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How homework becomes entrepreneurship

Troventi logo.It’s no secret that students tend to turn to alternative marketplaces to find, trade or sell their textbooks to other students. Troventi is an online peer-to-peer platform that enables students to buy and sell their used textbooks, started by a group of three ambitious students at Waterloo.

The goal of this app is to create a real-time market place where users will be able to negotiate prices and schedule meet-ups in order to exchange or sell their old textbooks. With options like recommended price points and an efficient navigation system to help sellers meet up with buyers, Troventi hopes to revolutionize the way students sell and trade textbooks on campus.

I had the opportunity to talk with Carter Kirilenko, a second year environment and business student and co-founder of Troventi in order to learn more about this application.


Carter Kirilenko

What was the initial inspiration behind starting Troventi?

Our team started this journey in first year as part of a final project for our business class. The professor asked us to come up with a creative business idea and to develop a business plan.

As a group of first year students, we focused on a problem that was most relevant to us and something we could easily relate to: the high cost of textbooks. Our idea was to develop an app that would simplify students’ lives by providing them with a platform to buy or sell their used textbooks at a price they deemed fair.

At the time we had little intention of turning our ‘class idea’ into an actual start-up. It wasn’t until our TA, Hamza Ramzi, approached us a few weeks later asking us if we wanted to turn this idea into a reality that we started to become invested in the creation of the app.

What has been your biggest challenge in establishing this idea?

Marketing is undoubtedly our biggest challenge. Our app is a user-driven marketplace, which means that we need a large foundation of students using the app in order for it to be an effective service.

To provide buyers with a good experience, they should have plenty of available books to choose from on our platform. In turn, that means we will need a large amount of sellers posting their books for sale in a short period of time. This complexity between maximizing users and balancing the buyer/seller ratio in the beginning comes down to how well we market our product.

We have worked hard to use different streams of promotional strategies to spread the word around campus and we hope that our dedication to tackling this challenge will pay off down the road. Bottom line, running a company brings up an endless amount of challenges and some of them will stay constant throughout your journey as an entrepreneur. It really comes down to what you practice on a daily basis to prevent those challenges from impacting your performance and overall success.

Was there anything about the entrepreneurial environment at Waterloo that allowed for the creation of this organization? And what specific resources at the university have helped you in your establishment of the app?

I moved from Vancouver, BC to UWaterloo for a few reasons; one being my curiosity for entrepreneurship and what it would be like to live in one of the most innovative communities in Canada.

After two years here I can confidently say that it met my (relatively high) expectations. However, it was only after I co-founded my company that I realized how many opportunities there are for those who take the extra step. What really helped us out were the opportunities for mentorship.

I had the chance to be coached by a few start-up mentors in Velocity and Communitech, which provided our team with new marketing expertise and even exposure to investors. It was an amazing feeling being able to talk to mentors who have been through the exact same challenges in entrepreneurship as myself.

However I believe the most important part of this university that helped our team succeed was watching fellow students and start-ups achieve remarkable success. There is definitely no shortage of success here at UWaterloo – and seeing all these amazing ideas come to life is truly inspirational.

Where do you hope to see Troventi two years down the road?

In two years, our goal is to have students using our app in universities across Canada. Right now, picturing that in my head seems a bit surreal and optimistic; but looking back at how far we have already come from ‘brainstorming ideas on a whiteboard’ I’d say it’s possible - with a lot of work.

We would also like to bring in a social aspect into our company. Currently, we have a working partnership with The School Fund, a non-profit organization that provides funds to students across the world who don’t have access to education. We would like to use our platform to connect students at home to kids across the world who are eager to access the education that we often take for granted.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs at Waterloo who are apprehensive about expanding and pitching their ideas?

I often hear people saying that you have to be fully passionate for your company in order to be successful – I conditionally disagree with this statement. I disagree for all young students who have not even tasted entrepreneurship, because if you are waiting for that golden idea to match your passion you will be waiting for quite a while.

Before starting Troventi, I was hesitant to go through with it because my passion lies in environmental conservation, which has nothing to do with textbook exchange. I soon learned that at a young age we should be grabbing onto any potential positive opportunity that comes our way.

Entrepreneurship is a long path, and you will most likely end up in a different field (and company) from where you started. As your idea grows, so will your skills in areas such as pitching and communication. Public speaking is one of those things that all entrepreneurs will have to face eventually, and I am sure over 90% of them were scared to pitch for the first time (I definitely was), but once you nail your pitch it is one of the best feelings.

Just remember, your idea doesn’t have to be revolutionary to pursue it.

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