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#ForgeAhead w/ Karl Hughes of Packback

Great companies are born out of great ideas. What sets entrepreneurs apart from others is the courage to pursue that idea, regardless of the fear or doubt that may be looming above. In celebration of entrepreneurs building their businesses and living their lives, we’ve developed a series of articles to highlight their highs, lows and everything in between. The hope is that we can inspire one more person to Forge Ahead and follow a dream.

Karl Hughes (and friends) were frustrated with the skyrocketing prices of textbooks for students. It’s a pain point for several students and can often bust the budget when it’s all said and done. Karl and his friends saw an opportunity within the higher education market and jumped on it. Things haven’t always been easy, but after some significant breakthrough moments, and an investment on the popular show Shark Tank, Packback is on its way to the top of the class. Here’s their story, so far, in Karl’s own words.


I’m from Tennessee where I studied engineering and business at the University of Tennessee. Since midway through college I’ve worked in digital college publishing startups, and I’m now 25 years old.

What is the “Why” Behind your business?

We help students save money on textbooks. Most of our team is young, so we remember well the pain of spending $500 or more on our textbooks only to find that we didn’t use half of them. By lowering the cost of textbooks through our daily rental model, Packback is making college more accessible to more students, and that’s an exciting reason to get up for work every day.

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Karl and the team “studying” video games :)

Tell us about a breakthrough moment you had in your business.

We’ve had several big moments over the past year, but one of our most exciting was appearing on the TV show Shark Tank, and securing $250,000 in equity funding from Dallas Mavericks team owner, Mark Cuban (http://blog.packbackbooks.com/post/80963202205/packback-in-the-shark-tank-a-play-by-play). Besides the pressure of actually going on the show and getting the money (it was filmed months earlier, but just aired in March 2014), we had to make sure the website stayed up while we underwent a serious traffic spike. It was an exciting experience, and the validation from such a well-known investor has really helped us bring on new publishers, partners, and employees.

How has technology helped your business grow? 

We are a technology-driven company at our core, and we use the web for almost everything. While we use student-powered word of mouth marketing on campuses around the country, we also rely on a blog, vibrant social media presence, email newsletters, and paid search engine traffic to generate revenue.

What is one piece of technology you couldn’t run your business without?

I like to think of technology as a web of interconnected innovations rather than a stack of single improvements, so I don’t think there’s just “one” piece of technology we couldn’t do without. Without the microprocessor there’s no personal computer; without the personal computer there’s no internet; without the internet there’s no digital textbook market; without a digital textbook market there’s no Packback. All these things and thousands more work in tandem to make what we do possible.

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The Packback team

What is your advice for a fellow entrepreneur who needs that extra boost to Forge Ahead?

Ignore anyone who tells you “that will never work,” including yourself. We still have a ton of work to do to compete with massive textbook distributors like Chegg and Amazon, but if we were afraid to take that first step we never would have gotten this far.

Connect with Karl and others from Packback at the following links:

Web: http://www.packbackbooks.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/packbackbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/packbackbooks
Blog: http://blog.packbackbooks.com/

Do you have an entrepreneur or business owner with a story to tell? Please let us know. We’d love to feature their story so that we can all learn to Forge Ahead!