It wasn’t that long ago that us here at Startup Lowdown were broke college student (only the college student part has changed). And of all the great memories that those four wonderful undergraduate years brought, there was one that weren’t so keen on: buying textbooks. Every semester, students make a trip to the campus bookstore and spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks. Making things worse, some publishers would create a new version of the textbook every year, making it difficult for students to resell the textbook at the end of the class.
This week, we had a chance to interview Ariel Diaz, CEO and founder of Boundless. Boundless connects students to the wealth of publicly available information on the internet by curating free educational content into high quality documents/tools that could one day replace the traditional textbook. Since its founding, Boundless has raised close to $10MM in funding, and is using that capital to revolutionize the education industry. Despite a lawsuit from three major publishers, Boundless has pushed forward and is continuing to expand. Covering 18 college topics from accounting to sociology, this dedicated team is focused on improving their product offering, which currently includes tools like e-books, smart notes, flash-cards, and study guides. Keep reading for Ariel’s take on what it’s been like running Boundless.
StartupLowdown: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Startup Lowdown! For those of our readers who haven’t heard of Boundless before, can you briefly describe who you are and what you do?
Ariel: Boundless believes in open and accessible educational content for students. Boundless uses open educational resources to create and curate completely free online textbooks, designed for college students. Our textbooks are packed with additional study guides and interactive features that help students excel.
StartupLowdown: How did you guys come up with the idea to address this pain point?
Ariel: When I was looking to start a new company, I was deciding between the energy, healthcare and education sectors. I found the status of education to be much more impactful and decided to move forward with two of my close friends, Aaron White and Brian Balfour. We saw that the educational content was backwards, where the product was being locked out for those who needed it. This pain was student pain–students has no choice but overpayment for the textbooks they needed for class. We then decided to leverage the power of open content to provide students with the affordable and accessible resources they deserve.
StartupLowdown: Can you talk about your company’s growth since inception? How widely used are Boundless materials these days?
Ariel: Since the establishment of Boundless in 2011, the company itself has grown from a team of 3 to a team of 20. In regards to our materials, our textbooks are being used in over 2000 colleges that span all 50 states!
StartupLowdown: If I were a student, my biggest concern would be determining whether or not free content can adequately substitute for a specifically assigned textbook. How has your team addressed this concern?
Ariel: We present our textbooks as an alternative, rather than a substitute to assigned textbooks. The content amassed from open educational resources is curated to match textbooks concept for concept.
StartupLowdown: What has your team found as the most effective method of engaging your target market of college students?
Ariel: We have found our on-campus marketing to be an extremely effective form of engagement. Boundless hires dozens of undergraduate campus representatives that work directly with our target market, building strong relationships with students across the country.
StartupLowdown: What has been the biggest challenge in running this startup? What are the keys to success for Boundless in the long run?
Ariel: The biggest challenge has been keeping the balance between long term vision and short term goals. We overcome the tension by having our short term goals tie in directly to our long term goals, making a consistent drive that is both exciting and motivating.
The key to success for Boundless is maintaining corporate culture. The incredible focus, passion and energy of our team has directly influenced the quality and productivity of Boundless.
StartupLowdown: It seems like everything is going online these days, and that textbooks are following suit. Are there any other broad trends in the textbook industry that your team has observed?
Ariel: We’ve observed the shift of educational content beyond the traditional context. The textbook is no longer a linear and static form as they used to be. Even as textbooks become digital resources with Internet and mobile capabilities, they are not purely ‘online textbooks,’ they are experiences.
StartupLowdown: Thank you once again for contributing to Startup Lowdown. We’re aware that Boundless is in a legal battle against some large publishers over the right to offer this free content. If there is anything we, or any of our readers can do to help, please let us know!
Ariel: Your continued support and interest are great! Tell your friends who are in college about the Boundless free study tools and textbooks.
If you’d like to learn more about Boundless, or check out some of their free materials, you can visit the following:
Support these guys and spread the word!