Today’s guest is Kris Lange. Kris is the founder and CEO of BookFool.com.
Today Kris is going to talk about his business as well as what he has learned along his entrepreneurial journey including his sales strategy, his leadership style and his approach to innovation and idea testing.
William: Welcome to ten in ten on The Startup Slingshot. Today’s guess is Kris Lange. Kris is the founder and CEO of BookFool and today he’s going to talk with us about his business as well as what he has learned along his entrepreneurial journey including his sales strategy, his leadership style and his approach to innovation and idea testing. Enjoy!
All right Kris thanks for joining us today.
Kris: Thanks, thanks William.
William: You know the format; we are going to ask you ten questions in ten minutes, are you ready?
William: All right! You are not as excited as I am but we are ready to go. What does your entrepreneurial journey look like so far?
Kris: So far, in my 30 years on earth, I think I was born an entrepreneur. I always knew I wanted to start a business. I didn’t know the word entrepreneur existed until maybe college but I went into accounting knowing that that was a good route to find myself eventually owning a company, running a company or something and with my current company BookFool, I always say that I founded the company three times and I am on my third founding of the company. It’s the only company that I ever started so…three times.
William: Tell us a little bit about BookFool. What is BookFool?
Kris: BookFool and this third starting of the company is a platform whereby anybody and everybody who wants to participate in the textbook industry can. They can buy books through our platform and make money whether you are an individual, coffee house, used book store or anybody really. We saw that the marketplace had a very high bar for participation. You basically had to open a bookstore to participate so we wanted to lower that bar. Up until now it was just us using our own platform but we realized let’s really allow anybody to participate and so now I don’t think there is any bar at all. We don’t charge for the use of the platform or technology. We really wanted to be as easy and cheap as possible for anybody to compete with the status quo really.
William: Gotcha. Are you more of a, more of like a, you’re the book seller but then you are basically taking; you’re distributing the books that you purchased to other people so they can sell them?
Kris: The selling side of the equation has stayed the same since the very founding of the company in 2003, it is purely online so through our website, through other distribution channels such as Amazon, Half.com, eBay. A few other bookstores do buy our books but they have to kind of use the same channels as well to do that. It’s really the acquisition side of the industry, of our company that we’re innovating and not really anybody else is innovating on that side of the used book market. Everybody thinks about “how do I sell my books better?” but we’re really saying “how do we acquire our books better?” That’s our innovation and we’re very excited about our platform.
William: Nice. Tell us, you talked a little bit about it but tell us a little bit more about where the original idea came from and then obviously the most recent iteration.
Kris: Sure. 2003 I was a junior in accounting at University of Mississippi. I saw a library book sale happening and I bought a lot of books thinking I was going to get into the rare antiquarian book market. Well I still really enjoy books but at the same time I was trying to sell my books to an off campus bookstore and I saw this book being sold and about 6 girls in front of me, I didn’t have this book, my wife did and this is my wife’s copy still, they were selling that book for $5 apiece to the off campus book store. I called my wife and said “hey, I know you have a copy of that book, how about you sell it?” She said “no, I’m not going to sell it. I’m going to use it for my master’s program” I said “well we need the money, but okay.”
I went on with my life. I don’t know if I sold my books or not but that stayed in my mind and that was the same time I was buying rare antiquarian books. I ran across that same book about a month or two later. I bought it at a library figured “well if somebody was paying $5 just a month or two ago, it’s still worth something” and I sold that book on eBay for around $33-$34.
The idea was just evident that can beat out the campus or off-campus bookstore, my competitors by paying $15 for that book and still doubling my money. The internet was a legitimate sales channel at that time and even more so now but the status quo of the industry has not changed to innovate about their sales and its online format I guess or online channel. That’s the whole beginning.
William: That makes a lot sense. You had a personal need, you saw that real world experience and that’s kind of talk a little bit about the next question is how you test the idea or how did you test the idea but you kind of talked about that a little bit saying you bought the book for 5 and you were able to sell it for more online and make double your money.
William: what have you learned so far in this entrepreneurial venture that going forward you would use in maybe starting a new venture?
Kris: Everything. Wow, I could write a book I think.
William: give me two things.
Kris: Staying lean…don’t…don’t…it seems like common sense but I really think that if BookFool had had millions of dollars in the bank to just blow and go, we wouldn’t have innovated as well as we did so by staying lean, not getting that huge bucket of money has given us the path that we’re on and that our competitors they couldn’t even think up the ideas that we have.
I guess that kind of leads into my kind of second one which is keep innovating. Don’t get stale. Always test, retest; it’s funny when you said how did we test the idea, I’m thinking we’re still testing the idea today, I’m thinking about it. We will never stop thinking. We will never stop innovating and we’ll never stop listening to what our customers have to say, hopefully not. Maybe if we have had that bucket of money then I wouldn’t be listening, I would have been talking more which I don’t need to be doing.
William: makes a lot of sense. It’s kind of like force you to be more creative like you’re saying and be more innovative as supposed to just taking a path with your bucket of money and running with it.
Kris: That’s right.
William: It’s kind of seems like a blessing in disguise. Most people would be like “well you know what the money” but you’re saying, you know it is kind of a blessing in disguise that forced your hand and it forced you and it allowed you to do the things that have ultimately made you more successful.
Kris: Absolutely, absolutely.
William: We talked about this being your only entrepreneurial venture so far, not that it’s a bad thing but we always talk about in this ten in ten series about defining your leadership style. It seems like most people, most entrepreneurs have no idea where to begin if they’re managing other people. What’s your thought process? What are you thinking about when you think about leadership style for yourself?
Kris: I’m not a type-A personality so I’m not a command and control, most CEO’s that I meet are and it probably benefits them in the management, in the management sense of the business. My management style is not that style. My leadership style is probably what it need to be which is delegating without applicating, which is leading by example, getting in the trenches with everybody, testing ideas, showing my people that listening and testing is the way that we are going to succeed and I guess that covers it.
My philosophy is pretty simple I guess. I don’t abide by any one book, management book, leadership book that I see others do. I kind of customized my own solution I guess for leadership.
William: That makes a lot sense, customize to who you are and how you want the organization to shape.
Kris: That’s right.
William Gotcha. That makes a lot of sense. What about sales strategy? Again it’s one of those topics that when our viewers are looking to start a business they are like “well I don’t know how I would manage people” so we kind of covered that a little bit and then they’d also say “I don’t even know how I’d approach selling this” or don’t have the courage to do it. What is your approach or strategy or thought process?
Kris: Good question. When I talk about selling BookFool, selling what we do I’m not really talking about selling books because as I said that happens online and textbooks sell themselves so when I think of selling I think of inviting affiliates, these companies, these individuals to use our software and because we just innovated into this idea about three months ago, this is exactly the topic of conversation right now around this office on these white boards everywhere.
One book that helped our thinking is Flip the Funnel and it’s all about loving your customers basically. If you think of Zappos they’re a good example of this kind of idea and listening to them. It kind of sounds odd that that’s a sales strategy because you are not really going out there and trying to drum up business, you’re kind of just, you’re not contented by the amount of business that you have but you know that by focusing on who you have now you will easily grow because everyone’s going to hear about you through your current customers.
Of course we do have some marketing happening out nationwide now. We started a group of individual sales people called our ambassadors and we are even testing about how do we invite people to use our platform?
William: We see a theme there of testing and trying to figure out not saying that’s not necessarily just sticking the course off your initial gut decision but kind of testing in going along the way and you talked about Flip the Funnel which should be a good book for our viewers to check out.
What about a bit of encouragement? It seems like every entrepreneur goes through some hardships they go through, “oh this is terrible, I want to quit” or “I don’t know if I can stand this” any advice out there to kind of young or first time entrepreneurs that are in the trenches maybe going through this period.
Kris: I didn’t know this was going to be my theme about testing and such but kind of stay in the trenches, aim to always innovate, don’t…of course we all want to make money, of course we all want to retire at 35 with millions in the bank and such but just know that once you achieve that, you’re going to go stale and you’re going to get content and you better hand out leadership of your company to somebody else because you’re out, you’ve checked out.
Learn how to just stay in the trenches always. It takes work; there is no magic bullet to exactly how to achieve an amazing business. There’s no get rich quick schemes in this world. Well there are the schemes but there are no tried and true ways.
William: That makes a lot of sense. It seems like staying in the trenches means just realizing it’s not going to be easy and realising that you are going to get through it and then having the will power and just knowing that it’s going to be tough or it’s going to get tougher, maybe it will get tougher will help empower you to say “hey this isn’t the first time I’m going to run into trouble and this isn’t the last time, I can do this” it’s kind of what you say.
Kris: Exactly and it tests your mental. You’ll come out the other side and something would have stressed you out, kept you up at night at the beginning, soon in a year it’s going to be easy. That’s specific matter and it’s going to be some new challenge that’s actually challenging you and once you get over that barrier that will never be a challenge again for you next time you face it whether that is speaking in public or talking to potential lenders and investors and such. Just do it and know you only live once.
William: That makes a lot of sense. What about who inspires you? Is there anyone out there that really inspires you?
Kris: I can’t think of any one individual that inspires me. I always like people who are doing their own thing, kind of humbling themselves to achieve something great. Not really looking for the fame or the money but it’s kind of their thing, their focus or their goal. Charles Lindbergh always comes to mind with that I mean he had this one goal, I’m going to fly across the Atlantic and on such a small budget he innovated and he made it happen, it’s just amazing. Stories like that inspire me.
William: Gotcha. The last question is, do you have any additional resources, books, blogs, podcast that you recommend our viewers look towards for more information?
Kris: William I am a book seller so I have entirely way too many books to recommend so I’ll keep it short. Seth Godin, I have actually never read, I have read a few of his books but mainly his blog. Umair Haque, that’s H-A-Q-U-E, he’s an economist, talks a lot about 21st century capitalism and economics. I think that’s very inspiring for a new entrepreneur because to think about our world’s changing, the industrial revolution might very well just be ending and so we are at the beginning of something new right now. I already mentioned Flip the Funnel, I’d recommend that.
William: Great. How can people get a hold of you? How can they connect with you?
Kris: BookFool.com or Kris, Kris@bookfool.com.
William: Alright this has been great and to our viewers out there you can find this and other business educational series on thestartupslingshot.com. Kris thanks for joining us today.
Kris: Thank you.
Kris founded BookFool.com in his Junior year at the University of Mississippi while pursuing his eventual Masters of Accountancy & CPA license. BookFool.com buys used college textbooks from student at 30+ locations in the mid-South (United States) — competing with and conquering many established national companies. BookFool.com’s success can be attributed to Kris’ innovations, leadership and raising student awareness for alternatives to their campus bookstore. When he’s not founding companies, demolishing paradigms, hiking, or riding his bicycle, Kris can be found making ridiculous faces to entertain his literarily-named children.