Student turns used college books into savvy tech startup
Emely Galvez is a young Latina that is taking her parents’ entrepreneurial spirit to the next level.
Unlike many of the young, well-connected tech entrepreneurs portrayed in the media, Galvez, founder of HoustonBookExchange.com, didn’t get funding from a venture capital firm or startup incubator.
Instead, this budding tech mogul took the traditional route most entrepreneurs use to secure financing in the early stages of their work – she turned to her family.
Her father, the owner of a used car dealership, and mother, a realtor, became angel investors in the company. They provided $15,000 to launch the project.
The Young Entrepreneurs Council says that 52 percent of individuals 16 to 39 year old feel they don’t have sufficient resources to start a business. Another 24 percent report not having enough government or financial support.
With the youth unemployment rate twice the national average in many areas, particularly in communities of color and veterans, the choice for young people to open a startup boils down to what lifestyle they choose to lead.
Young entrepreneurs often have a higher tolerance for risk, prefer to be their own boss and have control of their work environment.
During the twilight of her undergraduate career, Galvez noticed that in the age of social media, the way students bartered textbooks on campus was antiquated. Shortly before she graduated with a bachelor’s in accounting from the University of Houston in December 2010, Galvez launched HoustonBookExchange.com, an online portal that connects student buyers with sellers that are looking to unload their old textbooks.
Before Galvez launched her website, students used a hodgepodge of methods to buy and sell books. Her vision was to eliminate the scavenger hunt that cost-conscience students engage in on Facebook, Craigslist and campus bulletin boards each semester in order to find a good deal on used textbooks.
Galvez invested most of her capital on a professional website that would lure tech-savy college students and corporate advertisers.
To ensure a return-on-investment, HoustonBookExchange.com is subscription based which cost users $1.99 for 30 days of access or $9.99 for a full year of access.
Offering a service that was free or subscription based was one of the decisions Galvez initially struggled with. Ultimately, she needed to charge a fee in order to support the technology behind the website.
To attract subscribers, Galvez bought a billboard next to a busy highway in Houston and often hires people to distribute promotional materials at area colleges.
Her business model is not without its critics.
“Subscription is a bad idea. This won’t work unless it is free to use,” said Timothy Van Ludwig, who responded to a story in the University of Houston’s campus newspaper about Galvez and her company.
Houstonbookexchange.com’s business is cyclical, with the majority of business coming during the beginning and end of each college semester. Because of that, some students have questioned the need to pay for a full year subscription.
“Personally, I wouldn’t pay for a full year because I only buy and sell books four times a year,”said Jose Martinez, a Houston Community College student.
A 2009 study by the University of Houston and MassMutual revealed that Hispanic entrepreneurs often do not have the tools and guidance necessary to improve their fiscal health.
The study, which surveyed 183 Hispanic businesses, found owners were not confident in their ability to make financial decisions and Spanish speakers were at a significant disadvantage at utilizing financial resources.
“The call to help Hispanics increase their fiscal fitness falls on the collective shoulders of the business community, academia and Hispanic community leaders,” said Dr. Laura G. Murillo, president for the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “We cannot afford to allow future generations to be in jeopardy.”
According to Ana Harvey, a Latina former business owner who leads the Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Ownership group, Latinas can expect to face the same challenges of other young entrepreneurs – lack of access to capital and resources, lack of knowledge about business basics and lack of proper financial education. Latinas also have to deal with added cultural differences that can have an unforeseen impact.
“Eventually, I want to attract enough advertisers and sponsors for the website so that I can offer the service to students for free,” said Galvez.