When’s the last time you went to the neighbourhood book store? The chances are, you can’t recollect readily. Gone are the days when buying books involved a visit to the trusty book store round the corner. Online book stores, with a practically unlimited collection and simple search mechanisms, have sprouted by the dozen and the good bit is, all of them are seeing patronage. We at YourStory recently caught up with entrepreneur Mayank Dhingra, the co-founder of Dial-a-Book, who promises to make book buying even simpler. In this exclusive chat with YourStory, he speaks about his startup and how he intends to create a community of book-lovers.If someone asked you to tell them about Dial-a-Book in about three sentences, what would you say?
Started with the aim of simplifying the process of buying books, Dial-a-Book is India's first service that lets you order all kinds of books and novels over the phone. We offer free home delivery across India and accept payment by cash upon delivery.
How is Dial-a-Book different from other online bookstore models?
While online bookstores let you order books only on their site, Dial-a-Book allows you to order books over phone, SMS, email, and even Twitter or Facebook. You can even order the books that are not listed in our database but are otherwise available. We accept cash upon delivery and have our own delivery team for the Delhi/NCR region. And most importantly, we just don't sell books. We are working towards building a community of avid book lovers.
How did the business idea for Dial-a-Book come about?
I have been an avid reader since my college days. I had always thought of doing something with books at some point of time. The advent of the online bookstore concept in India intrigued me and I spent some time observing various online bookstores, their way of working and other variables. I also used to observe how people shop for other things like medicines, groceries, food etc. It was during this time that I realized that the process of buying books can be further simplified and made more user-friendly, just like ordering burgers or pizzas. And hence, Dial-a-Book was born
Tell us about your background.
I did my Electronics & Communications engineering from Delhi College of Engineering (2005 batch). Towards the end of my college stint, I started toying with the idea of staring my own business. I joined Fidelity Investments as a campus recruit and worked there for one and a half years, building software for internal use.
From Fidelity, I joined Slideshare where I worked on various features of the website and some back-end technologies. In Slideshare, two friends of mine and I started an online platform called Kwippy. Kwippy started as a status message aggregator and got a lot of traction in both Indian and international online media.
After working at Slideshare for a year, I left the organization and joined MPower Mobile. I worked there for a year and quit to start something of my own. That's when Dial-a-Book happened.
Let us know about the tie-ups that you have. Is there acceptance for your concept?
We've tied up with most local distributors based out of Delhi along with a few small to medium-sized publishers and we regularly procure books from them. We did a trial run before starting the service and based on the feedback, we decided to venture into the business. We've sold books in almost all of the 27 cities where we have Cash on Delivery (COD) and a few other places as well. A lot of our customers regularly buy their books from us and many of them recommend us to their friends and family.
Where do you see online book buying and Dial-a-Book five years from now?
Five years from now, a significant percentage of books sold in India will be sold online and over the phone. In five years, we see ourselves as the number one player in the 'over the phone' category and amongst the top 5 in the online space. Currently, there are a number of guys vying for a piece of the pie(online). But my view is that the next few years will see a lot of consolidation in this space and the market will have just a handful of players who will do a majority of the business.
In the next five years, Dial-a-Book will tie-up with more publishers, expand to other cities, explore other/faster modes of delivery, work more closely with authors and build a passionate community of book lovers. We have a lot of interesting ideas for the business which we'll put to test soon.
What is Dial-a-Book's revenue model?
Our revenue model is pretty much like that of an online bookstore. We cater to the long tail of books and procure most books on demand (orders). We get books at a discounted price and pass on a percentage of that to the customers. The rest is used for delivery, infrastructure and other projects.
As an entrepreneur, what are your joys? What are the challenges?
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is that you get to do what you love doing, in the way you want to do it. Other joys include being in action all the time, getting to meet interesting people and learning things you otherwise wouldn't have cared to.
Getting the execution of your idea right, the perennial tweaking of your business plan, hiring the best people and keeping them motivated without overspending, etc. are some of the challenges.
How big is the Dial-a-Book team? Are you looking at hiring?
Currently, Dial-a-Book has 4 full time employees including myself. While I come from an Engineering and Social Media background, Tarang Dhingra (co-founder and my younger brother) has his grounding in commerce. While I take care of the business and marketing aspects, he takes care of the operations. Apart from us, there's Sandeep and Dheeraj who take care of delivery and procurement respectively. We have immediate plans for hiring 2-3 more people for administration, sales and delivery.
Tell us about customer choices and usage patterns. Where do you see growth?
We've got around a couple thousand customers as of now and many of them order books from us regularly. Books that get reviewed be print/online media get ordered a lot, apart from the bestsellers like Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and Twilight Series. We've also tied up with a lot of comics/graphic novel companies and see a huge potential for growth there.
Regional books will see growth as more e-tailers start dealing in them. Increasingly, more authors and publishers are using social media to promote their books and it has started to reflect on their sales. Going forward, more people will move towards e-books and many of them will switch to e-book readers and portable devices. Print on demand is another area that will see growth.
Let us know about your expansion plans.
We've been relying on word-of-mouth for publicity so far. But now, we plan to focus on marketing, especially in the cities where we have COD. We plan to launch a new website next month or so. We'll also be tying up with more publishers and extending our COD options to other cities (Tier 2-3) as well. In addition, we are looking at venturing into corporate sales, regional books and magazines/journals.
We at YourStory wish Dial-a-Book (http://dialabook.in/) all the best. We will be following this interesting startup as they scale. So, do watch this space. Also, do let us know what you think of this story. You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sriram Mohan | YourStory | 21st February 2011 | Bangalore