Over the summer, a group of Gilman’s seniors launched a game-changing entrepreneurship initiative initially based on a deceptively simple idea: book selling. For the first time in six years, Gilman families had not one, but two one-stop-shops for their son’s textbooks––MBS Direct, the mainstay third-party, and XBooks, a new competitor launched by Gilman students. The night and day difference between MBS Direct, an overextended national corporation, and XBooks, a thoughtful Gilman-based startup, led many families to choose the new student service over the longtime kingpin MBS. But what made so many families, even some who have used MBS for about a decade across multiple headmasters and even multiple children across the tri-school, make the switch to an up-and-coming student service? The answer is in the details.
Chief Marketing Officer of XBooks, Quinn Bellone (’20) said, “What has attracted a lot of people to XBooks is the high level of attention to detail. A high percentage of the books purchased on our site are brand new, and at a fraction of the price of the competitor. Also, with everything from handwritten notes and Gilman-centric websites and packaging to personal delivery and instant customer service, XBooks has created a premium service without exorbitant prices.” And Quinn’s claims of exceptional results are grounded in the truth. According to company press, nearly 85% of the books sold at XBooks are brand new, compared to a meager 48% at MBS. Parents and student support has been overwhelming for the XBooks team, with some taking to social media using the hashtag #RideToDay0––which reflects the company’s difficult task of fulfilling hundreds of books in less than a month’s time.
One would think that this high number of new books sold would contribute to higher prices for families. However, this is where XBooks becomes the truly unique player in the textbook purchasing arena––and where they progress from a simple book-selling business to a highly valuable startup company. Senior Ibbe Ashruf said, “By using my proprietary algorithm, in combination with backend website design and state-of-the-art online platforms, XBooks is able to leverage inventory, and in some cases even inventory that it may not have physically, to dramatically lower the cost of textbooks for families.” Though the details of the algorithm are confidential to prevent copycats, Ibbe Ashruf explained, “I can tell you that the technology behind XBooks is the real game-changer. It has limitless applications, and part of the motivation behind XBooks has been to test the algorithm to see if it would work in the real world as we planned it to. With further modification and tailoring, it can help millions of business people all around the world.”
You might be wondering if XBooks is worth all the trouble. With hundreds of hours dedicated by the senior leadership team, and frequent roadblocks like those of any start-up, XBooks has not been an easy thing to launch. This is where the numbers become even more important and “endlessly motivating” as Tyler Martire (’20), a student on the XBooks Executive Board, says. Families who used XBooks this year saved anywhere from 20% to nearly 80%, when compared to MBS Direct. But XBooks isn’t just competitive with MBS, some of their prices even beat Amazon and its affiliate marketplace by about 100 dollars. With immense savings for families, the XBooks executive board continued to fulfill orders over the summer and plans to donate all of the proceeds directly to Gilman student life through investments in school spirit and other student-run initiatives as well as the larger Baltimore community through organizations such as Living Classrooms. The XBooks Executive Board expresses great gratitude for the support of the community, and especially to those who donated to or purchased books from their company. Ibbe Ashruf, one of the seniors on the Executive Board, reflects, “I’m thankful to lead a team that truly cares about making a difference, and I hope that this student initiative is the first of many to pair creativeness and hard work with benefits and value to all.”