EasyBib started out as a simple high school kid hack to make then-students Darshan Somashekar and Neal Taparia’s research notes simpler. The bare bones tools created online bibliographies for students’ essays. It was a hit even back then as the first of its kind, but the guys abandoned it come graduation. Their parents pressured them to take jobs in the corporate world and one did–Taparia went Lehman Brothers. Somashekar started Drop.io, which sold to Facebook in 2010.
By 2007, the site’s bones had become too old and rusty for the amount of traffic it was generating. The guys realized it could be something more than just a bibliography tool and decided to return to the site full time. Since then, traffic has grown significantly–38 million students have used the site. The site has been used to create more than half a billion citations. EasyBib has staffed up too, building a 17-person team.
Now the company’s mission is slightly more grandiose than simple bibliography tools. That’s a good thing because there are plenty of bibliography tools in the market. Citelighter is another New York startup offering a cool set of research tools. Noodletools offer research helpers as well. BibMe is your nuts and bolts citation machine.
EasyBib is now a self-described “research platform.” There’s a note taking feature that creates virtual notecards. There is an option to use the Cornell note taking system. There is a notable social research feature. This indexes half a billion citations, giving users insight into which sources others are citing as they research similar topics. You could argue this might lead to copying and uncreative, redundant research papers, but Somashekar and Taparia argue it leads to students discovering the highest quality sources.
And that is the underlying thesis of EasyBib’s transformation from a tool to a platform. The company wants to educate students on how to do solid research beyond plugging a few terms into Google. When I was in college, Wikipedia was banned as a resource for anything. By the time I graduated, professors had loosened their stance slightly, calling it “a good place to start but never a final destination.” Now (according to my high school teacher significant other), students who have no concept of a life without Internet turn in full projects cribbed from Wikipedia without even realizing Wikipedia itself is populated with info from annotated outside sources.
EasyBib’s goal is to change that. Students are inundated with information on the web. They need to learn to evaluate sources and understand plagiarism. The company is building tools around information literacy for students. “We want to be at the forefront of allowing kids to be 21st century researchers,” he says.
That’s where the business model comes in: The company has been selling premium subscriptions, which includes access to all the aforementioned tools. Subscriptions cost between $300 and $400 for kindergarden through 12th grade schools and up to twice that for colleges to use. EasyBib has amassed closed to 1000 paying subscribers since it started selling subscriptions over two years ago. The company has been selling advertisements on its pages as well.
EasyBib remains bootstrapped, reinvesting its profits in new developments like an app and premium features. (Strangely the entire sector seems allergic to venture capital–Citelighter, BibMe and Noodletools have not raised capital either.) Seeing as EasyBib has made it this far, the company’s founders don’t feel they need to raise capital. “We think about it now and then, but we would have to know how to even spend VC money if it came to that,” Taparia says.