Of all the things that college kids use, paper would have to be right at the top of that list. Even in this electronic age, most students still need note paper for many of their classes.

The idea behind the use of advertising to pay for creating free products is wide spread in Japan. Rodrigo Namikawa took notice of what they were doing and has brought that idea to the US through his notebooks.

Eco-Notes is an eco-friendly notebook solution that uses advertising to pay for its printing costs. Students receive notebooks for free while local advertisers are able to get the word out about their product or service which makes it a win-win situation for everyone.

Why did you decide to put together and offer these free advertising-based notebooks?

There was a simple misunderstanding of launching a new business. It is never easy.
Placing ads at the bottom of notebooks sounded doable to me. That was the beginning.

Where can we find your free notebooks? Do you intend to expand your Eco-Notes into new areas?

Depending on the school, they will be available at campus centers, libraries, etc. I also plan to hand them out at school entrances.

Although you only have notebooks now, would you ever consider using advertising to create any other useful free items that people could use?

I have been trying to create advertising programs that are more efficient to the advertisers. For example, before Google, it was difficult for small retailers to advertise their businesses. The most “affordable” media was a newspaper or fliers. What I think of advertising is that as technology progresses, in transparency, your ad gets more effective at less cost. Right now, for that reason, the advertising is shifting from TV & Publishing media to online & cell phone related contents. This is as a result of more competition. If someone can help small retailers advertise, it would be great. I recently heard of mobile coupons in Japan in which people within demographics receive retail coupons through a cell phone. This would be convenient and precise…..it might sound like my business is “non-trendy”. But as a fact, people rely less on print media nowadays.

Have you always wanted to go into business? What inspired you to take this route?

I am originally a theatrical artist. During the last winter break. I saw a business show in Japan that introduced “Tada-Copy”. Basically, there are ads on the back of pages students photocopy at no charge. Here, again, there was some misunderstanding of starting a business. My father is an entrepreneur. From my childhood until recently, I did not think of fear in terms of risk to owning a business. I thought it is like nothing. Otherwise, it is personal. I broke up with my girl friend. Being an artist is hard to survive…… I wanted to be strong.

Finding a way to create notebooks using advertising to pay for the cost of making them is an interesting concept on its own, so making it out of recycled paper is an added bonus. What inspired you to take this eco-friendly route with the business?

I know many free goods supported by advertising in Japan: business cards, tissue paper, photocopies, cartoon magazines …etc. The concept of providing free paper notebooks, Eco-Notes, might contradict itself because people use them carelessly and there would be much waste. Nonetheless, sending a message of what is environmental is positive, since we consume products/services everyday. Using recycled paper with soybean-based ink is cool.

As this is an idea that has originated in Japan, and you’ve brought it to the US, do you think this is something that has the potential to spread to any other countries?

I do not think so. This particular concept can only be successful in a country where the competition of recruiting college graduates is intense. I ignored the fact that the younger population of Japan has been decreasing. The US market is different in many ways. The timing of introducing this concept was also bad.

Do you currently have any advertising spots available? How can someone go about purchasing a spot within one of your notebooks?

The advertising rate is only .04 cents per copy. It is affordable. It is in full color and competitive. Publishing a newspaper requires editors, but mine does not. Also, the pick up rate for a newspaper is low. It is between 75% – 85%, meaning that some are not taken, just returned and recycled. Does anyone read all the sections in a newspaper?

As long as the advertisements are appropriate for students, anyone can place ads in Eco-Notes. I have the expertise in advertising and I can simply tell what works and what doesn’t.

In February of next year you’ll have reached your 1 year anniversary. Do you think you’ve been able to reach most of your goals with this business? Do you have any goals that you’d like to reach during year 2?

My clients had high returns and it invigorated my motivation. I now know more about how to manage the company overall. It is my personal asset. My second year goal is to increase the distribution of notebooks.

Did you encounter any problems as you were getting started? If so, what were they and what did you learn from those experiences?

I learned a lot. The business is not just an idea. You need to promote your products/services and most importantly sell them.

Is there anything you’d like to say about being an entrepreneur that might help some of our readers as they launch themselves into the business world?

Research to see if there is a strong and increasing demand in the market you want to be in. Make sure your products/services can generate profits. The increasing needs in the U.S. in recession could be: liquor, chocolate, personal bankruptcy, divorce, door locks, military, contraceptives, abortion, etc. Also, from my perception of the 15 year recession in Japan, people become price sensitive as ever. Sell something cheap in high volume. Good luck to entrepreneurs. Create real wealth for the entire society.

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