Alumni create app for textbook sharing

With a new app called Borrow’d, USF alumni Daniel Mall and Rhondel Whyte are seeking to lighten the financial burden of college for students who need to buy, sell, rent and lend their textbooks.

“The way the app works is really simple,” Mall said. “It allows students to be able to borrow books from other students, essentially skipping the bookstore and not having to waste money selling back to the bookstore and getting pennies on the dollar.”

Mall and Whyte agreed the experience of selling their textbooks as freshmen was inefficient and unpleasant. After just one year, Mall began to think about textbooks and their costs.

“I started borrowing books very frequently from friends,” Mall said. “I tried to figure out how we can make this more accessible to other students. What if you’re not limited to the circle of friends that you have? In borrowing books, you’re kinda limited to the people that you know. What if you can borrow a book from someone across campus that you don’t know?”

Whyte is a newly graduated alumnus with an electrical engineering degree and was last year’s student body vice president, and Mall graduated last year with a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary social sciences. Both men are from Trinidad and Tobago, but while Whyte came to USF in 2010, Mall’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was about six years old.

Originally, Mall created a Facebook page called Bullbooks, which grew to have a membership of over 2,000 people. Bullbooks was the prototype that evolved into Borrow’d. 

The process begins by signing into the Borrow’d app using profile data from a Facebook account and then scanning the book’s barcode. From scanning the barcode, a textbook database within the app will upload the text information. 

After the information on the book is uploaded, the seller/lender will need to post pictures of the book itself. The daily, weekly and monthly prices to borrow or the buyout price to purchase the book will also need to be made

Once those search parameters are set, the transaction is finalized with a meeting between the borrower and lender where the books will exchange hands. There is no need to bring cash, as the monetary transactions happen online and the funds aren’t accessible until both parties indicate the exchange was made.

“We’ve created a number of
levels of security for the app,” Mall said. “For one, if you decide not to return the book, not only will you be blocked from using the app, but you will be charged the value of the book after seven days of not
returning it.”

Though the textbook market is competitive with bookstores around a college campus, Whyte said Borrow’d is prepared.

“The beautiful thing about the app is that, once a person buys a book, that book is their property,” Whyte said. “Therefore, the bookstores or any of these other avenues have no proprietary claims to that book. That’s the person’s book so if that person decides to trade a book, or rent a book, or do whatever they please with the book as they will through our app, there are no avenues from which they can attack us.”

Mall and Whyte said, in terms of price and the ability to resell a book, the textbook industry is unequal. Generally, Whyte said, a book that costs $120 can be rented in perpetuity.

“They’ll rent you that book for $80, they’ll get the book back from you,” Whyte said. “You’ve gained nothing because you don’t have the book, then they rent it out a second semester for $80 — they’ve already surpassed the cost of the book they’ve already purchased.” 

Although Borrow’d receives a 10 percent commission from each completed transaction between any two of its current 500 users, the traffic for the app is at the mercy of when textbooks are in demand: the beginning or end of each semester. 

“At this point, we have students posting their books on the app,” Whyte said. “But because it was released during finals week, students have been focused on posting books rather than borrowing them.”

The startup costs for Borrow’d were roughly  $50,000, more than double their initial budget of $20,000. Initially, Mall said he and Whyte contacted about 700 potential investors to make up for their lack of funding. 

“I got 100 (responses),” Mall said. “Of those, only 10 wanted to know more. Out of those 10, only three contacted us. Out of those three, only one saw the vision.”

Their solitary investor left the project weeks before launch, leaving Mall and Whyte to rely on internal investors. 

Borrow’d has been live for two weeks, which makes producing hard facts and figures over revenue and app traffic difficult. According to Mall and Whyte, they are in a pre-revenue stage.

According to 2014 study from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, the price of college textbooks over the course of the last decade has increased 82 percent. In the same study, it was found that 65 percent of students have decided to not buy a book at some point in their university career. 

Joseph Lamura is an Army veteran who attends USF with the help of the GI Bill. Instead of taking a risk without the book, he buys them to be safe. 

“Going to the bookstore is always convenient because you’re gonna get your book that day,” Lamura said. “But online, I mean what, two days to wait and pay half the price, so yeah, more reliable in that sense — for price.” 

Vanesa VanZile, a music major in the class of 2015, said she feels textbooks are expensive and has risked going without a textbook due to the associated costs.

“This semester I took a class without having a textbook and I actually did pretty well in it,” VanZile said. “But I’ve also had that, where it goes really bad and I end up just taking a copy from someone else or taking a picture of someone else’s book. Which I kinda feel like, I don’t know, a bad person for doing that … but I’m also a poor college kid that has to pay for a lot of things.”

Oracle Photo/Christopher Collier