Beyond textbooks: RedShelf uses tech to change how students learn

RedShelf started as an e-textbook distributor in 2011. As it has grown, it has expanded its mission to transform the way its content is used in the classroom through tech.

Written by Brian Nordli
Published on Oct. 18, 2018
Beyond textbooks: RedShelf uses tech to change how students learn
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There’s more to education than what’s found in a textbook, and that knowledge isn’t lost on RedShelf.

The edtech company, which started as an e-textbook distributor in 2011, has since expanded its focus to transform the way people learn. To get there, RedShelf is working with educators and publishers to present knowledge in new ways and give teachers more insight into what their students are actually learning.


RedShelf bike Rack
Photography By Chris Murphy
RedShelf Kitchen
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RedShelf Welcome
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EMPLOYEES: 80 (74 local)

WHAT THEY DO: RedShelf distributes digital learning materials to students and learning technology to the education community.


NEW DIGS: After quickly outgrowing its previous three offices, RedShelf has settled into a new, 16,000-plus square foot office this year to accommodate an expected 20 to 40 new hires over the next year and a half.

THE PERKS: Employees can enjoy a rooftop patio at the office and have a stake in the company.


Greg Fenton at work

Greg Portrait


Greg Fenton, CEO and Co-founder

Greg guides the RedShelf team, ensuring the company is fulfilling its mission. He also oversees the product and marketing teams.

INSPIRED ORIGINS: The seeds for RedShelf were planted in college when Greg decided to start a business where he could make a difference.


How has the edtech industry evolved from when you first began?

When we founded RedShelf, the higher education industry was still slow and hesitant to adapt to digital. We learned that to be successful, we couldn’t disrupt the industry — we had to work alongside it to improve the space. Since then, we’ve worked closely with our partners to accelerate the transition from print to digital.


We learned that to be successful, we couldn’t disrupt the industry — we had to work alongside it.”


How has the way students learn evolved from when you first started?

We’ve seen two key factors modify the student learning experience: professors using data and analytics to improve student success, and a focus on student engagement for increased reading comprehension. Our products are being built with both of these factors in mind.


Where do you see RedShelf in the future?

We’re moving beyond being a distributor of e-textbooks. We have a full product suite that provides streamlined solutions for students, publishers, professors, campus bookstore managers and faculty to develop, distribute and engage with digital course materials.

I can’t say for certain where we’ll be in five years, but our success will depend on our ability to continue producing innovative products, strengthening our partnerships and scaling the company in a way that stays true to our core values.


Tim at work

Tim portrait


Tim Haitaian CFO and Co-founder

Tim oversees RedShelf’s finance, accounting, investor relations and legal functions. He also works closely with the company’s operations team and culture initiatives.  

BEYOND WORK: When Tim isn’t busy ensuring RedShelf hits its financial targets, he can be found with a bow and arrow at the archery range.

The RedShelf team has grown every year. What opportunities has that provided?

We now have the bandwidth and ability for people to spend more time on fewer challenges. We’re tackling big problems, and answers aren’t always obvious. It takes time and energy to find those solutions, and having a larger team means we’re able to devote more time to do that.

But we also know that perfect is the enemy of good. Trying to grow without any challenges would mean slower growth.


We’re recognizing the amazing opportunity to improve student outcomes while making college more affordable and accessible.”


What role can RedShelf play in the evolving education experience?

The higher education community is much more accepting of digital today than it was in 2012. We’re recognizing the amazing opportunity to improve student outcomes while making college more affordable and accessible. The best thing we can do is put our partners first while advancing what technology can do to help everyone involved in the learning experience.


When it comes to leading a project, how do you make sure everyone is on the same page?

The most important thing is to provide the team with clarity. It’s natural for people to be uncomfortable with change, and it’s our job as management to articulate the “why” behind the move. In implementing changes, it’s been helpful to follow the process of providing basic knowledge, collectively identifying the problem and then articulating why the decision is the best move for the company. If you skip any of those steps, you leave the door open for misinterpretation and confusion.

Scottt Kelly at work

Scott Kelly Portrait


Scott Kelly, CTO

Scott is plugged into RedShelf’s technology, guiding the tech team’s vision and strategy for products and integrations.

BEYOND WORK: Scott unplugs from his computer to capture the world through his camera lens. For him, taking a good photo is all about the small details, much like leading a successful team.


How has the tech team grown since you first joined?

I was the first technical team member of RedShelf. Since then, we’ve doubled in size every year. I really value that RedShelf has been able to provide career growth to the development team as we’ve continued to expand. I’ve seen junior developers become experienced mentors in a few short years.


I’ve seen junior developers become experienced mentors in a few short years.”


What excites you the most about the future of edtech?

How quickly universities have adopted analytics as a central tool for helping their students. I think there’s going to be incredible improvements in early intervention, student retention and student success over the next decade as universities understand the critical components for helping a student improve academically.


What’s the biggest challenge your team faces in the edtech industry?

Aligning different products into a single experience for students. Students might have to remember login credentials for each product they use in each course they’re taking. Professors have to know how to create assignments in multiple products and understand the different ways they report grades. RedShelf will continue to evolve with the goal of simplifying the student and professor experience when accessing, using and understanding course materials.


Tom Scotty At Work

Tom Scotty Portrait


Tom Scotty, COO

Tom’s job is to make sure RedShelf’s teams are operating smoothly. He’s responsible for the management, operational efficiency and performance of its external-facing teams.  

BEYOND WORK: Outside of the office, Tom can either be found working on his golf game or on the concert floor enjoying live music with his friends.


Where do you see the future of the publishing industry and higher education?

Content will remain king, but we’re going to see great advances in accessible delivery and the use of actionable performance analytics. In close collaboration with our campus and publishing partners, RedShelf will remain at the forefront of frictionless content delivery and learning science efficacy.


The quality, acceptance and usage of lower-cost digital course materials has grown wildly.”


What role can RedShelf play in shaping the educational experience?

The quality, acceptance and usage of lower-cost digital course materials has grown wildly. While print may always have a place in education, the advanced study tools available to students within the RedShelf eReader and the back-end usage analytics for instructors and institutions have created a more-for-less proposition that is almost impossible to argue against.


What’s the biggest challenge you’ve tackled at RedShelf?

In order to offer the best online reading experience at an affordable price, we needed agreements with publishers to distribute their content and with college campus stores to reach students. In the early days, it was a chicken and egg game. You needed different solutions for each entity, from platform security to marketing services, and there were myriad data and software integration challenges as well.

We got there by understanding the needs of our partners, developing personal relationships and being transparent with our partners about our goals. As we do today, we shared all of our data and product roadmaps, we built trust and we earned the right to proceed, publisher by publisher, college by college, partner by partner to get where we are today.


Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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