John Dean: Founder and CEO of Textbook Valet
What did you want to do as a freshman in college?
Honestly, I have always wanted to start a business. Growing up I would always start small businesses like lemonade stands and lawn mowing companies. At the beach that I would go to, I would sell seashells to the kids who would go to the beach. I didn’t think I would start a business in college, but it just happened.
What made you want to start Textbook Valet?
Well, my junior year in college I was planning on going to law school, and so during that summer I took the LSATs. I was in Dallas with nothing to do. I had a friend who wanted to start a business and did, so I decided to start one too. I looked at options all over Dallas, and realized that there was no one competing with the SMU bookstore. They were ripping kids off and they were not convenient.
I wanted to start a business that sold books at better prices with more convenience.
First the business was just me, and now it’s a lot bigger.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to start Textbook Valet?
Basically, there were a lot of problems that came up and I had to learn things that you do not learn in school like coming up with potential problems and solutions before they happen.
A potential problem I had to overcome was, when the business was up and coming, people would go on the website and tell me what classes they had and they had to send an invoice. I had to go online and find the books and make sure that they were correct before I could give them to the customers, but they had to decide whether or not they wanted to buy the books. What if they bought them but didn’t pay? So like, me not getting payment but them getting their books was an issue. I came up with the solution that they had to decide whether or not they wanted to buy them before they sent me the invoice. That way, I get paid.
How has Textbook valet grown since the founding of it? What are you most proud of about its growth?
Well, now I am able to hire students to work for me. I get to create jobs. I created flexible jobs for students so they can take classes and work for textbook valet. When the company first started it was just me doing everything, the marketing, the delivering, the book pickups, the financing, everything. Also, we are growing to other schools. In fact, were going to TCU in May, which should be pretty cool
Who was your influence when starting Textbook valet?
My dad, he is an entrepreneur himself. He is the person I go to for advice.
What is the best piece of advice he has given you?
When I graduated from SMU I had a job lined up with a consulting company. I was trying to decide whether I was going to work full time for the firm and let Textbook valet die out, or work full time for Textbook Valet and not take the job offer from the firm.
One night we sat down and crunched the numbers trying to decide what the best decision was for me. I asked him what he thought I should do and he told me to go with Textbook Valet.
…That is the best piece of advice I have ever gotten.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Instead of thinking too hard about your potential business idea and writing multiple business plans and come up with every potential problem your business may encounter and every possible solution… instead of anticipating it, I just start it.
I mean, it is not bad to come up with business plans, in fact, you should. But, what I am trying to say is, most people have the ideas in their head but the hardest part of the entire thing is just jumping into it.
My advice is: just do it.
How did you just jump into it?
What really helped me was creating a website. I marketed my website to my fraternity brothers who supported me the entire way through it. I would also sell my textbooks to freshman and they would buy them.
It is not that hard to come up with something basic and just see if there is interest. You can get feedback. It’s inspiring to have people actually find interest in your business and use it.
If I started a business and no one had interest in it then I wouldn’t have stuck with it. Just stick with it. That’s the key.
Written by Mackenzie Ruh, SMU Student