eTextbook rental marketplace Packback received more than just a bump in popularity in the weeks after being featured on entrepreneurship reality show “Shark Tank" in March. It was more like a post-Shark Tank avalanche.
The Packback team members had to pull 15-hour workdays for weeks after the episode aired just to read resumes. That’s what happens when 8.1 million viewers watch you pitch to serial entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban - they want in on the action.
“Shark Tank helped more with hiring than it did anything else - even more than bringing on users,” co-founder Kasey Gandham said.
The resumes were mainly for Packback’s brand ambassador positions for college students, a cornerstone of Packback’s model. Gandham said his team regularly meets with all their brand ambassadors via Google Hangouts as they spread the word of Packback's on-demand digital textbook rentals on their campuses. The inspiration for this model was Obama for America CTO Harper Reed’s strategy of “using tech to enable your biggest advocates," Gandham said.
But Packback’s brand ambassadors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to advocates. Packback’s roster of mentors and investors is off-the-charts: Mark Cuban, Howard Tullman (of 1871), Mark Achler (formerly of Redbox) and Rishi Shah (of ContextMedia) are just a few names on the list.
Because these mentors are so hands-on, Gandham said his team “had the good fortune of never having to make a critical mistake.”
But isn’t the Packback team missing the important "fail fast and fail often" part of their entreprenuerial journey? Not exactly, Gandham said. Rather, the Packback team has been able to hit amazing growth marks because they haven’t had to backtrack to fix avoidable mistakes. Thanks to mentors’ guidance, Packback just added their 10,000th user last week (roughly two months after their public launch).
“Not only is the speed of learning vastly accelerated, but they're also actively involved in providing great guidance on major projects we have going on,” Gandham said. “If entrepreneurs can learn from the mistakes of successful people or businesses, you save yourself an immense amount of time in learning.”
Now Packback is adding several hundred users a day, the company is on the cusp of another tidal wave of growth. They are looking to raise a Series A round later this year to expand their digital inventory (which is already at 2,500 titles) and deepen their publisher relations to become a household name, essentially the “Kayak.com for books.”
“Packback offers the textbook publishers new avenues of revenue generation to the majority of students who do not currently buy new textbooks - while at the same time offering students a game-changing new business model of $5 per day digital rental," Achler said. "This is truly revolutionary and reminds me of exactly the same role that Redbox played in making movies more affordable, accessible and convenient to the majority of the American movie watching/loving public.”
With the disruption that Kasey Gandham, co-founder Mike Shannon and founding designer Jessica Gandham (who together launched Packback while at Illinois State University in 2011) are bringing to the $8 billion textbook industry, Packback really has nowhere to go but up - especially with the support of its mentors.
“I see hundreds of businesses and thousands of good ideas, but one thing has never changed: the horse may be great, but you bet on the jockey or jockeys in this case,” Tullman said. “Both Mark Cuban and I agreed that Mike and Kasey have the drive, persistence and passion to make Packback the primary change engine in the textbook industry and that's why we made early commitments of both our cash, but - much more importantly - our time to see their dream become a reality.”