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Continue to refine who, precisely, is your customer - that may not be clear at the start
Today's entrepreneur is Alastair Adam, co-CEO of FlatWorld, a college textbook publisher that just announced its digital and print books are being used by faculty at more than 1,500 institutions this fall.
FlatWorld is emerging as a formidable competitor to the world's biggest textbook publishers because it's doing something that hasn't been done before—offering peer-reviewed textbooks at low prices.
In 2016, Adam and his long-time business partner, John Eielson, assembled the assets, including acquiring the former Flatworld Knowledge business, built a team and launched FlatWorld, with a mission to bring college textbook prices back down to earth. FlatWorld’s high quality, affordable titles are now used by faculty in over 1,500 institutions across North America.
Prior to FlatWorld, he co-founded The Callidon Group, providing growth strategy and transaction advice to businesses and investors in the Information and Publishing space, including in scientific and scholarly publishing. In 2007, Callidon joined OC&C Strategy Consultants, a multinational firm. In 2014, he led the sale of the business to Oliver Wyman, part of the Marsh & McLelland Companies. He left Oliver Wyman in 2015, to pursue direct investments in Information and Publishing.
Adam received his MA in Law from Cambridge University in 1993. He worked in corporate finance and M&A for Cazenove & Co. in London, before following his wife back to Boston in 1998.
I am a(n):
Companies I've founded or co-founded:
Company exits (of companies you founded):
The Callidon Group / OC&C Strategy Consultants (Boston), LLC
Achievements (products built, personal awards won):
Runner up in The British Monopoly Championships.
If you are an entrepreneur, why?
I want to do things better and disrupt the status quo.
My favorite startups:
Jet Blue, Aereo, Humon.
Why did you start your current company?
To bring US College Textbook prices back down to earth.
We have worked hard to create textbooks that are as high quality as they are affordable. This starts with our digital-first publishing platform, which cuts out significant waste and overhead compared to legacy publishers. We pass those savings on to students.
Our mission of bringing textbook prices back down to earth is gaining significant traction. Faculty at more than 1,500 institutions are now using a FlatWorld textbooks. In the 2019-2020 academic year alone, we saw nearly 2,000 new professors adopt a FlatWorld textbook. We expect continued growth in the years to come.
What's most frustrating and rewarding about entrepreneurship/innovation?
Managing and nurturing people can be both the most frustrating, and the most rewarding aspect of entrepreneurship. Frustrating, because it requires time, energy and commitment from both parties - yet doesn't always work out. Rewarding, because the growth and success that we've had the fortune to experience has been driven by the talented people we've had the opportunity to work with.
What's the No. 1 mistake entrepreneurs make?
Trying to change every aspect of the business model. Not every aspect of a product needs to be differentiated, just the important ones; many of the features of the first iPod could be found in other MP3 players already on the market. The vast majority of the experience of a Jet Blue flight is identical to other airlines. But in both cases, there are small but key differences too.
What are the top three lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?
Continue to refine who, precisely, is your customer - that may not be clear at the start.
Better to make the best decisions you can, with data that's available at the time, and to move on, than to not decide. You can usually loop back later and course correct.
You don't have to answer every question.
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FlatWorld shatters the traditional publishing model, delivering textbooks that meet the highest standards at a fraction of “big publisher” prices. Their streamlined, hyper-efficient process makes textbooks more accessible—putting educators and students in control.
Joined Vator onAlastair Adam is the Co-CEO of FlatWorld, a digital-first publisher of award-winning college textbooks that are both affordable and high quality. FlatWorld’s titles are now used by faculty in over 1,500 institutions across North America.