Nowadays, education is expensive and has been for a while. Students are now not only focused on securing spots in the best schools and colleges but also struggling to balance that with the expenses; be it tuition, housing or basic human necessities.
For a couple of years, parents, as well as students, have been complaining about the skyrocketing market prices of books. Some people put up Facebook groups, backyard sales, or even use Kijiji and Amazon in hopes of trading books at more affordable prices instead of buying them at a rip-off.
The young Lebanese entrepreneur, George Khalife, alongside Co-Founders Elie Ajaltouni, and Hikmat Ajaltouni recently launched the impressive BookBack application enabling students and book-enthusiasts to sell, buy or trade books easily, safely and efficiently.
In just two days of launching BookBack cracked the Top 100 charts for Free Apps under the “Books” category, reaching #32 without any formal marketing.
George is a sales and marketing professional with a financial background. George was born in Ajaltoun, Lebanon, however, he hasn’t lived in the country much. He moved to Saudi Arabia where he spent 10 years studying at an American school before immigrating to Canada. After finishing Grade 9 in Ottawa, George returned to Lebanon to study at SABIS – a well-known international private school.
Later he made his way back to Canada where he received his Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Ottawa and is currently the Director of Business Development and Marketing at Sampford Advisors. George is BookBack’s CEO and takes the lead on all business-related initiatives; from marketing/branding, to growth and business development. However, apart from his day job, George actively shares personal experiences and lessons on his personal blog and podcast in hopes of inspiring positive change in his community.
Today, George visits Lebanon practically every summer and Christmas since most of his family still resides there.
The idea of creating a marketplace to sell and buy books stemmed from his need to modernize time-consuming, ineffective book groups after discovering, through some of his college friends, that book exchanging methods haven’t been improved since his days as a student. Almost a year and a half ago, while on a plane to Vancouver, Khalife starting sketching out the possible layout of that App, “called my good friends Elie and Hikmat and we got started on it.”
Elie and Hikmat El Ajaltouni are very crucial pillars in launching BookBack – as they were the developers behind the technology and user experience. Elie is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the technical master, that takes care of all-things software engineering related. Hikmat is the Chief Digital Officer, the operational/digital lead, who handles BookBack ‘s user interface, engagement, and strategy.
The brothers were also born in Lebanon and lived there until they graduated from high school in Ghazir. Outside school, they had a huge interest in community service in Lebanon so they joined Charity Organizations and the Scouts Movement. They joined the Scouts as junior members of a patrol and later on to become Chiefs responsible of leading different groups and learning valuable lessons that later helped guide them in life.
10 years ago Elie and Hikmat moved to Canada. Settling down in Canada was challenging because they were on their own with no family members and no friends when they first arrived. They remember their first two years in Canada, saying that it was hard since they were students working hard to cover their bills, pursue their degree, and maintain a high GPA to secure a good job afterwards.
George described this team of three as ‘The Dream Team’. He believes that their various skill sets and different fields of specialization brought together a solid team of determined and hardworking entrepreneurs who wanted to execute a plan, not just dream about it.
The App is extremely user-friendly and effortless. Its features; Search – Upload – Chat – Exchange are quite straightforward, offering students a very easy access and smooth experience. Once you log in as a user, you have two options that pop up on your screen; either a search-bar or a scan button beneath it (which takes less than 15 seconds to scan and post the book you want to sell!).
“It is an open platform – very google style – that is user-friendly and simple for students. It is either used to put money in your pocket or find you books to buy.” – BookBack User
One very important feature on the app is also the Distance measure found in the Settings. It is designed to help the user find a book within 0 to 100 KM radius, which makes it safer for the buyer as the exchange of books is still physical.
Moreover, you can find descriptions, conditions, and prices of all the books available on the app, facilitating your shopping/selling experience! BookBack works internationally and is not limited to certain universities or geographical areas – as is the case with other book applications.
Khalife says it was a conflicting dilemma attempting to design a common space between perfecting the app and taking it to market.
“I still remember a call we had at like 10 PM, I was on the roof of my building and was about to pull the plug on this whole thing – but we decided to keep pushing, because we couldn’t face the pain of quitting after putting in all the effort. The first version of the app was terrible. It took a year and a half in the making. It was difficult, but it is possible for everyone to do. You have to put in the work. Do something you love, because then it wouldn’t feel like work anymore.”
The team at BookBack want to inspire other Lebanese entrepreneurs, students, and startups to excel and succeed, showing that Lebanon is capable of producing phenomenal Tech-minded entrepreneurs.
“On the day of launch, people started sharing the App everywhere – taking screenshots, videos, and making posts on social media. We received amazing feedback and a lot of support which was really cool to see!”
However, this is only the start for the team at BookBack. George hopes that once students get back to school this coming September, the App will achieve even greater traction with more users on board. From there, the team can collect feedback, engage with users, and start mapping out future version launches.