Alan Martin was born and raised in Sunset City, Utah. He is the Founder and CEO of CampusBookRentals.com (Now Sidewalk), located in Salt Lake City, Utah.
CampusBookRentals disrupted traditional textbook models, by renting books to students for typically half the price of buying used. In 2011, Forbes listed CampusBookRentals as one of Americas Most Promising Companies, and in 2012 Inc. Magazine ranked CampusBookRentals the 17th fastest growing company in the nation.
Alan has two brothers and one sister, and grew up surrounded by opportunities to work. From the ages of 9 to 15 he spent a portion of his summers working on a farm in Cub River, Idaho, hauling hay and moving sprinkler pipe, to earn money for the year. He cherishes the many opportunities he was given as a kid to develop a lasting appreciation for the rewards of hard work.
Alan attended Weber State University, and initially worked toward a major in business, but ultimately changed course to a more “useful and practical” degree in Technical Sales. While a student at Weber State, Alan was hired into a competitive six-year internship program as a civilian with the Air Force where he became involved in the writing and administration of Air Force contracts for aircraft parts and services. Upon completion of his Bachelor’s degree in Technical Sales, he began to pursue a Masters degree in Procurement in Acquisitions Management; however he ultimately dropped out of the program to run CampusBookRentals full time.
As a student at Weber State, Alan struggled with the idea of paying too much for textbooks. This simple frustration led him to the idea of rental instead. He launched the CampusBookRentals.com website in August 2007, and rented just 22 books that first semester. Competitors simultaneously appeared on the scene, and attention was drawn to the very nascent textbook rental idea. With no other funding options available, Alan and several friends raised $250,000 on personal credit cards, which funded the business through the fall of 2008.
During the 2008 recession many people went back to school, and as they did, they searched even harder for ways to save money. Renting textbooks was part of that answer and the concept gained national attention, with hundreds of millions of venture dollars eventually flowing into the space, and virtually every textbook industry participant adding textbook rental to their list of services.
Despite early frustrations with the college bookstore (which led to the founding of CampusBookRentals), Alan and his team saw almost immediately that the larger opportunity actually existed within the walls of the college store. If they were to deliver the most value to students, and have a real shot at permanently improving the higher educational content industry, it would happen in partnership with, not in competition against, the college store. In 2009, CampusBookRentals became the first company in the nation to provide rental technology to college stores, and today it is in partnership with over 12% of college stores in the U.S., as measured by student enrollment.
Alan attributes his success to a supportive family, exceptional team members, and in a very big and real way, the fact that the fledgling company didn’t raise capital too early. The financial struggle, though painful, helped shape the company’s DNA. The distance between the company’s resources and its aspirations was dramatic, and it was out of this gap created by a lack of resources, that the innovation and creativity flowed. As Alan puts it “receiving venture capital too early can replace critical thinking and creativity”.
Future Business Development
CampusBookRentals (now Sidewalk) looks forward to the day when it can have an impact on digital content that is as great or greater than the one it had on physical content. It is getting further and further into position each day as it creates partnerships with institutions across the country, and works in collaboration with them to bring the best content to students, in all forms, at the best price.