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A husband-wife duo is building a platform that can handle textbook preferences of 20 million students

Vishal Krishna
17th Mar 2016
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Do you remember those college days when you had to buy those expensive academic books? The books were hardly used only for two months before the exams, or when panic was struck, in our minds, by firm teachers. After the exams, they become part of the home furniture. Worse, although they are not even coffee table books, they last in to your adulthood and manage to remind you of the sweaty nights of hard work that you train your mind to forget. What if there was a startup that made sure your future was secure and these books did not remain in your hands for life. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Shachindra Sharma and Ruchi Sharma built Pustakkosh, an online text book rental company, around a social network for used books. Founded by the husband and wife duo, Pustakkosh aggregates curriculum books from publishers and rents it out to graduates. It also buys used books from students to add to the collection. The process is very simple. All a student has to do is to get on their platform and rent a book, which will be delivered to their campus at a convenient time.

Prior to starting up, Shachindra finished his MS in Computer Science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. He worked for 15 years in software product R&D and team management in MNCs like Cadence Designs Systems. Ruchi finished her MBA from Amity University, in 2006, and worked in business development and IP Management in companies like Jubilant Organosys.

Pustakkosh founders Ruchi Sharma and Shachindra Sharma
Pustakkosh founders Ruchi Sharma and Shachindra Sharma

The genesis and the business

While shifting homes, in 2011, they realised that they had a huge collection of college books. Many of them very sparingly used during their MBA, Engineering, and MS courses. “The costs of these books would have escalated many times today and that’s when we realised the entire student community may be looking for cheaper seconds on a rental basis,” says Ruchi, Co-founder of Pustakkosh. Most of the books are needed temporarily in higher education streams and students need not buy these expensive and heavy (by size) books. Going on a rental basis brings down the cost to only 25 per cent, of the cost of owning a book, for the entire year. Towards the end of 2011 Ruchi began piloting, in Amity University, the idea of renting books. “We received an overwhelming response, in fact many orders were received on the first day itself,” she says.

After starting the business in Amity University, they expanded the model locally to another couple of Noida-based institutions. Their pilot found that around 65 per cent of the college students began to get on to their platform. Pustakkosh has about one lakh users and over 30,000 transacting customers every year. Although the business has scaled in the Delhi region, it is yet to hit a million dollars in revenue. But the duo maintained that the business is profitable and they shy away from disclosing revenues. This is how the business works.

  • When students rent books from Pustakkosh, they pay a security deposit along with the rent. The deposit is returned as soon as the book is returned.
  • For students who do need books for ownership, the company provides an option of buying pre-rented books, marked for sale, which again brings down the cost. This option is available to students across India.
  • Students can sell their books to Pustakkosh too.
  • The startup works with leading distributors and publishers to predict the obsolescence of certain books. Besides publishers, they work with college professors to forecast inventory needs and ensure that institutions need not create any other resource for books for students.

The bottlenecks

  • The business is dependent on logistics boys to deliver and pick up books. Initially, logistics posed a big bottleneck because courier companies would not serve a startup company. Based on customer analytics they came up with innovations, like fulfilment centres, closer to colleges, which helped them overcome the challenge of working with courier companies.
  • Digital content: The company needs to move beyond physical books.

The market size is huge for the book rental business. According to AICTE, India has one million engineering graduates, and more than five million graduates from other streams passing out each year. The country has at least 20 million students at any given point in time who have enrolled in colleges. Around 60 per cent of the graduates are from Tier 2 and 3 cities, and the opportunity for book rentals in these cities is huge. The competition for Pustakkosh is the 3,00,000 kirana book stores across the country. Flipkart and Amazon India are not competition in the direct sense. But the two e-commerce giants focus on selling books and not in renting them. The duo wants universities to focus on teaching and in turn they want Pustakkosh to become the book sourcing hub for all students in India. Presently, the business has scaled only in the Delhi and Noida region. They must scale up soon.

 

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