Ryan’s notes

Skoole: a better way to buy & sell textbooks

This was a project that I pursued with two classmates while I was at Georgia Tech. Students were forced to overpay for textbooks and it seemed like there was a better way. We designed one as part of a on-campus hackathon sponsored by Facebook. We won. We were flown out to the Bay Area to compete against the other winning teams from schools across the country.

While we didn't win the national hackathon, I took the opportunity to ride Caltrain to San Francisco and interview with Instagram. Instead of leading me through their normal interview process (which I probably would have failed), they asked me show the code I wrote to build Skoole. I did, they sent me an offer, and I made my way to San Francisco a few weeks later. I feel incredibly grateful for the lucky break, although it also seems to be a reasonable case of making your own luck.

The code for Skoole is horrible. But every codebase has a story and this one has a very clear story over the course of 24 sleep-deprived hours: it's pure creation and problem-solving, employing whatever we could muster at the age of 20 to solve a need that was all around us.

The pitch

Today we'd like to talk about a problem facing most of us in this room... buying and selling textbooks sucks.

  • You can buy and sell textbooks from the bookstore, but you know you're getting ripped off.

  • You can rent textbooks from Chegg, but you're still get ripped off, just a little bit less.

  • You can buy and sell from Amazon or Half.com, but these merchants take a big cut. Plus, you need to buy padded envelopes and print shipping labels to sell books. And you might wait over a week to receive the books you buy.

On Tuesday I witnessed a woman (her name was Laura) ship a textbook from the Georgia Tech Post Office... to the Georgia Tech Post Office! Another Tech student had bought this textbook through Amazon. Amazon took $20 from the transaction and it cost Laura $10 to ship the book. Plus, the cashier told Laura the book traveled to the Atlanta distribution facility 5 miles away before it could be delivered at the Georgia Tech Package Center just 10 feet from where Laura was standing.

This kind of thing is ridiculous, but it happens all the time!

When I sell a textbook, I know there's a buyer on campus. I just don't know who they are. That's why we built Skoole.

And we'd like to demo it to you now...

The demo


To start, I go to skoole.com. I enter my .edu email address and my phone number.

Then, I simply list the books I need to buy and the ones I have to sell — I'll just list one book to buy right now: Organic Chemistry.

I specify the minimum condition I'd like the book to be in, and a maximum price I'm willing to pay for it. And BOOM, I'm done. Really, that's it. Because Skoole will look for a match and notify me when it find one.

Ah - I've got a text! — "Would you like to buy Organic Chemistry in new condition from Doug for $50?" That sounds like a good deal, so I'll say "yeah, sure."


Well look at that! I just received a text: "Would you like to sell Organic Chemistry to Ryan for $50?" That's the price I specified when I listed the book, so I'll go ahead and say "yep."


Now that Skoole has confirmed the match, this number becomes my personal hotline to talk to Doug.

Great, I'll ask if he can meet me at the student center this afternoon: "Student center, 3pm?"


I'm free then, so I'll say, "Sure thing. Cash?"


And we can continue the conversation to arrange our meeting. No padded envelopes, no shipping labels, no waiting around, no greedy middleman. Just classmates.

We think Skoole is really great and we hope you do too.


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