NU alumnus Tim Harris talks Questia

Ganesh Thippeswamy

Northwestern alumnus Tim Harris (Kellogg ‘81) wants to help you study. His new iPhone application brings Questia, his 76,000-book digital library, within a finger’s touch. Harris now serves as director, president and CEO of Questia, after working at Texas Instruments and most recently at Compaq, where he served as vice president and general manager of the company’s $8 billion commercial desktop division. The NU grad recently spoke with the Daily about his Questia app and how it may revolutionize the way students learn inside and outside the classroom.Excerpts:Daily: What’s your iPhone app all about?Harris: Questia is a digital library, via the Web, for college students. And what we’ve done with this iPhone app is we’ve brought a complete 76,000-book research library to the palm of your hand. This includes complete, current and high-quality works in the liberal arts, so you can quickly explore subjects like history, literature, philosophy, business, music and so on.Daily: Sounds expensive-How much does it cost?Harris: The app costs 99 cents, and you get the complete 76,000-book library for a week. After that, for $9.95, you get the 76,000-book collection for two weeks. You can’t buy a digital e-book on Amazon for less than $9.95-so for the cost of a single book, you get 76,000 titles to do your research with.

Daily: In a vast sea of iPhone apps, what have you done to ensure your product stands out from the crowd?Harris: When we launched the app, it was immediately very popular. When you go into the iTunes store and you do a search on ‘books,’ you’re going to find a lot of e-book reader apps, but you’re only going to find one library app, and that’s ours. We have tens of thousands of subscribers that use the library on the Web, so clearly there’s a large audience looking for the mobility and portability that the iPhone brings them.Daily: Who in particular are you trying to reach through Questia’s iPhone app?Harris: Undergraduate and graduate students are our main focus, but our reach extends beyond there. We attract a lot of high school students, as well as a lot of educators, teachers, professors and librarians. But we focus on students because when we build our library we don’t take any book we can. We build collections of titles that provide a lot of depth and breadth in the very subjects that students need access to because of the classes they take.Daily: Do you have any plans to expand your software to BlackBerry devices or other smartphones?Harris: Yes-over time, we do have plans to expand beyond the iPhone platform. There is a large population of BlackBerry users on college campuses, and there are a lot of smartphones coming from Google and everyone else, so we’re going to be on these platforms.Daily: How has your education at Kellogg shaped where you are today?Harris: It was critical. I went to Northwestern for my business degree because I knew I wanted to help lead teams of people to create life-changing technologies. My M.B.A. was with a concentration in finance, so my career started in the financial side of businesses, and then I was able to shift over into mainstream management of the teams that were developing these life-changing technologies. And that’s what I’ve been able to do at Questia.[email protected]