Rick & Vivian Pura

Prior to co-founding Abebooks, Rick and Vivian Pura worked as IT contractors in British Columbia, but they were ready for the challenge that lay ahead.

"I was working for the provincial government and I hated it; absolutely hated it," said Rick. "We were doing things that we didn't believe in and that’s awful. I had met Keith Waters on one project and we became friends. We had chatted a few times about his wife’s used book business and her problems in finding books. The more we talked the more the Web appeared to be the answer.

"The Internet was being formed but there was still nowhere to go, nothing to find on it. When we started to work on what became Abebooks, we thought if we managed to attract 500 booksellers then we’d have a wonderful little business in Victoria and we wouldn’t have to work for the government."

On May 4, 1996, Vivian and Rick took Abebooks into the world of professional bookselling when they attended the Burbank antiquarian book fair in California to show off their site, which offered books from a handful of Victoria-based bookstores, and recruit more booksellers.

"We thought we’d walk out of there with a bunch of booksellers, but not a single one signed up," said Vivian. "In fact, we did win many sellers by going to the event but it took time for them join because they went home and thought about it. Like Keith and Cathy, we had put our savings into the company but we weren’t nervous. We knew it would take a while to establish the business."

The company began as a home-based business created in evenings and on weekends.

"Our first business plan had five bullet-points and the first one was to buy a computer," laughed Rick. "We could see what was happening elsewhere as the dot.com boom was getting going and saw people spending lots of money but we thought they were crazy. I wonder how many of those big spending guys got to celebrate their 10th anniversary. It was a tremendously exciting time."

Vivian recalls how it was a learning experience for everyone – including the bookstores turning to the Web for the first time. "I wrote a guide on ‘How to use Windows 95’ for the booksellers," she said. "In many cases, the booksellers purchased their first computer and then came online with us. Every day was an adventure because you never knew who was going to call or what they were going to say. The phone would ring and we’d be laughing as we tried to anticipate who it would be."

And where will Abebooks be in 10 years time?

"The greatest technology of all is the book," said Rick. "I can’t see that changing and Abebooks remains committed to books. I can see print-on-demand books becoming more popular, and there is tremendous scope for non-English language books."

Today, Vivian looks after the Pura family, which includes two teenagers, while Rick is working on a search engine project. Both maintain a keen interest in Abebooks and still have immense fondness for the company.

"The whole Abebooks business runs on honesty," said Rick. "There are bad guys on the Internet, but not in books. The booksellers are fantastic people and they taught us so much. Lots of them took time to show us what they needed so we could make the business work. They always amazed me with their knowledge of books."