Going Digital

Paul Ngalle, founder of TreeCabin, with two of his team members

Student innovates textbook streaming service KENNESAW, Ga. (March 30, 2016) — As college…

Georgia (Mar 30, 2016)

Student innovates textbook streaming service

KENNESAW, Ga. (March 30, 2016) — As college textbook costs continue to skyrocket, one Kennesaw State student wants to reduce the steep prices and replace textbook buying with a new digital option.

“It’s like Netflix for textbooks,” said Paul Ngalle, founder of the software startup, TreeCabin, and a mechanical engineering student at Kennesaw State. He wants to stream online textbooks – at a fraction of the printed cost – into the hands of college students.

Ngalle’s brainchild began a few years ago while purchasing college textbooks; he would run around to various bookstores to find the cheapest price. Since then, he has set out to create an affordable solution for the high-priced textbook market.

With the help of four KSU software engineering students and three marketing consultants, Ngalle launched TreeCabin in fall 2015. The team first worked at the University’s Marietta Campus library together building code for a digital platform that could create and store electronic books, or e-books, from multiple publishers.

Knowing their small startup had potential, Ngalle sought the expertise of Kennesaw State University Research and Service Foundation (KSURSF), the contracting entity for externally funded projects at the institution.  With the help of KSURSF Chief Operating Officer and KSU’s VP of Research Charles Amlaner, Ngalle and his TreeCabin team are guided on the startup process for their intellectual property. 

“There is a tremendous amount of innate ability from this group,” Amlaner said. “The simplicity of the team and the raw energy that these students have has helped them stay turned on and focused, without being cajoled.”

While there is potential competition in the e-book market, Amlaner explained that no one else has developed “a crowdsourcing model like this in creating a Netflix-like library of online books.”

KSURSF has filed a provisional patent on behalf of Ngalle’s software invention. The team is still completing the proof-of-concept phase, but Amlaner expects that KSURSF may file other provisional patents later this year.  

In the past 30 years, the $14 billion textbook industry saw prices jump by more than 1,000 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. College students spend about $1,200 a year on textbooks, explained Ngalle, with the average textbook costing about $200.

“Our goal is to give market control to the publisher and save students money,” said Ngalle, who graduated from high school at age 16. “But, for our company, our number one concern is security.”

That concern includes protecting the authors’ copyrights to avoid plagiarism, as well as protecting student information when renting online textbooks.

TreeCabin’s digital platform is designed for laptop and mobile devices, and has both browser and app capabilities. Using Amazon’s servers, the same ones that Netflix uses for its 75 million subscribers, TreeCabin can handle thousands of online titles in its library.

Consumers can stream the textbooks, which are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for as long as they need, and they can still highlight, annotate, take notes and bookmark in the textbooks.

To help move their startup from idea to full-scale operation, KSURSF called on IgniteHQ, a business incubator, to assist TreeCabin. This Cobb County-based nonprofit is in partnership with Kennesaw State University and supported by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Competitive Edge initiative.

IgniteHQ helps new startups operationalize their business and get it ready to go to market.

“Like many startups, TreeCabin needs access to mentors and advisors, such as experienced CEOs, as well as partners in legal, marketing and financial fields, and we offer that to them,” said Nancy Whatley, executive director of IgniteHQ.  “We also provide a collaborative, physical workspace for entrepreneurs to build their business.” 

While TreeCabin may be creating a new method for textbook delivery, 23-year-old Ngalle said there will always be a market for printed textbooks, pointing to stores like Barnes & Noble and Amazon as examples of book sales growth rather than decline over the years.

TreeCabin has reached out to the top five book publishers in the U.S., which has generated significant interest in the company’s software. Ngalle feels confident about the textbook-streaming software they’ve developed, which provides a cheaper alternative for students, protects author copyright and gives publishers a say in product marketing. 

According to Ngalle, textbook publishers have been trying to move to a more direct-to-student market, and TreeCabin’s approach would give publishers instant access to student consumer data.

“Without any funding, I’ve used my bootstrapping skills to get publishers on board,” he added. 

This summer, the TreeCabin team, composed of KSU software engineering students and UGA marketing students and alumni, will work with several publishers to acquire titles to be used in the classroom as a beta test. 

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-Tiffany Capuano; photos by David Caselli



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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