I'm happy to announce that Illini Book Exchange has topped $1 million worth of transactions since its inception in December, 2002. IBX is an online service which allows UIUC students can buy and sell used textbooks directly with other students, thus eliminating the bookstore middlemen. Assuming bookstores sell used textbooks at twice the amount they buy them at, then the students would have saved $1 million on textbooks by using IBX.
Some asked if I'm planning to set up a book exchange website at Cornell, where I'm currently attending for graduate school. Sadly, the answer is almost certainly no. I simply don't have the time or will power.
Creating a successful service used by thousands of people requires attention to detail on all fronts. From the technical side, we need to make the IBX website easy to use, efficient, and bug-free. It took a few iterations before the website reached its current state. In the meantime, we had our fair share complainers angry because they lost a book they were tracking, were unable to post a book for sale, or even had trouble logging in.
Since any service is pretty lame without users, we did our fair share of grass-roots advertising. I'm sure many college students are familiar with what I speak of: the chalking, putting up flyers, handing out information on the quad, and placing little quarter cards in recreation areas and cafeterias. We even lobbied to place some information in the orientation packets that all incoming freshmen receive. At the time, there were six of us (which then dropped to five). While the workload was very manageable, it was paramount that we hit all the advertising targets on campus before the end-of-semester book selling frenzy.
Being poor college students, we required funding to pay for our web hosting and printing costs. In the early days, James Kinzer literally had to meet with local businesses to generate interest in advertising on our site. Luckily, Google ads eventually provided us with a stable source of funding. IBX is essentially self-sustaining at this point.
Working on IBX was an enlightening and fun experience, but I'm unlikely to gain nearly as much from repeating this project. One of the greatest perks of academia is the freedom to try completely new ideas without worrying too much about client accountability. So I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing right now (you can check out my latest project here). Besides, a large part of the experience came from working with my friends, many of whom I'd known since high school. It simply wouldn't be the same.