True to the nature of his product, Gaurav Gupta sends me a mail minutes after we speak. It is a summary of our conversation – and you’ll soon know why.
At 40, the former head of data marketing at Tata Teleservices confesses to not being “your typical #startup founder.” He has plunged into the startup world after 15 years of corporate service, leveraging something very close to his heart.
“Reading has always been a deep passion for me. So much so that if work consumed my entire day, I would wake up two hours earlier to take time out for it,” says Gaurav, a graduate of the premier Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad.
The human attention span today is 8 seconds – less than that of a goldfish.
However, that was not the case with his younger team members. “I could see them wanting to know more, but not having the patience to read books.” The human attention span today is said to be 8 seconds – less than that of a goldfish (which by the way is 9 seconds)!
For them, Gaurav has an app. Bookbhook, which is Hindi for ‘hunger for books’, condenses a non-fiction tome to a 10-minute read.
Bookbhook has seen 30,000 app downloads on Android since October last year. You could call it an Indian version of Blinkist, only it is attempting to do a few things for India that the Germany-based app does not.
When in India
You get to read summaries in English and Hindi – there are around 50 so far on Bookbhook, and an additional 200 are in the pipeline. You can also listen to audio summaries.
“Blinkist is way too big and way too good for us to compete,” acknowledges Gaurav. “But then, it doesn’t focus on Indian readers.”
That is where Bookbhook hopes to carve a niche. One way it is doing that is Hindi summaries. One of its most popular titles is legendary entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s Zero to One in Hindi.
Another way is including books by Indian authors. Late Indian-origin surgeon Paul Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air and Super 30: How Anand Kumar is Changing the World 30 Students at a Time are among the sought-after on the app.
“Books carry a strong cultural context, so it is very important to have a good mix of books in the Indian context as well. By design, our library comprises about 33 percent Indian books,” says Gaurav.
One of its most popular titles is the Hindi summary of legendary entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s Zero to One.
The summaries are mostly done by women who freelance for Sheroes and their names show up at the beginning of every work. The app carries links to the original books too.
One summary is out every week. The themes range from entrepreneurship, leadership, and self-improvement to psychology, biographies, and parenting. While an average non-fiction book would be around 75,000 words, here they are pared down to 3,200 words.
As someone devoted to fiction, Bookbhook does not initially feel like my kind of app. I have shelves full of non-fiction, but most of them are collecting dust. Yet the world is changing. The presence of Inshorts, Juggernaut Books, and Blinkist – all of which attempt to be short and sweet in their own way – is proof of that.
“Cost, time, and getting the essence instead of ploughing through a lot of material would weigh in favor of such an app,” is the response of a friend, who is an avid reader and who I thought would not touch condensed versions of a book with a barge pole.
Making yourself future-proof
Gaurav, who admits to belong to the old school of marketing, felt the need to learn digital marketing a few years ago. “I could have done a course, but I thought I could learn by building my own product – something I could sell online.”
That something turned out to be book summaries. He took up popular non-fiction books, summarized them himself, and started sending them to people as weekly online newsletters. In the process, he learned about e-marketing, sign-ups etc.
While the idea took seed in 2014, Gaurav set up his company Marcus Aurelius Learning Solutions in August last year. Next, he quit his corporate career.
Gaurav set up his company Marcus Aurelius Learning Solutions last year. Then he quit his corporate career.
All content on the app is under the business-to-consumer (B2C) model right now and free. That, however, doesn’t mean Gaurav is not planning to make money. Coming up is a business-to-business (B2B) model, which will be a customized and paid service.
“I bootstrapped bookbhook.com leaving my corporate job, not to do just book summaries. I actually want to build a micro-learning solution for the too-long-didn’t-read generation,” he says.
Having worked for companies like Citibank, Nokia, Gillette, and Coca-Cola, he realized that corporate executives tend to stop growing after a while unlike doctors and other professionals who have to take exams to upgrade their skills.
“Those who passed out of, say, IIM-Ahmedabad in 1995 think the knowledge acquired then would hold them in good stead even today, but that is not the case. Most corporate execs simply don’t have the skills to make them ‘future proof.’”
And that is where micro-learning – through book summaries and gamified content – can play a big role, he says. “I am planning to slot books under different competencies and, depending on the specific competency a company is looking for in its employees, offer it to them as a paid service.”
For those in senior management who still aren’t comfortable reading online, he will have paper books. Bookbhook also does “cocktail summaries” on its Instagram feed. Another plus for the app: I could open it and read on the go, without wifi. However, when I asked for daily active users of the app, Gaurav said it wasn’t relevant as they release one book a week.
Bookbhook is now part of the FbStart program that helps mobile startups grow their business.
But Gaurav is not looking for funding just yet. “I don’t have home loan papers to worry about at this stage in life. But when I reach unit-level profitability, I will want to scale up. That is when I will need funding,” he says.