Eugene Aronsky founded We Compare Books in 2007 in Boston.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We Compare Books is a textbook price comparison site.
How did you come up with your business idea?
The idea for We Compare Books came to me when I was an undergraduate student; the textbooks I needed were very expensive and I realized that I could save a bundle by shopping online. Later, I discovered book price comparison sites that claimed to find cheap books, and I attempted to use them to find deals, but I found these sites to be inaccurate, and many of the links that they had for books were dead links, plus, I was often able to find a better price by doing the price comparison manually (a very tedious process for which I did not always have time). At this time I realized that I needed to create a website that would that would find the true cheapest price for any book, and I decided to create, We Compare Books, a textbook price comparison site that really did find the cheapest prices.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Before I started this business I was a grad student. This is my first business.
What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, ….
Once I decided to form an internet start up I found it very difficult to get proper guidance, many of my professors were unwilling to help because my business would compete with the university bookstore. I was unaware of any local incubators but luckily I had a friend who had experience running online companies. He was willing to act as a mentor, teaching me the basics and getting me onto the right path.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
From the first day of the conception of my idea my greatest limitation was my technical ability, I knew what I wanted, and I knew how to do it, but seeing as I was not a developer I was unable to put my idea into motion. Realizing this, I went in search of someone who would share my vision and be willing to work together to build something greater than ourselves. Following a few missteps I met my business partner through an online social media platform for developers and we have been working successfully from day one.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
I have been a fan of social media from the early days, and have worked hard to use social media in order to connect with my audience on a grass-roots level. Although I have found social media to sometimes be tricky it, along with blogging are the ways that I connect with my sites' users on a daily basis and I see this as a vital aspect of my business. I am an active user of Twitter, blog regularly and maintain a presence on other social media platforms, such as, Gather, Squidoo…
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
The goal of my business is to save students money; today textbook costs can be as much as $1000 a semester and such costs are making college unaffordable for many students, many others are racking up 10's of thousands in loans to get their degrees.
Given this, I had thought that schools might be willing to work with me to help make tuition more affordable (students using We Compare Books can save 50% or more off their textbook costs). In the early days of my company I spent much time trying to partner with universities and student organizations in order to help students, before I realized that universities had an entrenched system where they benefited from the high costs of textbooks and thus had no desire to work with me.
Being young and idealistic, I did not foresee the difficulty that I would have trying to save students money, after all, all students need textbooks, and using my business they will always get the best deal.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
The best advice I can give is to stay true to your original ideals, and most importantly be willing to work hard to achieve them.
Great advice for any entrepreneur, Eugene! Thank you for taking the time to share your story with the readers at Gaebler.com.