Innovative companies attract venture dollars. Disruptive ones raise the ire of incumbents before they’ve really even gotten started. Boundless Learning, the Boston-based open textbook company, today announced that it has done both.
The company has raised an $8 million Series A led by Venrock, released new user reviews from its beta, and made public that it is the target of litigation by a number of texbook publishers.
Venrock is joined in the round by the company’s other existing investors NextView Ventures, Founder Collective, Kepha Partners, and SV Angel who collectively put in $1.7 million in April. Mike Tyrrell of Venrock has joined the board. The company plans to use the funding to continue to build its product, and is currently hiring developers.
Boundless Learning’s mission is to make open educational content more relevant, and says its beta textbook product aimed at higher education has received extremely positive reviews since its launch last fall. The beta reached “thousands” of students at over 1,000 universities, says the company, with 92% of users recommending the product after use.
“We’re at a point now where, like every traditional media, there’s a lot of change on the horizon,” said CEO Ariel Diaz of the textbook industry.“They’re bad pedagogically, they’re bad from a user stand point,” he told me.
Diaz informed me that the company received a complaint alleging copyright infringement on March 23 from textbook publishers Cengage Learning, and Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, as well as educational software provider Pearson Education.
“We fundamentally believe the suit is without merit,” he said. While Boundless is playing it close to the chest with concern to the details – I’m told the company is preparing a more robust response – it asserts that the publishers are “wrongfully claiming ownership of open knowledge.” Copyright law protects the expression of facts or ideas but not the facts or ideas themselves.
The suit alleges that Boundless copies the organization of sections from the publishers’ textbooks, though it populates them with openly licensed content.
Diaz told me the company is moving its product in the direction of modularity, with more compact and easier to digest content, and is placing an emphasis on peer-to-peer learning and shareability. Though the beta product was not particularly interactive beyond basic highlighting, note taking, and search, he told me the company plans to evolve towards deeper interactivity.
“That’s the direction students are pulling us in,” he said. It’s that focus on students that he believes sets Boundless apart from the way textbooks are currently designed.
“The professor is deciding and kind of prescribing this textbook to the students,” said Diaz. If Boundless is successful, that will change.