Interview with Dave Sherwood
Co-Founder & CEO at Bibliotech

Bibliotech Education Ltd is a London-based startup spun out of University of Oxford Innovation Fund. We have developed a modern eTextbooks platform that integrates fully with all library and university systems and we're already working closely with a number of UK universities. The idea behind Bibliotech was conceived by one of the co-founders, Dave Sherwood, who realised that there was a gap in the e-reading market, with students having to buy physical textbooks for extortionate prices.
Hi Dave! Can you introduce us to Bibliotech?
Hi I'm Dave, the CEO of Bibliotech. Bibliotech makes learning more effective. It's an educational platform that brings textbooks to life. We work with all of the major publishers, so Pierce and Wiley, McGraw-Hill, and we service the universities under an enterprise SAS model and our university customers include New York University, Cal Poly Pomona, Oxford University, Imperial College London, amongst a wide range of other institutions.
What are the biggest technical innovations utilized by Bibliotech?
Bibliotech makes learning more effective, and what that specifically means is: redesigning the textbook to fit the needs of the student and, specifically, save the student time and make them a better student. So we've built the product around a search engine, because when you look at a student, most of the time the student wants to quickly take information and use it to answer their assessment, or revise, et cetera. It's not so common for a student to want to read from page one to page a thousand. And so we've built this really powerful search and recommendation engine, that uses machine learning to make sure that you get the most relevant result to your needs. And what this does is save you time - massive, massive time - finding the information you need for your course. As a secondary point, once you have that information, you need to consume it. So what the product does is makes the consumption more effective - saves you time consuming the information. So we have a speed reader, so you can read faster. We have a text-to-speech function so you can read it in environments that maybe a textbook wouldn't be useful, so for example: if you're on the bus, or if you're cooking, et cetera. So it frees up the ability to consume that content in a variety of environments. Now altogether this brings a more effective learning experience, makes the students better students, and saves them significant amounts of time.
As a recent graduate who spent loads on textbooks, I want to personally thank you for your work Dave. How much can students save using your platform?
I'm glad you asked this question, because the cost of textbooks was a particularly important problem, for myself, also - I studied in both the UK and Australia, and in both places, in quite different courses - chemistry and then economics and philosophy - I had issues with the textbook purchase price. Primarily that I couldn't afford to buy the textbooks that I was supposed to have for my course. It's a very common problem: something like 60 percent of students around the world can't purchase the textbooks that they're supposed to have for their course, and 95 percent of students say that if they don't have these, their grades will suffer. So it's a really, really big equality problem. Bibliotech, we're looking to address this directly, and so directly in fact - using an enterprise SAS model - that the institution pays on behalf of the student. So in fact it cost the student nothing - in terms of they don't have to use their credit card, they don't have to use the bank account, it's included in their tuition fees. Now obviously they have to pay their tuition fees back at some point, but it means that rather than having to empty your fairly empty bank account already, or use a credit card - which is a tricky thing as a student anyway - it's included in the course. So we're essentially trying to make learning affordable for everybody and accessible for everybody.
With such high costs of textbooks, how can you offer access to them for affordable rates?
How does Bibliotech make the textbooks so affordable? Well the crux of what we do is enterprise SAS - so the university is paying for the content on behalf of the student and including it in the tuition. So that means that when each student arrives at university, all of the content they need - all the textbooks they need - is included in their tuition fee. So they don't have to empty their bank account, they don't need to use a credit card, and, most importantly, it's a fair learning experience for everybody. Now in terms of how we get such great rates for the universities - it all comes down to the bulk discount. Universities are taking huge volumes, as opposed to an individual taking a single title or maybe three or four textbooks, and with those huge volumes we can negotiate great bulk discounts from the content producers and the publishers.
What does your day to day look like? Do you enjoy working for yourself?
What does my day look like? That's a really good question. Now, my day has changed drastically since forming the company: we've had the seed round, the Series A, we've got to one million ARR, we have universities in the US and the UK and some in Europe as well. In the early days, when it was a team of three in-house, and we didn't have very much to spend, I had to do practically everything that wasn't product. So I did product management, I did investment, I did publisher relations, I did sales, I did marketing, I did finances, et cetera. Now, we go through a seed round, we build a team of five and slowly works its way to ten, we then have a specialist who does finance and ops. We have a specialist who does sales. I can hand those roles over and then focus my time on just the investors and the bigger customers and the public. And we do our Series A and the team goes to 20; we have specialists for all key roles. So I don't have a specialist area as such, and there's always an employee that has more time to dedicate to that area and more experience in that area. And so what that means, as the CEO, you need to use your core skills. And so my core skills - things that other people in the company may not be able to offer - one, access to a really powerful network: anybody wants to meet with the CEO, not anybody necessarily wants to meet with a sales rep - so I can open some really big account doors for the sales team, for them to work. Investors very much need to see the CEO, particularly when you're doing Series B, Series C, so, again, I represent the company to the investor. When we are at conferences or doing big meetings, or on social media, it's important that the CEO is the face of the company - so those are all the things that make up my role now, and I expect that to change drastically as we grow.
Access to education regardless of background seems to be a core principle to your business practices. Can you talk about your own background?
Access to education, regardless of background, is a really key value of Bibliotech, and it's something that has been important to me for many years, going back in time, prior to Bibliotech as well. I grew up in a rural city in Australia - and like most rural cities in the world - they have educational outcomes that are behind that of the capital cities, in the big cities. So I was witness to some of those discrepancies. When I was 19 I set up a charity with a good friend of mine, who's who's a schoolteacher in Western Australia. The charity is called Teach Learn Grow - you can check it out: teachlearngrow.org.au -provides free mathematics tutoring to rural Indigenous students. And Travis and I set this up, because we thought that was really important to, one: provide that service to the rural Indigenous students, so that they had maths tutoring available to them, and two: ensure that university students, who come from many many backgrounds - a lot of them actually from the big cities - could come to the countryside and tutor, and actually see these problems for themselves. And then when they go back to their careers, whether they become a teacher, or they do Teach for Australia, or they go into accounting,or whatever they do, they really understand that problem and they can also work towards addressing it through their career - however they do that. So it's a really really big problem all around the world and it's something I feel very passionate about.