Tag Archives: startup

My Interview with YourStory.in

It’s been a long time since I scribbled something here but hopefully things will be better in the coming few days.

Anyways, here’s an excerpt from  my email interview with YourStory.in, hope you like it

When was the last time you went to the neighbourhood book store? The chances are, you can’t recollect readily. Gone are the days when buying books involved a visit to the trusty book store round the corner. Online book stores, with a practically unlimited collection and simple search mechanisms, have sprouted by the dozen and the good bit is, all of them are seeing patronage. We at YourStory recently caught up with entrepreneur Mayank Dhingra, the co-founder of Dial-a-Book, who promises to make book buying even simpler. In this exclusive chat with YourStory, he speaks about his startup and how he intends to create a community of book-lovers.

If someone asked you to tell them about Dial-a-Book in about three sentences, what would you say?

Started with the aim of simplifying the process of buying books, Dial-a-Book is India’s first service that lets you order all kinds of books and novels over the phone. We offer free home delivery across India and accept payment by cash upon delivery.

How is Dial-a-Book different from other online bookstore models?

While online bookstores let you order books only on their site, Dial-a-Book allows you to order books over phone, SMS, email, and even Twitter or Facebook. You can even order the books that are not listed in our database but are otherwise available. We accept cash upon delivery and have our own delivery team for the Delhi/NCR region. And most importantly, we just don’t sell books. We are working towards building a community of avid book lovers.

How did the business idea for Dial-a-Book come about?

I have been an avid reader since my college days. I had always thought of doing something with books at some point of time. The advent of the online bookstore concept in India intrigued me and I spent some time observing various online bookstores, their way of working and other variables. I also used to observe how people shop for other things like medicines, groceries, food etc. It was during this time that I realized that the process of buying books can be further simplified and made more user-friendly, just like ordering burgers or pizzas. And hence, Dial-a-Book was born

Tell us about your background.

I did my Electronics & Communications engineering from Delhi College of Engineering (2005 batch). Towards the end of my college stint, I started toying with the idea of staring my own business. I joined Fidelity Investments as a campus recruit and worked there for one and a half years, building software for internal use.

From Fidelity, I joined Slideshare where I worked on various features of the website and some back-end technologies. In Slideshare, two friends of mine and I started an online platform called Kwippy. Kwippy started as a status message aggregator and got a lot of traction in both Indian and international online media.

After working at Slideshare for a year, I left the organization and joined MPower Mobile. I worked there for a year and quit to start something of my own. That’s when Dial-a-Book happened.

Let us know about the tie-ups that you have. Is there acceptance for your concept?

We’ve tied up with most local distributors based out of Delhi along with a few small to medium-sized publishers and we regularly procure books from them. We did a trial run before starting the service and based on the feedback, we decided to venture into the business. We’ve sold books in almost all of the 27 cities where we have Cash on Delivery (COD) and a few other places as well. A lot of our customers regularly buy their books from us and many of them recommend us to their friends and family.

Where do you see online book buying and Dial-a-Book five years from now?

Five years from now, a significant percentage of books sold in India will be sold online and over the phone. In five years, we see ourselves as the number one player in the ‘over the phone’ category and amongst the top 5 in the online space. Currently, there are a number of guys vying for a piece of the pie(online). But my view is that the next few years will see a lot of consolidation in this space and the market will have just a handful of players who will do a majority of the business.

In the next five years, Dial-a-Book will tie-up with more publishers, expand to other cities, explore other/faster modes of delivery, work more closely with authors and build a passionate community of book lovers. We have a lot of interesting ideas for the business which we’ll put to test soon.

This is an excerpt, you can read the complete story here: http://bit.ly/i1wdfV

Will the real Indian e-commerce start-up please stand up?

First off let me acknowledge that the title of this post is a bit exaggerated and not really apt but I wanted to use it anyways. Onto the topic now.

I’ve been kinda following(not very regularly though) the Indian startup scene ever since my Slideshare days and things have definitely changed in the last year or two. There are a lot more startups(of all sorts) now ranging from deal a day sites like snapdeal to comics companies like Vimanika. It’s absolutely amazing to see people from non tech background also coming forward and creating products/services in their respective fields. However being from a tech(web) background I am particularly interested in web startups.

The majority of current crop of Indian web startups is (not surprisingly) focused on e-commerce and as with the previous wave of Indian social web startups are religiously following the same path. Somebody whom I met last month mentioned that some 20 e-commerce sites or so are registered with payment gateways every month and a vast majority of them are into selling books. Yes, that’s the “thing” I am talking about. Suddenly everyone wants to do e-commerce and guess what they want to sell? Yes, BOOKS.

While it is not at all difficult to understand why selling books online is one of easiest (especially if you are an ex-amazon) and probably lucrative thing to do what defies me is WHY everyone who sets up an e-commerce store can’t seem to think beyond books? Unless I am missing something obvious here (point me if I am) selling books(particularly to begin with) might not be the best thing these days.

Here are a few reasons why I feel selling books isn’t the best way to start e-commerce

  1. Differentiation: I have told this to at least a couple aspiring entrepreneurs the biggest reason why I feel an e-commerce startup should not start by selling books is differentiation. How on world will you differentiate yourself from half a dozen almost established and established online bookstores out there in the market?
    It becomes particularly difficult when you are late in the book market by at least 2 years and will take at least another 8-12 months to figure out(if at all) how the Indian book market works.
  2. Red Ocean: Loosely related to the first point is the second point of competition. Online book market in India is easily one of the most sought after pie. From independent online retail companies to established bookchains everybody is trying to own as much as they can of this market and unless you have a significant edge in terms of vision/talent, money/resources and distribution/publishing it doesn’t make a lot of sense to join the chaos.
  3. Logistics: Based on my experience of selling books I’ve realized that this is highly logistics oriented business. Since the whole model is based on economics of scale one needs to sell as many books as possible(very low average cost per item). Handling lots of books means lots of procurement, stocking, handling, shipping etc. This can be a huge pain during the initial days of a startup. This problem of high logistics can be avoided by dealing in other items of higher values where despite having lesser % margins one can make good amount of money.

Having said that I think people who want to start an e-commerce business should actively consider other options which have a demand but no one else is focusing on. Though I must say I haven’t deeply thought about the business/feasibility aspect I would actually love to see some Indian e-commerce company sell the following(in a proper way with due diligence)

  • Clothes
  • Watches
  • Grocery
  • Automobile Accessories/Spare parts
  • Furniture
  • Gift Items
  • Food Items/Snacks
  • Fashion Items

Business: Scratch your own itch or someone elses?

The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use. That lets you design what you know—and you’ll figure out immediately whether or not what you’re making is any good. – Jason Fried & DHH in Rework

(Image courtesy: topnews.in)

“Scratching your own itch(SYOI)” is a popular phrase amongst many startup circles. What it essentially means is to build something that solves a problem you face. The case in point cited by many is the fact that when you are solving your own problem you know what exactly the problem is and how it can be addressed while on the other hand if you are scratching someone else’s itch you are sort of taking blind shots at both the problem and the possible solution(s).

Apart from the obvious fact of knowing the problem a bit better what works for SYOI is

  1. Immediate & Direct Feedback: You can directly feel the impact that your solution creates. If for example one builds a product to manage his food expenses, the utility/futility of the product can be judged directly and immediately. One doesn’t need to do a long trial run/demo to see if the product works.
  2. Extra Incentive: You + Customers > Customers. Working on a problem that benefits oneself directly has additional incentive because of the direct personal impact. Not just this, the beauty of this scenario is that one doesn’t need to think about the customers all the time i.e one can be content by just solving his/her problem. Other customers become secondary and this is a good thing because you don’t have to worry about what they might/might not like and just focus on what works for you, simple.
  3. Passion: SYOI also makes one more passionate about the problem they are working on because they can relate a lot more to the problem and the issues that arise because of it. The direct impact of the solution on you also adds to the passion.

However having said all that, Is ‘Scratching your own itch’ the only way out? or Is ‘Scratching your own itch’ better than ‘Scratching someone else’s itch’?

While SYOI might have it’s own benefits, it certainly isn’t the only way out for entrepreneurs and not every invention/business is born out of it. For ex: A closed social networking platform for Chief Executives (CEO’s, CXO’s etc) of Fortune 500 companies built by 24-25 year olds can still work or a dating platform built by a married man is no less likely to work because he’s not scratching his own itch {assuming he’s not interested in finding himself a date through this platform 🙂 }

Also, not all’s good with SYOI and it also has its fair share of negatives

  1. Small Market: What bothers you which might not be bothering others. Thus some SYOI businesses also stand a risk of solving problems for a very small market segment. For ex: A friend of mine hates to wait in queues for getting CNG for his car and is ready to pay someone extra amount to take his car and get CNG filled in it. So if he were to start a service based just on this then it’s quite likely that there might not be a lot of people willing to pay extra money to get CNG/Petrol.
  2. Financial Feasibility/Business Model: SYOI might work great for Open source where all developers are constantly writing/modifying code to meet their needs and in the process helping scores of other fellow developers it might not work that well when it comes to doing a business. Not all personal itches and their solutions can have business models. This is not to be confused with the previous point on Small Market as having a solution for small market can still be monetized but monetizing something that appears to be a problem to you but no one else might see it as a problem can be an issue.
  3. Domain Knowledge or lack thereof: Needless to say, while starting a business it makes a lot of difference if you have enough domain expertise in your team and it might hurt if you are trying to solve your problem without having enough domain knowledge. For ex: I probably won’t land anywhere if I were to try to solve my itch of building a car that flies instead of crawling on Delhi roads. It’s worth noting that lack of domain knowledge is also likely(a bit more?) to hurt when you are trying to scratch someone else’s itch.

S0 are you scratching your itch or someone else’s? How’s it going?


  1. http://archipreneur.blogspot.com/2010/03/scratch-your-own-itch-rework-by-37.html
  2. http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch02_Whats_Your_Problem.php
  3. http://www.instigatorblog.com/scratching-your-own-itch/2010/08/12/

Why Web Startups Need To Think small

I’ve been a fan of 37signals ever since I first used Basecamp during my stint at Slideshare in 2007 and later while working on Kwippy. What’s also special about 37signals is that not only they build great products that make money, they are also doing a fabulous job at sharing their experiences and learnings with the community using Social Media long before it was a buzz word. If you haven’t done it already, you should checkout their blog where they talk about design, business and other things.

Sometime back I happened to listen to this talk given by DHH on ‘Making money online’. Despite a cheesy sounding title the talk is a great primer for web entrepreneurs  starting up or thinking of starting up. DHH touches upon a great point when he says

The odds of you in here making the next Facebook or YouTube or MySpace are tiny, the odds of you just actually just creating a product that few people will like and pay more for, not that shabby.

It’s kinda like reverse terror alerts, the probability of something like this happening, like the probability of you being crashed in the plane, tiny, but the fear you have of it or the desire you have to be the next Facebook, Huge, because it’s been broadcasted over and over again, you are being brainwashed

DHH further goes down to put forward the maths behind making a million dollars in an year by having  2000 customers and charging them 40$/month. Adding decent  conversion rate(5%) to the equation it would take about 40,000 signed up users to get 2000 paid customers. Taking it down one more level to make 200,000$ a year you would need just 400 customers at 40$/month.

The number of problems/niches one can attack trying to get this many customers are a lot, but not surprisingly we still find most web start-ups aiming at building the next Facebook or YouTube. Its not uncommon to find entrepreneurs by the dozen running after VCs and Angels to raise money for the next big thing on the internet despite the fact that most of them can get their venture started without too much money. One of the primary reason for this is the fact that raising million dollars for building(or the mere thought of) a global product that might be used by millions is SEXY however building a web product that’s being used by a few hundred or thousand users while making you some money isn’t.
This frenzy is fueled by media and consumers alike and the entrepreneurs(esp first timers) get unknowingly drawn into this trap and the next thing you know is everyone trying to make it big without even trying to taste success in building a smaller yet useful product.

While I won’t discourage anyone from taking big shots right from the start, I strongly feel its a lot better(and practical) to solve a small problem first before going for the bigger one.


TiE Delhi is organizing its first StartUP event titled “SmashUP!” at IIT Delhi on Jan 23rd. So if you are a startup looking for a platform to showcase your product/service “SmashUP” is just for you. Given the scale at which TiE operates it would be a great opportunity to network and spread the word.
I’ll be attending “SmashUP”, would you?


Ready, Steady and Startonomics

Just like startups the events focused around startups are growing by the day. Think Barcamp, Momo & Proto. Each of these events offers a different platform for startups and entrepreneurs. While events like Barcamp tend to server as a rendezvous for startups and their early adopters events like Proto intend to bridge the gap between startups and Venture Capitalists. While events like Barcamp and Proto serve important needs they don’t specifically help startups with their day-to-day problems of how to grow in various aspects and how to measure their growth. In many cases these things are way more important than others and that’s where events like “Startonomics” come in the picture.

Startonomics is a one-day workshop designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs on how to create simple, actionable metrics; and how to use them to make better product and marketing decisions for long-term growth and startup success. – startonomics.com

Sounds good ? It’s way too good.

On 2nd October  Startonomics was held in San Francisco with hundreds of startup enthusiasts coming in from different places to hear their favorite entrepreneurs speak on topics of their interests. Luckily those who couldn’t make it in person had the option of watching live stream of the event. I was one of them. The minute I got to know of the sessions,  I knew it would be great, especially for people involved with startups. “Metrics for startups are what classics are to literature. Everybody knows they are great but nobody does them”. Metrics are one of those things which need some time to get started  with and a bit more time and effort to understanding them and putting them into use. Someone who “gets” Metrics is a great asset for any startup. I vividly remember from my Slideshare days that it was Dave who helped us focus more on metrics. Its one of the things that has stuck with me. Kudos to Dave and his team for putting up this wonderful show and making all the content publicly available 🙂

Wanted to embed a Slideshare presentation pack for the event which had all the presentations but apparently there’s some issue with the embed code for wordpress. Anyways you can check them out here

kwippy nominated for TATA NEN’s hottest startup awards

TATA along with NEN have started a competition for India’s hottest startup. TATA is one of the biggest and most respected companies of India and for the uninitiated NEN( National Entrepreneurship Network) is a non-profit organization, and India’s leader in entrepreneurship education. The nominations for the contest are open till 22nd October 08 and 30 shortlisted startups will be announced on 6th Nov 08 which will again be open for public votes and five winners would be announced on 23rd December 08 { Yes, it’s far 🙂 }.

Even before we got to know of these awards in detail somebody told us that Kwippy has been nominated. Thanks a lot to those who nominated kwippy. Its been a few days since kwippy started showing up on the awards website but amid the hussle n bussle of action on kwippy it kinda slipped our minds. It was when I logged in to the awards site to see if we’ve got any votes I found that not only we’ve got some 20 votes without us really doing anything to make people aware also that we are ranked 47(not bad I’d say). Given the fact that there’s quite some time left and we can let people know about this, am sure kwippy can do much much better.

If you’ve liked kwippy even a bit or you’ve know anyone from the team please go ahead and vote for kwippy 🙂

To vote click HERE

Or type HOT<space>106 and sms to 56767