(POCC Kothrud, the ‘Kothrud branch’ of Pune Open Coffee Club had an event in July 2011, in which Rahul Maskara talked about his online library startup BigBooks.co.in. This report by Ashish Belagali, was first published on the PuneStartups website, and is reproduced here with permission.)
We heard Rahul from BigBooks at POCC Kothrud meet last Saturday. His is an inspiring story that many entrepreneurs would want to know and emulate. Here is a very down-to-earth entrepreneur who is completely determined to do whatever it takes to succeed, and it was interesting to see how he has addressed the unique requirements of his niche in a unique way.
BigBooks is a library that gives internet-based booking of the books, doorstep delivery and pick-up — all this for Rs 150 a month. Here are the insights that I got.
Pricing: Rs 150 / month – chosen to thwart big players from entering the game, and for making it very attractive to customer. This necessitates that his operation remains a low cost operation.
Raising Money: Saved money from own visit abroad + raised it from all possible sources. “Did everything other than stealing” in Rahul’s own words.
Marketing: Zero spend on traditional media. Chose 50 influencial people in various geographical areas in Pune and ran the service free of cost for them for a month. That was enough to spread the word of mouth. BigBooks now has 2200 customers in Pune.
Inventory: Initially started with English books, after strategic study about what gets read most. (Rahul insists that young entrepreneurs spend enough time studying their business before jumping into it.) The site lets the users specify which books they want to read, and this demand is captured and processed. There is a heuristic about how many copies to buy against a given demand. Thus, the inventory is fed directly by the demand. BigBooks now supports books in languages other than English, and has an inventory of 1.8 L books.
Database: Most of the painstaking work in the initial phase was the creation of the books database (through research as mentioned above). BigBooks had a database of 1.2L books when they launched. Today they have a small team maintaining the database, which ensures that a new book is available on BigBooks no later than it’s available with other distributors in the city.
Pick-up and Deliveries: Rahul learnt that if he used courier, it would start penalizing him for doing more business (the cost would rise proportionally to the number of books delivered). Instead, he has his own delivery boys, who circle around throughout the city on more-or-less the same routes on a daily basis. Because of this, whether there is one delivery or ten in one area, the cost is the same. Because of this, whether a customer keeps a book for a month or needs to change books every day — there is no cost difference to the business.
Rahul maintains a few warehouses in different parts of Pune. The books that are returned come to the warehouses closest to the customer, and those scheduled for delivery the next day are moved to the nearest warehouses in the night.
Service: There is insistence of providing a great service. Rahul himself has done book deliveries when his delivery guy is not available for some reason. Some of his customers (esp housewives) may not use internet to order books, so the orders are taken on phone. Rahul handles all these phone calls himself (>200 a day). He initially started doing it to be in direct touch with his customers, and continued with it because it is fun.
The Team: A team of 46 people — that includes delivery people, the scheduling team and the database team. The software work is completely outsourced to a company in Mumbai.
Future Plans: Taking it to other cities. Mumbai comes first on Aug 16th, and then a few more will follow.
We thank Rahul for sharing the ‘secret sauce’ with POCC Kothrud members, and wish him all the best for his future journey.
[Thanks also to Manish Hatwalne for his contributions to this article.]
About the Author – Ashish Belagali
Ashish is the founder and CEO of Acism a Pune-based software products and services company. They specialize in custom software development in open source software, especially Java, IT Strategy, and Software Customization. They also have two products, Communications Tracker for enterprise collaboration, and HeadTracker, a recruitment software. Ashish has a B.Tech. from IIT Bombay.