Entrepreneur of the Year, sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners, Small Business category winner, Mpodumo Doubada is the kind of entrepreneur who makes you realise just how much can be achieved with the combination of vision and hard work. Twelve years ago, he started selling second-hand textbooks from his university dorm room – “just to make a little bit of pocket money on the side”. Fast forward to today and that same venture has grown into Pimp my Book, a burgeoning business with five physical stores, a thriving online store and over 20 permanent staff members. Here’s the story of what happened in between:
Mpodumo (31) arrived in Cape Town from his home town of Lebowakgomo (close to Polokwane) in 2005, after having received a bursary to study Accounting at UCT. “The bursary covered my fees, but not the cost of textbooks and I soon discovered how expensive new textbooks are! As a first-year student, it was particularly hard to find out where to buy second-hand books and I immediately thought that there was a huge gap in the market for someone to start a central space where second-hand books could be sold and bought,” he says. In his second year of studies he started the venture he had imagined from his residence room at UCT. “Two weeks later, my whole room was full of books that students wanted me to sell and I was getting visitors from all over campus, wanting to buy the books,” he says.
“The residence was concerned about the security issues of so many people coming in and out of my room, so for two years we moved outside to a table right in front of Jammie Hall,” he says. From there, Pimp my Book moved to a kiosk on the UCT campus. “This was when I learned my first important lesson in business – always make sure you have formal business structures and agreements in place. After successfully winning the tender for the space in the kiosk, Pimp my Book moved in – but without a formal lease agreement. We were told that the agreement would follow, but instead we were forced to move out three weeks later after another tenant – a major textbook supplier – objected to our presence on campus,” recalls Mpodumo.
Although it was a major setback, Pimp my Book then moved their stock to a retail space in Main Road, Rondebosch. “In a way, it was a blessing, as there we attracted UCT and Unisa students, and that’s how we ended up opening a branch in Parow for the Unisa students too,” he says. Additional branches at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Free State soon followed, as well as an online store (www.pimpmybook.co.za) in 2012 to meet the needs of Unisa students around the country.
Today Pimp my Book has an additional branch in Pretoria, with plans to open in Johannesburg soon, as well as further afield in countries like Namibia and Botswana. “We discovered that some second-hand textbooks which are no longer prescribed in South Africa are still used in our neighbouring countries, so it makes sense to move into the international space,” says Mpodumo.
Pimp my Book’s business is fairly seasonal in nature, with January to March and July to August being the peak periods. During peak periods, Pimp my Book buys textbooks for cash from students, or you can elect to receive slightly more for your textbook in the form of a Pimp Wallet credit for future purchases.
A major coup for Pimp my Book came in the form of accreditations with NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), Eduloan and the SA Booksellers Association. “Between 30-40% of South African students are supported by NSFAS and these students can now use their NSFAS card to buy second-hand books from us. This makes a huge difference to the budget of students who are on financial aid for their studies,” says Mpodumo. Pimp my Book also partners with major bursary schemes by providing students with starter packs of laptops and second-hand books at the beginning of the academic year. When these students return their textbooks at the end of the year, the bursary institution receives a credit for the purchase of more second-hand books in the following year.
Mpodumo’s enthusiasm for his business is resoundingly clear. “I’m passionate about fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. We cannot sit back and expect government to solve all our societal problems – we have to do our part too. Education is a major problem in South Africa and I’m proud to be making it more accessible for students by cutting the cost of their learning materials. It’s also great to know that our operations are good for the environment. For every 14 second-hand textbooks that we sell, one less tree has to be felled to produce the paper required to print new books,” he says.
The other aspect of his business that he’s really proud of is the fact that he employs so many young people in his branches around South Africa. “Job opportunities are scarce for young South Africans and I love the fact that my business thrives on young people. Students love dealing with our staff members because they understand where they’re coming from. We also make a concerted effort to concentrate on drive and enthusiasm when we appoint new staff members. I’m not as interested in formal qualifications – other talents impress me far more,” he says.
It’s evident that the sky is the limit for this inspiring entrepreneur. With plans to move into the arena of online education in the next five to ten years, Pimp my Book is sure to create a major stir in the education space of the future. We wish Mpodumo every success as he expands from Entrepreneur of the Year, sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners, Small Business category winner to even greater heights.