Creating Your Own Career: Andromeda Yelton by Jennifer Moyer
posted July 10, 2013 8:13 AM
Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer interviews GSLIS graduates who have gone on to become entrepreneurs in the LIS field. Read more about their strategies for creating dynamic new tools for librarians and library patrons.
Emerging Entrepreneur: Andromeda Yelton '10LS
"I do things that need doing. I learn things I don't know yet so I can do six impossible things before breakfast," Andromeda Yelton '10LS states in her LinkedIn profile. She was the third employee of UnGlue.it, a start-up that creates a win-win situation for authors, publishers, readers, and libraries by making books accessible online for free.
Restrictive copyright terms prevent readers, librarians, and scholars from using books. "Copyright means there is an enormous set of books that are not free to read online, anywhere. We are changing that status quo, in a way that helps readers and rights holders," says Yelton. The company's sharing philosophy is making books accessible in regions where they might otherwise be too expensive or inaccessible. Their first unglued ebook, Oral Literature in Africa, is just one example.
UnGlue.benefits everyone by rewarding authors and publishers for their work. With 3,000 registered site users, UnGlue.it crowdsources funds to release books from publishers and authors by purchasing a Creative Commons license. The authors and publishers set a price to "unglue" the book. Once the target price is met by contributions, the book becomes freely accessible for readers and libraries to read, copy, and share. The model also resurrects books that are out of print by offering the same incentives to authors and publishers. Like other crowdsourcing companies, UnGlue.it receives a percentage for every book unglued from copyright clauses.
Several books have been made available using this business model. "The most successful campaigns have been for books that people can imagine being used in classrooms, read by students and scholars," says Yelton. The book So You Want to be a Librarian ( https://unglue.it/work/76348/) is now being used in an introductory technology class at Pratt's School of Information and Library Science to educate students about Epub files. Providing free information resources to students facilitates the learning process by removing the cost barrier.
Yet starting a new company hasn't been easy. "You don't want to have to build everything yourself that is needed to make the company function," says Yelton. "It would cost too much and take too long. Yet every third-party service you use exposes you to risk that they'll change their terms. The more your business model depends on that service, the more risk you face." For example, when the company's payment processor stopped processing payments for all crowdsourcing companies, UnGlue.it had to scramble to find a new processor, write code for it, and manage the company's daily activities quickly to stay alive. "Early on, you may have to depend a lot on third parties, but it is important to think down the road about what your alternatives might be and when you might have the ability to do those things in-house," said Yelton.
Yelton offers the following advice to those considering starting a business.
- Ask yourself important questions. Whose problem are you solving? How does your product or service solve that problem? How can you articulate that quickly and compellingly?
- Don't try to build the perfect thing. Identify your minimum product -- the smallest thing you can create that actually works and solves someone's problem. Get it to market immediately. Then use feedback from your customers to modify it and to determine your future priorities. You can't do everything, which means it is important to identify where you should spend your resources from the beginning.
- Be a visionary, but also be flexible. You need to have an idea that is innovative enough to be marketable. Once you have implemented it, you will learn a ton of things that will help you improve your plans. Don't get stuck on the first idea.
- Quantify and measure your success. Though your metrics will never capture everything that is meaningful, and you don't want to spend too much time on measuring performance rather than actually performing, metrics will help you identify priorities.
- Associate with people who can offer productive and constructive criticism. Having people who can passionately advocate for various points of view, yet maintain a common commitment to the overarching purpose of the company, will result in strong ideas and implementation.
In the foreseeable future, UnGlue.it is looking to find novel ways to market its services to the masses and increase user contributions. Stay tuned.
Andromeda Yelton spoke on campus for ALASC in October 2011. Here is a GSLIScast episode with the recording: http://gslis.simmons.edu/blogs/medialab/2011/10/27/alasc-guest-speaker-andromeda-yelton-on-personal-branding/.