SA ed-tech startup Quillo launches second-hand textbook initiative

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South African startup Quillo, an online marketplace for second-hand textbooks, is aiming to save students ZAR5 million (US$360,000) this month alone via a promotional campaign.

Founded last year by Tamir Shklaz, an electrical and computer engineering student at the University of Cape Town, Quillo is a digital marketplace connecting buyers and sellers of second-hand textbooks at tertiary education institutions. 

Textbooks bought via the platform are, on average, 70 per cent cheaper than new ones, while as an escrow platform Quillo makes it safer, easier and more convenient for students to find or sell textbooks. Buyers pay online, books are delivered to their door, and the seller is paid once buyer satisfaction is confirmed. 

“Our nationwide delivery system means that buyers receive books on the day of purchase and that students can buy or sell textbooks across the country. Our core mission is to close information gaps to save students as much money as possible on textbooks,” Shklaz told Disrupt Africa.

The startup, which is part of the ongoing Injini ed-tech incubation programme in Cape Town, now has over 18,000 student users, whom it claims to have saved more than ZAR1 million (US$72,000) on textbooks, but has set far greater goals for this month.

It has launched #MissionR5M, a campaign to save students ZAR5 million on their education. On July 15, more than 80 Instagram Influencers across South Africa, with a reach of over one million people, posted simultaneously to announce the initiative, while Quillo is also giving away five scholarships to students in need to buy the tools they need for the second semester of the academic year.  

All of this after Shklaz was inspired to start the business by his first-hand experience as a student who was unable to afford new textbooks. 

“I found the process of attempting to source second-hand textbooks incredibly frustrating and difficult. If I had difficulty, then many more students were surely experiencing the same problem. I wondered how the majority of students, from less affluent backgrounds, coped with this issue if I, coming from a privileged background, felt so demoralised by the process,” he said. 

“The thought of being the first person in one’s family to attend university, a widespread position for many students in South Africa, and then being faced with this challenge was heart-wrenching.”

So Quillo was born, with student convenience at its heart.

“We are purely digital and hold no stock of textbooks. This allows us to offer the cheapest price on the market, thus enabling more students access to textbooks. Ultimately, we make the process of selling your textbooks effortless. The seller determines the price, it is far easier for students to find the second-hand textbook they are looking for than it is offline, and textbooks are set at prices that the buyer is willing to pay,” Shklaz said.

The self-funded startup, which charges a commission fee on any sales, has received grant money from Injini, but Shklaz says it is a cheap business to run. So far, more than 1,000 textbooks have been sold via Quillo, and the startup already has broader ambitions.

“We are planning on expanding into neighbouring markets, such as laptops, calculators, and notes, within the next two years. In the long run, we hope to scale across Africa, becoming Africa’s default education marketplace,” said Shklaz.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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