College Students Guide: Chicago Music Festivals

Music lovers rejoice! It is almost your favorite time of the year; festival season. Many of us have been counting down the days till we are finished pulling all-nighters, attending lectures and arguing who should make the Google doc for group projects.

With the end of the school year comes summers filled with friends, family, food and music. Last summer I attended four music festivals so you can say I have some experience when it comes to concert festivals. Regardless of your music preference, there is no better place to be this summer than Chicago. A wide variety of performances will be stopping by the windy city and captivating audiences at one of many premier music festivals in the area. So that being said, here is a guide to the best music festivals in Chicago for college students and young adults.

Spring Awakening – Soldier Field/ June 13-15

• When it comes to EDM lineups no other festival in the Midwest can match Spring Awakening. And when it comes to venues, Soldier Field is hard to beat. Before people could only dream of stepping foot on Soldier Field. Now, you and 100,000 other EDM lovers can rage to some of the world’s biggest DJ’s on the same field the Bears play. Diplo, Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, Kaskade, Tiesto and Knife Party headline this year’s event.

Pitchfork - Union Park/ July 18-20

• Pitchfork has always been know for having a lineup filled with up and coming indie artists, but this year they have really stepped their game up. If you live and breathe hip-hop this is the year to go. This year’s festival added the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, the Death Grips, Schoolboy Q and many more.

Lollapalooza – Grant Park/ Aug 1-3

• Lollapalooza is Chicago’s premier festival and is also one of the most

recognized in the world. Lolla boasts the most diverse lineup of any Chicago festival and consistent manages to book the biggest names. The headliners for the 2014 edition are Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Artic Monkeys, Skrillex and Calvin Harris. In addition to those names acts such as Chance the Rapper, Lorde, Foster the People, Zedd and Nas will also be in attendance. This is one of the best Lolla lineups in years. 3-Day passes for the concert sold out in under an hour and I was one of the unfortunate souls who was left idle on the standby page and ultimately missing out on my chance to go all three days.

North Coast - Union Park/ Aug 29-31

• This Labor Day weekend music is a great way to end off your summer. North Coast artists span numerous genres including hip-hop, electronic, indie, and rock and roll. North Coast is constantly expanding and I was actually in attendance for the first one in 2010. Back then there were only two stages. Now, you have to map out your day to make sure you don’t miss anything walking to the various stages. Last year Passion Pit, Wu-Tang clan, Afrojack, Mac Miller and Nas were just some of the headliners. If last years lineup is any indicator of what is in store this year, we should all be pretty pumped.

Coincidentally, Pitchfork and North Coast are both held in Union Park, which could bring back old memories and a little bit of deja vu attend both.

Riot Fest – TBA/ Sept 12-14

• Not really a fan of either hip-hop or electronic music? Riot Fest might be for you. Riot Fest is the perfect combination of independent and mainstream rock and roll, punk rock and indie music. Last year, the festival held in Humbolt Park featured bands such as Blink-182, The Replacements, Fall Out Boy, Motorhead, AFI, All Time Low, Blondie, Taking Back Sunday, Sublime with Rome and Rancid just to name a few. The teenage version of you would have pass out if they saw a lineup like that and would spend all of their birthday and Christmas money on a 3 day pass. This year’s lineup has not been released yet but the promoters for Riot Fest rarely disappoint.

Even if you are only able to attend just one festival this year, I can guarantee that you will leave with a ton of crazy stories that will top off your summer.

HOW TO sell your book back on Packback!

Below are simple steps that will get you the most money back for your textbooks you need to sell. Lets be honest, most people just want to get rid of their textbook quickly and end up selling it to the first website or bookstore that will give them some amount of cash for that totally interesting textbook they barely used all semester, right?

ATTENTION! Packback is the only place you should go to sell your textbook back, it’s the new thing….everyone’s doing it! Using Packback’s online sell tool you can find the best buy-back price for your books, finding you the highest-paying retailer. If that does not get you interested in the sell back tool (which if it didn’t you are tough to please), Packback even has free shipping for you when you send your book in!

STEP 1:  Log onto  à

STEP 2:  Click Sell Textbooks (Yes it is this easy)

STEP 3:  Enter your ISBN (Usually found by barcode/back cover of book) 

STEP 4:  After entering the ISBN, Click “Find this Book”

STEP 5: Compare Prices & Select the highest price and click Continue

If you have multiple Textbooks to sell back, that is fine with Packback…just select Add book before continuing: 

STEP 6: Enter a valid shipping address and click continue 

STEP 7:  Print your shipping label, and wait for your check! 

That is all! 7 Basic Steps and your check will be on its way….now everyone all at once, sell your books through Packback

Packback in Sunny California

The last week of March a couple friends and I took a plane. We left the frozen tundra of Chicago and settled in sunny Southern California for spring break. We stayed half way between San Diego and Los Angeles in a small city called Huntington Beach.

This location was perfect for traveling this beautiful place known as California; however, it was also for visiting various campuses in the area and meeting with students and student organization leaders in order to introduce them to Packback.

One day, my friend, Sean, drove me to Fullerton to meet up with one of the Packback Martketing Interns. Courtney was super excited, as you can see from the picture below, to see me and spent couple hours with Sean and I. We grabbed food and talked about her experience with Packback, her school and how much she doesn’t like her accounting class. Then she showed us around the campus. The campus of Cal State Fullerton is enormous and beautiful. Huge buildings, big quad with a little swaporama, people studying and chatting on every single corner and, for me personally, everything was even better, because the sun was out, heating the day to a lovely 70 degrees. That is something that I have not experienced in Chicago for more than 5 months.

After a couple hours with Courtney, we had to say goodbye, hop into our Volkswagen and head back to the Surf City of Huntington Beach.

Overall, on this trip, I have met a bunch of people, made new friends and introduced Packback to San Diego State University, UC-San Diego, University of San Diego, UCLA and USC. It was a great vacation/business 10 days and I cannot wait to do it again.


Now hiring: Head of Engineering and Jr. Developer

We are a quickly growing, funded ed-tech startup disrupting a multi-billion dollar textbook industry with some of Chicago’s best behind us as investors, including Mark Cuban (owner Dallas Mavs), Mark Achler (Former SVP Redbox), and Howard Tullman (CEO 1871), among others.

Packback is just a few months fresh out of a successful beta, have closed a seed round of funding backed by powerful Chicago investors, and are on the heels of our airing on the ABC hit TV show “Shark Tank”.  We’re growing and scaling faster than ever, and are looking for talented engineers to contribute and make a big impact to a site re-write.

We’ve got two open roles we’ve been aggressively interviewing candidates for that we’re hoping to fill within the next month and a half.  Check them out below.

1.  Head of Engineering (or Tech Lead/Architect/VP Engineering)

This position entails a mix of architecture (25%), project management (25%), coding (25%), and code reviews (25%).

2.  Jr. Developer

1-3 years experience. We’re looking for a sharp engineer that is capable of learning on the fly.


Packback in the Shark Tank: A Play-by-Play


Written by Adam Jun

CHICAGO — For the first time in several months, it was a beautiful night. You could even get away with a light jacket. The night served as a fitting backdrop for two local startup heroes to splash into the national consciousness of over 8 million viewers in living rooms and viewing parties across the country, via ABC’s hit series, Shark Tank.

After navigating the unrelenting obstacles “Mr. Wonderful” and his fellow Shark cronies are famous for, Packback Books co-founders Kasey Gandham and Mike Shannon hit their pre-targeted mark, reeling in billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban as an investor.

Not only does Cuban’s addition strengthen a team of already heavy digital-hitters such as Redbox, it’s more signaling that this scrappy Illinois State startup is intent to change the academic book buying experience for students and parents alike. Renting e-textbooks for $5 a day figures to fit today’s on-demand, digital culture more naturally than the current chaotic structure.

Packbook landed the final segment on the show, reserved for the most suspenseful exchange. The spot didn’t disappoint. The boys walked in and delivered their solution to the all too familiar pain point students and parents around the country feel before each semester.

Gandham: “There’s been a serious epidemic on the rise since your college days. And it’s the cost of textbooks.”

Shannon: “Hey Mark, did you know, that since you hung up your Hoosier hat, [Indiana, class of 1981] textbook prices have risen 812%?”

Gandham: “In fact, students are even dropping out of their courses, in order to avoid the book costs.”

After showing the Sharks a quirky video, Gandham wrapped up the opening pitch this way.

“Our e-textbooks are fully equipped with highlighting and note-taking capabilities and we’re already working with major U.S. textbook publishers to bring the Packbook service to students nationwide.”

A question from Kevin O’Leary — Shark Tank’s straight-talking Simon Cowell equivalent — immediately prompted Shannon to paint a vivid picture of how Packback’s plan is designed to help students.

“Let’s say Daymond is a sophomore in college. He’s fed up. Freshman year, he spent $1,200 on new books. He realized he didn’t use half of them enough for the purchase price. We allow Daymond to hold off on buying anything, rent for a day at a time at $5 or less, as he has a quiz or homework assignment.”

Herjavec: “In your format, how much is it going to cost [the student]?”

Gandham: “We rent digital textbooks for $5 a day.”

Fashion mogul Daymond John asked why companies who own the e-textbooks don’t use this idea and rent the e-books out themselves.

“Yes, e-textbooks are being sold,” Gandham explained. “They have been on the market for around 8 years. They’re being rented per semester at approximately $100 to $150 per book.”

“But you’re doing it differently,” Barbara Corcoran — of real estate success — asked, “The only difference being you’re doing it by the day?”

“We’re introducing a micro-transactional…”

“You’re pay-per-view.” Cuban interrupted.

“Yeah, we’re pay-per-use.”

An important element of Packback’s strategy was revealed when a question was asked about the company’s major competitors.

“If an Amazon or a Chegg were to offer daily e-textbook rentals, they’d be directly cannibalizing their used books.” Gandham said.

“They’re in so much trouble because this used book market is such a disaster for their revenue.” Shannon added.

Corcoran then blitzed the Packback boys with a series of questions to see how much money a student would spend on average using the Packback format. For one year, Shannon explained a student could expect to spend $280. A dramatic difference from the $2,000 or more students are often on the hook for in textbook costs.

To which Corcoran excitedly said “That’s a great savings!”

But Herjavec wasn’t so sure.

“Are you telling me that my kids are only opening their textbooks four times a semester?” he asked.

“Robert, it’s not because they’re not studying, Shannon said. It’s because the professor’s have a wealth of resources to put out the necessary information. The book is one more resource, it’s not the end all, be all.”

Daymond, citing his unfamiliarity with the space, decided he was out.

Next, Corcoran bowed out, citing concerns about the publishers coming aboard.

O’Leary endorsed the idea, and alluded to the fact that he made the majority of his net worth working with publishers, but didn’t want to spend more time in the space.

O’Leary: “Guys, I like what you’re doing, okay. I know your industry inside and out…I will give you one small piece of advice, it’ll take you a lot longer than you think to get those deals…It sends a tingle up my spine to go back in the education market, which is where I made the bulk of my net worth. I can’t go back there.”

Gandham countered with the fact that similar companies like Netflix and iTunes weren’t overnight successes.

O’Leary: “I’m not saying that it’s not a noble pursuit. I have spent thousands of hours in their offices. You will have no hair, you will both look like me when this is over. I am out.”

Herjavec then bowed out.

One Shark remained.

It was Cuban — notorious in the Tank for intently listening to a pitch play out before making a move — who expressed his interest, thanks in part to his familiarity with the tech-ed space.

But he wanted a bigger slice of the pie.

“I like the concept, but 10% isn’t enough.” Cuban said. “I want you guys to come back to me, and tell me, what’s the most equity I can get, how and how much.”

Sensing the urgency of the moment to act soon, Shannon looked at Gandham and quickly back at Cuban before ABC dramatically cut to commercial.

After the break, Gandham and Shannon made an offer of 17.5% equity for $200,000. Cuban countered with 20% for $250,000. Gandham came back with something that won’t be soon forgotten in Shark Tank lore.

A lower offer!

Amid exclamations from different Sharks — you can audibly make out Corcoran yelling “WHAT?” in the background — Cuban immediately accepted the 20% for $200,000 before Gandham realized what had happened.

Fortunately, Shannon stepped right in and asked Mr. Cuban to have a seat while they gave it some more thought.

Now that’s teamwork.

Everybody in the tank had a nice laugh as Cuban, Shannon and Gandham all congratulated each other on their newly minted partnership.

To close the episode, Gandham says “When you’re in the tank, it’s not that easy.”

That’s likely true. But in the cause of renting e-textbooks online for $5 a day, the college experience just got a little easier on student’s wallets. 

Follow us on Twitter @packbackbooks

Shark Tank Aftermath!

This past Friday, March 21st, co-founders Mike and Kasey appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch Packback’s concept of $5 on-demand, pay-per-view textbook rentals and made a $250K deal with Mark Cuban.

Since the episode, we’ve had tens of thousands of new visitors and signups, and an overwhelmingly positive response from students, parents and publishers around the country.

The Packback team watched our episode air alongside about 300 of our friends and closest supporters in the auditorium of Chicago’s start-up hub, 1871.  We relived the feeling of being in the Tank as we watched ourselves on screen for the first time, and shared all of the laughs, suspense and excitement with our supporters near and far. The end of our negotiations were truly one to go down in the record books: four sharks were out, Mark Cuban was still undecided, and we made a pretty crazy valuation mistake that nearly cost us 50K!

We are excited to announce that we closed a deal with Mark Cuban- please join us in welcoming him to the Packback team! We are incredibly thankful for his investment as well as his support and advice as we grow our business.  Our swim with the Sharks will help us bring affordable books to college students everywhere.

Below, founders Kasey and Mike joined by board members Howard Tullman (CEO 1871), Mark Achler (former SVP Redbox), and Mark Cuban two weeks ago in Chicago.

After the Episode
As a result of the episode, we’ve had thousands of new visitors and users signing up for the Packback service. Positive tweets, messages and emails have poured in about our new business model and our company’s vision.

Student Response
Since Friday, we have had an influx of students applying to be Campus Brand Ambassadors out of their passion for the concept and our mission of affordable textbooks.  Students from all over the country (and in some cases around the world) have shared with with us how much they love the concept and how they have been just waiting for a company like this to finally put the purchasing power back into their hands.

Parent Response
Even parents have been reaching out, excited that a new model exists that allows value-based rentals of textbooks.  They love knowing that when their student spends money on a textbook now, that means they are actually studying!

Publisher Response
Over the past week, we have signed on more publishers than ever before and anticipate to only keep growing at the same astounding rate. More books continue to be added to the Packback platform on a weekly basis, so if we don’t offer your books yet, keep checking back!

Our Vision & What Shark Tank Means for Us
Shark Tank has given us the opportunity to share our vision with over 8 million viewers across the country and partner with an incredible strategic investor who already shares our vision for the future of textbooks. All of the new eyes on Packback mean that we are able to reach more students with our new, affordable model of eTextbook rentals.


We are truly a student-founded and student-run company, and while we have created a model that is incredibly beneficial for the industry as a whole, our first priority is students. Every decision we make is guided by students’ needs.  We believe that for any textbook model to truly come in and usurp the used book industry with a more affordable, sustainable model, it must fit with current student study behaviors and needs, while working for professors and publishers as well.
We have created a range of tools to give students a wide variety of resources to help them get the most value out of their textbooks, including our new Sell Tool and the ability to Compare Textbook Prices. We want to help students save even when daily rentals are not the best option for their specific class.

Our Shark Tank episode aired on the heels of our extremely successful Fall Pilot at ISU, which saved students on average 50% when compared to what they would have paid buying used books, and increased the publisher revenue for our test classes by 55%.  Students loved the service and we are thrilled to see the national response echoing our classmates’ sentiments. 

For us, Shark Tank was not just an opportunity to secure funding, but an opportunity to really spark a movement around affordable textbooks.  Our growth since Friday has been incredible and we are excited to continue growing and revolutionizing the textbook industry!

Help us continue to bring affordable books to the masses by spreading the word.  Thanks for the incredible support.  

What does Packback’s “Shark Tank” appearance mean to the publishing industry?


Packback gained national exposure Friday night, with over 8 million viewers in one of the most successful episodes to date of ABC’s “Shark Tank”.

The show’s airing marked a significant event for the higher education publishing industry, as the focal question amongst the sharks was: how will the publishing industry react? I had a chance to answer this question on Friday night, when over 250 people packed the auditorium of Chicago’s 1871 entrepreneurship center for a viewing event followed by a “fireside chat” with Kasey and I. We were asked again, “how is Packback going to work with those traditional publishing companies in a drastically conservative industry?”

The answer was simple: we don’t work with traditional publishing companies, we work with revolutionary learning companies. 

I proceeded to tell a story of how my co-founder Kasey and I, as young naive college students, decided it would be perfectly acceptable to cold-call the president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Brian Kibby. A few months later, Brian generously took the time to visit with us at Illinois State University. In those two days, he planted the seed of belief in us that would be a key driving force throughout the ensuing two year long journey we’ve been on to found Packback. McGraw-Hill Higher Education made very clear that they weren’t a stodgy old “publishing company”. This was a learning company. It was all uphill from there as we’ve continually established relationships with more and more innovative learning companies in bringing our digital catalogue the students nationwide.

You might be wondering, as did the sharks, how it’s possible that Packback’s digital catalogue has expanded so rapidly to roughly 2,500 titles.

What is Packback’s immediate value-add to a learning company?

We teamed up with the most prestigious market research firm in Chicago, Shapiro & Associates, to launch an initial pilot during Fall ‘13 at Illinois State University, taking a fully research-backed approach to our launch. Our proud early participants were: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Taylor & Francis Group, and SAGE Publications. 

The goal of the pilot was to find out precisely what the revenue, and digital adoption implications of the introduction of Packback would be on our sample set of students. Here’s the methodology we took: 

1.) We directly surveyed 681 students, to find out where they were acquiring their textbooks. 

  • Merely 9% purchased new textbooks
  • The rest either purchased or rented used textbooks, or did not acquire the textbook at all.

2.) Introduced Packback as an option to students in 21 broadly selected courses. 

3.) Returned midway through the semester to learn more about who was using Packback. We asked, “if Packback was not available, what would you have done?”

  • 82% “used textbook”
    • Packback reduced the used book market share from what would have been 75% to 55% in just the first semester of launch/adoption
  • 12% “would not have purchased anything”
    • Packback ensured these students were prepared for their classes and ultimately increased learning outcomes.
  • 6% “eTextbook”
  • 0% “new textbook” 

The result? 58% increase in publisher revenue

That is the definition of low-hanging fruit. With $5.6 billion of the $8.2 billion higher education textbook market attributed to the used book market, there is perhaps more low-hanging fruit to be gained in this industry than in any other. We purposefully tested with “backlist” products, in which there is an incredible amount of room for revenue growth. In doing so, and seeing the 58% increase in revenue, it became clear that Packback’s immediate value to learning companies is to serve as an engine for maximizing revenue on underperforming titles while organically converting students to digital learners.

The demonstration of this clear value proposition is precisely how we’ve been able to expand our digital catalogue with a range a truly innovative content partners.

Will learning companies get smarter working with Packback? 

One of the features we’re most excited about rolling out this summer is Packback’s Q&A community: connecting students across the country in communities geared around their specific textbooks. For the first time ever, this will introduce a feedback-loop for learning companies to improve the effectiveness of their core content.


This is a product feature we started working on directly out of our extensive Shapiro focus groups that honed in on student learning behaviors. We found that the current “paper state” of learning results in a massive collection of lost data points to the content providers, who can’t possibly track the ongoing external activity happening on rich media in conjunction with a student’s usage of the paper textbook. With the “Packback Community”, students across multiple different universities, all in similarly structured courses that use the same textbook, can communicate with each other, and Packback can track the external activity to give feedback on what the actual user behavior is.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

Today’s college student naturally holds an overwhelmingly strong preference for the physical format, based on years of mastering of a methodology for “test preparation”. However, "exploratory learning" is a whole different concept. When a student reads the book, they almost always reach a point of heightened interest in a concept outlined by the content providers. Unfortunately, the textbook must cover a ton of ground and obviously can’t go into full depth for each concept. This is where the exploratory learning comes into play- a student uses the textbook as a “jumping point”, and navigates straight to Google for a deep dive on the topic. From here, students utilize a collection of free articles, TED/Khan Academy videos, and even hop into online learning portals.

Packback’s Q&A communities are rich learning environments that enable and harness the exploratory learning phenomena among students.

From these communities, Packback has the potential to report back to our partner content providers; sharing invaluable insight into the actual user behavior in and around the content they’ve invested so heavily into doing a phenomenal job preparing.  

 What about the future, and adaptive learning tech? 

This is where things get really fun, and the white boards that line the Packback offices start to run out of space. So really, what about adaptive learning technology? We’re on the verge of a landscape-altering revolution in which today’s advanced technologies can be applied directly to the improvement of student learning comprehension. There are truly great products being developed. The question is: how do you properly present them in a way that encourages truly organic student demand? 

Directing the textbook sales rep to educate the professor on platform and adaptive tech benefits is certainly one necessary step to take. If the professor buys in, there is presumably 100% sell-through to the classroom. But let’s be honest, how many long-tenured professors are really going to alter their long-standing teaching methods? Given what we’ve seen thus far, not quite enough for professor adoption to keep up with the swift pace of technological advances. Much as the students have mastered a learned method of test preparation, so too does the professor have a learned method for course conduction. 

However, learning companies are developing increasingly affordable learning products, and the students are notably willing to pay a little extra for guaranteed results. Here’s what’s on our minds at Packback: 

Packback as a portal to introduce next-gen learning tech products.

Once a student is on the digital format (incentivized of course by a $5 daily rental), the Packback e-Reader will be tracking their activity within the text. A “learning behavior” algorithm can thus be formed, taking in a combination of data inputs. From there, we can pinpoint the exact point in time when a student is struggling to master a concept. Using several factors, we’ll actually have a good idea of whether this student is preparing for a test. Let’s say it’s 10:00pm, and our indicators are telling us that Joey Student is preparing for an exam and stuck around a given concept. His propensity to try a next-gen learning tech product is astronomically higher in this situation than at the beginning of a semester. Packback has the ability to say, “take a deep breath. We know you’re stressed. Why don’t you try one of these products, which have been specially built by the content-providing learning company to help you master this concept?” Packback then presents the student with a value-adding product. 

THAT is how organic conversion happens, and the opportunity to provide a bridge to the future of learning is exactly what keeps our creative minds reeling 14 hours a day at the Packback offices.

Let’s expand upon learning’s newfound “sexiness”

So what does Packback’s airing of “Shark Tank” mean for the industry? It means there’s an unprecedented window suddenly smashed opened for the major players in this evolving industry to align directly with a national wave of student excitement. As culture shifts, so do it’s influencers. In today’s day in age, “intelligent” is the new “cool”. Whereas in the nineties, everyone wanted to “be like Mike” (Jordan), more and more kids are growing up wanting to “be like Zuck” and other iconic thought leaders upon whose intelligence glory is being thrown. Ashton Kutcher, an icon among youths, recently went viral with a brief speech at the Teen Choice Awards, in which he stated that “The sexiest thing in the world is being really really smart”. That’s powerful.

On Friday night, proof of the youth’s evolving culture was reiterated as social media channels across the nation lit up with waves of excitement about Packback. The learning companies are paving the way to make it possible for more and more students to reach that prestigious level of “sexiness”. Packback is providing the bridge to that future, and students nationwide have proven to be nothing short of ecstatic about it. We’re honored to be playing in our part in the revolution. Who’s ready to join?



Packback’s AKPsi Campus Ambassador Program

Just five years ago, the creators of Packback came together as founders of a new chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi.  We learned true entrepreneurship as we launched what would be our school’s most successful business fraternity.  Two years later, we used AKPsi as a vehicle for creating what is now one of Chicago’s fastest growing technology startups, and most recently, were featured to over 8 million viewers on ABC’s Shark Tank with backing from investor Mark Cuban.

Be on the cutting edge of an education revolution and gain invaluable experience on the ground floor of a growing startup as a Packback campus ambassador.

The Vision

Packback is a student-founded social venture backed by prominent Chicago startup investors that is introducing revolutionary, disruptive methods to make expensive textbooks more affordable for the masses. 

As broke students, we all spend far too much money on textbooks we rarely use.  At Packback, we’re introducing the first ever $5 pay-per-use digital textbook rental to students nationwide. 

Rent your book as needed with Packback before exams or homework assignments.  Need it longer? We’ll let you rent it for the semester and will refund you any money spent to date on daily rentals, making sure you never overpay on books. 

The Program

We’re excited to offer you the opportunity to join our team of college students across the country to change our country’s education system.  Packback Brand Ambassadors are the face of Packback on university campuses.  They embody our virtues of student affordability and help spread the word by speaking in classes, hosting events, and giving free rentals to their friends.  Our brand ambassadors are self-motivated, hungry to learn, and eager to make an impact.

The Perks:

As a member of the Packback family, you’ll have the opportunity to support the growth of a student movement and become a hero on campus by helping your friends save money.  You’ll learn the ins and outs of our quickly growing startup and what it takes to be an entrepreneur.  This is an unpaid position, but you’ll get tons of perks, including:

  • Association with a growing startup disrupting an $8 billion textbook industry and a great resume booster
  • Internship credit (as allowed by your school)
  • Packback swag
  • Letter of Recommendation at the completion of your term for top performers
  • Regular Google Hangouts with executive management
  • Monthly Q&A sessions with Packback’s esteemed investors
  • Free textbook rentals as you help spread the word

Get in touch:

This is an elite program.  Email us with your resume, year in school, and a paragraph on why you’re interested at and we’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

Learn more about Packback here: 


Watch Packback airing on ABC’s Shark Tank Friday, March 21st!

In two weeks, we will go from a company familiar to a few thousand students to one that will be watched by millions across the country with our vision of creating pay per use digital textbook rentals for $5 or less.

After two years of beating all odds—launching our startup out of our college apartments, pitching and being advised by publishing executives while attempting to license their content, and ultimately building a team of top-notch talent while raising funds from some of Chicago’s best, we’re happy to announce Packback will be airing on ABC’s hit TV show Shark Tank on Friday, March 21st.

So what’s the short story?  The textbook industry is broken for both students and publishers, while lofty startups and industry initiatives have been falling short.

We believe there are fundamental issues plaguing the textbook industry, allowing the used book market to profit at the expense of students, professors and publishers.  Students are forced into making uninformed purchasing decisions based on a lack of transparency into the textbook market in addition to an uncertainty of usage from their expensive textbook, while publishers have been historically left with no other choice than to raise prices over time to offset their lost revenue due to used books.

We started Packback as students realizing there needed to be a student-focused solution that works for both publishers and professors as well.   Too many corporate education companies and education startups have been trying to innovate on educational ideals, but not in ways that were beneficial to real student behavior to generate meaningful progress.  Years later of big talk and millions of dollars of investment into the industry, the student/publisher problem is still the same.  We’re changing that, creating immediate solutions that work for students today, but lay a strong foundation for a digital tomorrow.  Debuting Packback to students on the national stage through Shark Tank could not be more exciting for us.

Preparing for showtime.

The urgency of preparing for the episode has drawn our team closer than ever as we’ve taken our 2 month product roadmap and have condensed it into the next three weeks.  We’ve launched our new site with new features as we’re hoping to empower students to make more informed decisions when buying or selling books.  Our free sell tool allows students to compare textbook buy-back prices from popular online retailers to find the best offer and maximize their cashback.  Students use our real-time price comparison engine while buying books to ensure they find the lowest prices across the web, and of course our digital inventory of $3 to $5 digital textbook rentals has been growing every month as we continuously sign on publishers.

The recent 16 hour-straight days at the office have been taxing but it’s been awesome to see what we’ve been able to accomplish.  Our amazing cast of investors have been extremely supportive of our appearance and we’ve recently had the pleasure to have spent a lot of great time with our board of directors Mark Achler and Howard Tullman.

Where we’re going from here.

Seeing our company progress from our college apartments to Chicago’s startup hub 1871, growing from two full time to five and moving into our own office in Catapult, growing a brand ambassador program spanning 60+ students across the country, and now debuting Packback on national television to over 7 million viewers nation-wide, we couldn’t be more proud of what our team and supporting cast or investors, advisors, publishers, and ambassadors have been able to accomplish over the last few months. 

At the time we pitched in front of the sharks we were a product in beta with just a few hundred bucks in revenue.  We had been pitching Chicago angels/VC’s for some time already, felt confident going into our pitch on set, but at the same time always wondered how they’d react to such a young company with only a few days of recent sales.  Nonetheless, the episode will definitely be one that…well…you’ll just have to see for yourself!

Packback will be hosting a viewing party at Chicago’s startup hub 1871 on March 21st open to the community where we’ll have a founder’s fireside chat after the episode.  To all our students, your support in spreading the word about the airing would mean the world to us - every new tweet/share and person that learns about our efforts will spark our student movement of more affordable books.  We’re looking forward bringing Packback to the national stage where we’ll be saving money for tens of thousands of students nationwide with our new suite of free tools when buying, renting, or selling books back.

Yours Truly,

The Packback Team


5 Things That Will Help You Get Through College

By Jack Sutherland Intern at Illinois State University

Morning Routine - It is a fact that you will be exposed to morning classes at least at some point in your college career. Navigating these tough hours can be stressful and taxing on your body so there are specific things you need to get in order if you are going to be successful at being a morning person. For me its coffee but for others it could be a healthy breakfast or a solid workout session. If you find that one or two things that will get you through the morning it opens up the rest of the day to be effective.


Exercise - The Freshman 15 doesn’t have to be a real thing. Each university has its own beautiful Rec-Center to get your exercise in and it is imperative that you take advantage of it. When you exercise regularly you have more energy overall and you are much more confident and comfortable with your own self-image. Leaving lots of room in your mind to take out your daily tasks from school. If you don’t like going to the gym at school check out other places in your community. For example, I utilize a CrossFit gym here in town and it gets me away from campus for a little bit and introduces me to a different mix of people. This could be a great way to de-stress and open your mind for thinking and relaxing.

Utilize Education Technology - I will be the first to say that I use for every single test I have in college. This is the 21st century and if you aren’t utilizing all of the technology out there for your benefit then you are going to be left behind. This is a great note card sharing service, I suggest you go to Study Blue and search some of your classes at school. You would be surprised by the valuable study materials you can find.  Also what gets me through my classes, quite honestly is I don’t buy my books because we rarely use them anyway so having the ability to rent a textbook for 24 hours before a test becomes highly valuable. Check it out and ask us for a free rental if you are still wary on the idea. It’s worth a shot to save some cash and get good grades.


Work-Life Balance – You will constantly hear this term thrown around for people about to enter the full-time workforce as it is an imperative quality of a future career. However, I feel this term is just as important for full-time students as well. You need to be able to have time to yourself to go out with friends or visit family at home. If you allow yourself to be swamped all the time with school work you will never get the full benefits of going to a 4-year college. You need time to relax and have a social life so set times on your calendar to study and times to relax with friends and you will be just fine navigating your way through 4 years at school.

Part-Time Job – I put myself through college so having a job has been just part of my college lifestyle from the beginning. I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is. People always worry about not having time if they take on a job but that is just nonsense. I am involved in multiple organizations and hold 2 internships and I still have time for fun and time for work. For me, the thought of a pay-check every two weeks is too much of an opportunity to pass up. Not only will you gain solid experience but also it will teach your time management skills and get you some cash in the process. If you don’t have a job yet try and utilize school resources like job postings to snag a solid part-time job to help pay for your weekend shenanigans.


Startup PR Internship at Packback

Packback - PR Internship

Location: Chicago, IL

Spread the good word about one of Chicago’s top tech startups as a PR intern.  Packback is redefining the textbook industry, offering students $5 digital textbook rentals while working closely with major education publishers.  Packback was founded by students, just like you and we’re now happy to announce the opening of our PR internship program.

What you’ll be doing:

  • Be a key point contact working with our PR firm coordinating press releases and print/digital publication pitches

  • Build relationships with online bloggers and pitch our news daily.

  • Actively blog and become an industry expert in higher education

  • Become a champion for the Packback culture of a grassroots student movement

What we’re looking for:

  • Minimum 10 hours a week from a driven PR intern looking to get experience at a young hot startup.

  • You can show writing samples and have a Twitter account.

  • You are tech savvy, enjoy the startup world and want to make a difference in your community.

  • You are self-motivated and disciplined in your work ethic.

What’s in it for you?

  • Work from wherever you want to be but be and report in weekly.

  • Be in constant contact with smart and driven people to get your PR skills to the next level.

  • Grow your network significantly while coordinating strategies with major tech publications.

  • Gain close affiliation with one of Chicago’s most well connected tech startups as a big time resume booster.

This position is unpaid but for credit.  Learn more about Packback here:

To apply, please email with your resume.


How Textbooks Change History and Why You Should Care

By Karl Hughes, Lead Engineer at Packback

When you’re in grade school, history usually consists of memorizing key dates and names. It’s black and white. You got the answer right or you got it wrong. If you missed a test question by answering “Roosevelt” when it should have been “Hoover,” you got a big red mark in the same way you would if you said that 3+4=6 on your math test. Simple right?

Maybe not.

In October of last year, the Japanese education minister took an unprecedented step by forcing a local school board to use a textbook that it had initially rejected on the grounds of being too conservative. It might not seem like choosing one textbook over another would mean much, but the differences between the textbooks currently used in the country and those being pushed by the more nationalistic ruling party are pretty significant.


This seemingly minor change in textbook choice could help shape the next generation of voters and citizens, and understandably, many in the Japanese and international community are concerned.

But this doesn’t just happen in Japan.

Controversies over textbooks have popped up all over the United States in the past few decades, but one of the most heated debates in recent years went down in Texas.

In 2010, Texas’ board of education approved a revamped social studies curriculum that, among other things, gave more attention to President Ronald Reagan, left hip-hop out of American cultural discussions, and gave attention to Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inauguration alongside Abraham Lincoln’s. Even more contested, the proposed changes gave justification for the McCarthy era “red scare,” insisting that, “the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.”

No matter which side of these politically charged issues you stand on, it’s pretty interesting that history in one part of the country could be taught so differently than it is in another.

I remember the first time I realized that history was a subjective class.

I attended a very conservative high school, so when I started my first sociology course at a state university, I was a bit dumbstruck.

While my high school history class insisted that Nixon wasn’t really so bad and that Ronald Reagan was basically a saint, my first sociology professor in college implicated both men in the horribly failed war on drugs, an increase in crime, and an utter disdain for the poor. The truth of both men’s presidencies probably lies somewhere in the middle, but at the time it was really shocking to think that everything I knew about the 37th and 40th presidents of our country was possibly a lie.

It didn’t take long for me to get pretty cynical about the whole topic of history, because after all, every accounting of past events is subject to countless errors. People misremember events, documents are lost, context is incomplete, cultural norms are different. History can’t realistically be expected to be objective.

You have to take textbooks seriously.

Still, textbooks are a powerful medium. For many people who don’t study history independently, they are the primary exposure they get to the past, and they tend to shape the political and moral feelings that people carry with them throughout their lives. Not caring about textbooks is like not voting. You can ignore them, but that doesn’t mean your choice to be complacent won’t effect you.

It’s time for you to start caring about textbooks, and I don’t just mean how much money you spend on them every semester in college. Never take what you read at face value, and that includes this blog post.

So, what do you think? How can we ensure that our next generation’s textbooks open up our minds? Can we take steps to make them more objective, or should we just give up on trying? You can send me your thoughts at

Photo by Marc Veraart on

5 Things to Know About Becoming a Packback Brand Ambassador!


By Jack Sutherland, Intern

The past couple weeks have been filled with a lot of great conversations with prospective Brand Ambassadors at schools across the country. I often talk about how my experience here at Packback is not limited by any job description. And recruiting is the next task on my list as an intern.

The excitement around our new program is very contagious. The students we have been speaking with are excited but at the same time very curious of what being a true Packbacker is all about. It is not every day you see a start-up with as much reach into new markets, let alone offering positions. So for a lot of these students this is their first time hearing about it.

So I decided to throw together a short but important list of things you need to know about Packback and joining the team as a Brand Ambassador!

1.       Packback is a student-founded social venture backed by prominent Chicago startup investors that is introducing revolutionary, disruptive methods to make expensive textbooks more affordable for the masses. As broke students, we all spend far too much money on textbooks we rarely use.  At Packback, we’re introducing the first ever $5 pay-per-use digital textbook rental to students nationwide. 

2.       Our culture is like a family. We look out for each other and push each other to be the best we can be each day. Extending on that, the transparency of this company is what makes such a friendly comfortable environment. Everyone is accessible and willing to help out!

3.       The Brand Ambassador program is going to be filled with some of the most outgoing and influential people on your college campus. If chosen, it is because you can show us you are a true Packbacker in spirit!

4.       The people you will be reporting too are some of the original Packbackers. We will be teaching you the ins and outs of our company and giving you the skills needed to better yourself as a communicator and leader.

5.       This is an unpaid position but the perks involved with the title are beyond assigning a price. Not only will you be able to use this as internship credit (If your school allows), but you will also receive some Packback swag, regular Google Hangouts with top Packback Exec’s, networking opportunities with our investors, and even free textbook rentals as you help spread the word! Some of our best BA’s will get a killer letter of recommendation to take with you after your time with us!

This is just a small list of what this program is all about. I highly recommend you sending us your information below. This is meant for during the semester so why not add some solid experience to your resume while you are away on campus.

Don’t wait! We have been getting a ton of questions and applications from awesome candidates so get your information in now so we can start to make decisions!

Apply through this form here and we’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

Also feel free to hit us up on Facebook or Twitter if you have any questions! This is a great opportunity and I hope I have the pleasure of talking with you soon!

I could have put myself through college with Bitcoins?

By Jack Sutherland, Intern

Bitcoins are slowly but surely becoming a normal form of currency in our advanced online culture. Upon writing this post, the price of one Bitcoin has reached almost $1200, and all that makes me think is my college experience cost about 87 of these virtual coins. 


Now I have been very confused and at the same time negative when the conversation of bringing this online currency to the mass public comes about. I never understood if it was real or if it would be a viable way to exchange. From my little knowledge of it I thought honestly that it was some sort of online scam and it would be gone in no time. Then upon logging into my WordPress account not to long ago to manage my other blog I realize that they decided to start accepting this currency back in 2012. Next thing I know I turn on CNBC to a discussion about if Ebay will start to accept Bitcoin and thats when I knew this wasn’t just a phase.

In the Fall of 2011, when I was just a lowly freshman on my way to Illinois State University.. I could have cashed in my last check from my part time job at Jamba Juice ($200 because I took off half the week for Lollapalooza, it was a good choice at the time) and bought about 87 Bitcoins and let them sit until, oh I dont know, November of 2013 when I am knee deep in student loans eating noodles for every meal. Instead I think I spent that extra $200 for on transportation and parking for what was supposed to be “The Greatest Music Festival of My Life!”. It was pretty okay.

Now obviously this is a ridiculous situation, I coulda bought Tesla at its low too but I never did that. But the point is that I myself have to be open to new things like Bitcoin in the world we live in. Innovation is moving faster than ever before. All you have to do is poke around and you see it everywhere. People are coming up with new world changing ideas and even if you don’t think it will work someone out there does. The faster I learn to adapt to this new form of thinking the easier it will be to stay ahead of the game. 

I’m curious as to what you guys think about this new form of currency. Have you been able to open up your minds to this new idea or do you have your doubts for its future? Also, what will be the next innovative idea to take over our culture? I have my money on Packback but I may be a little bias. 

Post your comments below, I am curious to hear what the community is thinking!

Something to remember this holiday season!

By Jack Sutherland, Intern

It happens every year around this time, people start to realize the little things in life and start to see everything a lot more clearly. We often take for granted everything that we have in our lives and find ourselves acting very selfish when it comes to problems we face day to day. All it takes is one experience to change the way we see our lives and the world around us. Something happened to me this past week that changed my perspective and cleared up a lot of uncertainty in my own life; and I am sure glad it did.

Myself and one of the other Packback interns Marissa Hall, had the privilege to head out to Washington IL with some other members of our business fraternity. It takes a lot of heart to notice a problem and take action against it and I was very proud of our group for wanting to respond so quickly.

We headed out Friday morning, skipped work and our Packback duties to go provide for these families in need. Whether it be removing a radio tower from a roof or helping families find belongings lost in the wreckage, it was truly a moving experience. We left in the morning complaining about how cold it was and by the time we were headed home we realized how good we actually have it.


I challenge you think about things in a different way this holiday season. Before you start complaining about what’s for dinner or having to go see your family think about what it could be like if you had no home to go back too. Be grateful for the things you are given in this life because they could be gone tomorrow.

From everyone here on the Packback Team, we wish you and your families a happy and safe Thanksgiving!