This hyperlocal startup transforms neighborhood women into librarians, entrepreneurs

When there is a hyperlocal grocery store, e-commerce, logistics and mobility, why not a hyperlocal library?

In fact, it would be spot on if it had the double benefit of creating female micro-entrepreneurs, wouldn’t it?

Our story begins in 2019 in the United States, when Sheetal Shah found herself spending a lot of time at local public libraries while on vacation with her two young children.

“Libraries captivated us so much that I wanted to mix the worlds of reading and community building among children in India as well,” she says. His history. Once back, Sheetal took the first step to encourage young readers by launching a library dedicated to children in her neighborhood at her home in Bangalore.

“When I opened the first library in my apartment complex, I also involved my son there because he loves books and he was happy to share them with others,” says Sheetal, describing how the idea has made its way.

A Töölö library with a young member.

To start, the books were free to borrow and Sheetal used simple library software. “I used the free template for three to four months to test the waters and gauge demand,” she says. She named the company Töölö, meaning “neighbourhoods” in Finnish, before launching a curated book MVP website and a paid model for borrowing books in July 2019.

“I operated the library for six to eight months, and that’s when I was able to understand customer needs, expectations, and operational challenges,” she adds.

In August 2020, Archana Nandakumar—one of Sheetal’s neighbors and an early member of Töölö—who often held storytelling sessions for Töölöyoung members, joined the firm as co-founder and CTO. Archana manages products and technology, as well as creating a community for users. Chandni Ramnane, another early member of Töölö, joined as the third co-founder three months ago. She takes care of preschool operations and alliances.

After starting with Rs 10 millionSheetal and Archana worked on developing the platform and building the framework for physical libraries and scaling them through women micro-entrepreneurs.

These entrepreneurs bought pre-loved books by the kilo from vendors across India, saved them and had them professionally laminated.

Currently, Töölö supplies 21 librarieswith 15 of them led by Töölö ambassadors in Bengaluru and six in metros and cities including Delhi-NCR, Pune and others.

On average, each of these physical libraries has 12 to 15 children among its members. And the Töölö Digital Library, launched in 2021, has nearly 1,500 registered members.

Enable women entrepreneurs

In 2020, Sheetal integrated the first Töölö Ambassador in Delhi.

The Töölö Ambassador is a female entrepreneur who joins the company as a franchisee and can use the cloud library, and has a stock of books to run her mini-library business from her home.

Sheetal says, “Töölö’s product for women micro-entrepreneurs enables them to set up, operate and grow their cloud libraries. We provide them with a library platform, a curated set of 500 books, branded materials, growth marketing tools, storytelling sessions and other value-added services to make it a holistic reading experience for their young members.

Additionally, the startup provides ambassadors with weekly training on driving follower numbers, marketing strategies, and growth marketing tools and technologies.

Töölö charges ambassadors Rs 60,000 to own a franchise. In turn, they receive 80% of their library’s revenue, and the remaining 20% ​​goes to startup.

“A typical library will start making money in the first year when we have around 100 users in the library. On average, with each user paying a membership fee of Rs 449 per month, an entrepreneur can earn up to Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 per month. Of course, it also depends on the efforts made by the ambassadors in their marketing, operations, etc. says Sheetal.

A Töölö library installation.

Farisa Sheikh, based in Bengaluru, is a mother of two and a Töölö ambassador. While taking a break from her career, Farisa was looking for flexible options to return to work when she discovered the concept of Töölö.

“I was looking for something where I could work from home, but not compromise my family time. Being an entrepreneur and running my own business from the comfort of my home seemed exciting and doable,” says Farisa, who also loved the idea of ​​passing on the joy of reading to the kids in her company.

She has an organized library at her house, open to the children of her company every day of the week.

“I invite the children to come and spend time looking at the different types of books. I encourage them if they want to sit here and read. If I go out, I make sure to let them know first,” she says.

Another Töölö ambassador, Noida-based Mira Swarup, was intrigued by Töölö as she thought it would give her nine-year-old daughter a taste of entrepreneurship.

She says, “When Töölö came along, it seemed like a great idea, and the basis for me was, can we start something that my daughter might be interested in? Could this become his exposure to entrepreneurship?

As Töölö ambassadors, Mira and her daughter have a full library in their house in a closed society in Noida, open twice a week for two hours for neighborhood children. Additionally, Mira’s daughter participates in book deliveries and customer acquisition strategy discussions.

Build the next generation libraries

In encouraging children’s reading, Sheetal says, “A lot of parents come to me and say, ‘What’s the point of reading fiction?’ That’s where we go wrong. Any reading is good reading, whether it’s a cookbook or a comic book. The message we need to send as parents is to be open And, of course, we’re maneuvering and pushing them towards better and better content.

Today, on Töölö’s cloud library platform, children have access to a wide and varied selection of books, in regional languages ​​as well as English, peer recommendations, storytelling sessions, interactions with authors, etc. Members can also order books online and have them delivered to their homes and picked them up when they have finished reading them.

Sheetal and his team have an ambitious vision to build 1,000 Töölö libraries in the next few years.

“A thousand is a small number as far as India is concerned. But, by the end of this year, we are looking to raise capital to move forward. Our immediate goal is to build 50 to 60 libraries by the end of this year,” she says.

Töölö is also looking to partner with kindergartens.

“When it comes to preschoolers, there is no library and there are few books in many kindergartens. It is in this age group that we need to instill a love of reading and show them that it is fun. We want to activate preschools with ready-to-use book kits. We are also looking at how our ambassadors can meet the needs of preschools in their neighborhood by maintaining this online cloud library,” concludes Sheetal.

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