Glen Nothnagel started sellbackyourBook.com at the age of 20 while attending his sophomore year in college. After noticing the amount of textbooks that were not being bought back by his college bookstore at the end of the semester, Glen knew there had to be a more efficient system for kids to get back some of the money they spent on these expensive books.
He started working on his business model and put school on hold. Four years, 200,000+ customers, and over 1 million books later, SellBackYourBook.com is still going strong.
In the beginning, what motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
My motivation to become an entrepreneur was pretty simple; I wanted to do something that did not have a ceiling. Some careers have a limit to the success you can achieve, a cap on your pay or a limit to what you can accomplish. Entrepreneurs do not have this. You can struggle and create a job for yourself, or you can create a company.
Tell me about your first entrepreneurial experience as a kid.
My first entrepreneurial experience as a kid would be trying to start a landscaping business with my sisters. We had a computer, which in 1995 was not super common but at the same time not exactly rare, and we used Microsoft word to make these awful business cards. I believe they even had Lion King clip art printed on them. From there we printed out the business cards on some plain paper, went door to door, and didn’t convince anyone to let us cut the grass. This might explain why my first business didn’t have any co-founders.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I would have to say making it past year two with sellbackyourBook.com and continuing to grow the business. We did no fund-raising and had no access to debt (it was 2008 when I started, a scary time to start a business). We had no room for error, very little money, and a lot to go wrong.
What does a day-in-the-life of Glen Nothnagel consist of?
My average day goes a little like this: Do some coding in the morning, and I might have an internal meeting to discuss issues, future visions and progress on current projects. In the afternoon, I take a break from coding and work through emails from the day and then look at reports to see how we are doing, projections for the next few weeks, months on volumes, etc… Around 5 or 6 I head home, have dinner, and then do competitive research for a few hours to see what we are missing out on and where we need to be improving. I also look at different verticals to see what we can learn from what they are doing.
What were you like in college? I mean, were you as hungry then as you are now? Was it more of the typical college experience that the Average Joe has, or were you hustling away, engaged in business endeavors?
I went to community college and worked quite a bit. My parents moved out to San Diego right after high school so I had all the expenses of a normal adult but trying to be a college student. This is one of the reasons starting a business was so attractive, I could work all the time on something that was fun and rewarding or I could work full time and go to school full time. So, I dropped out of college, rented a warehouse, moved in with a roommate to minimize my personal expenses and started working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Not a single day off for the first two years.
What is your take on college in 2012? Many successful entrepreneurs are skeptical of how much college actually prepares students for the real world. Would you advise an entrepreneurial-minded youth to go to college today?
I think college is a great environment to learn and I would personally love to go back if the opportunity cost was not so high. You can learn a lot starting your own business and you can also learn quite a bit in the classroom. I think it might be easier to start a business your first year of college or before college than after. After college you will have an education, ability to get a demanding full time job that will help you pay off all of that debt you have, and too much security so starting a business will probably not be as tempting.
3 Tips of Success?
Do not be afraid to try new things. Always TEST these new things to see if they should stay. Even if you do not answer directly to someone as the founder/owner does not mean you should not have to justify your decisions.
Work smart and make a list of things you want to accomplish. Evaluate everything on the list and calculate its investment/reward and finish the things that will have the biggest payoff first.
Delegate, this can be hard when first starting a company but you cannot do everything and are generally not the best at everything.
What is most important aspect of a company that determines its success?
I would have to say people and vision. You need them both, you can have an awesome vision but if you do not have the people in place to execute then it is safe to say you cannot hit that vision. If you have no vision and awesome people you will have a lot of bored, uninspired employees and but no clear direction for future growth.
Looking back, what’s one thing you would do differently?
Hindsight is 20/20 so the list would be quite exhaustive. At this point I think the number one thing I would have done differently is too prioritize projects differently, focusing on consumer facing app’s first and internal one’s second.