“If a campus as tight-knit and progressive as Wesleyan can’t come together to defeat yesterday’s monopolist and incumbent powers, then maybe it just can’t be done.”
Peter Frank ’12, the famed Internet entrepreneur who ran the CollegeACB empire from his Fauver dorm room and made his way into the pages of TIME Magazine before selling the site in 2011 for an undisclosed six-figure sum, is back in the game with a new start-up. Not quite as juicy as the ACB (but probably far more useful), Frank’s latest venture is Texts.com, a “lean, green, student-first platform” for students to buy and sell textbooks to and from each other online. The start-up made its Wesleyan debut on Foss Hill around 4:20 p.m. yesterday; you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s a service that provides free pizza to stoned Wesleyan students at all hours of the day (that’s my new start-up idea, don’t tell anyone):
Hope you’re hungry, @wesleyan_u – we’ll have pizza on the hill, and will be delivering munchies all night.Just DM us your loc. for goodies
— Texts.com (@TextsDotCom) April 20, 2013
With help from Lisa Sy ’13 and Benjamin Halpern (a student at Mount Allison University in Canada), Frank aims to build a “commission-free, zero-fee, student-to-student textbook exchange” that eliminates the middleman. A “Texts.com Manifesto” identifies his fundamental promises as twofold: “1) Put the student first. 2) Remain transparent.” “We don’t take a cut, ” Frank writes, “and we don’t want a commission; we equip students to go forth and prosper: buy and sell at a fair value!”
Which sounds fairly Utopian, and not nearly as profitable as a filth-ridden gossip site. But according to the manifesto, the site makes money by receiving a commission from its affiliate partners:
At many campuses, up to 90% of the books required in the Fall are also required in the Spring. This means that the market has the potential to be very efficient: keeping books in the student-to-student loop means better prices all-round. But there will always be a subset of books that aren’t available on campus; students will simply need to buy from a traditional source.
We fulfill our student-first promise by finding the best price; whether it’s at the campus bookstore, Amazon, Chegg, or at any of our other partners. When we help drive the sale, we make a commission for driving the lead. This does not affect the bottom-line price for the student. We are compensated by our affiliate partners.
Scroll on for a brief interview with Frank and some video footage of what happens when you hand out 60 pizzas on Foss Hill on 4/20.
What got you involved in online entrepreneurship?
I’ve been involved in entrepreneurial projects my entire life. Before college, I would buy and sell domain names, which is how I earned money throughout high school and also how I came to own the name Texts.com. Before that, I was buying and selling stuff on eBay on behalf of family friends. When kids my age were setting up lemonade stands, I was selling hand-drawn maps at confusing intersections near my house. In middle school, I launched my first company, CounterAdmin.com, with a close friend, offering admin-privileges on our own Counter Strike servers. Freshman year of college, I inherited CollegeACB.com, which I sold in January 2011 for a hefty (six-figure) profit.
After graduation, I took a job at Hatch Labs (IAC’s former mobile-app incubator), working as a jack-of-all-trades associate. I got my hands dirty in customer acquisition, social media marketing, community management, business development, fundraising, research diligence, and everything in between. When the company closed at the end of 2012, I knew it was time to jump back into the game with another startup of my own.
How’d you conceive of Texts.com?
The idea for Texts.com isn’t particularly novel. There have been a number of professional attempts to provide a student-to-student textbook exchange, and countless student projects that fell by the wayside. The difficulty in getting a platform like this (and any network-effect-dependent business) is the classic chicken/egg problem. Why would students use a site that connects buyers and sellers if there aren’t already buyers and sellers on the site?
We address this issue by removing as much friction as possible to the “supply-side.” Simply log in through Facebook, confirm your network, and tell us the courses you’re currently taking. We’ll spit out the books you should have bought, you confirm the books you did buy, and we’re off to the races: the cloud is seeded. If or when we gain a critical mass well before the hypercompetitive selling season (Broad Street, Belltower), we’ll have initiated a true movement where student cooperation avoids middleman profits, meaningfully making textbooks cheaper.
What’s the benefit of using this instead of bookstores?
The economics are simple: Removing the middleman means that sellers earn more and buyers spend less. Even Amazon/Chegg are inherently inefficient. Campus supply closely mirrors campus demand, so it makes a ton of sense to keep books in the student-to-student loop. But it takes a lot of buy-in, support, and participation from everyone in the community. If it can happen anywhere, it can happen at Wesleyan. We are energized game-changers, ready to embrace this lean, green, and student-first platform. Seriously: If a campus as tight-knit and progressive as Wesleyan can’t come together to defeat yesterday’s monopolist and incumbent powers, to support a 2012 grad’s first start-up, then maybe it just can’t be done.
Are there any other Wesleyan students or alums involved in the project?
The team is comprised of Lisa Sy ’13, Benjamin Halpern (Mount Allison ’12), and yours truly, Peter Frank ’12. We are students (and recent graduates) who started this company because we were scratching an itch. This is a major pain point for every college student, and we want to make a substantial difference. Who better than those that know the pain shared by ~20 million students around the country?
What else do you want students to know about Texts.com?
This is a grassroots movement through and through, and I have twelve campus reps at Wesleyan who will be advocating the service, handing out swag, and generally being resources for people who want to learn more about this movement. It’s going to take everyone at Wesleyan getting energized and believing in the idea for this to work; but if we can pull it off, we’ll show once again that Wesleyan thinks big, that we’re game-changers, and that wide-scale cooperation can meaningfully fix a terribly broken system.