Business Journey: Dave Sherwood of BibliU
Driven by a vision that all students should have access to the course materials they need to succeed regardless of their ability to pay for textbooks, Dave Sherwood created BibliU. The EdTech company is helping to make learning more efficient through the digital provision of content to more than 140 universities globally and has ambitious growth plans.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
BibliU’s learning content management system was created to modernise the procurement, distribution and experience of digital textbooks and learning materials in the higher education market. The learning content management platform was designed to integrate fully with all university libraries to empower universities to automate their content workflows and vastly improve student outcomes through increased affordability and accessibility.
Serving more than 140 universities globally, including 40 in the UK, BibliU is driven to create a more efficient and effective learning experience which benefits everyone, from students and academics, to institutions and publishers.
What did you do before you started this business?
While earning my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Western Australia, I became increasingly passionate about entrepreneurship. I co-founded an educational volunteering startup called ‘Teach, Learn, Grow,’ which was created to provide all children in Western Australia with equal opportunities in education regardless of location, background or circumstance. This fueled my mission to widen educational access, and so I became a Rhodes Scholar and headed to Oxford.
What inspired you to start up?
Like many students, I’ve grappled with the all-too-common disparity in educational provisioning. Data has shown that the prices of university textbooks have risen by a staggering 1,041% since 1977, with the average student being expected to budget between £450 and £1,070 for books and equipment per year.
I saw that, while a lot was being innovated with phone software, e-books were not being innovated at the same rate. I realised that a technical solution was needed to fill this gap. I was sure there was a way to allow for content to be provided at a price point that works for publishers, institutions, and students.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I’ve always found that, if you surround yourself with honest and trustworthy people, you are in a much better position to distinguish between what is working and what isn’t. Second to that, model yourself off the people who’ve already pursued and succeeded at what you are trying to achieve.
For me, that person was social entrepreneur Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for All, a global network of organisations working to expand educational opportunity for children. I only wish I’d read her book sooner!
I’ve also recognised that taking the time to talk with your end customers and truly understand the challenges they face will make your go to market strategy much more effective.
How did you access any finance you needed?
Initially, our product was built without capital and proposed to Oxford University, which provided BibliU with a grant that allowed us to present content to other universities to secure further business opportunities.
Following that, universities connected us with a UK angel investor network, and then we had to overcome the challenge of securing a critical mass of publishers ahead of our Seed round.
We’re different from other startups in taking that approach, but it was an important test of how credible our growth path was and continues to be. Our Series A round proved that revenue and traction is critical to hone in on in this phase.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
To this day, my involvement in kick-starting the Teach, Learn, Grow (TLG) foundation has been an achievement I reflect on regularly. The group of friends I volunteered with were passionate about creating solutions for their community and that ignited in me the same drive to deliver a scalable product.
Today, TLG has over 500 volunteers and provides over 20,000 hours of lessons a year, which makes me proud every day.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
To be absolutely certain that we develop the best product and offerings for universities across the globe, we make sure to engage in an active dialogue with the higher education community to establish the core ways to optimise their workflows. This approach is essential if you truly want to take into account the direct effect on the learning and teaching experience of students and staff.
Another core aspect of our business model that sets us apart from other competitors in the market is accessibility. An inclusive product that prioritises user experience for everyone is what we count on ourselves to deliver now and always, going forward.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
'Being your own boss' is a bit of a misnomer; we have investors and employee shareholders and my ‘boss’ is the shareholders represented by the board. Yet, in terms of being a young CEO, I love that you learn so much and are able to develop a vision and see it through. It’s an amazing opportunity to see the impact of my work. And it’s inspiring to be surrounded by an awesome team, customers, and publishers, together on this journey to have an impactful role on the accessibility of educational resources.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
We’re creating a new category in higher education tech, developing a platform that enables schools to provide academic content to their faculty and students more efficiently, accessibly, and equitably than ever before.
We’re doing this by innovating not only how content is procured and managed, but also the business models, user experience, and scope of content covered. We’ve firmly established ourselves in the UK market. In five years, I expect BibliU to be the solution of choice for higher education institutions worldwide.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Hone in on a vision and operate with a greater purpose in the world - one that your employees, partners and customers can get behind. Our vision is to ensure all students have access to the course materials they need to succeed.
Another key lesson is to push through and learn from the mistakes that are part and parcel of an entrepreneurial journey. Reach out to mentors wherever possible and other colleagues across the business because as Chase Williams, CEO and Co-founder of Campus once said: “you can never be sure where to go, but you can speak to someone who has a map of where the potholes are.”