Born and raised in Manhattan, Phillip Kravtsov sold his first company — a door-to-door computer repair service — at the age of 15. While attending Rutgers University in early 2012, Kravtsov encountered a problem that many students face… the exceptionally-high cost of textbooks. In an attempt to eliminate the monopolistic practices that textbook companies impose on college students, Kravtsov co-founded PostYourBook, a social networking platform that enables students to buy and sell textbooks directly to other students.
As of June of 2014, the site is used by over 250,000 students nationwide, and Kravtsov represents the company as their Chief Financial Officer.
For the first thirteen years of my life, I resided in Jackson Heights Queens, a suburb of New York City. I could very well say that my early childhood differed from that of my more well-off peers. My parents immigrated to the United States from post-Soviet Russia and I was born to them when they were no older than 20 and 22. My parents pinched pennies together in order to make our lower class conditions more conducive – my father worked as a gas station attendant and spent his nights at school, all while my mother spent her hours pursuing an undergraduate degree as a double physics major at Queens College. The three of us lived in a subsidized one bedroom apartment. Since I was so young, I would spend a large majority of my days at my great grandparents’ home while my parents were working. Upon my parents’ work concluding at night, I would return home.
My family’s less than favorable living conditions was the impetus in my interest in business. My first venture commenced when I was eleven years old – I managed to sell sneakers from Chinatown to people in Queens. When I was thirteen, my mother graduated from medical school and my father obtained a BS in computer science. After this turning point in both of their careers, they made the joint decision of moving to New Jersey. Due to my parents’ perpetual hard work, they managed to crawl out of our poverty stricken lifestyle. I finally began to start experiencing what life was like as a middle-class teenager residing in the United States.
The age of fifteen marked the time when I sold my first business. Said business was called Computer Parts Maintenance Inc., a door to door run computer business. CPM Inc. only seemed to solidify my unceasing interest in the business field. I have participated in various business ventures since then. (Manufacturing computer parts overseas, built devices that created alternate energy from the footsteps of people walking… there’s a long list).
How did you go about starting CPM Inc. at such a young age?
CPM Inc. started with my friend Maria. We both took AP Computer Science in high school together, and from there we developed a friendship. She was an independent contractor and had her own little computer repair business. She taught me everything I knew. We opened a company, spent months on marketing and had over a thousand clients. After executing business with eleven different partners, we sold to a larger local competitor. This happened to be one of the greatest business deals I ever personally experienced.
How did PostYourBook come about? Was there a particular moment when you realized that textbook prices were a serious issue in desperate need of a solution?
The inception of PostYourBook resulted from my own personal dilemma that I was experiencing with the college textbook system. I had spent a total sum of $1000 on textbooks during my first semester of college. Upon completing my use of the textbooks, I attempted to return them to the bookstore only to find that the bookstore was only going to offer me $400 in return. I searched Amazon.com as well as Chegg to see if I could be offered a bit more, but to no avail. I felt tremendously cheated out of obtaining the amount I felt I was due.
To cope with this situation, I decided to hold on to my textbooks until the next semester. I then stood outside of the classrooms contingent to the textbooks and sold them to the students, rightfully earning myself $930. My aforementioned actions inspired a great business idea, and I fell into contact with my current business partner, Josh Hiekali. He had created a website called bruinslist, a craigslist-like website for the students of UCLA that revolved around the similar concept I envisioned of the textbook market.
Together, we created PostYourBook, which is ultimately a replica of bruinslist, and opened it up to students of SMC. The initial success of PostYourBook led us to redo the entire website and obtain funding. PostYourBook is now used by over 250,000 students in over 150 colleges across the United States.
How did you meet Josh Hiekali?
In high school, my AP computer science class was online. I had a mutual friend of ours who knew of Josh. Upon learning this, I googled Josh’s information and gave him a ring and we immediately set to work.
What challenges did you face when initially creating the company?
The initial challenges of PostYourBook are much like those of any other successful business company. Gaining popularity as well as the challenge of advertising were of foremost concern, however we were ultimately successful.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities with PostYourBook?
My personal responsibilities for PostYourBook revolve around financing related tasks. I overlook the payroll, oversee transactions, manage refunds, take part in VC / angel funding, and most importantly, guarantee exceptional customer service. I do whatever I can to make the buyer happy and the seller happy.
At which colleges is PostYourBook the most successful? Are there any college campuses that have far exceeded your expectations?
PostYourBook is most popular at west coast schools. SMC, UCLA, and USC. The weather there really enables maximize our efforts in advertising. Montclair State University in New Jersey is doing great as well. The success of the company has far exceeded my expectations.
When it comes to marketing your company and acquiring users, what methods have you had the most success with?
PostYourBook’s primary marketing method is on-campus marketing. The website is targeted towards college students, so it is most efficient to gain users by approaching them at their place of residence: college. We set up strategies so that the interns we hire from over 130 different schools can spread the word about our service. Standard tasks of these interns include sending emails, posting flyers on campus, and handing out business cards.
As a Yankees fan, how do you feel about their play thus far this season, and do you feel like they have what it takes to make a playoff run?
As a die-hard Yankees fan, I feel as though their play has been much better than last year. However, injuries have been taking a toll on them this season. If they manage to stay healthy and uninjured, along with Tanaka’s exceptional pitching, I believe they will definitely have a shot at becoming World Series contenders.
If you could snap your fingers and travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
The concrete jungle of New York City was what I rolled out of bed to each day as a child. My constant urban surroundings have made me long to see what tropical places the world has to offer. I would specifically love to venture to Bora Bora, where I could just lounge on the beach and watch the ocean water crash onto the sand. I have been fortunate enough to travel to several beautiful tropical places across the globe, however, Bora Bora has yet to grace my list.
What are your short- and long-term goals with PostYourBook?
PostYourBook’s short term goal of going mobile is ultimately coming into fruition – we are releasing an iPhone and Android application this fall. As for long term goals, we simply hope to perpetuate the popularity of our website and gain more users. This would in turn lead to maintaining our ultimate goal of saving students money by allowing them to buy and sell their textbooks directly to each other.