NJIT Grad Geoff Cox
Young, talented and entrepreneurial, Geoff Cox (2003) is living the good life in Manhattan. He runs a software business out of his apartment. He plays guitar in a rock band and, with help from his two roommates, he throws some “awesome” parties on the deck of his midtown apartment.
In 2003, Cox graduated from NJIT with a perfect grade-point average: a 4.0. He had a double major in computer science and applied math and was a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College, where he was president of the student council. He had a lust for travel and spent a semester abroad studying in Singapore. But more than anything, he loved computers and was endowed with an imagination that percolated with ideas.
It thus came as no surprise to his professors and friends that shortly after he graduated, Cox, along with three fellow students, formed urShelf.com -- an online bulletin board where students buy and sell used textbooks. More recently, he founded Brain Book Software, the software business he runs out of his apartment -- or more accurately, out of his bedroom. In the below interview, Cox talks about what it’s like to be young and talented and living the good life in New York City.
Did NJIT help you become independent-minded and entrepreneurial?
NJIT helped me to be independent and think innovatively. It was at NJIT, and especially at the honors college, that I was first exposed to students and professors who shared my interests in computers. It was there that I first began to bounce ideas off other people. Before that, I'd discuss technology with my friends, but they weren't enthusiastic about computers and technology.
Did you think up the idea for urShelf.com when you were a just freshman?
Yes. As a freshman I had bought a textbook for $150 and sold it back to a bookstore for just $40. I lost money, and I knew millions of other college students were losing money when they both bought overpriced textbooks and sold them back at a big loss. I was studying computer science at NJIT and was in an environment that was a fertile breeding ground for innovation. So I, along with three of my fraternity brothers from Pi Kappa Phi, came up with the idea for an on-line bulletin board that would let students sell and buy used textbooks from each other, either on their own campus or from students at other campuses. UrShelf saves both the seller and the buyer money.
Does urShelf.com still exist?
It not only exists but thrives. And the four of us – all NJIT grads now -- still run and own it. Urshelf.com is used now by students across the nation to buy and sell textbooks on their college campuses. To date, we have 11,165 members and have had 18,937 books listed by students from 1,940 campuses nation-wide! Urshelf.com is also still profitable and generates revenue through commissions on the sale of textbooks purchased from amazon.com by way of Urshelf.com. And it virtually runs itself.
Can you talk about your more recent company, Brain Book Software?
It’s a small software company whose main product, FORMfields, is a software toolkit that customers use to build their websites. FORMfields provides a framework or reusable parts that help people quickly build complex web applications without reinventing the wheel. The software has predefined templates that are especially helpful to people who must create databases, on-line forms or widgets and link them to their websites. The software packages run from $30 to $500. I advertise the product on Google and on Hotscripts.
You offer two other products, too?
Right: One is called AdMan, an advertisement management server that helps publishers organize their ads, view web traffic, handle online transactions and interact with their advertisers. The other is GoExpo!, a tradeshow software package that attracts buyers to exhibitor booths by matching the attendees and their product interests. For GoExpo! I have a partner company. But the other two products – FORMfields and AdMan – I work on alone.
Why did you start the business?
I started Brain Book Software because I saw a tremendous opportunity to create and sell affordable yet powerful web applications. The popularity of the Internet keeps growing and there are still many needs Internet users have that are not being met. It’s the innovation that keeps me going. I could spend my life consulting for other companies, working on other people’s stuff. But why would I do that when I have a database filled with hundreds of new ideas?
What is it like running Brain Book Software out of your apartment in Manhattan?
I love it. It gives me ultimate flexibility and completely eliminates a commute. There is nothing like getting out of bed and hopping on my computer and researching a new idea that I literally just dreamed about. I have three computers in my room, a fax and a printer. I usually work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., after which my schedule is flexible.
Since you've graduated, you never had a boss. Is that by design?
No. Before I graduated I had my share of bosses. As a boy, I worked as a paper boy and made a whopping $1 an hour. And many of those hours were spent trudging through the snow and the rain. I also worked at a Model’s Sporting Goods; as a receptionist at a software company; and as an office cleaner for an architecture firm. While at NJIT, I started working for ILEX, L3 Communications, and I stayed there for a year after I graduated. I’m very social and I’ve had some great relationships with my bosses. But given my out-of-the-box ideas, my bosses always knew that I’d go off and start my own thing. That’s the only way I can have the flexibility to work on what I love.
What were the highlights of your NJIT days?
Studying abroad was the single best thing I did at NJIT. I spent a semester studying at a university in Singapore. With my Canadian buddies, I backpacked through Malaysia, Thailand and Laos. I backpacked across China for a month, accompanied only by my Chinese dictionary. The staff at the honors college encouraged me to go aboard and I'm grateful to them. I'm grateful to the honors college, also, which offered rigorous honors classes and seminars and lectures that helped to expand my intellect and my worldview. And working as a resident assistant in a dormitory helped me learn how to interact with people. It also helped me forge close friendships. I still keep in touch with a huge group of RAs from NJIT. They were by far some of the coolest and most fun people at NJIT.
You play guitar in a rock band. Is there a relation between being a techie and a musician?
Some of the creativity that I use for music flows over into software and vise-versa. Yet, music and technology are so different. When I deal with technology, I'm usually dealing with companies and employees. That's completely different from being on stage in Greenwich Village and performing for a bar full of drunken people. The best thing about technology and music lately is that software and hardware once available only to the big recording companies are now widely available, and used by local bands, such as the one I’m in, to make great recordings. Just check out http://www.jestertricks.com; everything you’ll hear was recorded with less than $200 of recording equipment. So I guess I’m putting my NJIT education to good use: making software by day and music by night.
How do you like living in Manhattan?
It’s one of the craziest cities in the world but, strangely enough, that comforts me: I know I'm not wasting my life in a boring place. Recently I was having dinner with my girlfriend and at the table next to us sat the actor George Clooney. I've also taken swing dance lessons from the best swing dancers in the country; I've bar hopped frenetically downtown, stopping at 10 bars in one night. The biggest drawback to living here is that everything is expensive, so you are always broke. But so be it. It's still big fun.
What is your apartment like?
I live in a neighborhood called midtown west, near to Columbus Circle. My apartment is small – a two bedroom converted into a three bedroom. I could not even fit a bike in my room. It's small but it’s in a great neighborhood that is far enough from Times Square so that I don't get enveloped by tourists each time I leave my door. I and my two roommates have an amazing roof-top deck on which we've thrown some awesome parties. If we throw any more -- we've been warned -- we'll be unceremoniously kicked out.
What do you plan to do in the future?
Not sure. I want to travel to Europe and to Shanghai. At this point, it looks like that in a few years I might move to Europe. I want to move to a place where I don't speak the language. While I'm there, I'll probably continue building Brain Book Software and just soak up the experience of living abroad. Thanks to NJIT, which gave me the chance to study in Singapore, I've never forgotten the thrill of foreign travel. After that, who knows? Maybe I'll go back for an MBA. Or maybe I'll start a business in another field. At the moment, I'm just enjoying life.
(Robert Florida, University Web Services)