us, and we will always work to make it better for the client.
How can people contact you if they are interested in buying notes or joining your company?
We’ve got our email, which is fiveguysnotes@ gmail.com, where they can send an application. But for general inquiries regarding the product I would recommend that they join the WhatsApp groups which are called “five guys first class” […] So, if you need to get in contact with us ask around and look out for us at the pay-point [weekly, outside Merensky] and we’ll send you the group link and you can send the link to whoever you want, and we put all our marketing material on there. [WhatsApp group invite link: https://chat.whatsapp.com/JB84YpuP9nh9BjJnR8RCE8].