The latest in our series asking startups to share the challenges they face and lessons they learn as they grow catches up with Guy Vincent from Publishizer, finalist in the BookTech Company of the Year Award at the FutureBook Conference 2016.
The startup journey is a constant rollercoaster, a terrifying, death-defying series of loops and dips, punctuated by brief moments of ecstatic blood rush. We live for those moments, the little highs, which are just sweet enough to make the foolhardy go through it all again.
One of those ecstatic moments was pitching on stage as a finalist at The Bookseller's BookTech Startup of the Year Awards in December. I left the event with a smile on my face, and newfound friends, including the brilliant winner, Chris Sim of Kadaxis. FutureBook is working wonders for the industry by showcasing innovative startups, publishing trends, and opportunities for collaboration between startups and traditional industry players.
Since December, a lot has happened in the world of Publishizer, my startup. What started out as a crowdfunding platform for self-publishing, has become a crowdfunding platform that connects authors with publishers - or as FutureBook called it, Kickstarter meets Tinder for publishing. First, we took the plunge and moved our small team to New York in April, to befriend editors, agents, and authors. Bagels and breweries provide the sustenance our team needs to make it through the hustle of a full day in midtown Manhattan.
We debuted publicly at Book Expo America in May, signing on Big Five imprints including Grand Central Publishing, HarperOne, and North Star Way. We basked in the afterglow of BEA, with our database growing to over 180 publishers signed on to receive personalised book proposal recommendations from Publishizer.
In July, we celebrated our first major milestone, passing the $1 million mark in funds raised for our authors. Over the whirlwind of these past months, we've seen over 100 book deals signed through the platform, by authors including Stu Krieger, the screenwriter of The Land Before Time, signing with Harvard Square Editions; Derek Loudermilk, the pro athlete, scientist, and podcaster behind The Art of Adventure, signing with Kogan Page; and Ajit Nawalkha, the cofounder of Mindvalley and Zentrepreneur, signing with BenBella Books.
While these wins give me confidence that Publishizer has great potential as a tool for publishing acquisitions, it hasn't all been smooth sailing. The high cost of living in New York is a constant strain on the cash-strapped wallets of booktech teams. Investors remain skeptical of industry growth in book publishing, leading to funds chasing after faster-growing industries. Angel investors, the traditional and literal angels of pre-seed startup funding, are dazzled with opportunities in the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and robotics, leaving booktech startups stranded without fuel for growth.
I'm encouraged by the bravery, hard work, and commitment to innovation in booktech coming from trailblazing organisations. Bonnier Books Ventures, spearheaded by Rebecka Laeffler in Stockholm, has a compelling vision to democratise book publishing, by investing in and acquiring startups. Renew The Book, lead by Jan Paul Grolle, is heading into it's third edition of the book-focused program in Amsterdam. Reedsy, the publishing services marketplace founded by Emmanuel Nataf and Ricardo Fayet in London, continues to push the bar for excellence in the booktech space.
Perhaps the biggest missing link within book publishing, is something every major industry is years ahead on: vertical startup accelerators. The film industry has the Disney Accelerator; the music industry has the Red Bull Amplifier; and the media industry has Hearst Ventures. Small yet meaningful investments, spread out over batches of startups, often lead to 10x, 100x, and even 1000x returns. Booktech's original billion-dollar unicorn was Amazon, and there will be others.
I believe a HarperCollins Accelerator, or a Hachette Ventures, would prove profitable and strategically aligned with their imprints' financial interests. Startups are unbeatable at fixing inefficiencies, and capitalising on emerging opportunities. For a prosperous books industry, we should be investing in book-related startups that connect authors, publishers, readers, agents, distributors, printers, libraries, and service providers together. By partnering up with existing accelerators like 500 Startups, TechStars, or AngelPad, powerful bonds between publishing and tech might be forged.
As Publishizer prepares to cross the chasm from a $1 million to a $10 million startup, we're looking to create deeper partnerships in the traditional books industry. I believe the Big Five, larger publishers, and established literary agencies have a tremendous opportunity to start, acquire, or team up with a budding ecosystem of promising booktech startups.