Monday, March 17, 2014

Chicago startup PackBack jumps into 'Shark Tank

Chicago startup PackBack jumps into 'Shark Tank'

 - Mike Shannon
Mike Shannon
A couple of Chicago tech entrepreneurs will be swimming in ABC's "Shark Tank" on March 21.
Mike Shannon and Kasey Gandham pitched their digital-textbook rental service, PackBack, to the panel of entrepreneurs on the reality TV show. You'll have to watch the show to find out how they did.
“When you watch these shows, you always wonder how is much real,” Mr. Shannon told me. “But it's a real-life negotiation. It's basically a rapid-fire investment meeting. We've had a lot of meetings with angel investors, such as Howard Tullman, who is an investor. We've gone through grilling before. But this was five personalities, not in any order, asking questions. You come out of it feeling like any meeting after Shark Tank will be a little easier.”
Mr. Shannon said he and Mr. Gandham applied to be on the show last summer and went to Los Angeles in September to record the episode.
“When you're a startup, you're looking for every way to gain exposure,” Mr. Shannon said. “Without a multimillion-dollar marketing budget, you have to be creative. We were looking for investment and the exposure.”
 - Kasey Gandham
Kasey Gandham
PackBack, which has four employees and is based at the Catapult incubator in River North, has raised more than $300,000 in seed funding. It launched last year as a way for college students to rent digital versions of textbooks for $3 to $5 a day.
Their pitch to textbook publishers is simple: PackBack can help them grab a slice of the market that otherwise won't spend any money with them.
They started with a pilot program last fall at their alma mater, Illinois State University, working with McGraw-Hill Education. Based on a test with just 21 courses, Mr. Shannon says PackBack helped increase revenue for publishers 58 percent. (Most publishers offer digital rentals for 90, 180 or 365 days, but not shorter periods.)
PackBack has about 2,000 textbook titles and is being used on 46 campuses, including DePaul and Northwestern universities and the University of Chicago. It also has pilots with four publishers, and recently signed a partnership with the University of Chicago Press.
The company also offers two free comparison-shopping services to students. One shows where to find titles that PackBack doesn't offer; and another shows what prices other online retailers are paying for used books. It's a way for PackBack to start attracting users on other campuses, which will make it easier for the company to expand.
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.

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