In the summer of 2014, Baesler reconnected with Offenbacher, a childhood friend, and the business was revolutionized.
The two had grown up together in Pleasant Hill. In 2008, Offenbacher left to attend Olin College near Boston to study engineering with a concentration in software. After graduating, he was swiftly hired by Microsoft.
In 2014, he began working with Baesler on weekends and evenings, but, impressed with the potential of the new venture, he left Microsoft that summer to join The Book Rocket full-time as chief technology officer.
“I always planned to be involved in a startup of some kind,” Offenbacher said. “And the opportunity to work with Shey has been fantastic.”
Offenbacher built a new website for the company and the pair have upgraded their Facebook page, mixing graphics, humor and college news with links to articles such as “18 sweet deals you can get with your student ID.”
He also developed algorithms to automatically track and set competitive prices for textbooks.
“Now we take orders from all over the country,” Offenbacher said. “Basically we’re doing everything Shey was doing before, but we’ve been able to scale it up a hundred times.”
“The pricing algorithm is probably the most important part of the business,” Baesler said. Book prices change from week to week, especially at the start and end of terms, when Book Rocket does most of its business.
“There are millions of titles out there,” Baesler said. “It’s a pretty advanced system to bring up prices for that many books.”
The Book Rocket website currently has 1.4 million textbooks listed, but they’re adding new titles as quickly as possible. “We’ve built a network of relationships with wholesalers that lets us outperform other companies out there,” Baesler said.
The company has eliminated the in-person exchanges Baesler relied on in the beginning, but gives customers free shipping through a partnership with the U.S. Postal Service.
“We have it set up so any customer will get a free shipping label for their book,” he said. “The system knows how much specific books weigh so it’s added into the price when they print out their label.” Book Rocket factors in this price when it calculates prices on books it sells.
“Eventually we want to get into the renting market,” Baesler said. “We want to encourage students to buy used textbooks because they are much cheaper, but many people prefer saving money up front. The renting market is getting pretty big.”
Selling books wholesale is another big source of revenue.
“We’re able to pick up books from our website and send them off as a wholesale order,” Offenbacher said. “We’ve been working to translate these books into the best possible sale, whether it’s to a wholesaler or a student.”
During the transition to online business, The Book Rocket is only buying used textbooks, but they’re negotiating with other companies to get enough storage space for the inventory they’re building in order to start selling again.
“We’re hoping to offer books again in a few months,” Baesler said. “It was a tough decision, going completely online, because we realized we might lose some customers (during the transition), but now we’re more efficient and more convenient for students.”