Love books? It’s time uRead their story…
Having grown up in a small town called Hubli, North of Karnataka, I recall looking forward to my aunt or an older cousin to bring me books from Bangalore or Hyderabad. I’ve always loved reading books but during those days, unfortunately the only source for me was the school library. Years later, when I moved to Mumbai for work, I was thrilled at the prospect of being able to walk into a book shop…browse through stacks of books…and soak in the fragrance of books…PURE BLISS! I simply didn’t care if the world around me was raving about the Flipkarts of the world.
Cut to the present – back in my hometown, there still is no Landmark, or Crossword, no real bookstore that I can walk into. Reluctantly therefore, in July 2011, I shed my inhibitions about shopping online and made my ‘first online book purchase’ on Flipkart, but only after comparing prices on other online bookstores.
Confession: I am now a happy convert who basks in the attention I receive through these e-commerce portals, indicating when to expect my book and so on. But being a bit of a purist, I no longer enjoy book surfing/shopping on generic e-commerce stores considering the kind of virtual malls that they’ve become. Headphones, hair dryers, epilators and vacuum cleaners make for strange bedfellows with books.
In other words, I simply want a pure bookstore. uRead.com gives me that BLISS which I miss of being in a bookstore (minus the fragrance of fresh paperbacks, of course!).
In early 2011, while I was carrying bags full of books from my travels to Bangalore and Mumbai to stock in my home in Hubli, two Delhi-based childhood buddies, Piyush Goel and Gaurav Sabharwal had already set their dream e-bookstore in motion.
Being born into a family that’s got its feet firmly in the books trade since 60 years through Prakash Books, Gaurav grew up being an avid reader. Piyush, his friend since the second grade of schooling, meanwhile fed on technology. With the shift in consumption patters, growth in India’s netizen population and signs that e-commerce in India was showing some promise, Piyush and Gaurav got together to start a portal dedicated for all reading material -physical and digital.
Besdies being a standalone bookstore, uRead.com is also the sole order fulfillment partner for this category for a host of leading web portals such as Indiatimes.com, Homeshop18, and publisher websites such as Penguin Books India, Hayhouse India, among others. This implies that when consumers shop on these portals, uRead manages the back-end, completes the transaction, processes the order, procures the books and ensures that they reach customers on time. Nearly 50% of the business comes in from fulfillment.
“Bookselling through the web was a good starting point. Some major fulfillment tie-ups are being worked upon at the moment, and will be added in the coming weeks,” says Gaurav, who laughs over his eureka moment one night when he woke up Piyush and said that ‘uRead.com’ should be the name of the portal!
“That’s the advantage of being childhood friends and business partners – we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we can take the liberty of embarrassingly pushing each other to perform,” he adds.
For something that started off as a joint venture in October 2010 between two friends (Piyush runs a software company, BeyondKey which handles the complete technology support for uRead.com) uRead has crossed some serious milestones within a year. The portal reaches out to readers not just within the country but to book shoppers from South East Asia, Middle East, US, Argentina, among a few other places overseas. “Almost 20% of uRead’s consumers are from outside of India. Especially genres like Yoga, spirituality, children’s books like Amar katha, books by Indian authors are ordered by the NRI diaspora. With more international customers shopping from our site, the global market is also opening up for us,” says Piyush. The market size in India for the books business is estimated to be around Rs 10,000 crore.
uRead.com currently stocks over 8 million titles across genres and ships out more than 500 books per day. It also clocks around 9,000 unique visitors on its site daily. “Going forward, in addition to expanding our range of books, we would like to introduce several free and premium services in the digital reading space. Cash-on-delivery (COD) is the most successful mode of payment and 50% of the customers opt for this. We are now working on creating mobile payment and EMI options for our customers,” says Gaurav.Both co-founders envision uRead to become a global site for all digital reading material - user contributed, proprietary, free or paid. “We are in the process of building a user-contributed and user-evaluated digital publishing platform. This would be a YouTube.com kind of a publishing platform for all reading material. The name ‘uRead.com’ lends itself very well to enable this vision and it would encapsulate the domain of reading, a lot more holistically beyond just books,” shares Piyush.
With a team size of 30 people, uRead.com is working towards adding two verticals by mid 2012 – e-books and publishing. The publishing business is expected to contribute roughly around 12% to uRead’s earnings.
“Most of our competitors have diversified into selling cellphones, gadgets, TVs etc. But we are not planning to go that route since we’ll end up becoming a me-too. We would like to remain focused on books, e-books and digital reading material. Hopefully, we will be able to differentiate ourselves by offering unique experiences in the reading arena,” Gaurav clarifies.
While physical piracy of books remains a concern, it’s the internet piracy of e-books that will pose a challenge to uRead in the days to come. “We are working on developing a secure environment. The challenge in the coming days will be to address technology and take reading material to devices which readers adopt,” informs Piyush.
His other concerns are about the challenges of scale - getting the right people for the job, setting-up systems and processes, automating as many processes as possible, and having reasonable capital for implementation of key ideas.
uRead.com is currently self-funded and will begin scouting for investors in the coming month. Confirms Gaurav, “We have invested significant capital from our own funds in the last 12-18 months. We are now planning to raise capital at the earliest.”
Adds Piyush, “We may come across as being less aggressive, since we don’t market our portal like our peers do, but that’s mainly because we are allocating resources to strengthen our back-end first. The funding will add an extra nudge.”
Being self-funded uRead.com has gained popularity not through mass marketing, but instead through word-of-mouth, and later through Search Engine Optimization (SEO). During its official launch, Jeffrey Archer’s presence drove PR. An active social media presence continues to be fuel for growth. Which means, if a brand’s not visible (in the media, advertising), then it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Coming back to my book shopping tale: Well, I took a leap of faith, from being unsure if the book will be delivered within the timeline mentioned and in good condition, to being a satisfied e-shopper. To be true, in between interviewing Gaurav- Piyush and writing this article, I placed an order for ‘Desperate in Dubai’ – my third online book purchase in less than 20 days!
If you are a believer in e-commerce story like us, then do register now to attend e-Sparks 2011 –India’s premier e-commerce startup showcase, on 17th Dec at IIM Bangalore.
If you are an Indian e-commerce startup, then please do register now to be the e-Sparks 2011.