ecoText: Democratizing Education through Innovation

August 22, 2018
“Creating opportunity through affordability.”


Founded in 2018 at the University of New Hampshire, ecoText was born from a shared vision to tackle the high costs of college textbooks. Inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit surrounding us, my team and I embarked on a mission to revolutionize how students access and interact with their educational materials. By replacing costly textbooks with a digital platform that offered free alternatives, we aimed to alleviate the financial burdens on students and enhance their educational well-being.

The Journey and Impact

Our journey began with a bold idea to bootstrap the cold start problem by acquiring high-quality, open-source textbooks that exploded our initial catalog of offerings to over 100,000 books, articles, and other historical texts.

We developed a go-to-market plan, quickly gaining momentum through university pitch competitions. We raised ~$10,000, which allowed us to begin executing our plan by building and launching a beta version of our web application, transforming the educational landscape for thousands of students across dozens of classrooms.

Demonstrating our ability to execute early on made it possible to partner with Netcapital to raise $150k from friends, family, and other early investors.

Our initial success built enough momentum to help us secure the necessary resources to develop our vision, attracting an additional $500,000 seed round funding from established venture capital funds. This influx of resources enabled me to quit my day job and dedicate myself fully to ecoText, leading our engineering team as the team’s Chief Technology Officer.

We hired a team of more experienced software engineers, and I coordinated product execution to ensure our engineering priorities aligned with the business's.

As COVID-19 hit the universities, we launched our production-ready application and deleted our old beta app. Our platform of free textbook alternatives with rich student and teacher conversations in the margins fostered more collaborative environments for the traditional classroom settings most affected by COVID-19, reshaping how students interacted with their peers and materials.

Challenges and Reflections

Despite our initial breakthroughs, ecoText faced formidable challenges that tested our adaptability and resilience. The ever-evolving EdTech landscape and the difficulty in disrupting established academic norms posed significant hurdles for our business.

One of the primary obstacles we encountered was the entrenched relationship between universities and incumbent textbook providers. Many of these providers had long-standing agreements with universities, often including cash kickbacks, which incentivized schools to continue using their expensive textbooks. This complex web of financial dependencies made it exceptionally challenging for a new player like ecoText to gain a foothold.

Additionally, changing the established curriculum proved to be another significant barrier. Despite our platform offering high-quality, free textbook alternatives that matched the educational content of traditional textbooks, many faculty members hesitated to alter their course materials. Let’s face it—they aren’t paid to reinvent the wheel.

The inertia within academic settings and natural resistance to adopting new technologies and platforms meant that the shift required more than just presenting an equivalent educational value, even with a cost-effective and equally competent alternative.

The journey was filled with triumphs and trials, offering invaluable lessons about the harsh realities of trying to disrupt well-established industries. It taught me the importance of perseverance and innovation in the face of systemic resistance. It also highlighted that certain industries require strategic partnerships to effect change within their rigid systems. As an entrepreneur looking to bring abundant positive change to our society, searching for opportunities where paths to exponential growth are possible is critical.

Conclusion and Legacy

In the spring of 2022, recognizing that my contributions to the business had plateaued, I decided to transition from ecoText and explore new projects. This decision marked a significant turning point in my entrepreneurial journey, allowing me ample time to reflect on the profound impact of my experiences at ecoText.

On May 22, 2024, ecoText closed its doors for the last time. We had built valuable technology and received incredible user feedback, yet the harsh realities of the industry and unsustainable financial conditions led to this difficult conclusion. Though it’s been a while since I was directly involved, the journey remains a vivid part of my life.

Each person's investment in our project was crucial; it allowed me to leave my day job and dive into entrepreneurship full-time. That experience has been nothing short of transformative. I am immensely grateful for everyone's belief in our team and the vision we pursued. Although it didn’t end as we all hoped, the skills and insights I gained have been truly invaluable.

The journey of ecoText has left an unforgettable mark on my life and career. It deepened my appreciation for entrepreneurship, taught me the essence of resilience, and emphasized the importance of learning through experience. These lessons continue to resonate, steering me toward new horizons and opportunities to innovate and inspire. EcoText’s story is a testament to the power of vision and the relentless pursuit of innovation, shaping the educational landscape and everyone involved's lives.