Have you ever walked into a bookstore and wished you could buy that one extra book you knew would be too much of an indulgence? Or wandered aimlessly through the aisles, wishing someone could tell you what was a good read? Or are you a story-o-holic – constantly needing a good story fix? Step into BookChocolate.com and you are promised all of that for a fraction of the cost. Started in 2013 by Archana Patel – a former lawyer – BookChocolate is an online book rental service that delivers your reads to your doorstep at your preferred time of the week. Make no mistake however, BookChocolate is not your run-of-the-mill retailer. Clicking through the online collection tells you that it has been carefully curated, and you’ve had a glimpse into Archana’s own personal library. Aside from running BookChocolate, Archana Patel has her hands full running another business, Chocolate Gems, a bespoke jewellery design concept and managing her adorable toddler son. We managed to steal a few moments with busy bee for a quick chat! Let’s start with the basics! How did BookChocolate.com come about… When I was growing up, people would say “What would you like to do?” and I’d always reply “I want my own bookshop!” [laughs]. A very nerdy sounding thing but that’s what I’ve wanted all the way! Browsing the BookChocolate collection, it is immediately obvious that it’s different, almost personal… is this intended? Well, this bookshop I wanted to open, it had a couple things that went into it. You know over the years, you build up a dream world. So it would be small and cosy, where I would know all my customers, a bit like having your own book family. And all the books in there would only be books *pause* I’d like. *laughs* If I like them, I assumed the whole world would like them too! So this bookshop would stock books that I’d have selected with much thought. These may not necessarily be bestsellers; they may be books that are no longer available or books which people have forgotten about. It’s like visiting you and borrowing books from your library! How do you curate the collection? I personally try to read anything but to be selected for the BookChocolate collection, the book must have a ‘special something’. At different times of the year, I am drawn to different themes so I try to carry the books that I would read at some point. I actually do a lot of research such as reading reviews, publisher notes, author history and all of that before I let a book go into the collection. So many books that are in the top 10 lists may not make the cut; but I don’t care! If you want those, you can get them from other avenues. When you come to BookChocolate, you will get plenty of bestsellers but you will also get books you may not get anywhere else! You mentioned that BookChocolate also offers personalised recommendations, so is it like a personal book shopper? (a concept I am absolutely charmed by!) *laughs* Why thank you! Right now, we have more than 1500 titles and it is a growing library. So if you visit and you feel lost, we do offer recommendations, so I guess it is a bit like having your own personal book shopper! We have a ‘search by tag’ function because obviously, you like reading different things at different times. Say you just want to switch off for two hours, you can choose a fluffy, fun pick me up. If are looking for something more weighty, you can pick books tagged as thought-provoking or award winners; you can refine the search in all sorts of ways. And you get exactly what you want! And well, if you can’t be bothered to do all of that, just email me, tell me what you’re feeling and I will get it for you! So, you have an online bookstore but store books in print…what do you feel about ebooks? Honestly, for me, reading has a dual purpose. It’s about the story but it’s also a break – it’s my time and I am away from everything around me. That sensation can only come from the experience of opening a book up, feeling the pages and reading it. I can’t curl up with a LCD screen – the magic of reading is in the look, feel and even the smell of a book. It’s an experience and I do feel very strongly that people are losing that magic. Each dogged page , each stain has some sort of history behind it. I have this bad habit of reading when I eat and well, you know, how you thumb the book with your oily fingers? The next time you go back to that book, you’ll be reminded of that meal, that sensation. You can’t get that with your ebook. Let’s talk business now, what was the main challenge you faced with setting up BookChocolate? The main difficulty was finding a website developer who was able to understand the full requirements of the project and undertake it at a reasonable cost. The site looks deceptively simple on the front-end but there’s a lot going on in the backend. The model for the site also changed as we went along and the final product is actually quite different from the time we first started. Planning each stage of the site development was extremely tough work; particularly because I had absolutely no background in this sort of work. I also gave birth to my son a few weeks before the site went into full testing. Needless to say, it was an absolutely crazy period – so glad that’s over!! So your husband, who co-founded BookChocolate, also runs his own business… did that help? Garry is the co-founder of BookChocolate and I can say, with all honesty, that it would not have happened had it not been for him. He’s been the driving force behind the website development and the business brain. There is no question that he brings his expertise to BookChocolate and I benefit from it tremendously. I regularly go to him for help and he keeps me focused on the practical side of things. If it weren’t for him, I’d be just focused on book selection and reading through our library! 5 things to some of the young’uns thinking of starting their own business?
- Be very clear on what you are hoping to achieve and have a plan for the first two years. It doesn’t have to be a fancy plan, something simple is fine, but having milestones keep you in check, focused and it’ll also help you to see what you’re achieving as you go along.
- Celebrate your achievements – small and big. It’s very easy not to do that because you automatically think of the next goal you have to achieve. You forget how far you’ve come. Better yet, keep a journal of these achievements and review it from time to time, particularly when you need a morale booster.
- Have a mentor or a support group of other entrepreneurs. Running your own business is rewarding but extremely tough and can be quite lonely. It helps to have a support structure you can rely on to bounce off ideas, discuss issues or just go to for a confidence boost.
- Be very patient and don’t lose heart. You really need to believe in your product or service and just do the best you can. I honestly believe that success comes from the lessons learnt from the whole enterprise and how you grow and develop as a result. It is a tremendous experience.
- And the best advice I have received – Take a regular break from it! It sounds bizarre but the daily grind of the business is exhausting, mentally draining and can take a toll. Taking a proper break from the office and the business and going off to spend time alone, even if it’s just for a day, immediately gives you clarity, helps you to put things in perspective, recharge and plan on a more macro level. It’s true – I can’t emphasise this enough.
Okay, because we are all things Indian over here at L.I.D, tell us your:
Favourite book.. Picking one is very hard! [A long discussion happens as we force her to choose, assuming she was going on a vacation. Being a lawyer true and true, Arch demands to know the length of the holiday, where she is going but finally, she tells us!] Shadow of the Moon by Mary Margaret Kaye. It will take a while to read but it’s amazing. I have read it 8 times. It is about the British Raj, set in a period just before the Sepoy Mutiny. You know, there are different styles of writing, and like people who wrote in the 1960s and 1970s, this is lovely, charming and not in your face. As M M Kaye grew up in India, she has a lovely innate understanding about the place. Sometimes, I find that, when non Indians write about India, it is either very romanticised or it is out of touch with cultural norms. She doesn’t do that as she has an instinctive understanding of India and her people. The story is lovely, the writing is beautiful and the book is very informative. Favourite Indian epic? Ramayana. Hanuman is so fun! Favourite Indian Hero? Karna from Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. He’s so noble and austere. Because how can we not talk about food..so favourite Indian restaurant in Singapore? Ananda Bhavan! I love them! I love their chaat and they do this amazing mock mutton dosai. I usually go the one in the airport. Thanks for being such great fun!
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