Peter Frank ’12 launched his new company, Texts.com, on Saturday, April 20 with free pizza and snacks for students on Foss Hill. Texts.com is dedicated to simplifying the buying and selling of used textbooks between students by eliminating third parties, such as Amazon and campus bookstores.
“Wesleyan’s the launch school,” Frank said. “So the plan is to get really popular at one school and then expand horizontally. Wesleyan is important because it will prove the concept and will show a wide-scale corporation can make a student textbook exchange work.”
The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) attempted to launch a similar textbook exchange, WesBooks, which was developed by Brian Lau ’12 and Ali Chaudhry ’12. WSA Vice President Mari Jarris ’14 worked with Lee and Chaudhry to publicize WesBooks, but noted that many students did not utilize the exchange.
“Our priority was to get books to students as cheaply as possible, and so we were really excited about this new platform for that,” Jarris said. “I think with WesBooks, the big problem with it was getting everyone to use it at the same time so when you go, there would be books there. This platform…is a lot more comprehensive, and I think because it’s so user-friendly, it’s going to do a lot better than WesBooks did because it’s a professional endeavor.”
Many other textbook exchange websites and companies—such as Amazon, Chegg, Textbooks.com, and Belltower—exist to facilitate buying and selling and allow students to buy and sell textbooks at any time. As with any peer-to-peer exchange that eliminates third parties in order to decrease costs for students, Texts.com requires students to maintain possession of their textbooks until another student purchases the book, which usually means that students must maintain possession of their textbooks between semesters and wait to sell until the beginning of the next semester.
However, Frank believes that Texts.com has the potential to work more effectively than similar companies because it is centered around students. Frank also hopes that this company will be financially profitable in the long-run because of his student-centric approach.
“The thing I would really like to get across is that this is student-first,” Frank said. “And so I’m not maximizing how much money I can make, I’m maximizing how much service I can provide for the students. And those sort of go hand-in-hand…. This is a really good solution for students because it saves students as much money as possible.”
The company consists of Frank, Lead Designer Lisa Sy ’13, Chief Technology Officer Ben Halpern, Campus President Daniele Packard ’13, and ten other campus representatives. Frank bought the website College ACB during his freshman year of college, when it was only present at three schools. After selling College ACB once it reached hundreds of schools, he saved the profit for his future venture, Texts.com.
“All the ACB money is what I started this business with,” Frank said. “No outside funding; this is entirely self-funded. Which means that I am 100 percent beholden to the students as opposed to investors.”
According to Sy, the purpose of Texts.com is to facilitate the introduction of students who need specific books. The company will not profit from any student-to-student transaction. Students can find price comparisons for specific textbooks on the website, and if an affiliate company has a less expensive copy, then Texts.com will earn a commission from the third party.
“We don’t handle any credit card transactions, we don’t take any commission when people sell books to one another,” Sy said. “You can set the price for that. You can sell for even bagels or cupcakes or whatever you want. Students take care of all of that. We have no say in how that goes down or where you want to trade. All we do is give you the interface to work with that.”
Packard claims Frank’s confidence in University students will propel the company to success, especially due to their commitment to environmental sustainability.
“Peter has friends here, Peter graduated from here, he has connections here, and this is the place where it can happen,” Packard said. “Peter truly believes, he has 100 percent faith in that Wesleyan students care about—genuinely care about—socially conscientiousness projects, and Texts.com is one of those. It’s green-friendly, it’s reducing middle-men, it’s not shipping books all over the country, and if there’s a campus it’s going to work at, it’s Wesleyan.”
Packard noted that the role of the 10 campus representatives is to encourage other students to join, and that this is crucial for the company, which requires many students to believe in the effort, join, and participate.
“[Campus representatives] are faces of Texts.com on campus,” Packard said. “They know about the project, they are passionate about the project, they believe in it, and they’re spending a lot of time raising awareness about it and telling all of their friends to sign up for it and get involved.”
The website for the company opened on April 20 with an entrepreneurial stunt designed by Frank. He bought 60 pizzas, half of which were vegan, gluten-free, or vegetarian, fresh fruit, Oreos, Cheez-Its, and Goldfish. Frank, Packard, Sy, the campus representatives, and various helpers, such as Rizky Rahadianto ’15, aided in distributing the goods at exactly 4:20 p.m. on Foss Hill.
“So it’s obviously a little bit of a gimmick…but at the same time it was pretty symbolic of what we are doing because we’re student-first,” Frank said. “We’re not buying nice gifts, we’re buying pizza. We don’t care how other people have tried to do it. We’re just doing it our way, and we’re hoping students will appreciate that.”
Rahadianto, although skeptical of the idea at first, praised Frank’s entrepreneurial tactics after he witnessed student responses.
“[Students] took all our pizza without asking why,” Rahadianto said. “It’s just a brilliant, smart idea to tell them after the event itself, ‘And did you wonder why you got pizza?’ I’ve never worked with anyone who has a marketing style like that.”
However, some students did not understand the point of the April 20 event, stating that many who received the food were under the influence of drugs and not able to understand what was going on. In addition, many students did not know about the company because they were not present at Foss Hill when Frank debuted the company.
“It was a good idea, but trying to explain it to a bunch of high people probably wasn’t the best marketing strategy,” said a member of the class of 2014 who wished to remain anonymous.