Click, Pick And Choose

Published Date
01 - Oct - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Oct - 2007
 
Click, Pick And Choose


It is the age of the mouse potato. Yet, it is also an age when people like the feel and experience of physical books-even with e-books all over the Internet.

Those who watch a lot of movies would appreciate the fact that the renting out DVDs for an unlimited period of time is a good idea. It is indicative of a good business model: ultimately, no-one watches a DVD more than, say, twice or thrice, but the idea that you aren't time-bound plays a psychological role. It means freedom.

Although we're not focusing here on DVDs, we must mention the success of Netflix.com, launched in 1999 in the United States. The idea was novel-one of those "Why didn't we think of it before?" moments for those who hadn't thought of it before. Think about it: being online, doing a bit of browsing, clicking something, and having a DVD delivered to your doorstep-then keeping as long as you'd like, and dropping it in the mail when you're done watching it. That's a business idea at its best, one that spawns similar ideas. In fact, we have Netflix clones in India-Seventymm.com, Catchflix.com, and others. All sites claim-and seem-to have reasonably large collections, though not yet quite in the league of Netflix.

Now, books being more of an old-world commodity than DVDs, it might seem odd that someone thought up the idea of renting out books à la Netflix-BookSwim.com in the US, August of 2007.

Coming to this part of the world, where we don't have too many public libraries or local circulating libraries, where the majority hasn't been introduced to the idea of e-book reading yet, but where more and more people are getting online, how does the idea of an online book rental store sound?

Conception
Nine years after having studied together, six friends, now in diverse fields, met to discuss a business venture. Avid readers all six of them, the venture, naturally, was to focus on books.

Possibly inspired by Netflix, possibly by BookSwim, we don't know-Hiten Dedhiya, Hiten Turakhia, Dhairyasheel Pawar, Shibanarayan Rath, Amit Gala, and Kunal Gala discussed, in October 2006, the possibility of renting books online. It was Dedhiya's idea; they decided on a desi-sounding name, one that carried the "friendly neighbourhood" motif. Thus was born Librarywala.com.

Creation
This a Web site where you can create a list of books from an online catalogue, then order them-and Librarywala will deliver them to your doorstep free of cost. The site started off in August 2007; their area of operation is limited to Mumbai as of now, and the collection stands at 8,500 books from most popular genres.

In Amazon-like fashion, details such as a brief description of every book, author, publisher, number of pages, and more are listed, along with a photograph of the cover. Payment can be made by cash or cheque pick-up, or by credit / debit card.

If a book one selects is available, the Librarywala team guarantees to deliver it to any address in Mumbai within 24 hours. Even if the books are not available, the team promises to procure them in 21 days.

Foundation
In their college days, the six friends struggled to procure books to feed their reading habit. That, in fact, was the motivation, the driver.

Hiten Dedhiya, a management consultant with five years of experience in strategy design, logistics, operations restructuring, and private equity conceived the actual idea of Librarywala. Dedhiya recollects his past: "The six of us would contribute, buy books, and circulate them amongst ourselves. I therefore thought of pursuing a venture such that today's generation doesn't miss out on books like we had to."

He discussed his idea with Hiten Turakhia, a software professional managing his own IT solutions company. They then decided to share the idea with the four other friends.

Before documenting the project plan, each of them volunteered to conduct pilot research to get an idea of the public's response to their concept. All six stood outside libraries and prominent bookstores for hours, trying to get feedback from the book-reading public.

They covered major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Hyderabad. They considered factors like readership, customer reach, availability of infrastructure, and others during the research, analysis and discussion. Finally, they decided to start off from Mumbai, since they believed this was where the readership could be best explored.

Operation
When you come up with the idea for a project like this one, there's a clear route to be followed-after looking back upon the feasibility of the idea.

First, you need to pursue functions such as identifying channel resources, the area of operation, and the target audience. The Librarywala team got in touch with all major book publishers and distribution channels to source the books for their library.

Then comes the site itself-how it will work. What you need to think about how to develop it, test it and fix bugs, enable certified and secure e-commerce features, use CRM (Customer Relations Management) software, secure the back-end IT infrastructure-and you even need to think about such things as taking backups of the database.


We've used the best available technologies for our site and look forward to imbibe more of it in the future scope of our operations"
Hiten Dedhiya, Director, Librarywala.com

Next, you approach Web site developers and discuss requirements. In the case of Librarywala, three final-year students from a software programming and IT course-Rajesh Jain, Nilesh Jadhav, and Shruti Rao-designed and developed Librarywala.com.

The Web site was developed on the .NET 2.0 framework using ASP.NET 2.0, C#, SQL Server, and AJAX. "The initial programming and development of the Web site consumed a lot of time and energy-both ours as well as the programmers'. The entire development and beta-testing of Web site took about eight months-longer than we'd expected," informs Turakhia.


Imagine browsing these shelves without having to haul yourselves out of your chair!

Next comes the core e-commerce aspect: if you're an online business, you'll need services from payment gateway providers and partners such as banks or PaisaPay, which helps you pay through credit card without revealing the number. You then make an application for a Secured Socket Layer certification from a leading SSL Certificate Authority such as VeriSign. In this case, the payment gateway on the site for credit and debit cards employs SSL-based 128-bit VeriSign-certified encryption. Customers' details are stored with the payment gateway.

Now that you've got customers, CRM software is to be used to keep track of what's happening on the site. This can be customised.

Finally, you need to see how you're doing: this means regular reports. At Librarywala, Crystal Reports Server has been installed for daily reports of user registrations, members' book queue lists, and such. These regularly reach at the servers at the main office. The security of the back-end IT infrastructure needs to be taken care of, too.

Using the reports, the team tracks user preferences: which genres top the priority lists, and so on. There is also a referral system in place, Ã la Amazon: those who read a Jeffery Archer novel might like a John Grisham thriller, for example.

Regular backups of the site content and database takes place in the US, where the Web site is hosted.

Expansion
In terms of operations, the top priority for the Librarywala team is, of course, to expand their services to more cities. In addition, in order to reach a larger audience, Turakhia mentioned to use their plans to implement a WAP-based service on their Web site; he believes the mobile phone is the next-best source of customers-everyone has one.
If and when proper Global Positioning System services become available, the delivery boys could use GPS devices or GPS-enabled cell phones. The team believes they can save a lot of time in terms of pick-ups and deliveries in one area.

On the cards are services like blogs and forums, where members can interact and share book reviews. There are plenty of precedents that can be looked at here.

Motivation
Turakhia avers, "Technology is a great enabler. It can be leveraged to create sound business models in education, animation, design, and advertising, to name a few."

So what could be next for rentals online? Think about video game discs, since games are notoriously expensive in India-actually, the rates themselves are low, but we're talking about the lure of pirated copies and also about purchasing power. Then, think about rentals of laptops and projectors by small organisations that only need them for a short while. What about cameras? Some people just need a high-end camera for one trip! What about men's formal suits to be used at weddings? Saris? Dresses for Navratri? Expensive-looking fake jewellery? Speakers and amplifiers for festive occasions?

Some of these do exist offline, but the point of the Internet is two-fold: that of affording the luxury of not having to get out of home, and that of providing the facility to browse extensively, compare objectively, and so on. This holds even for Librarywala and BookSwim.

From auctions to selling and now renting online, the Internet has created markets where none existed. Business enterprises also reduce costs on inventory.

In all the above-right from the outset-what stands out most is a facet of human nature: the need for comfort. People very often just don't want to get outdoors. They'd like to be in the comfort of their homes. They enjoy the power of the mouse-click. In fact, impulsive mouse clicks result in spending that just wouldn't have been done offline. Think about it.

Samir MakwanaSamir Makwana