The expensive part about being in university or college is not just the extravagant fees but also the books that you need to buy. Lecturers will often say it is “important” for a particular subject. Students who cannot afford to buy brand new books that cost hundreds of Ringgit have to resort to either buying secondhand books or photocopying.
Getting secondhand books isn’t all that easy as students need to look through FB groups for the right books or ask their seniors. Many resort to the gray area (or straight out illegal practice) of photocopying.
Other startups we’ve written about in the past have come up with creative solutions for this. For example, Booku works as a “book rental” platform, where you can rent textbooks and other books from as low as RM0.50 a day.
To address this issue, KeJing Koh came up with a platform called Spartext in 2009 for students to sell their secondhand books and materials to ease the burden of trawling through a Facebook group looking for that particular book or lining up at the printing shop to photocopy.
Full-Time Business, Part-Time Startup
Spartext began from Facebook but have since grown out of it. They made their own online platform which partners with major universities in Malaysia to connect buyers and sellers across all states.
The startup is now run by two cousins, KeJing Koh and Koh Bei Xian. KeJing is 27-years-old and runs his family’s swiftlet farming and harvesting birds’ nests business.
“The good thing about this agriculture business is that I have the flexibility and time to revive the idea of simplifying book trading within universities that I used to do when I was still a university student,” he said.
As for Bei Xian, she runs a digital agency called Kode Digital Experts Services. Being her own boss gives her more flexibility in time management.
“Self management is very important when running two different businesses. While at work, I have both my work emails opened at the same time so I am up to date about what is happening at both businesses,” she said.
Although Spartext was launched in 2009, it went on a hiatus when KeJing went to Australia to further his studies and came back to take care of the family business. Spartext was restarted in February 2017 and the website was officially relaunched in October 2017.
The idea to restart Spartext came about during a family gathering when they were talking about their futures and dreams. He added, “The idea of Spartext has always been my dream and passion.”
After hearing about the history of Spartext and the challenges faced back in 2009, his cousin wanted to help to transform the experience of students buying and selling secondhand books.
“We’ve been through the hardship of finding affordable textbooks at university, now let’s give back to society,” said Bei Xian.
Problems & Solutions
The Spartext team realised that students face a multitude of problems with university textbooks.
University textbooks are very expensive and students use them for less than half a year.There is no proper platform connecting the students, especially if you don’t know any seniors or juniors.There is no simple way to trade textbooks; students have to post on social media platforms or through word-of-mouth which is not very effective.
Thus, with Spartext, they hope to solve these problems that students face. The platform is designed to be easy to use—students can search and pay for the books that they want. Then, students can meet up with the buyer/seller and once the transaction is done they can just click on a button through their smartphones to confirm it.
From what I can tell, the number one enemy of Spartext is photocopied books and they do agree with that.
“Most of the public universities and a small portion of private universities allow their students to use photocopied textbooks. The existence of photocopied textbooks would make it difficult for Spartext to expand as students would prefer the cheapest option of photostatting instead of getting second hand textbooks,” explained KeJing.
As they have no control over students using photocopied books, they can only offer students a cheaper alternative to buying a new book because a used textbook has resale value and a small price difference compared to the cost of photocopying.
Sometimes students can’t even photocopy it as there’s no book for them to copy it from, as it could be a brand new edition. My colleague mentioned that he bought new books because the lecturers wanted to use the latest editions, and if you wanted to get your hands on it, you had to buy it.
Putting Growth First
As of now, Spartext currently has 300+ users and 175 textbooks on the platform from over 20 different local universities. KeJing added, “We are also actively seeking for collaborations that would bring benefits to students and sponsors at the same time. Achieving a win-win situation is the key.”
Through one of their collaborations with WideBed (KL Short Stay), they managed to increase their registration on the platform by more than 100%.
KeJing notes that they are always open to expanding into more universities, but as a startup, Spartext is trying to focus in marketing for the 10+ universities first to better understand university students’ behaviour.
Since Spartext was relaunched, they are putting their priorities at connecting students through the platform and helping them solve the problems of trading books.
“We believe that as we help more students to solve the problems, eventually Spartext would be able to profit from the admin charges in the transactions.”
At the end of the day, although the idea of Spartext is to start as a trading platform. KeJing hopes that it will become more that what it is today.
“To ultimately become a one stop service platform to simplify universities student’s lives by expanding the services to cover accommodation, F&B and even parking on campus.”