During a short wait in the airport, Siva was struck by an idea.
“Whenever I travel, I always carry a book with me and it was during one of my travels to KK that I got the idea to develop this business,” Sivanathan Subramaniam, founder of Booku, explained.
“I wanted to buy another book from the bookstore at the airport but I thought how nice it would be if I could just share this book with someone at the airport who would be interested and I could get the book shipped to me later.”
With that vision in mind, he created his company with 4 co-founders in 2016. Within 5 months, they launched the online platform—Booku.
They aspire to be the largest library in the world—without owning a single book in hand.
The core concept is a simple one—to let book lovers enjoy a variety of reads at a cheap rate as well as to share and generate income with their own collection of books.
The social element of this platform also plays a vital role in forming the core idea as it allows users to give recommendations, have discussions on different topics, and share their personal reading lists.
As they are just a middleman between the book renters and rentees, Booku monetises through the small amounts deducted from the revenue of the book owners and topping up the fees charged towards the rentals.
The revenue is then used to maintain the platform and provide further assistance and support for the users of Booku.
Unlike rental stores such as SS Readers Corner where you’re expected to pay a deposit of the original price of the books upfront, Booku has a unique system of their own.
They only charge the daily rental rate (set by the book owners themselves) to the customers and no additional deposit fee will be imposed.
Booku also implements a 2-way rating system for the users. This is to ensure that the books—and users—remain accountable within the community. There’ll be different actions taken depending on the severity of the issue.
“Recurring bad behaviour can result in the book owner or book renter to be blacklisted from the platform,” said Siva.
Booku focused on covering niche target markets before expanding their varieties.
Siva and his team are currently building the platform to be catered for those searching for academic texts and reference books.
“We have already built a list of 2,000 textbooks and reference books based on Malaysian public universities,” Siva mentioned.
They chose to focus on this genre as they noticed how expensive buying—or even renting—academic books are. Once they had their list, they jumped into action to find owners who are willing to rent those books out.
That is still an ongoing challenge that they’re addressing.
“We will be running plenty of roadshows in both public and private universities starting from July 2017 to sign up more book owners with textbooks and reference books,” he explained.
From supervising to managing the business, the team needs to please both sides of the coin.
Their main objective now is to increase the number of registered users—both book renters and rentees—on the platform.
They must find a balance between the two parties as they complement one another.
“Which one we focus on first is a chicken and egg situation. Book owners may not be too keen to list their books because of lack of renters and vice versa,” Siva said.
When asked about their thoughts on the future of the company, they remain confident that the business concept will thrive and they are deploying strategies to further boost their numbers—but there’s much to be done to accomplish such a feat.
One such strategy is to introduce a social element.
“Avid readers can become influencers on Booku. They can start creating ‘readlists’ and other users can start following the list and add comments, discuss or invite other users to participate,” said Siva.
The underlying vision he has for his business is the hope of making a mark in society: letting them know the true joy of reading books.
“The Booku team is very optimistic and confident that we will be able to make a positive social impact. We aspire to bring back the good old book reading habit and at the same time enable readers to save big bucks on their books,” Siva explained.
Like all businesses, they’ve faced tremendous amounts of challenges throughout their development.
“The biggest of all is getting the book owners to list their books. Currently it is a manual and tedious process,” he said. But they say that they’re handling it and things are going according to plans.
On the local front, they’re going with a three-pronged approach for expansion.
“We will go full scale on digital marketing and roadshows. We are targeting to sign up a few brick-and-mortar book rentals stores and book stores.”
“We are also going to engage with local authors to come on board to promote their books to our users. Maybe in the future authors can publish their books straight on our platform rather than relying on publishers.”
“The last plan for Q3 is to talk to local libraries to join us. Local libraries are cash-strapped and lack funding from the government. With this they could probably generate some income to sustain their operations and buy new books.”
“The good thing about these brick-and-mortar stores and the libraries joining Booku is they will have a bigger market access throughout the country rather than just relying in walk-in customers.”
Booku is also hoping to expand regionally for their next step and recruit either Thailand, Indonesia, or Philippines into their business as well.
Feature Image Credit: Booku