Joel Nkounkou knows the dread of purchasing textbooks for class all too well. As a previous engineering student, he’s experienced the textbook struggle and has come up with what will seem to be the future of academia. What started as a common college student problem might change the way we use textbooks, all together.
Before Nkounkou stepped foot into a college classroom, he was met with one of the college golden rules.
“One of the key pieces of advice I got from the tour guide was ‘don’t buy your books on the first day,” says Nkounkou. “‘Wait a couple of days after your professor tells you you’re going to need it. However, try to really understand if you need to spend the extra $300 or not.’”
This was advice Nkounkou applied to his next four years of college as an engineering student. He went through similar struggles of sharing textbooks to the extent of it feeling like “shared custody” with himself and his classmates. It was then when Nkounkou had the first of many of his ‘a-ha’ moments.
“Thinking out loud, ‘we’re in 2017, why is it that I can get all the music on my phone via Spotify for about $5 a month?” says Nkounkou. “‘Or why can I get awesome movies that Netflix has transformed the industry for $10 a month but yet, my textbooks are a whole different universe of problems?’”
It was this thought that sparked ecoText.
“A collaborative learning platform that allows anyone to learn the next best thing.” Nkounkou took the same approach as Spotify and Netflix and applied it to the academic world. He wanted to “allow an increase of affordability and accessibility, but also package it in a way that appeals to the modern student.”
It’s more than being able to download a PDF version of the book. Users are able to collaborate, highlight and annotate with anyone else sharing the specific book. His vision for ecoText is to stray away from the static feeling of the traditional textbook and show publishers and scholars the evolution of academic resources.
“Most students use YouTube as resources, so we have to adapt in that way,” says Nkounkou.
Funding the business in a creative way.
The journey for ecoText hasn’t been easy. As soon as Nkounkou and his team were ready to launch in early March of 2020, COVID-19 struck and delayed some of the processes. There was a fear of investors being extra pre-cautious, sales not meeting goals, and overall expansion. Funding was one of the bigger issues.
“The ‘a-ha’ moment was when I came to the position where I wanted to expand across and wanted to grow,” says Nkounkou. “However, I was having ups and downs with the typical angel [investors] pathways. I thought ‘wait, I have a network of 300-500 people around me that tell me on a continuous basis they want to invest. Is there a way I can do equity crowdfunding, monetize that and put myself in a similar position?’ So that’s what we ended up doing in the beginning of 2020. We did a crowdfunding campaign and raised about $160,000. It put us in a great position to start evolving the product. From there, some of those angels, who had those reluctances, are coming back to the table.”
Nkounkou and his team took an interesting approach to equity crowdfunding. They hosted social media campaigns, reached out to their personal network, and hosted weekly webinars where they spoke to all interested investors at once.
“What is really awesome about equity crowdfunding is that if you get one person to invest, they are naturally inclined to get their friends to invest, too,” says Nkounkou. “They all see the goal and want the campaign to succeed, so it almost becomes a viral effect. Once you’ve clearly got one person to invest, it’s a lot easier to get that next mutual link.”
The Future of ecoText.
As a result, ecoText was able to launch and run a pilot in October. Despite the pandemic, Nkounkou and his team took the time out to focus on growth and sales. They have a couple of perspective schools they’re looking to sign deals with. Nkounkou also sees ecoText being a central hub for students, professors and scholars to collaborate, break down barriers and spark academic curiosity.
Personally, Nkounkou wants to use ecoText as a stepping stone to ultimately become a venture capitalist/angel for other diverse founders or run his own accelerated program. Overall, he wants to be in the position to help others the way he sought out help in the beginning stages. Throughout this journey, he’s learned how to change his mindset of failure. He looks at failure as an opportunity to grow and moves on from there. Having this mindset has helped him pivot and make necessary changes to his personal and professional life.