Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Aaron Priest and Adam Seithel

Wise Words

Aiming to save students money, Raygun analyzes textbook updates to see if they're worth the price tag. Founders, Aaron Priest and Adam Seithel, take us through their first year of business.

Student life can be one of the most carefree, liberating experiences a person is likely to have. Alongside meeting new people in a new environment, the educational benefits can be numerous. However, many students will have money worries and, as such, any penny-saving tips are no doubt welcome. Here’s where Raygun comes in. Founded by two men who decided to offer a service where they would analyse each new edition of a college textbook and detail all the changes and additions that had been included — so that every student would know exactly what the extra money they were spending was going on.

Aaron has a background in entrepreneurial and business law, and knows the pain of spending on hefty textbooks from his time at Valparaiso University where he received a BA, and Chicago-kent where he completed a JD. Co-founder Adam Seithel recently received an MBA from DePaul University in Chicago. We caught up with them to find out how entrepreneurial life was going.

1. Where did the idea for Raygun come from?

Raygun’s mission is to change the way students buy and use textbooks. Most students know that new editions of textbooks often lack significant changes to justify the “new” prices. We were no different as students. We created Raygun to disrupt the textbook industry and to provide students an opportunity to regain power as a textbook consumer.

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

Since the Fall semester started, we have not really had a typical day. During semesters and quarters, we are testing two new ideas to see what sort of information students are looking for, then we will design a way to convey that information. A common thread during every working day, however, is coffee and discussing Reddit’s front page.

3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Raygun?

We are renaissance men with diverse interests. You may be familiar with a little device known as xbox360. When we aren’t unwinding by playing first-person shooters, we enjoy working with our hands. Adam is one mean knitter – if you ask nicely he may knit you a holiday sweater – and Aaron is a local hero for his life-like dioramas. Also, we try not to take anything too seriously.

4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

We don’t really see that there is anything that is a secret to being a successful entrepreneur. What we think cannot be overstated, however, is the amount of persistence an entrepreneur needs. Success is in the eye of the beholder and, for most entrepreneurs, there is always “one more thing” that needs to be done before shutting down for the night or declaring success. It’s not a secret, just persist. 

5. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Well, we are still building our business. However, nothing drives us crazy more than seeing a student pay full price for a new textbook. There are more than a handful of options out there (including yours truly); there is absolutely no reason to pay full price. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity yet to sit down with every one of the approximately 25 million college students out there to convey this – but we’ll get there. “Hey Student, you could be spending that money on a night out on the town, some new clothes, or a velvet painting of Stevie Wonder.”

6. What motivates you to keep going?

The flip-side of the above response – we are motivated every time we speak with a student who wants to save money on textbooks. Or anytime a new “solution” is introduced that claims to help students (so many bogus claims out there), but in reality is setting the whole market back. We really believe we can affect change in the textbook market with Raygun and, quite honestly, that is enough to keep us going most of the time. Read: extreme stubbornness.

7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

We would expect mistakes, but we’d also remember to trust the plan that we laid out in our strategy sessions. Without question, an entrepreneur has to be able to adjust on the fly. You must be ready for anything. That being said, sometimes the best approach you can take in stormy weather is to stay the course. If you planned effectively and strategised properly, then you need to trust yourself. At times, we allowed ourselves to veer from our gameplan and it cost us in resources – both time and financial. 

8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

With our current product, we hope it’s obsolete. Success for our current product means we altered the textbook market sufficiently enough to limit the effectiveness of C.L.O.N.E. Reports. We are working to use what we have as a stepping stone, change the textbook market, and never stop innovating how textbooks are purchased, delivered, and used. There is always a better way to do something. Raygun will continue to take apart the textbook market, collect data, analyze it and determine how we can do our part to fix what is widely believed to be a broken system.

9. If you weren’t working on Raygun, what would you be doing?

We’ve always wanted to form an Earth, Wind & Fire cover band. Our semi-national tour is already mapped out and the t-shirts are on pre-order (you know, just in case). If that doesn’t work out (and really, how could it not?), we would certainly be working on some other entrepreneurial idea we cooked up. Being an entrepreneur is more than just one idea – it’s a mentality and a hunger to create something new.

10. Tell Springwise a secret…

If Raygun ever analyses two editions that are identical, or very near to it, we will give that C.L.O.N.E. Report away free of charge. And, we think we have a few books in the pipeline that may fall into this category.

11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The most consistent word of advice that we hear given to aspiring entrepreneurs is “you will fail”. Maybe you will…but, maybe you won’t. Don’t just accept failure as a prerequisite to entrepreneurship. Sure, the odds are that you will fail. If your venture doesn’t fail, then you’ll fail in some aspect of decision-making or planning. But, no matter what, plan for success. Don’t expect failure.

You can read more about Raygun here, or visit the Raygun website here.