Passion drove ISU alumnus to launch business nationally

Katherine Klingseis

Many ISU students use Chegg, an online textbook rental company, to save money by renting their textbooks instead of buying them. What those students may not know is that the co-founder of Chegg is an ISU alumnus.

Aayush Phumbhra, who’s originally from India, came to Ames in 2001 to study at Iowa State. He said he chose Iowa State because of its small class sizes and high quality professors.

“I liked that ISU had 40 or 30 students in a class,” Phumbhra said. “ISU [also] had really good professors.”

Phumbhra said financial aid was also easier to receive at Iowa State than it was at other universities. He said he was able to receive financial aid for his second semester at Iowa State, but was unable to receive aid for his first semester.

“I came to Iowa State with only $400 in my pocket,” he said.

His financial difficulties led Phumbhra to become a co-founder of Chegg.

“Textbooks are obviously expensive. Buying and selling used was a solution, but it was not enough,” Phumbhra said. “That led me to find a better solution. It’s what we do today.”

Chegg existed as a business on the ISU campus before Phumbhra became involved. He said Chegg was initially ran by a man from his basement.

“Chegg was mainly used to buy and sell things on campus,” Phumbhra said. “My idea was to take it national.”

Phumbhra emailed the founder of Chegg, and said he wanted to launch the company nationally. He said the main challenge he and the other co-founder faced when launching Chegg nationally was being able to secure enough financial backing.

In 2004, Phumbhra graduated from Iowa State with a master’s degree in accounting and business administration in marketing. After graduation, Phumbhra began working at BearingPoint, a management and consulting firm.

“Before I graduated, I was doing really extensive job searching,” he said. “Students have to be proactive when searching for jobs.”

Phumbhra recommends that students also do internships before they graduate. He said internships help you gain experience and clarity.

“It’s very important to have that sense of real life experience,” he said. “If you’re able to do an internship, you have some experience to go on your resume and it may help clarify things for you and what you want to do.”

Two years after Phumbhra graduated from Iowa State, Chegg was officially funded by sources who were “passionate about solutions to help college students” and was launched nationally. In 2007, Chegg began renting textbooks.

In addition to being the co-founder of the business, Phumbhra is also Chegg’s senior vice president. For his position, Phumbhra has to focus on many different aspects of the business. Currently, he is directing his attention to the future of Chegg.

“I am focusing on expanding the amount of services we offer to students,” he said. “My goal is to make sure to work on different things to benefit students.”

In addition to renting textbooks, Chegg also offers students help with picking courses and doing homework. Just recently, Chegg added Zinch, a website that helps high school students connect to colleges, to its business enterprise.

“When you’re in high school, Zinch helps you pick the right school,” Phumbhra said.

Phumbhra said he has learned a lot from starting Chegg, and enjoys working at the company. He recommends that students try to find jobs that they too enjoy.

“The main thing that drove me was passion. You have to be passionate about whatever you want to do in life,” he said. “You should do something you like to do — that you enjoy.”