Zafar Anjum, Founder, Kitaab

Zafar Anjum, Founder, Kitaab

For Zafar Anjum, Kitaab (book in Hindi) is the best chapter he has ever turned in his life. Yet.

The journey of Kitaab began a decade ago as an online directory for Asian writers, but it struggled for survival in the initial years. So, in 2013, with the backing of better technology and funds, Anjum revived his pet project and turned it into a platform for writers and poets to get their work reviewed and published.

 “I had never thought of any business model around Kitaab, but as we grew, the need was felt to have a publishing function as well. We thought that, maybe, this could be the one place where writers can get their books out,” says Anjum, a tech scribe-turned-author-turned-entrepreneur, in a chat with e27.

With around 15 editors on board and a steady publishing flow, the time has come for the startup to look for a business model in order to sustain and expand the platform.

“When the publishing programme started, there was no revenue model to speak of, so it just started as a thing that one is passionate about. Being a writer myself, I wanted to create a platform for Asian writers,” he says.

He does not view Kitaab as a bottom-line driven venture. “We thought we if could get a little bit of money, get an author’s short story collection or poetry out, and in the process get some revenue, it will help grow the activity,” adds Anjum.

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Growing up — from a book to a library

Anjum has big plans for Kitaab, which he wants to project as a complete platform for Asian arts one day. Crowdfunding is the first step in that direction.

Kitaab recently started a crowdfunding campaign for publishing of books, and has raised around US$1,200 till date.

“Crowdfunding is not only for money; it is also for validation and to generate some publicity. So the message is going out to people; some have donated and some are just supporting,” says Anjum. He plans to launch a marketing campaign for the initiative soon.

But the plans are much bigger than the recent campaign.

“I want to introduce crowdfunded publishing within Kitaab. We need to re-jig our platform to have that functionality within our website. Initially, we might do it through some platform like Indigogo or Kickstarter, or we can choose some Asian service, but ultimately we want to have it within our site,” he says.

On the cards is also an e-commerce feature to enable selling of books that are published by the company on its own platform. While the books are already available on marketplaces such as Amazon and Flipkart, Anjum envisions a library of books on Kitaab.

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“We want to have books which we feel need to be told more or exposed more, so we will acquire books from other places and sell it on our platform and promote them,” he says.

Excited about all the possibilities with the platform, Anjum also wants to create a database of writers for writers on the lines of LinkedIn, where they can create their profiles and have their fans follow them and interact with them.

“So it will be an integration of Amazon, LinkedIn and Kickstarter — everything into one platform,” he laughs.

From a scribe to an entrepreneur — the journey

Born and brought up in India, Anjum started off his journey as a tech journalist in Singapore in 2004, where he simultaneously pursued his love for writing. He has authored several novels, including Kafka and Orwell on China, Essays on India and China, The Singapore Decalogue — Episodes in the life of a foreign talent, and Startup Capitals — Discovering the Global Hotspots of Innovation.

“In the process of tech journalism, I got exposed to the innovative things a lot of tech companies and startups were doing. That kindled a fire in me to try entrepreneurship and apply technology into the literary space, my prime love,” he says.

And thus, Kitaab was born in 2005. It subsequently merged with an Australian website that could not sustain at the time due to lack of funds.

The evolution of technology brought Kitaab back to life in 2013. “I revived Kitaab in 2013 because then technology had made it possible to run a journal like this on a very low cost. So, I used WordPress platform to build the site on my own,” shares Anjum.

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The other reason that literally pushed him to revive the site was his wife, he chuckles.

“She kept egging me on that we should not let Kitaab die as it is a beautiful concept. She was a big driving force. She dragged me into a firm that helps register businesses. So she’s the Co-founder of Kitaab in a sense,” he says with a hint of pride in his voice.

The phase of disappointment came between 2005 and 2013, but since the re-launch, there has been no looking back. “Now the crunch will come when money will be needed to take it to the next level. I’m not sure any VC will give money for such a project or not,” he says.

Once the website becomes self-sustainable with the planned launch of the e-commerce platform and the publishing business, he also plans to bring in video content, which he has already started working on, separately.

“I’m also working on a separate platform that will enable crowdfunded short-film making. We have not launched it yet, but are working on the backend at the moment. There might come a time when we might merge the two things together — literature and screen, as to how to transfer literature to screen,” he reveals.

After listing all his plans excitedly, he sums up by saying, “It’s an exploration; it’s a journey.”