Book lovers never had it so good!!
This is a continuation of the theme that I talked about in my last post – new businesses started by people who passionately believed in their ideas, and felt that a need exists. Also it seems to me that more and more MBA graduates are turning entrepreneurs, letting go of plum jobs because they have faith in their ideas. Besides the theme, the idea / venture I want to talk about has something else in common with my last post. This venture is also for book lovers, and has made me regret having to move to Delhi for my job!!
The venture I am talking about is http://www.xelf.in – an online library service. At the moment services of Xelf is limited to Calcutta only (as both promoters are based in Calcutta), but plans are under foot to expand to other cities soon.
The Idea behind Xelf is simple and brilliant. Xelf is a library with a twist – its online. being avid readers, the promoters came up with Xelf because of the drawbacks that they saw exists in conventional options. Purchasing books is an expensive affair, even if one buys from online stores which offer hefty discounts. I should know, as I burn a couple of thousand bucks every month on books! Unless one does not also like to collect books and has deep pockets.
This online model offers the best of both worlds. Xelf offers a vast selection of books (more than 1000 titles at present), which are delivered at door steps of the member. And when the member has finished reading, those books are replaced with next set of books, as selected by the member. And the best part is that Xelf offers free home delivery and pick up!
This online business model also takes care of another problem that almost all libraries face – defaulters. Every year, many titles are lost by libraries as people, for whatever reason (?) fail to return the books they have borrowed. Xelf’s solution to this problem is simple, yet effective. First, they take a deposit of Rs 50 per book. Also, since the books are delivered by Xelf’s delivery personnel, they know every member’s house/ office. So that makes it difficult for someone to run away with the books. In fact, the few months that Xelf has been operating has seen no defaulters!
Hearing about Xelf made me recall my college days in Calcutta and the craving I had for a good library. During that time I joined the British Council Library, which is the only (to the best of my knowledge) good library there. There is, of course, the National library, but it was simply too far fro my home to even consider joining. It used to take me an hour to reach British Council from my home, and another to return. The only reason I even considered joining BC was because it was near a Metro station, thus offering good connectivity from my home. Besides, I used to take coaching classes for CAT in a centre near BC.
Despite being the best library in Calcutta, I noticed that BC had its limitations. Its collection was limited to British authors only, and it had very few titles in fiction . Given the large number of its members, there used to be a waiting period for any title which was even remotely popular. And once I was done reading a book, it was a huge pain to travel all the way only to return the book and pick up a new one. Hence, I ended up paying a tidy sum to BC as late fees.
Xelf effectively takes care of these issues. Free pick up and delivery, and no late charge – it does not get any better for a book lover like me. Interestingly, within 3-4 months of existence only, Xelf has been written about in the "Indian Express" as well as "The Telegraph"!
Xelf has been founded by two promoters – Ridhi Agarwal and Amit Agarwal. Both are from Calcutta and have done their schooling and college in Calcutta itself. Ridhi has done her MBA from IIM K, and Amit has done his MBA from S P Jain. Both being avid readers, if anyone knows what problems book lovers face in Calcutta, its them.
One problem that Xelf is facing is sourcing of titles. Given their low cost model, scaling up in terms of number of titles is expensive, as this involves not only the cost of books, but stocking space as well. To circumvent these problems, Ridhi and Amit have been trying several out of the box ideas, including tying up with other libraries. But such tie ups take time to materialize, especially in Calcutta, where everything moves slowly. Besides, for the tie up (as and when it happens) to work, Xelf will have to come up with a smooth process flow model, as coordinating between multiple libraries without making any error will prove to be increasing difficult as Xelf’s customer base grows.
However, something tells me that it will not be long before Xelf promoters come up with a brilliant solution to this problem as well. All that remains for book lovers in Calcutta to enjoy is, this new service. And I hope that Xelf soon expands its service to other cities as well.