Richard Ludlow is the founder and CEO of Academic Earth, a platform for full video courses from leading universities.
Please, kindly give the YHP Readers some background information about yourself and what you do?
I suppose I could be labelled as a "serial social entrepreneur." While in college at Yale University, I started a national student organization to promote organ donor registration, and a non-profit economics magazine aimed at making new developments in the field of economics more accessible to a general audience. A few months after graduating in 2007, I began preparing to start Academic Earth.
Can you explain to us what your company does?
Academic Earth offers free access to full video courses from leading universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT. We use the power of the internet to give people all over the world access to high-quality learning opportunities that previously were only available to a very small number of students.
What inspired you to start your company?
As a student, I used materials from MIT to supplement my own education, but I believed that consumers would benefit from an easy-to-use centralized repository that brought together free educational resources from many institutions.
How did you finance your business?
I raised a medium-sized round of angel/seed funding from a group of individuals including several Yale professors.
What plans do you have now to expand your business further?
I can't yet talk about some of the growth opportunities I consider to be most exciting, but in the short-term we plan to add additional videos and course materials and make improvements to provide a great online learning experience.
What systems have you used to automate your business to give you more time for business planning and development?
We have utilized outsourced work through sites such as eLance when we need assistance on large-scale repetitive projects.
How do you market your products or services?
We don't spend much on marketing. Rather, bloggers and reporters have found the site and written about it, and most of our growth comes from word-of-mouth and social media sharing.
Do you believe business has any obligation to make the world a better place?
Academic Earth was founded with a social mission to extend educational opportunities to the world, but I don't impose any altruistic obligations on businesses in general. So long as they are behaving responsibly (for example with regards to the environment and their workers), I think many businesses add value to society simply by meeting consumers' desires, even if they don't have what would generally be considered altruistic objectives.
How does your business “give back” to the community or to society?
Academic Earth provides free high-quality learning opportunities to people around the globe.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
I have seen entrepreneurs follow many paths to success, but one thing I have noticed is that the romanticized notion of the entrepreneur as a risk-loving maverick doesn't necessarily hold up. Most successful entrepreneurs I have observed are very intelligent people who pursue opportunities methodically and find ways to systematically reduce risk.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
I don't have one or two big failures that make for a great story, but behind nearly every success I've ever had are a series of small failures along the way. I believe the key is to focus on getting better every day. Over a period of several years, the sum of all the small improvements you make to small failures adds up to very valuable progression.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I'm not far into my career, but if I were to go back to when I first started Academic Earth, I would have invested more time learning about web programming so I could have been more hands on with the development of the site. I am just now beginning to do so.
What qualities have you developed as a result of running your business?
As an early stage entrepreneur I've had to wear many hats. I've raised money, determined our legal structure, hired, marketed, designed web pages, and more. The main quality I've developed is a confidence in my ability to learn the knowledge or skills needed to tackle a new challenge.
In your opinion, what is the most important quality an entrepreneur should possess?
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur?
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I'm a huge basketball fan and follow the NBA obsessively, in addition to playing the sport recreationally.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most and why?
Thanks for your time Richard, we wish you the best in the future.