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Five Questions With An EdTech Startup: Boundless.com’s CEO Ariel Diaz

By on January 28, 2013
Domestic, Interview, Lawsuits & Legal, OER - Open Educational Resources, Open Source Education, Required, Startups, Technology, Textbooks, Universities & Colleges

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We are starting a new semi-regular feature at WiredAcademic called “Five Questions.” When we discover or hear from interesting education technology startups we haven’t profiled before, we ask five questions on our mind either by email or phone and publish the results (the idea is to ask tough questions) along with our responses to how well the CEO or startup answered the questions. If they want to clarify in the comments or in additional responses, we are happy to update the interview. We welcome other people to ask questions in the comment section aimed at the interview subject as well. Here’s the first of these interviews.

The Interviewee: Ariel Diaz, CEO of Boundless (@arieldiaz)

Bio: Before Boundless, Ariel co-founded YouCastr, an online video platform that enabled hundreds of high schools to broadcast and sell live sports and other events to parents and the community. Ariel also founded a consumer web consulting company and worked in management consulting in Boston, MA. He holds a A.B., B.E., and Masters of Engineering Management from Dartmouth College, speaks three languages, loves all things orange, and serves as President of the Dartmouth Boston Entrepreneur Network.

Diaz’ pitch: “We’re creating free online textbooks for college students using OER tailored for their classes. By using Boundless, students will save hundreds of dollars a year on traditional textbooks. Students at more than half of US colleges have already embraced Boundless’s open textbooks!”

WA – Update us on the legal battles between textbook publishers and companies like yours?

AD – Publishers have previously used litigation to stifle innovation, like when sued to ban the sale of imported textbooks… Ours is a unique legal battle. Often our case is mistakenly compared to the Napster music litigation; in our case, no actual content was copied. Rather, publishers are suing us for copying the order of content. Last summer we filed a motion to dismiss two of the claims from the publishers’ lawsuit (for false advertising and unfair competition), and are still awaiting that decision. We feel that the publishers’ claims are without merit, are confident in our vision and mission, and look forward to continuing to fight for what’s right for students.

Response from WA: We’d like more details on the lawsuits… do they bar Boundless from operating or publishing? Feel free to post in comments section.

WA – If I, as a professor, assign a journalism textbook to a student for the class, can that student go around me and use a Boundless textbook? Or does Boundless only work when a college and professor agree to use it in a class?

AD – We currently have writing and communications books that might interest your journalism students. Our other subjects, like political science, have covered current events in real time (for example, we updated our 2012 presidential election coverage within hours of the results).Boundless can be used in a variety of ways. Students can use our free textbooks as a supplement to or replacement for traditional textbooks. Boundless has readings and study tools that will make learning more efficient. Alternately, educators can work with us to customize content to their syllabus or assign one of our many book alignments.

Response from WA: Still a bit unclear how this works. If I, as a professor, assign a textbook that requires readings that relates to my exams and assignments, the students will be up poo creek without a paddle if they don’t buy that book but try to use Boundless instead? So, in that case, they still need to buy or borrow the actual textbook and, perhaps, can use the Boundless book for their own interest and learning?

WA – Can you give us your growth stats & funding details in 100 words or less?

AD – Students at more than half of US colleges have embraced Boundless. This year, we expect that number to continue to grow, as we’ve more than doubled the number of subjects that we offer and built a suite of features that go way beyond traditional textbooks. Most importantly, 88% of students who used our textbooks last semester are likely to go Boundless again and 95% of our users achieved the grade they expected – or did better! We’re very excited about our growth prospects for the spring semester.

Response from WA: We’d like hard numbers on the growth answer. How many is “more than half of US colleges” have embraced Boundless? We also don’t see your answer to funding details? 

WA – What’s the biggest obstacle for Boundless at the moment?

AD – The number one request we receive from students is more content. We’re constantly working to expand our content offerings to get Boundless into the hands of more students. We’ve developed an innovative process to create and curate this content in the best way possible for students.

Response from WA: The lawsuits / legal hurdles as well?

WA – What’s your prediction of what the textbook market will look like by 2020?

AD – The textbook market as we know it now will end. By 2020 it’s inevitable that the forces the Internet have unleashed will finally have their effect on the textbook industry, that has been insulated in its antiquated model. The textbook market, which currently sells commodity content at premium prices, won’t be able to justify its outrageous prices as knowledge becomes more accessible. I expect print books will make up a small fractions of the market, maybe one-tenth to one-quarter of the total market. The market in 2020 will be dominated by content that is digital, accessible, modular, and personal.

WA response: Interesting and bold answer. Thanks for your responses & time.

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