Blog | Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship [Case Study]

Discover how two college graduates turned gently used books piled in their apartment into a triple bottom line business success

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When you think about big business, you probably think about massive skyscrapers with thousands of people slaving away for the ultra-rich living it up at the top, right?

It’s rare that you’ll find a business that started out as a way to fill a need and also make a profit.

Enter Book Drives for Better Lives

In the blustery spring of 2001, in the heart of the Midwest, two graduates from the University of Notre Dame had a problem. As Christopher Fuchs (also known as “Kreece” by his friends) and F. Xavier Helgesen were preparing for graduation, they (and their third roommate) looked around their apartment and noticed the piles of old, and now useless textbooks collecting dust in various corners throughout their apartment. Though the books were still valuable (paying top dollar in the first place), they were sure they could sell them back to the campus bookstore.

However, getting back anything close to what they paid was slim. But with the up-and-coming Internet marketplace, Kreece knew there were untapped possibilities. Using, Kreece, Xavier and their roommate were able to collect a few hundred dollars each for the sale of their books.

If they were selling their books online, couldn’t they collect other books en masse from around campus and sell them too? Couldn’t that become a business?

It’s Not What — But Who — You Know

They contacted a friend who worked at the Robinson Community Learning Center who mentioned they were looking to raise funds for an after-school reading program.

Kreece explains, “We came up with the idea that if students would part with them and drop them off and work with us, we could ensure that something good was being done with them.”

Kreece and Xavier ran the idea past the center’s director, Jay. Both Kreece and Xavier would handle the collection, storage and sales of the books. Any proceeds would be split between the two of them and the center.

They started collecting books in the winter of 2001 using boxes collected from a local recycling center and advertising their service using posters plastered strategically around campus. Within six months, they accumulated about 2,500 books.

They continued collecting books through the following summer of 2002. Using the growing power of, they were able to get about 2,100-odd books listed. “That summer was a blur of shipping books,” recalls Kreece.

By the end of the summer, Kreece and Xavier had sold more than $20,000 worth of books and presented a check to the Robinson Center for $10,000.

From Side Hustle to Full-time Business

What started out as a “what if?” quickly turned into a legitimate business idea.

With help from their friend and classmate, Jeff Kurtzman, Kreece and Xavier drafted a business plan and submitted the plan to a competition at Notre Dame. They took first prize for “Best Social Venture” which earned them $7,000 in seed money to make their new venture, Book Drives for Better Lives, a reality.

Kreece and Xavier were able to stretch the initial $7,000 over the course of the first few years.

The competition also introduced them to David Murphy, who became a trusted guide and mentor. They valued his input so much, they asked him to join the organization as CEO, which he did in 2004.

David’s addition brought with it expansion to campuses across the country. This included adding new partner recipients to their network, supporting global literacy by providing books to Books for Africa.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Xavier discovered another issue with libraries themselves. Apparently, when new, popular books become available, libraries are often forced to make room on their shelves by discarding the older books.

Kreece explains further, “Some of them told us stories about running to dumpsters in the middle of the night with books because they didn’t have space.”

They quickly realized that by partnering with libraries to collect their old inventory of books, they could repurpose them to literacy groups around the world. Book Drives for Better Lives now had a triple-bottom line: They were helping the cause of literacy (People), keeping valuable books out of landfills (Planet), and raising money, too, in a business model that provided equity sharing and competitive benefits (Profit).

What started out as noticing a need in their own lives, the founders of Book Drives for Better Lives (later incorporated in 2003 as Better World Books, Inc.) created an even simpler solution that has grown into a force for positive change around the world.

What about you? What small need in your life has a simple solution tied to it that you can expand into a business idea?

Need further ideas and motivation? Grab a copy of our book, The Social Capitalist.

Original publish date: October 01, 2018

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