College students the world over have one thing in common—expensive textbooks. Many students who can’t or won’t pay full price turn to second-hand books or rentals, causing book publishers to increase prices to cover the lost revenue. Book costs have risen 67% from 2008 to 2018, while overall textbook revenue fell for the five big publishers who control 80% of the market.
In the UK, an Oxford student chose to do something about it. In 2014, David Sherwood founded BibliU, an educational content platform and education technology company, specialising in digital textbook and monograph provision for universities, libraries and other higher education institutions.
“Anyone that’s dealt with the university in recent times, the textbooks are far too expensive, like a total rip off. And if you want to have digital access to them, it is often unavailable, or if it is available, it’s a very poor, flat PDF experience. I thought software could address both of those problems and that’s what we set out to do. So, I dropped out of Oxford,” says Sherwood, CEO, who along with his co-founder and CTO Daniel Engelke were named to the 2019 Forbes 30under30 list.
The company was originally founded as a B2C online textbook publisher, using the Spotify model where students would subscribe to the service and gain access to all of the books they wanted. But he quickly pivoted to working directly with universities. “We found that B2B was a better business model, firstly, because you can achieve much better discounts and, and get the price point much lower in the day-to-day world than is possible in the B2C world. Secondly, the publishers are much easier to work with because you can guarantee them X revenue from an institution or university, rather than always promising revenue in the future,” says Sherwood.
The London-based BibliU created the online platform that provides an engaging interface, with interactive and communications features that not only digitised textbooks, but created an enhanced student experience. Originally working with Oxford to bring the platform to market, BibliU now works with nearly one hundred universities, including Cornell, University of Phoenix , Coventry and Occidental College. Some 200,000 students use the Bibliu platform.
The company has some 80 employees and is growing fast. “We’ve grown at 220%, three years in a row, including the year of COVID of course, which, which was beneficial to us, but even now that COVID is kind of diminishing, we’re still on track to get to exceed our revenue goals,” says Sherwood.
While it is still early days, the company was incubated out of the Oxford investment fund and has attracted $16.2 in venture capital to date from Angel Investment Network, Oxford Sciences Innovation, Guinness Asset Management, Nesta Impact Investments and SFC Capital.
Sherwood grew up in Perth, Australia and earned his degree in Advanced Sciences, including Chemistry and Physics from the University of Western Australia. Both his parents are involved in the academic world. His father is a professor and his mother ran a small private college. The pair split when Sherwood was young. And although Sherwood had a good relationship with his father, he grew up with his mother and attributes his entrepreneurial drive to her. “As a single mum when we were quite young, that was never kind of an obvious thing to me until maybe after the fact. Thinking back, I guess I saw it a lot and therefore I probably absorbed quite a lot from her,” says Sherwood.
He discovered he enjoyed running an organisation and working with people when he became co-founder and CEO of Teach Learn Grow, a charity to provide free math and English tutoring to rural children. He then left both Chemistry and Australia behind when he was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar and began attending Oxford to study, Politics, Philosophy and Economics and left after two years to found BibliU.
As for the future of BibliU, Sherwood says, “So, inevitably with venture funded companies, at some point there’s an IPO, private equity kind of pathway or a strategic acquisition. I wouldn’t want to rule anything out. I think it’s too early to say. I would say that we have a massive market opportunity, and I could definitely see us going down the IPO path, assuming we continue to grow to where we need to get there. I think that part is available.”