You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Chegg: Rebelling Against the Textbook Racket Jim Safka listened to his customers and they led him to business success.

entrepreneur daily

The university book store is a controversial place. It addresses the student need for textbooks. The problem is that the books are often unaffordable, the new editions unnecessary and the millions of pages, a hub for undesirable waste.

The startup online textbook rental company, Chegg.com, may well be the perfect foil for the university book store business model. Based on the disruptive model first developed by Netflix.com, Chegg has brought rentals to a more specific customer: the starving college student.

According to Chegg CEO Jim Safka, the business model is disruptive because it's the first of its kind in the textbook world and it tends exactly to the customers need. Unlike many businesses, Chegg.com has been tailored specifically to fit the customer. But Chegg wasn't always a textbook-only shop.

When Chegg launched in 2007, founders Osman Rashid and Aayush Phumbhra wanted to create a college exclusive answer to Craigslist. However, over time they found a trend in their sales. "Over 90 percent of the volume was on textbooks," Safka says. So, Chegg chugged along in a new direction.

It would seem that changing tracks seems to be the best decision they ever made both for the company and for students. Now the textbook rental startup serves students on at universities across the nation, helping them save students 65-85 percent on textbooks. They've continued along the custom-made for the customer track for the past year by reaching out to students directly.

For instance, in late August, if you were lucky enough to be an early-to-campus USC student, you might have passed the "Cheggurrito truck" between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., where student volunteers and Chegg staff were handing out free burritos as promotional tools. Later, Safka and crew set up shop early one morning at Vieta Café in downtown L.A. They handed out 16-ounce cups of coffee in an effort to connect with customers and encourage students to sign-up at Chegg.com on their on-site computers.

Students have bought into Chegg's model, volunteering to promote Chegg to their friends or even dress up in the big, yellow chicken suit as Chegg's mascot, Shelly. Safka believes the experiential marketing gives his crew important insight into what students want.

"We love going to campuses because we love to sit with students and interact with people and just understand: what can we do better?" Safka says adding, "Customers have all the answers."

As a result of student input, Chegg has implemented the "Rent-A-Book, Plant-A-Tree" program as a part of their overall model in which Chegg.com plants a tree for every textbook rented.

"It just makes sense," Safka says. "We're not heavy-handed environmentalists, but the truth is, over 4 million trees are destroyed every year to manufacture a textbook."

Students like the environmental angle, and Chegg's primary goal is to give students what they want. "Students have taken on [Chegg's brand] as their own," Safka says. "It's their brand."

"Any time you can solve a problem that's emotional," he adds, "you have a chance to build a brand that's just loved."

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.

Personal Finance

How to Get a Lifetime of Investing Experience in Only One Year

Plus, how day traders can learn a lesson from pilots.

Branding

94% of Customers Say a Bad Review Made Them Avoid Buying From a Brand. Try These 4 Techniques to Protect Your Brand Reputation.

Maintaining a good reputation is key for any business today. With so many people's lives and shopping happening online, what is said about a company on the internet can greatly influence its success.

Travel

Save on Business Travel with Matt's Flight's Premium, Only $80 for Life

This premium plan features customized flight deal alerts and one-on-one planning with Matt himself.

Science & Technology

Here's One Reason Urban Transportation Won't Look the Same in a Decade

Micro-EVs may very well be the future of city driving. Here's why, and how investors can get ahead of it.

Marketing

I Got Over 225,000 Views in Just 3 Months With Short-Form Video — Here's Why It's the New Era of Marketing

Thanks to our new short-form video content strategy, we've amassed over 225,000 video views in just three months. Learn how to increase brand awareness through short-form video content.