Making giant leaps in the startup industry, NUJS has produced an impressive set of new generation innovators, all of whom are changing their fields of work in unprecedented ways. One of the members of this club is Saiyed Anzar Abbas, founder of CLATapult.
He’d initially gotten a seat at a dental college, after which he discovered the idea of NLUs. At the time, there was no standardised form of testing like the CLAT, and there were separate examinations for NLS, NALSAR and NUJS. He spent a month dabbling in the areas of the qualifying exams, and discovered that his true interest lay here. Although a science student, he’d always been inclined towards literature and humanities. The GK and English sections in the entrances offered easy avenues for scoring high marks, and soon he found himself at NUJS.
Having been born and brought up in Cuttack and led a self-admittedly simple life, Anzar says that coming to NUJS was a “culture shock” to him. “The first year was terrible for me. I didn’t know how to speak or behave or conduct myself. I was completely clueless”, he says. Upon reaching third year, he found his circle of close friends, and things improved drastically. Among these friends were Tanuj Kalia and Agnidipto Tarafder, who later went on to be the co-founders of CLATapult. Anzar recalls stories of their times together, times spent discussing the Communist Manifesto and the like. Having never been exposed to such discussions, Anzar would find himself sitting by quietly, unable to add much. It was these talks, however, that allowed him to blossom and develop good communication skills.
The idea for CLATapult came to him at the Howrah railway station as he waited with a batchmate to receive a contingent for an event at college. The ever-reliable delay on part of the Indian Railways left him with enough time to brainstorm and come up with the basics for CLATapult. Finding a name for a coaching centre was another crucial step. He set up all of his friends to the task. It was a stroll back from Carnival Cinemas (“I still don’t understand why they had to change its name from Broadway to Carnival, you know?” he remarks.) that the brainwave of the name CLATapult struck one of his friends. While talking of the brainwave, Anzar describes a humorous story, “initially, the plan behind the name backfired on us. We assumed that the students who would enrol with us would be from Calcutta schools, which generally have a strong focus towards English. The first couple of years at CLATapult only saw students from the outskirts of the city who’d had a traditional Bengali upbringing. They’d come to us curiously and ask us why we’d chosen the name. The wit was lost on them”. Laughing it off, he says that CLATapult is an amazing name to have in the long run, and that he is extremely proud to hold the tag.
One of his juniors, Om Agarwal, was brought on board to set up a website for CLATapult. Their next step was to find a way to reach out to students in Kolkata. They managed to get a story in the Economic Times (which they cheerfully hoard on their website), and rented two centres the very next day. Unfortunately, they only ended up having two students each in both centres. They were facing a cash crunch at that point, and had to shell out close to half a lakh per day to keep the venture going. “I would wake up every day wondering how or if we’d manage to get through that day successfully,” Anzar mulls. To begin with, too, they’d borrowed odd sums of money from everywhere – family members, the alumni, and their own savings.
It was in NUJS that they found some solace, when they decided to send out a mail to the GB asking for applications to teaching positions. Flooded with messages from applicants, they managed to muster an evaluation procedure for their staff. “It was extremely important for us to have people who wanted to join CLATapult for reasons beyond the money it would get them. I remember adding this to the mail itself as well”, Anzar says, and goes on, “the content for the original modules had been drafted by my seniors, juniors and batch mates, who worked meticulously over months to come up with content.” CLATapult has retained these modules, only adding new ones when the need arises. To top it all off, students wishing to enrol with CLATapult had to pick up CLATapult brochures from the NUJS campus itself. This almost recommendation, coming from their dream university, lent legitimacy and credibility to the CLATapult brand name. Fuelled with new energy and new additions, CLATapult had taken birth for the second time.
Anzar is a workaholic by nature, be it his initial years at law school or working at CLATapult now. He narrates, “Coming from a small town, the possibility of landing a corp job that gave you a lakh a month was huge. It was lucrative enough to get me into studying for law school. I worked very hard and very diligently at my internships. One of them was at the J Sagar office in Bombay, where I’d be in the office at 10am and out only at 1am. Working 15-16 hours made me wonder if I could keep up with doing this in the long run. Forget 20-30 years, I was unsure if I’d be able to stick to the corporate sector for even five years”. The thrill of entrepreneurship took over his ardent desire for that corp job, and Anzar decided to follow it.
The transition to doing what he loved wasn’t all fun and games, and he had to adapt to alien circumstances while dealing with gruelling work hours and endless bills. After graduation in 2013, all of his friends had moved away to Delhi or Bombay, while he found himself renting a flat in Salt Lake itself. Living alone was an eerie experience after having had close to fifty people holed up in his single room for two years, “I was lonely and depressed. That phase was difficult, extremely difficult. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way things were going”.
In hindsight, he recognises that those were the growing years of CLATapult, and that till 2015, it was still finding its feet. It was in 2016 that CLATapult made its first break, producing one of the top ten rankers across the country. It repeated its success in 2017, and is now on a secure path towards establishing itself as one of the giants in the sector. Looking back at his years at NUJS, Anzar says that he misses his friends more than anything else, and that he would probably not have set up CLATapult without them. He recognises the different roles they played in the process, “Arjun Gupta, one of my closest friends, always managed to look at things from a vantage point. While I was caught up doing the actual work, he’d assess and judge, and tell me the right apart from the wrong. He’d been very reluctant towards the idea of a startup to begin with, and reminded me of the pact we’d made to get a job in the same city.”