Want to Rent Books or Apartments Online? Two NJIT Grads Can Fill Your Orders

When you love your job, you smile widely and wear a book on your head. George Burke, one of the two recent NJIT grads to found BookSwim, a successful start-up, is pictured above with book hat and smile.

After they graduated from NJIT, George Burke and Shamoon Siddiqui used to hang out in East Brunswick at the Barnes and Noble bookstore. They’d read a lot of books off the shelves that they didn’t buy. Or they’d sit at the store’s café, drinking coffee and commiserating about their jobs.  Both then had corporate jobs they hated. 

George and Shamoon both also possessed entrepreneurial spirit. While students at the Honors College, they had talked in the college lounge about starting a business. Back then, though, they didn’t have a good start-up idea. 

The Idea: Netflix for Books

Then suddenly one day, hanging at the Barnes and Noble, an entrepreneurial idea struck them:  Why not start a Web-based book rental business – a mail service through which readers, for a monthly fee, could receive and return books? In essence, why not start a Netflix for books?

And so they did.  In the spring of 2007, they quit their day jobs, dipped into their personal savings and launched BookSwim. They worked out of Shamoon’s basement with donated books, a few interns and sundry sleepless nights. 

Now, four years later, BookSwim has grown into a full-fledged business, with an office in NJIT’s business incubator, seven bright young employees and a warehouse brimming with thousands of books. Since its first year, George says, BookSwim has grown 350 percent. 

“I love running a start-up business,” explains George, who graduated in 2004 with degree in information technology. “I love the autonomy and the relaxed atmosphere. When BookSwim first started I wore sweats to work. Now I dress up,” he quips. “I wear jeans and t-shirts.”  

Starting a Second Company

Shamoon recently left BookSwim – he sold his share to Burke and the two remain close -- to launch another start-up called MetroFlats. It’s a website where urban travelers can rent people’s apartments. Renting someone’s apartment, Shamoon says, is cheaper than a hotel and a lot bigger.  MetroFlats has an office in Cedar Grove with five employees. MetroFlats, though in its incipient phase, has a chance to prosper, says Shamoon.   

An Urge to Create

Shamoon is an engineer – he has both a bachelor’s (2004) and a master’s (2005) in computer engineering – with an unbridled urge to innovate and create.  While working on his master’s, he led a student team, known as DARPA, which designed a robotic vehicle. Directing that project helped to turn him into a problem solver, an innovator and a leader.     

“Starting a business comes down to creation, or having an urge to create,” says Shamoon. “George and I both have that urge, that creative itch and we both needed to scratch it.”

(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)