In early February, Fahim Aziz ’15 launched a website that gives users access to the global market, called Backpack, which has since attracted thousands of users and substantial offers from investors.
Backpack, which Aziz created with his high school friend Sakib Sauro, allows users to obtain goods from foreign countries, giving shoppers access to cheaper prices or exotic products.
The process has four steps. First, the shopper identifies the item they want via Amazon.com or similar websites. Second, the shopper looks through a database of “travelers” — people who post their international travel plans to Backpack — for someone who is heading to their location from a country where the item is available or cheapest. Third, the shopper and traveler negotiate the traveler’s fee and confirm the deal. Fourth, the traveler gives the desired item to the shopper, resulting in a profit for the traveler and a cheaper product for the shopper.
“[It’s] a peer-to-peer platform,” explained Aziz, an economics and mathematics double major, “which means that people can come here and connect with each other without being a part of an institution or a group or anything. … Backpack is the first of its kind.”
The website’s current domain name is backpackbang.com; Aziz and Sauro plan on purchasing the name backpack.com when they can.
The site’s terms and conditions say that the traveler is responsible for obeying international trade laws, though Aziz hopes to make a database of that information.
“It could sound very shady,” said Associate Director of Internships Ryan Ozar, who beta tested Backpack and gave Aziz feedback. “But I think they made it so transparent and simple; It’s really about two people. Two people connecting and saying ‘Could you do that for me?’ ‘Yes, I could do that for you.’ On that level, it’s beautiful.”
In its first week in operation alone, Backpack drew over 1,000 users from 80 countries.
Aziz holds that the site could be of use to college students in a variety of ways. Students stuck in Wooster could use Backpack to access foreign scholarship or purchase exotic products cheaply, while students traveling internationally could use the platform to subsidize their journey.
“I personally could see exactly how I could use it,” said Simon Doong ’15, who learned about Backpack through the Introduction to Entrepreneurship class he takes with Aziz. “For me, I like Japanese video games and some anime and manga stuff that’s only available in Japan. … A Japanese video game can be like $70 on Ebay. … But I thought, ‘oh, with this, if someone was already going to Japan, they could go and get the game for like 20 bucks, and I could pay them $20 to get it.’ Next thing I know I’m only paying $40 for something that I couldn’t even have had access to otherwise without paying a higher price, or maybe not even had access to at all.”
Aziz got the idea for Backpack last fall, while traveling back and forth between America and Bangladesh, where he grew up.
“Every time I go back home, my friends tell me to get these products for them,” said Aziz. “Similarly, when I come back to the U.S., my friends from the U.S. tell me to get these products from Bangladesh. We realized the reason is there’s a huge market distortion there and this is true for all countries around the world.”
Aziz shared his idea with Sauro, a junior computer science major at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, and soon they were teaching themselves programming languages to make Backpack a reality. Over winter break, the Bangladeshi duo designed the website from scratch. Both passionate about design, they worked tirelessly to give Backpack a slick, user-friendly interface. Aziz and Sauro took online courses and met with entrepreneurs and website design experts, soaking up as much information and advice as they could.
Shortly after Backpack’s February launch, Aziz was contacted by a Wooster alum who wanted to invest in the website with an offer Aziz described as “substantial.”
Despite a flurry of offers, Aziz is not yet ready to accept investment in Backpack. He says he is only interested in working with investors who share his vision for the website; making money is a secondary concern. Aziz plans on traveling to Silicon Valley during spring break to meet with potential investors. By the end of the semester, Aziz plans on setting up a California office and hiring employees, for which he’ll need outside funds.
Aziz and Sauro are currently paying for the site’s operating cost themselves and do not receive any payment for the transactions Backpack facilitates. The website will most likely be monetized through advertisements, although other models are also being considered.
Aziz and Sauro are constantly adding features to Backpack. Upcoming additions include an on-site payment option and a messaging system.
“I’m curious to see where it grows,” said Ozar.