Kyle Zimmer and her colleagues founded First Book in 1992. A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing children from low-income households with the chance to read and own their first new books, First Book reaches children in need by providing new books to community preschool, after-school, and literacy programs. In 2005, First Book marked the delivery of its 40 millionth book, having successfully reached children in communities across the country. However, like her counterparts at other literacy organizations, Kyle worked within the bounds of overwhelming demand and limited resources. Despite its success, First Book was able to provide only a fraction of the quantity of free books requested by eligible programs.
The incredible need for books in organizations with limited funds sparked an idea among the management team at First Book. What was needed, Kyle and her colleagues decided, was a single venture that would bring together publishers, donors, and other partners to offer books at a very low price, offering an opportunity for child-serving programs with small budgets to purchase books in addition to those titles they received for free from First Book and other sources. A web-based enterprise called the First Book Marketplace (FBMP) was developed to meet this need. The FBMP, a venture built on the experience, relationships, and infrastructure of First Book, had the goal of providing an unlimited quantity of high quality books at low prices for programs serving disadvantaged children. Based on the idea that many community programs have some small budget with which to purchase books, the FBMP was dedicated to stretching those dollars as far as possible, allowing programs to buy quality books in larger quantities than ever before while still earning a profit that would be used to support the First Book mission.
As she sat in her office contemplating the future of both First Book and the FBMP, Kyle acknowledged that the new enterprise depended heavily on many of the assets of the parent organization, including relationships with corporate partners and customers. For this reason, it was important to consider not only the growth and success of the FBMP as a single entity but also its impact on the entire First Book organization. Would this new venture threaten the core activity of First Book or would management be able to mold the FBMP into an enterprise that reinforces the relationships and activities essential to the First Book mission? If there were risks to First Book, either in reputation or existing relationships, was the earned income of FBMP large enough to warrant taking those risks? Should the success of the new venture be measured by the strength of its balance sheet, its ability to support the core activities and mission of First Book, or a combination of the two? As the First Book Marketplace grows, these issues are central to strategic decisions about products, partners, and positioning.
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Alisia Eckert and Sharon Oster, “ First Book Marketplace,” Yale SOM Case 08-012, January 15, 2008
- Women in Leadership
- Social Enterprise