Posted on May 16, 2014 by

How PackBack Books Created Their Own Startup Accelerator

I love accelerators.  I have witnessed their impact first hand on Dashfire startups and as a mentor for TechStars, DreamIt, and Impact Engine companies.  These highly selective programs enable early stage startups through mentorship, networking, and fundraising to leading angels and VCs.  AirBnB, Dropbox, and Digital Ocean are just three of the many extraordinary accelerator graduates. These successes have led to an increased demand from later stage startups for these programs, but at the same terms accelerators were offering to less proven companies.  It’s an economic no-brainer for accelerators, but has left earlier stage startups with less access to the proven accelerator framework.

In 2012, Illinois State students, Mike Shannon and Kasey Gandham, founded Packback Books, an on-demand e-textbook rental platform.  Mike and Kasey knew that they didn’t have the prerequisites for an accelerator.  So they created their own.  And their throwback, pound-the-pavement style worked.  In the time since, they have partnered with 7 publishers, created 13 Chicago-based jobs, partnered with 100 brand ambassadors, and raised money from Mark Cuban after starring on Shark Tank.

Here’s how they self accelerated:

Accelerators generate networking opportunities. Accelerators provide young companies and entrepreneurs with access to influencers in the space.
Kasey and Mike researched relevant Chicago influencers on LinkedIn.  They snuck into 1871 and waited for these influencers to leave their office before approaching them.  While they faced awkward stares and rejections, many influencers appreciated their hustle and took the meeting.

Accelerators facilitate key hires and partners.  Just an additional step to networking.  Accelerators identify personnel and strategic needs, then introduce the individuals to meet said needs.
Kasey and Mike built a robust advisory board that led to the introduction of their current CTO and law firm.

Accelerators “open doors” faster.  The accelerator network includes corporate executives who can make introductions to corporate or strategic partners.
Kasey and Mike opened their own doors.  They leveraged their .edu emails to convince the President McGraw Hill to attend an event they hosted at Illinois State University.  After pitching him on Packback and negotiating a pilot, they used this milestone to gain the audience of other publishers.

Accelerators offer office hours with verticalized mentors. Mentors provide companies with feedback on their respective trade: sales, marketing, design, development, etc.
Recognizing that their key limitations were on customer insights and technology, they partnered with Leo J. Shapiro to facilitate focus groups and Dashfire for product development.

Accelerators facilitate fundraising through demo day.  Angel and venture capital investors listen to pitches from each batch and are prepared to make investments.
Kasey and Mike met with over 100 investors and parlayed some early wins into larger commitments.  And then they created their own demo day.  On Shark Tank.

Want to learn more about self-acceleration? Go stalk Kasey & Mike outside their office.  It just might work.

Watch PackBack Negotiate with Mark Cuban