After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2017, Ian Buchanan decided to take up a new hobby he didn’t have time for during college: reading. He quickly learned his hobby could be expensive if he read two to four books per month and purchased all of them on Amazon or at other retailers.
So, Buchanan started checking out books at his local library, and noticed inefficiency within its circulation system.
“There’s a database where you can look up books and it will tell you where that book is,” he said. “During one visit, I was going through my reading list at the library near where I was living at the time and none of them were at that library. They were available in the system but they just weren’t where I was. So I thought, ‘Why not make this easier? I’m sure others are having the same problem.’”
Libraries already have a hold system, in which a book that is not available at one branch can be brought to another branch to save the reader a trip.
Buchanan founded Helium with the aim of taking that system one step further by delivering books right to readers’ doors in one to two days instead of up to one week, the amount of time it typically takes.
“We are taking it that last mile and kind of bringing libraries up to the 21st century in a way and to the world of e-commerce,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan, with co-founder Jacob Carlson, launched the service in early September for Milwaukee County residents. It will be free at least through the end of 2019 to give the company a sense of demand, Buchanan said.
Although there is likely a long path to profitability, Buchanan said, he plans to implement a pricing structure similar to those used by on-demand ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft. Customers would pay a base delivery fee plus additional travel fees based on distance.
Deliveries will eventually be contracted out, but for now, Buchanan and Carlson are on their own.
“We need to make it worthwhile for the drivers, but we also want to make it cheap for the consumer, so that will be a lot of trial and error, but I have the bones of it worked out right now,” Buchanan said.
Founders: Ian Buchanan and Jacob Carlson
Product: Book delivery
Goal: Improve library circulation and community access to books
Experience: Buchanan graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in accounting and finance and now works as a valuation services analyst at Duff & Phelps. Carlson graduated from UW-La Crosse with a degree in business administration and management and is now a project coordinator at Concentrix.