Did you know that the word “entrepreneur” comes from the old French “entreprendre” which meant to undertake? Undertaking a business of any kind comes with its fair share of, and here I can’t help using a cliché, agony and ecstasy. Today we see more and more entrepreneurs taking the plunge to manage their own enterprises, and either sinking or taking off depending on the success or otherwise of their ventures.
Many take to entrepreneurship for the love of striking out on their own, frequently taking less trodden paths. If by chance your venture is closely related to your biggest passion in life, I would say half the battle is won.
One such entrepreneur who started her venture at the intersection of two of her passions, namely for books and for web-based technology is Vanishree ‘Vani” Mahesh. She is my guest today, in the third in the series, “Interesting People.”
Vani runs Easy Library Bangalore’s oldest on-line library which she founded in 2001. She and her husband Mahesh had returned from the US in 2000 and she was looking for avenues to use her talents as a software professional. She had, after all, a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Mysore and a Masters from New Mexico State University. She had worked for IBM and could easily have got a lucrative assignment in Bangalore, which was on its way to becoming the tech capital of India.
However something else tugged at her heart-strings. She had worked, and how, for a number of years. She was convinced that the time was ripe to do something different, something new and something in which she could harness her passion for technology with her deep interest in books and reading. Easy Library filled a vacuum. There was a felt need amongst busy people in Bangalore to have a service which would deliver books to them without their having to take time off to physically go all the way to a library. This meant much for people who seemed to spend forever on commutes to and from work. The very thought of another drive in teeming traffic to pick up a few books put off all expect the most hardy. The only thing they accessed easily was their computer.
Vani decided to go on-line. Naturally most of her first customers were techies. They had access to internet and her offering which enabled them to browse through catalogues of books, reserve books and have these delivered at their doorstep met their need in full. Sure there was a cost involved but they didn’t mind paying for this badly needed service. Says Vani. “ EasyLib (www.EasyLib.com) is the first online library in India. Started in 2001, EasyLib is known for its hand-picked books, efficient book delivery service, and literary events. You can like our Facebook Page which will keep you abreast of events and books at EasyLib.”
From these small steps Easy Library has grown over the years. Here are extracts from my conversation with Vani:
Prem: You spent 7 years in the US as a software engineer, what made you start Easy Lib? How did your professional background help you in this?
Vani: My passion for web technology and for books is what promoted me to start EasyLib. Web has a lot of potential as we already see. My software engineering background helped in making the library technology driven.
Prem: How many members do you have in Easy Library? What are the trends you see since you opened this over a decade ago? What are today’s membership profiles like? Are teenagers reading books these days?
Vani: We have about 2000 active members. There are many more who use the facility less frequently. Given mine is an online library, initial clientele comprised mostly of techies. They were the ones with easy access to fast internet then. But now students and homemakers make a large part of the membership. Teenagers read quite a lot during holidays.
Prem: How many books do you have? Which are some of the most popular genres? What are people reading these days?
Vani: New members are surprised to know that we have as many as 28000 books. This keeps growing with time. Popular genres would be thrillers, romance, and Indian writing. I observe quite a few takers for contemporary literature and fantasy.
Prem: How does the library actually work? What does success mean to you? What are the innovations you would like to bring about in future years?
Vani: Login or walk-in is our slogan. Offline, it works like any library. Online, people login and reserve. We door deliver those books (anywhere in Bangalore) and pick them up once they are read. Innovations we can bring in depend on what innovations happen in the area of web development. My main aim is to keep the library stacked as always with quality books. Success to me would be feeling happy about coming to work. And of course make money! Not oodles but enough to keep running the library at a good standard.
If you would like to check out the library in person, here is the address: 972 H, 1st A Main, S.T.Bed Layout, 4th Block, Koramangala, Bangalore, India 560034. There are different offerings at different rates.
Prem: What was the most difficult part of your journey as an entrepreneur? What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Vani: Hiring and training is a challenge. For anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur, do something that fascinates you! I was lucky to get the unstinting support of my husband, Mahesh, who is a professor at PESIT and my daughters, Neethi and Akshara. My girls are voracious readers at 13 and 7, making the library worth it.
Thank you, Vani. You are an interesting combination of a tech professional and entrepreneur who has effectively channelized your passions. We wish you all the very best.