…And How it All Began

Post-graduation blues

It was a dark and stormy night in South Bend, Indiana. College friends and ultimate frisbee teammates Xavier and Kreece were sitting around after graduation wondering what to do next. The economy was in the gutter, the dot com boom had recently gone bust, and prospects for Internet businesses were slim. This didn’t bode well for guys with degrees in information systems and mechanical engineering.

The Fortuitous Discovery

The best gig they could find was tutoring the Notre Dame football team on the finer points of calculus and computer programming. A thankless job to be sure, and it didn’t exactly pay the tab at the ol’ Linebacker Lounge. Tired of seeing all the piles of old textbooks sitting around the apartment, Kreece tried a hunch and put his roommate’s old books for sale on the Internet. The campus bookstore never paid much for used books, but perhaps he could sell them on the Internet and get more. (Buying and selling stuff on the Internet hadn’t gone mainstream yet). Even though it was the middle of the summer, the textbooks started selling like proverbial hotcakes. Xavier, ever the entrepreneur, knew a good thing when he saw one and proceeded to sell off his old textbooks and those of all his roommates’ who had fled and left their books behind. He became intrigued by the online book market, and wondered how he could find a lot more books.

The beginnings of a social venture

The following winter, Kreece and Xavier talked often about a plan to collect all the unwanted books at Notre Dame. As the spring approached, in a burst of gumption, they decided to make it happen.

Having volunteered in the past at the local community center, they knew it had everything they needed: a great cause, a fast Internet connection, and a back room that could hold some books. Xavier convinced Jay, the center’s director, to take a gamble on this idea and then they were off. 6 months later, 2,000 books had been collected and resold and $10,000 had been raised. More importantly, Kreece and Xavier found themselves with the glimmerings of a revolutionary new business model.

A prize-winning plan

Encouraged by the success of the book drive, the new partners decided to draft a business plan. They recruited their friend and classmate Jeff from the world of investment banking to help build the business. They envisioned a different kind of company with a built-in social benefit. By generating revenue to fund literacy, they would also earn profits to support and grow the company. And in funding literacy, they would help give struggling people the world over the skills and self-esteem necessary to thrive and succeed.

The three founders submitted the idea to a Notre Dame University business plan competition, and won “Best Social Venture.” With $7,000 in prize money and some guidance by a competition judge named David Murphy (who would later become CEO of the company), the entrepreneurs then set off to run Book Drives for Better Lives on campuses across the country.

By generating revenue to fund literacy, they would also earn profits to support and grow the company.

The environment becomes a stakeholder too

Always on a quest for untapped sources of used books, Xavier soon made a discovery that changed the business model – and the environment – in a major way. Every year thousands of libraries had millions of excess books as they made room for new editions. Some books sat in storage, and others were given away. But some were simply thrown out. Tossed. Abandoned to the landfills for all eternity.

Convinced that something could be done to rescue these discarded books and help the planet a bit in the process, the founders set about partnering with librarians all across the country. Not only could they rescue books from landfills, they could also sell those books and raise money for the libraries themselves. Environmental and social impact all in the same story.

The next chapter

To date, we have raised millions of dollars for literacy, saved millions of books from landfills, created jobs for hundreds of people, and provided wonderful books to millions of readers worldwide. The rest of the story is still being written. We invite you to join us on our journey. It’s only going to get better.

The rest of the story is still being written. We invite you to join us on our journey. It’s only going to get better.