The Bay Area is home to both a booming tech scene and a long literary tradition. So it is fitting that one local start-up fuses old and new technology with an app designed for book lovers.”
With Berkeley-based mobile app Bookselves, users peruse each other’s personal libraries and can meet up to swap books.
“The twist is while you connect digitally, you meet in person,” said founder Yash Mahendra.
The app went live earlier this month, but Mahendra first got the idea for Bookselves while living in small-town Ohio several years ago. The Borders bookstore there was a centerpiece of the social scene. Mahendra witnessed kids learning to read and people of all ages making friends with fellow book lovers in the shop. When the chain shuttered, Mahendra felt it was a huge loss for the community.
The only information available in a Bookselves profile is the user’s name, location and titles of books he or she is willing to trade. Users can request the real books listed in each other’s virtual libraries, and, if there’s a match, they receive each other’s phone numbers. The database is searchable, so users can track down books they’ve been meaning to read.
Mahendra, a former management consultant who has self-funded Bookselves so far, loves books but is no Luddite. The tech boom drew him to the Bay Area. “We believe in the power of digital media,” he said. “But we also understand it’s not a cure-all for everything.”
What do books provide that an e-reader can’t? “It’s sentimental,” said Rawan Abu Shaban, a UC Berkeley senior and Bookselves’ new CEO. “You can actually hold a piece of history. It’s something you can give someone else.”
Shaban is part of Mahendra’s team of six. They work out of WeWork, a coworking space in downtown Berkeley. The Bookselves office is, unsurprisingly, littered with books. During a recent afternoon, a bookmarked copy of The Tao of Physics lay beside the computer. A bookshelf was packed with comic books, Salman Rushdies, and classics like Dracula. A file box held several issues of New York magazine.
The community Mahendra has found at WeWork has been pivotal to the development of Bookselves. He connected with his chief technology officer, Josh Guffey, through the coworking space’s social network. And the building’s proximity to UC Berkeley allowed him to tap into a large pool of talent on campus. Shaban and chief financial officer Rafayel Mkrtchyan are Cal students who started at Bookselves as interns.
Bookselves has just begun looking for funders. The app is currently free, but users will soon have the option of paying to use the app to sell their books rather than trade them. The students on staff imagine it could shake up the textbook market. The app has launched in the Bay Area, Boston, and Pittsburgh, and there are plans to expand.
The Bookselves team affectionately refer to their app as ‘Tinder for nerds,’” said Mahendra, but he insists it’s not a dating app. It’s simply a way for readers of all stripes to share their favorite books, or for introverted intellectuals to find one another.
“You have something to talk about when you show up to share books. You can geek out about them,” Guffey said.
So what will you find on Mahendra’s Bookselves shelf?
He quipped: “I used to read a lot of science fiction, but in the Bay Area we’re already living and breathing sci-fi.”
This story is written and sponsored by WeWork Berkeley, a community of professionals and entrepreneurs with beautifully designed office space at Shattuck and University. Interested in learning more about WeWork? Contact the Community Management team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-275-4235