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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The story of NOTtheBookStore.com

I've been mentioning a site that I've been focusing my efforts on, NOTtheBookStore.com I figure I'd blog a little bit more about it here!

The gist of the site is, it helps college students order textbooks online instead of at the campus bookstore. The site shows you which books you need, you can order from Amazon or Half, and then see how much you saved over buying from the campus bookstore (usually a lot).

Incidentally, the name of the site came to me in a half asleep state... I actually got out of bed, started up my computer, and drew up an initial logo. The name basically says that the site is NOT the campus bookstore and its high prices, instead it's on your side. The logo is eye catching, as it looks like "no BS" (or no bulls@#t) making it even more rebellious.

I started with a little bit of html code a few years ago, and created a site that looked like a 6 year old designed it. I entered in a few books from Xavier University (where I got my MBA) by hand, and then tried to figure out how to use Google adwords. It didn't really amount to much traffic, but then I got my first break when Facebook offered up "Facebook Flyers" that allowed me to advertise to Xavier students only. It was a cheap way to get the exact traffic I needed. I ended up with maybe 50 books sold that semester.

I knew I needed a better way to advertise on campus... it was so hard to do it during the summer when students weren't there. I tried hanging up some fliers, but it was hard to find places that allowed you to do that. Plus I didn't want the site to look trashy. I'm a big fan of student organizations (I was the president of my major's professional organization back in the day), so on a whim I contacted the Xavier Marketing Club. They responded immediately, and for the next year or so I've been working with them to come up with promotions for the site. The students loved it, as they were getting real world experience on a marketing project that was so near to their heart, and I was getting great exposure on campus and furthering the site's equity of being "for the student." I also revamped the site, buying a $25 template on line. That semester, I sold around 350 books... which all occurred during a vacation to Hawaii, where I got to track it while sitting on a wifi enabled beach (my 4 Hour Workweek moment).

This year, the Xavier Marketing Club did their thing again, and I ended up hiring a programmer to revamp the site and add some features. There were a good number of delays, to be fair much of it could be attributed to me, so the site didn't go live in time for this fall. The site ended up selling 400 books, which was a small increase from last year, but I was hoping for a 2X increase. The new site got up and running in time for me to add another school to the list, the University of Cincinnati. So far with only Facebook ads, the site has sold a grand total of 4 books.

So what's next? Well first, I'd like to see if a bigger school will bring economies of scale (UC has 4X the students of XU). I've already contacted UC's marketing club, and we're going to have our first meeting in a few weeks. I also think the site still needs a lot of optimization... I did get some features added, but now it takes a lot more clicks to get to a sale. And I'm not sure the features are intuitive. It's hard to deal with the website because someone else programmed it, and despite the fact that he did a really good job of being organized and giving me lots of documentation explaining what he did, it might be a bit over my head. So now I'm trying to understand what he did enough so I can make little tweaks to the site. I wish I had the programming expertise that Adam or Jason have!

So that's that. I'd love any advice or feedback!



Adam McFarland said...

Awesome post Dale. I think you've got a great thing going working with student marketing clubs. There's no doubt it can work. It's a very scalable project.

Personally, I learned to program after I had my business idea and not the other way around. There's no better investment in your time in my opinion. Cutting out that middle man saves so much time and so much money. It's a lot of work, but you've got the analytical mind and the engineering background to do it.

Jason Cohen said...

Ha, thanks for saying so...

Idea: Since this is for college kids, I wonder if one of them would be willing to code it up for a resume-builder, or for sufficiently small money that it's worth it (although careful: the law says you have to pay at least minimum wage).

Or defer payment by giving her a cut of profits over the next year.

Also agreed with Adam that coding yourself is an option, especially if you pick a technology that has a lot of community support and only a little programming "theory." (PHP)

But yeah, try just jumping in. You might surprise yourself; you certainly will be smarter and more capable as a result.

Dale said...

@Jason and @Adam... thanks as usual for the supporting comments and advice!

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