more than words:How NepaliBytes is exciting new Nepali readers

With a common love for the written word, a team formed at Startup Weekend Kathmandu Volume 1. Its objective? To excite the bookworms out there and to transform the literary world in Nepal.

To be a successful writer, one must have an audience that is willing to listen. This was a problem that Nirmal Thapa was hoping to tackle when he took part in the first Startup Weekend Kathmandu, held in early February, 2013. He had a germ of an idea, and with a persuasive pitch, he was able to gather a team around him. New team members Monil Adhikari, Chhitesh Shrestha, and Abhishek Singh all had a love of the written word in common, and together with Nirmal, they were able to win 2nd place at the event with Nepalibytes: a community of authors, readers, and publishers. But there is always the danger that ideas languish as just concepts. It’s one thing to come up with an idea, and another to actually execute it.

Epiphany and planning
“I had a sort of epiphany the day after we came second at Startup Weekend,” Nirmal confided, “I called up a friend and asked him to register nepalibytes.com right away.” This foresight turned out to be useful, as the winning team that day, now known as Parikshya, had their original domain name snatched away from under their noses. As I chatted to the team, this sort of forward planning seemed emblematic of Nepalibytes.

“Right after Startup Weekend, we built ourselves actively on social media,” says the team. Their Facebook page (facebook.com/nepalibytes) was set up at the workshop itself. Nepalibytes spent the next nine months existing only on social media. A Facebook page, a Twitter handle, and a YouTube account updated with news of literary events from time to time, slowly built up steam towards one particular event.

Nepal Literature Festival was a massive literary event held on October 25, 2013. The team had already decided back in February that this event would serve as their launchpad – online and offline. Nirmal had been an attendee at the previous Nepal Literature Festival, and realized that that was where their product’s core audience would be. “When we met at Startup, we already knew. We thought it would be the perfect platform to launch.”

Germ of an idea
Nirmal had been thinking of creating something like Nepalibytes for quite some time before the Startup Weekend where he met the rest of his team. “My dad is a Nepali author, and I also love writing myself.” Nirmal had a blog where he wrote about business strategies, but he didn’t have much of an audience. As he thought about the idea of reaching a literary-minded audience, an idea started to take shape. “I saw that in Nepal, young writers have a very hard time trying to get their work published. To be published in Nepal, you either have to have a lot of money or you need to know someone in the industry.” If an author wants to self-publish, there is no information about important things they will need to do, such as getting an ISBN or International Standard Book Number, which all books are required to have. He adds, “I also learnt that most publishers don’t have a website. They’re slowly starting to be active… but not to their full potential.”

Troubleshooting& working as a team
There were plenty more problems in the Nepali literary world that Nirmal wanted to deal with. He wanted a platform where people could get to know about upcoming events. Usually, there are plenty of literary events in Nepal, but near impossible for an average interested person to find out about them. Most of the time, they only become aware of the event after they read about it in a newspaper.

At Startup Weekend, Nirmal was able to find four other participants who were interested in his idea to deal with these issues. The team of like-minded young men all had something in common; a passion for reading. “Reading is a hobby for me,” Monil says, and then grins and adds, “and [Nepalibytes] was a way to make a business out of it. A product started taking shape; a website that would be equal parts encyclopedia, magazine, and newsletter. But it was a daunting venture, especially since most of the team members were still college students.

“Time management is hard. It’s a work in progress.” The team decided to make it a point to meet and talk about the progress they’ve made, hash out ideas and create agendas for themselves at regular weekly meetings. Each member of the team brings his own strengths to the table. Monil, with his tech background, monitors security and the social media channels. Chhitesh designed and works with the website and marketing material. Abhishek does business development and financial planning. And Nirmal is the main content writer and community manager. The team works as a whole on networking and branding.

Ready, set, launch
“I think Startup Weekend was the easy part, the execution was the harder part.” It required a determined and creative team working in the background. Although they had started building interest in Nepalibytes through social media channels, the real test came as the Nepal Literature Festival approached. A month before the event, Nirmal turned to devoting himself full-time to Nepalibytes, and the team planned and divided duties amongst themselves. A good relationship with the organizers of the event, Bookworm Trust, led to Nepalibytes being in charge of media at the Festival. Chhitesh designed a unique bookmark that, in addition to promoting Nepalibytes, encouraged readers to write down the date they were planning to finish the book.

On October 28, the first day of the Nepal Literature Festival, the group was ready. Team members alternately took video, attended sessions and shot photos. They were updating their social media feeds at the same time too, tagging speakers, linking to authors, and providing snippets of what was going on at the Festival. At the Festival, the group handed out their bookmarks, which served as interactive branding materials that would keep Nepalibytes fresh in the readers’ minds.

The Nepalibytes team generated enough content at the Festival to last for months of updates, and gained many new subscribers and followers. By providing solutions to real issues and valuable content, they are assured of an ever-growing audience base. Moving forward, the young creatives have plenty of goals.

Forging on
So far, they’ve made strategic decisions about their spending, with their only major expenses being the bookmarks they created, and the website creation. A unique concept that the team have come up with is short videos about various libraries around Kathmandu, bundled with information about locations, timing and anything special going on at these libraries, which usually don’t have a website of their own.

In the near future, they are also planning on being a platform for interesting Nepali blogs, letting writers reach their audience directly before they have even been published. They plan to offer material that people will be willing to pay for, so they can sustain this venture and make it bigger. But they also plan to keep doing what they’re doing, adding more readers, more authors, more publishers and more content and information. By breaking down old barriers and creating new bridges, Nepalibytes brings much-needed change and innovation in a field that sorely needs it.

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