Entrepreneur

These NUS Friends Created An Online Store So You Can 'Thryft' Or Trade In Second-Hand Books

Ask a bookworm why they love to read, and you might witness a wistful gaze into the distance as they gush about the wonders of getting lost in another world.

As far as book lovers go, Damien Poh is a class example.

He even vividly remembers the first book he fell in love with when he was only in kindergarten — The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton.

“Perhaps [because] I picked up a good book as a child, the magic worked on me, and it fuelled my love for reading until now,” he says.

Today, the 23-year-old’s tastes may have shifted from fairytales to literary works like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, but his involvement with books remains unchanged.

Damien Poh, co-founder of Thryft Singapore
Damien Poh, Co-founder of Thryft

In fact, he now runs an online second-hand bookshop where readers can buy pre-loved books affordably and trade in their own for credits.

Second-hand bookshops that buy and sell have been around forever, but Thryft offers something different through their service.

Users can deposit their trade-in books at Thryft’s physical book drops, or ask for a free pick-up if they have larger quantities. (Note: Thryft’s trade-in services are temporarily unavailable during the circuit breaker period.)

The platform then uses algorithms to determine the trade-in value based on the current first-hand retail price, popularity, and market saturation of the book.

This way, customers get fair compensation without having to scratch their heads over pricing the books themselves.

Reallocating A “Locked-Up Supply” Of Books

Thryft first popped up on my Instagram feed about three months ago, advertising themselves as “Singapore’s First Sustainable Bookstore”.

Feeling intrigued, I dropped them a message and got to know Damien, a business student at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Like him, the rest of his co-founders — Eddie Lim (23), Tan Ye Kai (23), Vicknesh Supramaniam (21) and Choy Jia Yu (21) — are also studying.

NUS students behind Thryft Singapore
The Thryft team

Damien and Eddie were the first two pieces of the puzzle. Close friends in secondary school and junior college, they often talked about ideas to start their own business together.

In their many conversations, second-hand retail was a frequent topic as they “became more concerned with sustainability”.

When it comes to books, websites like Bookdepository.com give people the best of “modern ecommerce’s benefits”: competitive prices and convenient home delivery.

However, they felt that the second-hand market lacked a solution that was just as simple and accessible.

The closest thing we have is peer-to-peer marketplaces like Carousell, Damien notes.

But with the hassle of putting up listings yourself and negotiating with buyers, he believes many users like himself are “reluctant” to go through these channels.

As a result, there still exists a large locked-up supply of books in households across Singapore that could be instead be reallocated to others who want them.

We envision Thryft to be the key to unlocking this locked-up supply of books as we create an online, sustainable second-hand alternative.

Damien Poh, co-founder of Thryft



The co-founders also decided to stray away from setting up a book-sharing or book-swap system, as it would require a huge infrastructure to track every exchange, and still involve direct user-to-user interaction which they aimed to eliminate.

Instead, keeping transactions between users and the platform only would give them room for sustainable growth.

Their goal was not only to move books from home to home. Eventually, they wanted to build a complete ecosystem of all the second-hand books in Singapore from individual readers, brick-and-mortar second-hand bookstores, and thrift stores.

Developed In NUS, Growing Throughout Singapore

Thryft second-hand bookdrop Singapore
Image Credit: Thryft

To test the demand for their service, Damien and Eddie first conducted a small experiment within their school.

They visited some second-hand bookstores and scoured through Carousell to purchase a few titles they thought were “good reads”, then listed them on a Yale-NUS Facebook group.

“To our surprise, the books that we listed were sold out extremely quickly. I remember that in two to three hours of listing, we managed to sell about six to eight books.”

Knowing they needed more help to make Thryft a reality, the pair then roped in their friends Ye Kai as a tech lead, Vicknesh to handle business operations, and Jia Yu to take care of marketing.

They managed to set up their first book-drops in two NUS Libraries by pitching the idea to the school’s principal librarian, who was very supportive of their endeavour.

Later, they soft launched Thryft in November 2019. With just a few simple booths outside the libraries, students began to sign up and even drop by to trade in their books.

packing books
Image Credit: Thryft

In the coming months, and with a capital of $5,000 pooled together, the team soon took their product beyond the school’s walls.

They got approval to set up a third book drop at the National Youth Council (NYC)’s office in Toa Payoh, and kicked off islandwide delivery.

As customers who were concerned about sustainability started taking an interest, Thryft’s Instagram page gathered over 1,500 followers in its first one and a half months.

By end-April, their followers doubled to more than 3,000, and they were getting over 14,000 sessions on their website monthly.

To date, Thryft has received over 1,000 trade-in books and sold over 800 titles.

A New Chapter For Traditional Second-Hand Bookshops

What’s perhaps most interesting about Thryft is that they’re not trying to edge out traditional second-hand bookshops with their digital advantage — they want to help them instead.

The young team spent the first few months of 2020 identifying and getting in touch with partners.

We aim to provide our modern and more effective sales channel to brick-and-mortar shops and thrift shops, and help them bridge their digitalisation and operational gaps.

Damien Poh, co-founder of Thryft

Especially when the impacts of Covid-19 started taking toll on retailers in Singapore, they visited more stores to talk to owners and see how they could help.

“I made trips down to second-hand bookstores and found out that they were considered non-essential businesses and were unable to operate during the circuit breaker period,” Damien says.

“Being an online platform, Thryft can help them to continue selling their books even though their shops have to be closed.”

Thryft second-hand books online Singapore
Screenshot of Thryft website

More than that, they have also extended a hand to non-profit organisations such as Blessings in a Bag, Books Beyond Borders, and Books & Beer.

In these partnerships, Thryft helps the non-profit groups sell their books online and donates part of the sales to their respective causes.

So far, they have listed over 500 books from all of the various partners they work with.

Ultimately, Damien and his co-founders believe that second-hand books and items still have value and should be redistributed to others who need them, instead of going to waste.

“By establishing a fair valuation system, along with an efficient circulation network, we aim to be the most convenient and transparent solution that can help our society take a step forward towards sustainability.”

To learn more and find yourself a great second-hand read, visit Thryft here!

Featured Image Credit: Thryft

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