Small Business Spotlight of the Week: BookTurtle

Buying books might be one of the guiltiest pleasures, ever.  The smell of the ink, the feel of the paper and, of course, the question of what to do when you’re done reading it.  Some are worth keeping and showing off on your book shelf.  But most do not make the cut. There’s few option to get rid of excess novels, too, either hauling them to a used book store and hope to score some decent dough or selling them for $.10 apiece in your mother’s best friend’s cousin’s garage sale.

Jamie Beckland founded BookTurtle to provide a third option: selling your books online for a fair price.  Tired of only getting a few dollars back for expensive text books in college, he tapped into the entrepreneurial spirit and started an online platform that pays top dollars for books people don’t want. While it started out with just textbooks, BookTurtle has expanded to include all used books.  The average family could potentially make over $300 using BookTurtle.  It’s as simple as typing in the ISBN number and clicking “Shell Out The Cash.”

Book buying extraordinaire, Jamie, answered some questions:

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

We pay top dollar for books from people who are done with their books – college students at the end of semester, families cleaning out their closets, or people who used to sell books at yard sales.

What are some industry specific challenges you faced?

When people think of books online, most people think of buying books at an online bookstore. We had to build an awareness of the idea of selling your books online. People used to give their books to Goodwill or sell them for $0.10 at a yard sale. So, we have been working hard to change that behavior. The average household could make over $300 with BookTurtle right now. People don’t see the stuff that is cluttering up their lives as a potential way for them to make money.

That’s why the logo and design of the BookTurtle website had to communicate the experience of BookTurtle right away. The designer came up with the idea of a turtle carting his books off, and thinking about all the money he was going to make. That is the entire business in one single image. Communicating that message was the essential first step in helping people understand the value proposition.

What made you use crowdSPRING?

We had built a successful B2B business, scouting and finding individual books for customers. Our website to buy books was a test for a consumer-facing audience. So, we weren’t sure if the project would work. Working with crowdSPRING gave us the ability to get branding ideas and concepts from many designers, with a huge range of backgrounds in creating consumer-facing experiences.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

The biggest learning curve was figuring how to scale up a business as demand takes off. Our customers told their friends, and word started to spread about how you could make quick money. The recession definitely helped BookTurtle, as people looked for ways to economize. So, we had to figure out how to grow an operation quickly, and (most importantly) still pay people quickly.

What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?

One of the most rewarding things we have done is hand-deliver books as birthday presents to customers who have purchased through us. Giving someone a book that they have been looking for just makes everyone’s day brighter.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

If I were to go back, I would try to bring in a partner. Growing a business is a huge task, both mentally and emotionally. Having another co-founder or partner can help share the good times and the bad. Finding someone with complementary skills is a tough task, but I think it would have been worth the effort. As I start new ventures, it has been great to work with other people more closely.

How do you see your company growing in the future?

BookTurtle will look at adding other product lines as it makes sense, like CDs and DVDs. Also, we may offer the ability to shop to purchase books from our site in the future.

What’s your working relationship like now with the crowdSPRING designer’s project you chose?

The designer who won our crowdSPRING project has done several additional projects for us since then. We continue to be in touch as we determine how to incorporate new functionality into the site.

Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.

Always think two steps ahead.

BookTurtle’s call for a logo received 74 entries and was awarded to HoverchairStudios.