17-year-old innovators who are aiming to capitalise on the business potential of second-hand books

17-year-old innovators who are aiming to capitalise on the business potential of second-hand books

Friday September 09, 2016,

5 min Read

This announcement is sponsored by Tissot

“I was so excited I screamed! Then I called up my co-founders and my parents told them that we had won,” says Manan Rai. A student of class 12 at Amity International School, Pushp Vihar, the 17-year-old is the co-founder and Chief Technologist of PeekaBook, a startup in the making. And the reason for Manan’s excitement is their startup being named the winner of the Tissot’s Signature Innovators Club for August 2016.

When asked how he celebrated the win he replies, “I wish I’d celebrated, but studies, you know.”

The young innovator along with his school mates who are part of the founding team are constantly balancing studies and their responsibilities associated with the startup. Manan says, “For us, the trick has been smart work over hard work. You’ve got to do the right thing in the best possible way, and to prioritise so that you can do the things that matter the most.” He explains that it is here that the team has found great support from his parents and the teachers at school. “They’ve supported us in tense situations and I am thankful to them.”

The Peekabook team with the school principal. (L-R) Ansh Aggarwal, Nikhil Kalia, Manan Rai, Ameeta Mohan, Medha Mathur, and Yash Gupta
The Peekabook team with the school principal. (L-R) Ansh Aggarwal, Nikhil Kalia, Manan Rai, Ameeta Mohan, Medha Mathur, and Yash Gupta

PeekaBook’s story began in March 2015 when a group of five high-school students of Amity International School came up with the idea. About a year later, they did their first pilot over two months, including their entire vacation time. Manan’s blog says ‘PeekaBook aims to kindle the fire in second-hand book dealerships and dramatically augment the access to books.’ The founding team consists of Manan, Yash Gupta, Nikhil Kalia, Ansh Aggarwal, and Medha Mathur.

Each of the co-founding members have played a key and distinct role in the startup’s early days. While Yash laid the foundation of design for the website, marketing collaterals for the pilot, and identified the technological integration required to execute and run the project, Nikhil came up with the marketing strategy. Nikhil even went ahead and contacted many organisations and institutions which could be potential partners and even help the team promote their idea. Ansh, who came with a strong understanding of finance, was the numbers guy for the team – from crunching and analysing data related to investment costs and revenue projections to conducting extensive research. Medha, was instrumental in identifying the most appropriate and suitable customers that the startup could cater to. She also conducted a large number of surveys to understand the needs of the customers and the issues faced by them.

At the moment, Manan and the rest of the team are working on strengthening the business idea, the value proposition and working out the operation plan. PeekaBook is being built as a common online marketplace to facilitate the exchange of second-hand books, with a focus on academic books, between the retailers of such books and buyers. Manan says, “If all goes well, PeekaBook, which has just finished a small pilot, should begin operations by the end of 2016.

Like many startup entrepreneurs, the idea for PeekaBook was also inspired by the co-founders’ personal experience. Manan says, “As students if we wanted to stay competitive, we saw there was a need to buy dozens of books, apart from those prescribed in the curriculum. That’s when we realised that good books had prohibitively high costs.” He explains that just two volumes of a Chemistry book costed Rs 1,400 a year. And that’s just the cost for one subject.

“That’s just part of the problem. Sometimes we don’t find the books we want even during all-day trips to places like Daryaganj in Delhi which is famous for its Sunday Book Market.” This, he believes, is the case with most students in the Indian education system.

The 17-year-olds have a fair sense of understanding of the problem that their startup is trying to address, the market opportunity, the challenges and the startup’s monetisation and growth plan. The current monetisation strategy for the startup is the markup over the 50% slashed price of the books. Talking about why their work at PeekaBook is satisfying on many levels, Manan says, “On an average, a student spends around Rs 6,000 on curriculum books annually, which is implausible to afford for the nearly 409 million people living below the poverty line. PeekaBook cuts this cost to Rs. 3,000 by providing second-hand books at 50% of the original cost.

Manan says their market competitors are companies like Madbooks, Kitabi.in, Secondhandbooksindia.com, but believes that PeekaBook’s shorter gestation period and unique business plan will help them navigate the competitive landscape and make the cut. But, the biggest challenge for the team is “get the initial buy-in from the retailers to partner with PeekaBook. But we are confident of being able to convince them, especially after having conducted our pilot. Further, we are not threatening the retailers’ existing sources of revenue, but only adding an additional distribution channel, that too, an online one. This should serve as an incentive.”

Asked to describe how their experience of being a startup entrepreneur while still in school has been, the response is unanimous. They say, “Amazing is the word! PeekaBook has taught us all so much.”

The young team participated in the Indian selection round for the Future Young Entrepreneurs Competition organised by Goethe Institute, Germany, and co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union. And, having worked on their pitch by interacting with investors and entrepreneurs, PeekaBook won tickets to the International Pitch Competition in Berlin. The team flew to Berlin on September 11, and are excited about pitching the company on an international platform. “Being selected as the winner of the Tissot’s Signature Innovators Club could not have come at a better time,” say the young innovators.

If you consider yourself one such innovator or know one, fill in the nomination for the Tissot’s Signature Innovators Club