March 27, 2013 at 23:36 PM EDT
Boundless Vows To Continue Disrupting The Textbook Market, Even As Second Founder Departs, Litigation Drags On
Since emerging on the scene in early 2012, the Boston-based Boundless has been on a mission to give students of all ages a free, open-source digital alternative to the pricey world of hard-copy textbooks. But when you try to rock the boat, the powers-that-be will likely have something to say about it -- especially when thousands of beta testers across 2,000 universities are using free, open alternatives.
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Since emerging on the scene in early 2012, the Boston-based Boundless has been on a mission to give students of all ages a free, open-source digital alternative to the pricey world of hard-copy textbooks. But when you try to rock the boat, the powers-that-be will likely have something to say about it — especially when thousands of beta testers across 2,000 universities are using free, open alternatives. Pearson, Cengage and Freeman & Worth sued Boundless in March of last year, and the startup has been battling these lawsuits ever since.

The startup has since evolved from the original product that became the subject of these lawsuits (more on that here), which the team hopes could expedite what is often a seemingly un-ending legal process. Nonetheless, we’ve learned today that another co-founder is exiting Boundless. As first reported by BostInno, co-founder Aaron White, who has up until now served as Boundless’ CTO, will be stepping down after this week. He will stay on as a member of the board.

White offered some elucidation and context to the decision on his personal blog on Monday, though did not say what he plans to do next. However, we’ve been hearing that it was in fact a mutual decision between himself and fellow co-founder (and CEO) Ariel Diaz, who said that White’s skills and talents are better suited to the early-stages of product and company building — which is likely a sign that White may be cooking up a new startup of his own.

In the meantime, the co-founders said that White will be leaving his responsibilities as CTO in the care of Matt Hodgson, Boundless VP of Engineering. Hodgson has already been running engineering for the last year, White said in his blog post.

The CTO’s departure follows co-founder and CMO Brian Balfour’s exit last year, leaving Diaz as the last of the three founders standing at Boundless. Balfour has since become an EIR at Trinity Ventures.

Just because two founders have departed a startup still in the relatively early stages, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the sky is falling. Boundless raised $8 million in April of last year from Venrock, adding to the $1.7 million in seed it raised in 2011 from Nextview, Founder Collective, Kepha, and SV Angel. So it still has runway left in terms of capital, and Diaz says that the litigation isn’t really affecting the day-to-day business at this point. “Of the whole team, I’m pretty much the only one dealing with the legal stuff,” he tells us.

Plus, as Jordan wrote earlier this month, Boundless believes that it has a real case against the big three publishers, because its current product, “which we have significantly enhanced and improved based on student feedback and our own editorial efforts, [does] not infringe the copyrights in the publishers’ static and outdated products.” Boundless believes that the lawsuit against its beta product is baseless, and since the beta is really no longer in use, that the publishers don’t really have a case.

Boundless also claims that its open textbooks, which it recently began releasing under Creative Commons open licenses, have been used by over 500K students at over half of colleges in the U.S.

However, that also doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and daisies. Boundless may not be headed to the deadpool in the next 24 hours, but it’s also never a good sign when two co-founders leave without much in the way of an explanation. Especially considering that both Balfour and White are product-oriented entrepreneurs, and White especially is known as a talented engineer. Startups are dying to hire great engineers — not watch them walk out the door.

Diaz followed up with his own explanation of the leadership changes on the company’s blog today. Find it here, excerpted below:

I understand Aaron’s decision to get back to an early-stage role, but will personally miss having him on our team. I look forward to seeing what adventure he attacks next.

Aaron is one of the best early stage startup technologists out there, and we are very pleased that he is staying on as a member of the company’s board. We, Aaron included, are committed to changing higher education for the better, and look forward to helping even more students and professors in the years to come.


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