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Maktaba Books – Setting up a peer-to-peer library

Maktaba Books

This is to share about a non-profit project I started. I wanted to share my experience building a product, community & team with as little cost as possible.

You can see the blogs on the journey here (updated regularly)

Background on this project/idea

I’ve been wanting to learn & practice about B2C marketing and at the same time build a product/service. Since I like reading books and I noticed that the only way for someone to get books about Islam or Malay studies is by buying them from bookstores. Making it quite inaccessible to everyone because in order to learn about those topic you need $$. Whereas English & Secular books are widely available in the public library in Singapore.  So I saw the gap.

I wanted to read more of such books without having to always spend so I’m solving my own problem – proves that it is an actual problem. I had to check if it actual is a problem that everyone else is facing (apart from me). Hence, I went around talking to friends about this and all of them agreed it was a problem that they hd too. So there is a product-market fit.

First step – define the product

I wanted to set up a library for Islamic & Malay books and I wanted to do it for free – zero to low cost and free of charge.

The biggest cost that identified are 2 things

  1. The actual books – it’s going to cost a lot of money to own a “library-worth” of books.
  2. Space to store books – cost of buying books is one and the other is storing them

Solving the 2 cost heavy problems

My solution to solve those 2 is by making use of what already existed – books from the community. I had a small collection, my friends had a small collection, and other people would have too. I just needed to compile it together because the of the Malay saying that goes “sikit sikit jadi bukit” bit by bit it becomes a hill. The cost of buying books is solved because someone has it and they want to loan it, and at the same time it solves the cost of storage space because they store it in their own home.

The 3 problems that I’m focused on solving

That leaves me to focus on these few problems that are less costly that can be carried out by the community.

  1. Logistics of delivering the books
  2. Policies to protect books & the users
  3. Marketing to spread awareness & gain users because more users = more books

Instead of sitting in a room and brooding about these problem, I decided to do the bare minimum to solve them and throw it out there to see if it works and at the same time see if other problems appear. I decided to build/solve it publicly.

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Setup

Solving the logistics problem

I solved it by offering 3 options

  1. In person pick up – meet in a public space to pass the books. Its free, just time consuming
  2. Mail delivery – get the books delivered to your mail box. Small fee & takes 2-4 days to arrive.
  3. Courier delivery – pay to have books delivered on the same day. Pricey but fast

I had this in place but a few concerns came up later on about address privacy – some didn’t want to share their addresses with the borrower or lender and only wanted the admin team to have access to it. This affected what type of delivery can be offered.

We found a last mile delivery provider that offered that and had it at an affordable price – Grab Express. The borrower & the lender share their addresses to the admin and the admin arranges the Grab Express pick up & delivery. Address stays private

Solving issues on protecting books problem

There wasn’t any at the start. We just launched the MVP without one. While it was running we spoke to users to find out their concerns. From there we know what needs to be adressed and started shaping up the community guidelines & policies to solve them.

Solving Marketing problems

I didn’t have a marketing budget because this is a MVP and I wanted to keep costs as close as 0 as possible.

The beta testing of the product, I gained users through my network. I created a post and shared it with people I knew that had friends/audiences interested in this. Asking them to share it on their socials and to their friends. I reached out to 5-6 of them, where each of them had around 300-700 following on their Instagram account. This helped our page to grow to 200 followers and get our first few users to borrow books.

Our core method of promotion is through word of mouth, organic social media marketing & PR. Users are encourage to promote because if they have more people on the platform, more books are available for them to choose from & more people borrow their books. Their receive direct benefits from helping us promote.
Future plans are to organise community events and partnership promotions to transfer audiences.

Building publicly

This is to have the community involved and to have them be co-creaters as Maktaba Books is a platform for them and by them. Having them involved gives a sense of ownership and make them love it more because they built it. How I built it publicly

  • Do the minimum at the start
  • New features based on feedback from community
  • Tell them what’s our plans
  • Make feedback & suggestion be available and welcomed
  • Put public suggestions in place – co-creation

Next Step: Building a team

I realised that I had to have someone take over some of my tasks so that I can focus on building the platform and grow the user base. This is the next step that I’ll be taking.

If you’re curious on how it’s going, se the blog posts on the journey here (updated regularly)