Flat World

Website: flatworldknowledge.com
Twitter: @flat_world
Facebook: Flat World Education
Founders: Jeff Shelstad and Eric Frank


Flat World offers an online platform that allows universities to personalize content for college courses in business, psychology, biology and other common academic disciplines. The goal of the company is to give students access to free or low-cost textbooks, and to make online education more affordable. The company partners with major universities to deliver course content via their customizable online platform that integrates into educators' accounts. Students can see their homework that corresponds to the Flat World Knowledge textbooks, and educators can assess their homework on the platform. Its university partners include George Mason University, the University of Maryland and George Washington University, among others. [1]


Currently headquartered in Washington, D.C., Flat World was founded in 2007 by Jeff Shelstad and Eric Frank in New York. The duo founded the company based on their desire to deliver free open education to college students. Flat World Knowledge launched its free open textbook program in a public beta in January of 2009. [6] By August of 2009, 400 colleges had adopted their program. The following August the number of student users grew to 150,000, using 24 of their textbooks. In December 2010, Outsell Inc. named Flat World Knowledge as one of "30 to Watch" for 2011 among innovators and disruptors who were selected for "shaking up their respective marketplaces." [5] 2012 marked a year of increased participation from major universities in the US and Canada, and a partnership with MIT to offer student users three MIT OpenCourseWare products. [4] In that same year, Flatworld began charging for its textbook platform because of the increased costs it was incurring with its free access model. By January 2014, Flat World had become one of the largest open, eTextbook publishers in 77 countries. [2] After receiving 9.5 million in financing in January of 2014, Flat World decided to expand its platform to offer universities low-cost online, competency-based bachelor degrees, delivered on mobile devices. [2]

Funding RoundDatePaper AmountInvestors
Debt FinancingJanuary 12, 2015$9.5 MillionBessemer Venture Partners
VentureJanuary 28, 2014$9.5 MillionPenguin Random House, Valhalla Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, BDMI - Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Tribeca Venture Partners
UndisclosedApr 8, 2011Undisclosed AmountRandom House
Series BJanuary 20, 2011$15 MillionRandom House BDMI - Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Valhalla Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, High Peaks Venture Partners, Tribeca Venture Partners
VentureDecember 14, 2009$2.5 Million
Series AMarch 4, 2009$8 MillionHigh Peaks Venture Partners, Valhalla Partners, Tribeca Venture Partners
VentureOctober 21, 2008$700K


  1. Steven Overly "The Download: Flat World Education leaves start-up hub 1776 for larger digs" Washington Post April 13, 2014

  2. Rip Empson "With $9M From Bessemer, Open Textbook Pioneer Flat World Looks For New Life In Personalized Learning" Tech Crunch January 29, 2014

  3. Rip Empson "Open Ed’s Business Woes: Textbook Pioneer Flat World Knowledge To Revoke Free Access To Texts" Tech Crunch November 6, 2012

  4. Steven Carson "MIT OpenCourseWare teams up with Flat World Knowledge to combine free texts and free course materials" MIT February 29, 2012

  5. Anthea Stratigos "Information Industry Outlook 2011: Looking for Revenue in All the Right Places" Outsell Inc 2011

  6. Lisa Hoover "Flat World Knowledge Offers Open Source-Style College Textbooks" Gigaom March 25, 2009