By Michelle Lampariello
The cost of higher education is a serious issue for many students across the nation. Tuition, room and board, textbooks and other fees quickly add up, often causing financial distress for students and their families. That’s why senior marketing major Neophytos Zambas and Alumnus Agy Serghiou (’16) launched NeoBook — a mobile marketplace app designed for college students to buy and sell textbooks as well as other items and services.
“Our inspiration comes from solving an unmet need that will add consistent value to our users,” Serghiou said. “As a senior in college at the time, I understood that there wasn’t a streamlined way for students to connect with each other so that they can leverage their on-campus community. Higher education costs cripple students nationwide, and providing a platform for students that allows them to save and make money can go a long way for them.”
The NeoBook team hopes that students will not only save money on purchases made through NeoBook, but also that NeoBook will also be a safer and more secure environment since transactions are made with peers.
“Every person you make an exchange with will be from your school, as we verify all users when they’re signing up,” Zambas said. “NeoBook is essentially a safe and easy way to buy or sell anything at your school.”
Zambas and Serghiou recognized the advantages what they called a “hyper-local shared economy,” after they spent a combined total of over $1,300 on textbooks, according to a statement from Team NeoBook.
“The app generates value for both the buyer and the seller,” Zambas said. “If you’re selling books, you will get more than what the bookstore will give and if you’re buying you’ll get a better price as well.”
Despite only six weeks on the Apple App Store and Google Play with limited marketing, NeoBook currently has nearly 300 active users, according to the press release.
“The biggest challenge is accumulating a user base. As the user base grows, the overall experience for the users becomes better as well,” Zambas said.
Spencer Viviano, a junior computer science major, is also on the NeoBook team, serving as chief technology officer. Serghiou, Zambas and Viviano are in contact every single day in order to keep the app running smoothly, according to Zambas.
“I handle all back end aspects of the business and oversee every decision that needs to be made,” Zambas said. “Agy, my cofounder, handles operations and is always networking to help us grow, since we’re still just a start-up. Spencer is our CTO and he handles all aspects that have to do with the actual app. He is in direct contact with our developers and helps us to bring out updates and to maintain a well-working platform.”
Currently, NeoBook revolves around transactions for textbooks, however, Team NeoBook plans to expand the app to include other items and services such as tutoring and ridesharing.
“While we started as just a textbook buy and sell app, we see this business adding value in other ways, and we have added functionalities and capabilities that will provide our users to not only buy and sell textbooks, but other miscellaneous items as well,” Serghiou explained. “We eventually will expand the platform to include services so that the app will help students during textbook season and beyond.
While starting a business is a big step for college students, Team NeoBook learned to manage their challenges and learn from their difficulties.
“I think that startup costs are always a problem for young entrepreneurs,” Serghiou said. “However, I think the barrier to entry serves as a blessing in disguise. Every rejection that we received allowed us to take a step back and refine our model, and it was extremely invaluable to obtain the feedback that we received from the original investors we pitched to despite them not being interested at first.”
Team NeoBook offered some advice for those interested in entrepreneurship or similar business ventures.
“I really think it ultimately comes down to having a customer-first mentality, while also having exceptional salesmanship skills,” Serghiou said. “Networking is also extremely important, especially in the tech space. Meeting more like minded people will always optimize your chances of success.”