UNT dropouts ready to takeover the textbook industry
With rock music blaring and tail-pipe howling, he stands on the bed of the pick-up truck, riding it like a surfboard.
The driver, Sam Ulrich, 18, taps the brakes as the street surfer, Alec Capasso, 19, whips a fistful of maroon wristbands at an unsuspecting student.
The student, startled by the little pieces of rubber glancing off his chest, picks up a band. The band reads “TextbookTakeover.com” on one side and “Stop getting f–ked by the bookstore” on the other.
What some might call a drive-by, Capasso and Ulrich, the founders of TextbookTakeover.com, call marketing.
The pair views themselves as mavericks, visionaries and, most importantly, college students who want to help save other students money.
“Textbook Takeover is ran by college students for college students,” Capasso said. “We’re the generation of f–k you, we’re really in your face and we give the kids what they want.”
The pair dropped out of UNT this semester to focus solely on creating their website, TextbookTakeover.com, which aims to create a sharing economy for the textbook industry.
As students at UNT, Ulrich and Capasso saw a problem with the cost of textbooks and decided to fix it.
According to CollegeBoard.org, books and supplies for the average college student at a four-year university cost over $1,200.
“I think differently, I like to fix things,” Ulrich said. “I want to help, whether it be healthcare or textbooks, I just want to make things better.”
The idea, Ulrich said, is to give the power back to the students, and create a peer to peer trading website solely for textbooks. They plan to take 10 percent of the commission for the sales and beyond that, the students make back whatever they paid for the book. For as long as students are in school, Ulrich said, they can make back the money they spend on textbooks without the abysmal trade-in value found in bookstores.
“Once you connect people the world gets better,” Ulrich said. “Trading in books at the bookstore is not even worth your time.”
But Voertman’s manager Brent Erskin, who’s worked at the bookstore for 14 years, is skeptical of the start-up’s prospects.
“Buying and selling textbooks is a thing of the past,” Erskin said. “Everyone rents, I love the idea of trying to save students money, but only around 30 percent of our customers buy books anymore.”
Erskin said the high costs of publishing companies are the true culprit to the admittedly down trending cost of textbooks. He said renting is what has driven those costs down since students are no longer incentivized to purchase books.
“Their idea is basically Amazon, there’s so many used selling sites now, it’s not like this idea is somehow new,” Erskin said. “There’s just not much of the market anymore. I think it would be tough, they just need to find a little niche to fill, but they’re definitely starting at a deficit.”
But Capasso said what makes them different from Jeff Bezos and the Amazon empire is that they’re college students, who will take nearly 50 percent less commission than their corporate competition.
Their roots are in school, he said, and he feels they can speak and help students in a more direct manner.
Ulrich and Capasso came up with the idea for Textbook Takeover after a long night at their former home in the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house.
Capasso was Ulrich’s big, and after a semester of becoming disenchanted with the college life, whether it be the costs, the seemingly useless classes, the partying or the pledge-ship, the pair decided to drop out and do something proactive about the status-quo.
“I felt like I was spending countless dollars and not reaping the rewards for the amount of money I was putting into it,” Capasso said. “With the company, I felt like it was something that was actually making a difference. School made me feel very horizontal like it wanted me to go along with the system. This made me feel vertical like I was making an impact.”
Though Textbook Takeover’s address is still listed at the Delta Sig house on campus, the home office for the company is now located at Ulrich’s mom’s home in Celina, Texas.
Now instead of the life of a student, the pair spends all their time and energy on building their company from the small office in Celina, where Capasso often sleeps.
Capasso said with Textbook Takeover, he’s found a rewarding drug.
“Before this, I was part of a fraternity and I loved to party,” Capasso said. “When I came to college just being away from home and partying with school being so easy it became too much, but this became an outlet. The company is definitely like a drug, with all the highs and lows, I’ve definitely changed as a person and have a different outlook on life.”
Capasso said they work 20 hours a day on the site, workshopping ideas and compiling the database for what they hope will be a successful launch this summer.
And though he’s put seemingly everything on the line, Ulrich said he embraces the pressure of a successful launch.
Ulrich, an admitted adrenaline junkie, said he can be found “bombing down the hills at 40 mph” on his longboard. He said if he falls, he could really hurt himself. That’s why he doesn’t.
He said Textbook Takeover is like the ultimate hill for him that he can’t wait to shred.
“I live for the pressure,” he said. “It’s what it’s all about.”
Featured Image: Sam Ulrich and Alec Capasso look over their textbook website Saturday morning.Sophomore Capasso and Freshmen Ulrich dropped out of UNT to focus on creating TextbookTakeover which aims to emphasize a reliable and affordable way for students to purchase textbooks. Kelsey Shoemaker
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