Hemis Lacala is onto something good. Not only is he pursuing a great business idea, but he is also educating the nation at a fraction of the usual cost.
This he does through his online book store, eAfford, which helps university students save money by renting out academic textbooks at low prices.
As a Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Pretoria last year, Lacala recalls how he and his friends would “miss out on buying nice things” because their money would be spent mostly on expensive books.
Lacala sees eAfford as the answer to “avoid feeling ripped off” every time one buys books from retail stores. A typical university textbook can cost anything between R400 and R700 at a bookstore.
Lacala decided to start a business that provides buyers with access to quality books at half the original price than if they were bought elsewhere.
“The idea struck me when in 2011 I found myself often without study material, leisure money and sometimes even food. The business was started in August 2013 by a group of students to help other students save their hard-earned cash to spend on whatever they like,” he says.
Along with fellow students Sheyie Ogunboyale, a graphic designer, and Jarred Freedberg who majors in finance at the University of Cape Town, he put together a business model based on combining online technology with trading.
The resulting website – www.e-afford.co.za – lets users create a personal account online to place orders for books. The small enterprise operates under Dot Ingenious Web Solutions Pty (Ltd), owned by Lacala.
By simply indicating a book’s international standard book number (or ISBN), the author’s name, or title, users can indicate how long they will keep the book before it is delivered.
“The name eAfford is a contraction of the words ‘virtualisation’ and ‘affordability’, based on the founders’ experience during our studies at university,” says Lacala, who adds that the business has grown in the past few months.
“We’re getting attention from many people, with some interested in knowing how we thought up the idea,” he says.
The business has attracted over 100 frequent users to date, all vying to get their hands on some of the 10 000 books the business has to offer. To meet the growing demand, Lacala and his colleagues buy second-hand books from other students to increase their stock. They also source new titles from a local book supplier with whom they have an agreement with.
With 65% off on second-hand books and 50% off on new ones, eAfford is looking to sell a thousand books by the end of this year’s first university semester, with plans to collect 10 000 more by the end of 2014.
Ogunboyale designed the website’s online application to help students plan and revise their class work. Freedberg, who manages the business’s cash flow, says educated students are the future of South Africa.
Says Freedberg: “eAfford aims to help these students on their academic journey, moving our country forward together.”
Lacala says he feels he’s a social entrepreneur as the business is a “springboard for an alternative, cheaper way of providing education”.
They plan to use this year to partner with and seek incubation with successful information technology (IT) companies in order to get more advice and experience. They are also busy developing more online applications to help connect with clients across the country and start employing more people.
- Go to e-afford.co.za for more information.