In what is largely a B2C (business-to-consumer) market and in the face of stiff competition from smart devices and downloadable PDFs, Kwench Library Solutions Pvt. Ltd. (Kwench) made a smart decision to follow a B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) model to make sure books reach their time-strapped readers more effectively. The Mumbai-based company has tied up with over 250 corporate companies that allow its employees to order books online through Kwench.in. And the collection stocks 40,000 titles spread over 40 categories. Kwench’s service is offered as a perk for an employee with the company paying for its services through three-to- five year contracts. The employee can login, order a book, have the physical book delivered in 24 hours and place it in drop boxes present in the company’s premises to return it once he/she is done reading. Set up in April 2008, Kwench’s services are now available in seven cities including Mumbai, Pune, National Capital Region (NCR), Bengaluru and Chennai with its three main warehouses in Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi, and two satellite ones in Pune and Chennai. Of the 85 people it employs, 52 manage the supply chain as it forms the backbone of its business operations.
“When we approach companies, we offer our service as an employee engagement initiative. Also, by outsourcing their library needs to us, we can relieve companies of the need to acquire space, people, resources and technology for a library.”
The value proposition Kwench offers to its clients is three-fold. “When we approach companies, we offer our service as an employee engagement initiative. Also, by outsourcing their library needs to us, we can relieve companies of the need to acquire space, people, resources and technology for it,” says Sunder Nookala (37), co-founder and chief effective officer. And considering that many people spend considerable time on commuting to work, he adds that they are left with no active time to pursue reading and instead, buy books on impulse. “With Kwench, we bring service right to them. Unlike most corporate libraries that cater only to professional books, we offer books for personal reading as well those that can benefit an employee’s family,” adds Nookala.
On the shelves
Kwench obtained funding from the Indian Angel Network for Rs. 1 crore in 2009 and received another Rs. 1 crore as debt from Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) in 2010. About 60 per cent of the investment went into expanding its range of books and 25 per cent into developing its in-house library technology platform. Kwench receives about 25,000 orders per month with fiction, comics, regional language books, management and self-improvement being the categories that are most in demand. The company has furthered its range with interesting categories over the years – business book summaries (2009), audio books, journals and magazines (2010) and movie lessons (2011). With 80 per cent of its content being user generated, Kwench takes serious note of the 400 – 500 book recommendations it receives on a monthly basis. It also customises the service according to each company – gives access to specific categories, tailors its website to align with the company’s branding and creates new categories (for instance, Marico has a ‘Chairman recommends’ category). Though it offers unlimited borrowable time, collecting books and system-integrated reminders are also subjective to each company.
Nookala understands that books are long tail retail and is often hard to figure out the demand-supply gap. “We have built a robust analytics module that analyses how many orders are in the queue, how long the wait has been, number of damaged books etc. Having iterated and tested our technology 250 times, there are 10 – 12 different parameters that go into deciding how many copies to add,” says Nookala. Since delivery is critical to its model, Kwench has chosen to have an in-house team to manage logistics.
Kwench Library Solutions
Founders: Sunder Nookala, Prashant John, Krishnan Madhabushi
and Mitesh Damania
Funding: Indian Angel Network for Rs. 1 crore in 2009; Small Industries Development Bank of India for Rs. 1 crore as debt in 2010
Besides Nookala, Kwench was founded by Prashant John, Krishnan Madhabushi and Mitesh Damania, who all met at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A). Prior to IIM, Nookala worked with Tata Consultancy Services and went on to become executive assistant to S. Mahalingam (CFO and executive director). The ideation for Kwench took place when he worked with Yes Bank in 2007. “I have always been an avid reader and used libraries often. But during my stint with Yes Bank, there was no corporate library setup. So, when I approached the HR head, he rued that there wasn’t enough time to set up a library. That was when we realised that most companies do not have all the resources to manage a library,” says Nookala.
Eventually, the founders took a survey of 112 employees from seven companies across different industries on the need for Kwench and received a favourable response. “We came to know that the number one reason why people like to read books was not for knowledge but to de-stress. Engaging with peers and clients turned out to be their next reason.” Once they decided to go ahead, convincing companies did not prove to be too hard. WNS Global Services (BPO in Mumbai) and Yes Bank were the first to come onboard.
According to Nookala, their biggest challenge was the recession in 2008-09. “From April to September 2008, we bagged 13 clients but once recession hit, most companies were trimming their costs so it was a tough time for us. But from June 2009 to June 2010, we signed 10 clients per month,” he says. But convincing vendors was not easy as they found it hard to accept a virtual library concept. “They were hesitant at first, but as we ordered bigger volumes they became supportive.” Its biggest challenge now is hiring the right people. With regards to hiring, Nookala and his team have received guidance from their mentors at Yes Bank which he readily acknowledges. “Getting right the key management people whose outlook matches ours is important,” he states.
Widening the reach
Nookala is sure that Kwench will continue to cater only to companies and not to end-customers. “B2C is difficult to service; by sticking to our B2B2C model, we service both companies and individuals,” he says. About 25 per cent of Kwench’s clients are large companies, 60 per cent are companies employing 500 – 2,500 people and the rest are organisations that have 100 – 500 employees. It has also evolved its marketing strategy according to the different categories of companies.
Though e-books have been growing, Nookala does not want to perceive them as a threat. “Both content and devices are expensive now. Indian publishers are not generating quality e-content or it is too expensive, thus not easy to scale,” he opines. He adds that the company is currently working with two to three players to bring out digital content. For instance, its business book summaries are available on a few smart devices.
The team recently launched Myperks.in – an employee purchase platform that allows an employee to choose from a wide range of products and services at discounted prices. While Kwench is currently registering double digit growth, Nookala is confident of the huge potential in India and believes it can scale up to a Rs. 150 – 200 crore business. It is also looking to raise US $5 million in the next six months to scale up both its platforms. More products and services for employees are on the anvil. The team has started working on one that will roll out this March and another one next year. “We are also looking into expanding into more Tier I and Tier II cities like Ahmedabad, Baroda, Cochin, Mysore and Mangalore. “By next year, we hope to be present in 15 more cities,” he concludes.
Concept in Brief
Kwench has tied up with over 250 companies that allow its employees to order books through its website from a collection of 40,000 unique titles spread over 40 categories. Set up in April 2008, its services are now available in seven cities including Mumbai, Pune, NCR, Bengaluru and Chennai. The team recently launched Myperks.in – an employee purchase platform that allows an employee to choose from a wide range of products and services at discounted prices. Kwench aims to scale up to a Rs. 150 – 200 crore business. To do so, it needs to make sure its supply chain management is top notch and create more options for its e-books content.
How it works?
- Employee logs in and places an order for a book
- With three main warehouses in Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi, and two satellite ones in Pune and Chennai, the physical book gets delivered to the office in 24 hours
- Once the employee has finished reading the book, he/she can place them in drop boxes located in the office premises from where the book is collected and sent back to the warehouse