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Niche E-Commerce in Textbooks: ClassBook CEO Tony Pfister (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, May 31st 2012

Tony Pfister is the CEO of ClassBook.com, which provides schools and universities with an online bookstore presence with special emphasis on independent primary and secondary schools. Prior to becoming the CEO of ClassBook, Tony was an auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has an MBA from the State University of New York at Albany and double major in accounting and economics from Le Moyne College.

Sramana: Tony, let’s start with your background story. Where did you grow up?

Tony Pfister: I am from Albany, which is in upstate New York. I went to Le Moyne College and graduated with a double major in economics and accounting. I then ended up working for PricewaterhouseCoopers for a few years. While I was there I got my CPA license, and I worked as an auditor. After a few years there, I left PwC and joined ClassBook.

ClassBook.com was started by two of my uncles in a garage. One of my uncles died slowly of cancer. My other uncle quit his job at EMC and I quit my job at PwC so that we could take over the company and grow the business. I was only 24 at the time, and I figured I could not screw up my life too bad at that age.

Sramana: What were your uncles trying to do with ClassBook?

Tony Pfister: They saw how much money I was spending on textbooks in college and they wanted a piece of it. They created a used book purchasing program and a network of contacts. They pretty much sold used books before Amazon did, but they did not realize what they had.

Sramana: When you decided to quit your job to run ClassBook, was it still a used book exchange business?

Tony Pfister: We had two clients at that time doing online book stores. Everything else was basically a used book exchange. Today our core business is having clients run their online book stores with us.

Sramana: What was the size of the business when you took over?

Tony Pfister: It was doing about $1.4 million a year when I came on board. Of that $1.4 million, $1.2 million resided in one online learning university. We had a high concentration of clients, which is not something I really understood when I left my job to join ClassBook.

Sramana: What do you mean when you say that $1.2 million was with a single online university?

Tony Pfister: They were a client of ours who set up their bookstore with us. They did $1.2 million of revenue that year, and the total revenue of our business was $1.4 million.

Sramana: What was the business model?

Tony Pfister: We hosted their virtual bookstore. Today that is our core business, but back then we did it on a very limited scale. Shortly after I joined the business, that university left us. I was essentially left with a $200,000 business two months after leaving my nice cozy job at PwC. Since then, we have had to rebuild the entire business and business model.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Niche E-Commerce in Textbooks: ClassBook CEO Tony Pfister
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