A recent graduate with an overdrawn checking account, Kreece Fuchs was looking for ways to make money. A stack of text books piled in his college apartment he had planned to turn into pocket money instead became the inspiration for a business.
That ‘aha moment’ became Better World Books, which Fuchs describes as a "global bookstore that harnesses the power of capitalism to bring literacy and opportunity to people around the world." The company solicits books through a network of more than 2,300 college campuses and partnerships with over 3,000 libraries nationwide, and sells the books online, with a portion of the profits donated to literacy programs. Since starting the venture in 2001, Better World Books has donated more than 5 million books to partner programs.
We spoke with 32-year-old Fuchs, one of the two co-founders of Better World Books, on how he and partner Xavier Helgesen started a profitable business by doing good.
Where did the idea come from?
The campus bookstore never paid much for used books, and I thought I could sell them on the Internet and get more money. This was before buying and selling stuff on the Internet was mainstream. We had a plan to collect all the unwanted books at Notre Dame and see how many books we could collect.
When did you know the company would be a success?
We later had a book drive at the local community center. A lot of people donated because it was a great cause and they weren't using their books anyhow. We ended up selling over $20,000 worth of books in the course of one month after book drives and dorm collections. So we had a pretty good idea we would make it after that.
Where did your initial funding come from?
We went the friends and family route, and borrowed money from them. We didn't pay ourselves. We had enough money for food and rent. All the startup money went toward physical transport, gas money, visits to schools and shipping costs. We also had to rent warehouse space because we outgrew our small office.
This company relies on donations and handheld books, what will e-books do to your business?
It is definitely a concern. I would be kidding if I said we didn't look at what e-books will do to our model. But it's still a small portion of the market, less than 2 percent of the book market. We think we are at an advantage because used books are cheaper than e-books. There is still a market for people who want to buy and hold a book, and we feel good about our growth potential.
We hope to set up physical collection bins at different points for people to donate books. That is an area of big growth for us and increasing sales online. The more people can learn about what we do, see we are an alternative to Amazon, and that a portion of sales goes to our partners, the better. We plan to expand internationally. We have an operation in Scotland, and a managing director there who is looking into possibilities in growing into the rest of Europe.