Startup Acquisition Stories with Josh Kim, Founder of The Cubby

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How many people would you talk to about your product idea before you begin building?

Founder Josh Kim interviewed hundreds of students on his college campus before crafting a prototype for his art marketplace, The Cubby. After growing the business into one of the hottest student marketplaces on the East Coast, he exited the business all while an undergraduate. He shares his story with Andrew Gazdecki in this week’s podcast.

As a freshman, Josh spent roughly $700 buying brand-new hardcover textbooks for his first year of classes. Like most first years, he tried to resell them to the bookstore and was told it was impossible. He scoured campus for an entity that buys books only to find they were paying pennies on the dollar ($13.67, in fact. He kept the receipt).

Frustrated, Josh decided he wanted to create a platform for buying and selling used textbooks. He walked around campus and interviewed every student who would give him the time of day about things they wanted to buy and sell. He’d approach them on the quad, in the gym, and even at parties.

He compiled all of this information into a massive Google Sheet. Then he put $5,000 into a website and manually linked buyers and sellers to each other while playing around with sale commissions.

Cubby (then Schlaza) was so popular when it launched that the website shut down. Soon after, it became a smash hit in five colleges in the New England area, But revenue was too seasonal. Students mostly used it in the Fall and Spring when they were moving in and out of campus. 

Fortunately, opportunity was knocking in Josh’s inbox. Art students at multiple universities were using Cubby to sell their artwork from MFA projects. Instead of pitching their hard-made work after class, they were able to give it a second home and make some profit for their efforts.

Josh and his team pivoted The Cubby into an “Etsy for college students,” and revenue soon increased and became more constant around the year. Josh started to hear from people who’d started entire businesses selling their art on Cubby.  

Cubby was making headlines in local and national papers by this time. In March of 2022, Josh took a gap year and decided he would try to sell.

He got on the podcast with Andrew to talk about:

  • The importance of mentorship for first time founders
  • How he manually proved his concept before investing in any technology
  • How to have productive M&A conversations
  • How to tell if a buyer is serious

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