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Started With Rs 800, Engineer Students’ Second-Hand Book Business Has Earned Rs 8 Lakh

Inspired by his struggles to find affordable second-hand books, Muzaffarpur-based Akshay Kashyap co-founded Kitabwalah with his friend Srijan Kumar. They have sold over 6,000 books making Rs 8 lakh within two years, and have secured funding under the Bihar Startup Policy 2022.

Started With Rs 800, Engineer Students’ Second-Hand Book Business Has Earned Rs 8 Lakh

When Akshay Kashyap went to Patna for JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) coaching, he had a tough time finding second-hand books. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, the then-teenager had to endure a couple of weeks of searching before securing a few books due to low stock.

Despite multiple attempts, he couldn’t crack the IIT entrance exams. In 2021, after another unsuccessful try, Akshay shifted his focus towards entrepreneurship while continuing his engineering studies at the Sitamarhi Institute Of Technology.

This wasn’t an isolated incident for Akshay; witnessing numerous students facing the same struggle at the stores made him realise the widespread issue.

After closely observing the market for several months, Akshay and his friend Srijan Kumar launched an online platform ‘Kitabwalah’ in 2022. Through thorough market research, the 21-year-olds recognised the significant demand for affordable used books across various categories.

Kitabwalah offers a wide range of used books catering to school students, college students, competitive exam aspirants, as well as fiction and non-fiction enthusiasts. Within just two years, they’ve successfully sold over 6,000 books, generating sales of Rs 8 lakh this year alone.

Their innovative initiative caught the attention of the Bihar Government, leading to them securing seed funding under the Bihar Startup Policy 2022.

‘I didn’t want anyone to struggle to buy books’

Akshay grew up in Ramchandrapur in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, in a joint family. Money was hard to come by in his childhood years, and he studied in a school in the village itself till Class 5.

Akshay studied using second hand books for competitive exams
Akshay studied using second hand books for competitive exams

“My father is a farmer and prioritised education for my siblings, cousins and me. He went above and beyond to provide us with the best education possible. After Class 5, I moved to Muzaffarpur to a better school,” Akshay tells The Better India.

During his high school years, Akshay frequently resorted to purchasing second-hand books due to the prohibitive cost of new ones. He vividly recalls instances where popular titles like R S Aggarwal’s Mathematics books or S Chand Publishers’ textbooks for Class 9 and 10 would be priced at over Rs 500 each. Fortunately, he managed to acquire them at a fraction of the original price, typically around 50 to 60 percent of the MRP.

His struggle continued when he embarked on his IIT-JEE coaching journey, necessitating visits to multiple shops in search of required books.

“I wished there was an easier way to purchase these books and had noticed a huge demand-supply gap. So when I couldn’t get a good rank in JEE after two attempts, I decided to do something off the beaten path and try my hand at this business,” he adds.

Armed with Rs 800, Akshay and Srijan bought some second-hand books from the market. After a few days of brainstorming, they came up with the name ‘Kitabwalah’, set up their website and social media accounts, and posted the books to gauge response. “We posted the books on Facebook and got a good response,” he recalls.

However, with no investment, the two young entrepreneurs found it difficult to meet requirements. Their margins too were low as they were purchasing the books from the shopkeepers.

“The second-hand sellers buy these books from kabadiwalas (scrap collectors and sellers) on a weight basis, which gives them huge margins. We first had to build a network of kabadiwalas to purchase the books,” he informs, adding that they started visiting scrap sellers in Muzaffarpur and buying books from them.

Today, the dynamic duo boasts partnerships with nearly every kabadiwala in the city, with their network now reaching into Patna and other regions of Bihar. Leveraging the power of word-of-mouth and social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, they’ve successfully moved over 6,000 books, raking in sales of Rs 8 lakh in the fiscal year 2023-24.

But what truly sets them apart is their unwavering determination to thrive and establish a distinctive identity. Starting from scratch, they nurtured this enterprise from the confines of their own home while juggling college commitments by day. Their nights are dedicated to fielding calls, managing messages, overseeing shipping logistics, handling orders, orchestrating expansions, and much more.

Amidst this whirlwind, the duo is also pursuing a BSc degree in data science and applications from IIT Madras, adding another layer to their already impressive repertoire.

The journey from buying second-hand books to tasting entrepreneurial success

Akshay believes they stand out because of the variety and the prices of their books. “We offer books at lesser prices than standard second-hand booksellers. We understand the pain that a student faces and hence sell lower while maintaining good margins,” he says.

Kitabwalah.com sells second-hand textbooks, fiction and non-fiction books
Kitabwalah.com sells second-hand textbooks, fiction and non-fiction books

To bolster their expansion efforts and meet the demand, securing funding and mentorship became paramount. Their breakthrough came when they discovered the Bihar Startup Policy 2022 and applied for the Bihar Innovation Challenge 2023, a programme designed to assist students and startups in commercialising their ventures through financial support and accolades.

The pivotal moment, according to Akshay, occurred during the challenge in October 2023, where they emerged as one of the Top 20 contenders out of 300 startups. Although they didn’t clinch the top prize, they successfully secured funding through the Startup Policy. This initial grant, amounting to Rs 10 Lakh, was provided as an interest-free loan by the Government for 10 years. The disbursement occurred in phases, contingent upon achieving specified milestones and demonstrating performance.

In January 2024, Kitabwalah received Rs 4 lakh in the first phase. They judiciously allocated these funds to upgrade and relaunch their website, procure a more conducive workspace, expand their book inventory, and bolster their marketing efforts.

On their new website, the duo are selling school books for ICSE, CBSE and Bihar Board, books for competitive exams, fiction and non-fiction books, along with new books. “Some customers want new books and we are offering that at competitive prices,” adds Akshay.

Today, they are catering to almost 200 to 250 customers daily from across the country, claims Akshay. Their average order value is around Rs 1,000.

Sameer Shrivastava, an engineering student, who bought a few books from Kitabwalah, shares, “Their rates are lesser than other sellers. It’s also easy to access and offers a huge selection of books.”

Going ahead, Akshay wants Kitabwalah to become a one-stop shop for all things related to books and school supplies. “While our primary focus is on used books, we also want to sell stationery, school uniforms, e-books, audiobooks and more,” he says.

What was the response of his family to their achievements? “They are incredibly proud. I’m a first generation graduate and my family never imagined that I would start a business one day. It’s beyond our wildest dreams,” he smiles.

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