How Felix Brandon Lloyd built an ed-tech platform used in over 15,000 public libraries and schools

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 9, 2024 7:29 AM EDT
Felix Brandon Lloyd. Photo credit: Felix Brandon Lloyd

Felix Brandon Lloyd knew he had to do something when he could not find an appropriate story about having a younger sibling to read to his son. He collaborated with his wife Jordan Lloyd Bookey to develop Beanstack (formerly Zoobean), a parent-curated recommendation site for children’s books. With an annual revenue of around $5 million, the ed-tech platform is used in over 15,000 public libraries and schools worldwide.

“The problem’s always been that we think it’s hard to discover the right book or app for your child. We want to make it easier,” Lloyd said about his vision for Beanstack.

Although Lloyd dreamed of becoming a writer, it was clear from the start that he had a knack for business. He earned a bachelor of arts from Syracuse University and a master of fine arts from Washington University in Saint Louis where he was awarded a Chancellors Fellowship. During his time on campus, Lloyd utilized his storytelling skills to win a pitch competition with a business plan for a financial education game for children. He became a teacher at the new SEED Public Charter School in Southeast D.C where he rapidly rose through the ranks. He was awarded Washington D.C.’s Teacher of the Year from 2000-2001 and served as the SEED school’s Dean of Students.

In 2006, Lloyd left teaching to found Skill-Life, Inc., a hybrid online gaming and financial education company for children. The company developed MoneyIsland (formerly called CentsCity), an online world where tweens learn financial skills and earn rewards by going on fun adventures. Skill-Life was acquired by BancVue, Ltd. in 2010 and Lloyd served as Chief Professor & General Manager of BancVue’s MoneyIsland division until it reached operational profitability. He led the distribution of its core financial education product to over 100 community banks and credit unions nationwide, reaching over 100,000 families and 300 school districts.

Lloyd and his wife initially started Beanstack as a book-of-the-month business focusing on non-traditional genres and interests. The company cataloged and recommended children’s books with the help of parents, teachers, and librarians across the U.S., and sent users the books they liked. After building their prototype, they appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2014 asking for $250,000 for 15 percent equity in their company. They only had 85 subscribers and were rejected by three of the Sharks who did not see the viability of the business. Beanstack eventually scored an offer of $250,000 for a 25 percent stake in the company from Mark Cuban.

“The product featured on ‘Shark Tank’ is very different from what we offer today, but our mission, purpose, and goals remain the same. We help educators and librarians encourage reading by making it easy to employ gamification principles, including reading challenges, for their communities,” Lloyd explained.

The “Shark Tank” appearance helped Lloyd realize that he needed to reimagine his business model to be successful and reach more readers. Beanstack consequently shifted its focus to helping librarians and educators motivate communities to read through motivational tools for readers of all ages. The rebrand also included offering family registration, custom reading challenges, and gamification features to engage and encourage young readers.

In addition to collaborating with schools, districts, and libraries, Beanstack provides reading fundraiser tools that support schools and libraries in raising money. The company currently generates around $5 million in annual revenue and is used in over 15,000 public libraries and schools worldwide.