Similar to many college students, Glen Nothnagel was frustrated that his college bookstore wouldn’t buy back his books at the end of the term. Unlike most 20-year-olds, Nothnagel founded a business to combat this problem. The success of his Montgomery-based business, sellbackyourBook.com earned him a trip to the White House this week to be recognized among other young entrepreneurs.
Since its founding in 2008, sellbackyourBook.com “has purchased more than 1 million items and paid out more than $8 million to over 200,000 customers.”
Nothnagel’s business is simple:
Customers enter the ISBN number of their book, which is printed above the barcode. The website tells the customer how much money is paid for that book. The customer prints off a shipping label and sends it to sellbackyourBook.com. When the book arrives at the warehouse, the customer is paid, Nothnagel explained.
Nothnagel’s business idea began his sophomore year when he realized the bookstore at the community college he attended wasn’t buying back many books. He wondered whether the books had any value and he found the same books selling online for $30-$50, he said.
It didn’t take long for Nothnagel to take action. He quickly built a website and rented a warehouse to store his stock of books.
“The first two years were incredibly challenging. I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t have much money,” Nothnagel recalled.
Nothnagel said starting a business while young was a huge benefit.
“I was willing to work all the time. I was young and had few bills, so there was no big requirement to make money and I could live cheaply. If you don’t need money, it’s easier to start a business,” he said.
One lesson Nothnagel said he’s learned is “to move fast if an opportunity presents itself.” He said he took too long to begin selling CDs and DVDs.
In 2009, he launched sellDVDSonline.com for consumers to sell CDs, DVDs and video games.
Nothnagel’s business has quickly grown to include 17 employees. He said managing his employees is his biggest challenge.
“I have no background in managing or hiring people. I’ve never had a real job interview. I went online to find tips on how to interview,” he laughed.
Before starting sellbackyourBook.com, Nothnagel was pursuing a general associate’s degree. He said his only previous job was selling purses at T.J. Maxx.
At the White House, Nothnagel is being recognized among the “Top 100 Companies Started by Young Entrepreneurs.”
In 2011, Bloomberg BusinessWeek included Nothnagel as one of the “Top 25 entrepreneurs under the age of 25.”
Nothnagel explained that his company keeps track of 3.7 million books online, tracking the trends for these books. He said they keep 100,000 books in stock.
Nothnagel hopes to offer higher end Apple products such as the iPhone by the end of 2012.
To prospective entrepreneurs, Nothnagel advises:
“You have to be willing to work extremely hard and don’t be afraid to lose money or of making mistakes. Don’t worry about paying yourself in the beginning either, that’s just not realistic,” he said.
Nothnagel described running his own business:
“It’s really exciting and extremely nerve-wracking. There were a few times it didn’t look good but you just have to get creative and find new ways to keep moving forward.”
Nothnagel is “super-excited” for his trip to D.C. He said the event, hosted by Empact, includes a White House tour and a recognition event with a White House representative. Nothnagel said there are quite a few impressive people attending and he’s excited to network and learn of technology that is helping others drive their businesses.
Nothnagel said his business landed in Montgomery because of cheap warehouse space.
“It’s a great place to have a business. There’s a lot of commercial real estate and a good workforce to pull from. I’ve been extremely happy with the employees I’ve hired from the area,” he said.
“I’m extremely grateful that the country we live in allows this to happen. It’s pretty awesome. Because of the internet, you can start a business with very little and with the economy it’s a great time to start a business,” Nothnagel said.