Students at the University of Rhode Island can anticipate a new way to buy and sell textbooks at fair trade, thanks to a student startup rolling out in early December.
Senior accounting major Anthony Markey, 21, will be launching his website Libby in order to create an online textbook marketplace for students. It is a business venture Markey will not be taking on alone.
“It’s not like a dorm room startup,” Markey said. “We have an advisor and investors, and other legitimacies.”
Along with his best friend, Laionel Cintron, 23, and their advisor and investor, Francis McMahon, 53, the “soft launch” of their company, as Markey describes it, will take place at URI and Johnson and Wales, Providence sometime this December. The team hopes to gain feedback and make improvements during their beta testing phase, and eventually expand to more universities.
According to Markey, the startup will offer students a combination of features such as suggested retail prices for their textbooks, price comparisons from other sites and recommendations to students as to whether or not they should buy or rent, a feature never before seen in the textbook industry. Libby’s most recent and well-known textbook partner, as of this week, is Chegg.
All textbook sales are specific to student’s home universities. Even though all transactions are “facilitated online, there is no shipping involved,” Markey said. “Students arrange a time and place on their campus to exchange textbooks.”
Although many students try to sell their textbooks over Facebook, or are able to sell back their books to sites like Amazon or the university bookstore, Markey said he felt that none of these options were beneficial. Options such as these, Markey said, do not yield students with legitimate offers or provide them with a fair buy-back price from retailers.
Having cash transactions take place online and the exchanging of products happen in person would seem to present a multitude of problems, but Markey and Cintron were able to come up with creative solutions to a complex concept.
When students choose to buy a textbook through Libby, they’ll be instructed on how to contact the seller and given suggestions of popular, public places on campus to meet up. Until receiving the textbook, Braintree, a subsidiary of PayPal will hold the buyer’s payment in escrow. The buyer will be given a code they can give to the seller once they receive the product they are looking for.
If the transaction does not work out for any reason, the buyer can cancel their payment and get all of their money back. Markey said transactions to come out of Facebook could sometimes be awkward, if the seller decided to haggle the price in person or if they had a different edition that you were looking for.
“Libby helps take a lot of pressure out of buying and selling your textbooks,” Markey said.
The idea for Libby came to Markey after returning from a semester abroad when he noticed old textbooks piled underneath his bed. Having spent all of his money traveling through Europe, Markey attempted to earn some easy cash selling his stockpile. Unfortunately, he ran into many of the same problems he hopes to solve with Libby, but without those setbacks the startup would not have been possible.
When Markey approached Cintron with the early concepts of Libby in June, Cintron jumped at the chance to provide students with a better way to buy and sell textbooks.
“This is definitely something that could work,” Cintron said.
McMahon felt the same way when Markey and Cintron came to him later that month. As the owner of Advocacy Solutions, a public affairs firm located in Providence, McMahon said he has some experience and an idea of what startups will work, and which will not.
“I think Libby is filling a huge need, and there’s an important place for it in the market,” McMahon said. “I think it’s going to be met with great user acceptance and user success. At the end of the day, Libby is going to present a major disruption to the process of buying and selling college textbooks.”
Having known both Markey and Cintron since the two of them went to highschool together at Bishop Hendricken, McMahon said he is excited for the success he anticipates for the startup.
Although they are still a few weeks away from receiving any customer reviews, McMahon is working towards bringing on more investors who believe in the potential of the company.