Tim Haitaian is co-founder and CFO of RedShelf, a leading distributor of digital learning materials. RedShelf collaborates with strategic partners, publishers, institutions, and campus bookstores to streamline the discovery and distribution of eTextbooks and other digital course materials.
After graduating from Arizona State University, Tim went on to found RedShelf in 2012 with longtime friend, Greg Fenton. The two had a vision of improving the education industry by helping streamline the transition from print to digital. Since 2012, RedShelf has successfully completed a Series A, B, and C along with growing the company to over 80 employees. Tim is originally from Birmingham, Michigan and currently resides in Chicago.
How did the concept for RedShelf come about?
Very naturally. It was born out of a narrower focus around higher ed content and digitization. At the time, Greg and I were college students using textbooks and course materials and we believed there was a better way to transition them to digital. We’re passionate about increasing access to content, increasing affordability, and improving student outcomes with our partners in publishing and within higher ed institutions.
How was the first year in business?
Tough! Greg and I lived in a 3-bedroom house in Chicago; it was basically RedShelf, 24/7. We had very little resources, but it was incredibly important. We were building the foundation for what we’ve become today and hopefully what we can achieve in the future.
What was your marketing strategy?
To listen to our customers and partners. Early on we knew that success would come from working together. There is a lot of allure to disrupting an industry and displacing the incumbents. Our industry is different and we didn’t want to build that kind of business. We’ve never had a big, fancy marketing strategy. Instead, we’ve spent a lot of time serving our partners and we’ve been pretty successful doing just that.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Quickly. We’ve experienced 2-3x growth every year since inception. Some years were closer to 5x but it’s safe to say that everything has at least doubled every year.
How do you define success?
Totally cliche, but following your dreams. Everyone should have their own definition of success, but I think a common thread would be dedicating yourself to something you’re passionate about and willing to sacrifice for. Success to me was always building and running an exciting business.
What is the key to success?
Grit, passion, resourcefulness, work ethic, passion, etc. The bottom line is that it’ll be hard to go after things that are difficult, but worth pursuing. You’ll hit stumbling blocks, you’ll get tired, you’ll run low on resources, etc. You have to have the ability to push through those moments and crest the next hill.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That if you want something you’ll have to work really hard to earn it. Nothing worth having comes easy.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“You have two ears and one mouth…do twice as much listening as talking.”
“Nothing worth having comes easy.”
“Hustle is a muscle!”
“Nobody cares, work harder.”
“Where there is a will, there’s a way.”
“Check your ego at the door.”
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There wasn’t a single day, but there was a period several years ago when I hadn’t figured out how to manage the stress. It was about a month of complete sideways movement and it pushed me to re-evaluate the way I operated. I had to dig my way out of being overloaded and then immediately plan ahead to prevent it from happening again. I also learned a lot about myself and general growth during and following that period. The struggle was ultimately worth it and I believe it was crucial in setting me and the company up for the success we’re enjoying today.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Knowing that if it were easy, everyone would do it. This is supposed to be hard and often the moments that feel the lowest end up being the biggest learning opportunities.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
To go for it. However, don’t think it’s all glitz and glamour. It’s insanely hard work and will seriously challenge you. Be prepared to dedicate yourself to something for years before other people recognize that you might be onto something. If you’re willing to commit to that then it can be an extremely rewarding, fun, and challenging opportunity.
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