We hear about startups when they get an injection of funding, or when they launch, but what about all the hard work in between? What does it take to grow a sustainable and profitable business in today's marketplace? Our growth curve series asks the people behind innovative young publishing companies to share the challenges they face and lessons they learn on their journey from great idea to going concern.
First up, Bec Evans of writing productivity tool - and BookTech Company of the Year finalist - Write Track.
It’s now three months since FutureBook 2015.
After the high of being named a BookTech Company of the Year finalist, the run up to the live event, the nerves of pitching and networking, and the sigh of relief when it was over, it’s been back to business. Back to the reality of getting an early stage startup off the kitchen table and into the App Store whilst working a busy day job.
However, the experience of the pitch-off back in December has had a lingering influence.
Learning the art of pitching
I admit, when I found out that Write Track was shortlisted for BookTech Company of the Year, the thought of having to convince a Dragon’s Den of publishing pros why we should win the top spot gave me sleepless nights. I'm used to public speaking but this felt different and more exposing – perhaps because it’s such a personal project for me.
It took time and money to get support on crafting my pitch, but it was one of the most valuable investments of my life. Communication is a life skill, and as a founder it’s a meta-skill – you have to be able to share your passion as well as get across what you’re doing and why it’s important (and investable).
It helped when I realised that the pitch wasn’t about me but about sharing our users’ successes. Write Track is a creative productivity tool – dubbed FitBit for writers – that uses behaviour change science to help writers set, monitor and achieve their goals. This was my opportunity to share the stories of the hundreds of writers who have used our platform to achieve their creative goals, such as Wyl Menmuir, who tracked his first novel using our software and landed a publishing deal, or Katya Harris, a serial user who has used the tool to improve her writing and get more submissions accepted.
Just getting out there
I’ve written before about being the only female finalist, and that out of the 31 companies that applied to Book Tech only two had female founders. After FutureBook I vowed to take my own advice and get out there more proactively as a female founder working in the publishing startup space.
So since the conference, I have run workshops in London, Brazil and Yorkshire, organised and taken part in a product showcase for the day job, and agreed to give talks on innovation at two UK universities.
Embracing the power of networking
One of the benefits of going to FutureBook was networking, this was especially the case as I live and work outside London and traditional publishing circles.
I met some great people at the conference and have been in contact, tweeted, emailed, met up and even worked with some. I met Alison Jones, one of the panel moderators, for the first time at FutureBook and last week we ran a workshop together.
The workshop also gave me the opportunity to take some of the behaviour change theory behind the Write Track technology and deliver it in a face-to-face format. It seems backwards, but testing the tech in a verbal way has made it stronger. User experience can take place outside your tech product as much as within it.
Staying focused on users
So now I’m more confident telling the Write Track story and testing out ideas face to face, what’s next?
At the time of the conference, Write Track was in ‘closed beta’ with a fixed number of users. Beta testing isn’t just about bug fixing and feature testing, it’s about getting to know your users: what they love about the product, what they can live without, and what they’ll be prepared to pay for.
Our next stage of development is all about putting users at the heart of what we do. January has been an intense period of user research – and February will be much the same. We’ve designed two user surveys, organised workshops, talked to writers, and been fully immersed in the user experience. We’re also planning on working with a research partner to dig into our data. All of this will give us a great foundation for the next stage of development as we look to grow our user base and monetise the product.
It’s a startup mantra to ‘make something users want’ but it’s easy to lose sight of it. Getting distracted by awards, pitches and writing articles to raise your profile can mean you take your eye off your users. 2016 is all about understanding them better to make a product they love.
Taking our own advice
I closed my BookTech pitch by saying if you want to be a writer you need to write, and if you want to become a better writer you need to write more. So that’s exactly what my co-founder Chris and I are doing, by writing books this year.
After years of research and writing blogs and articles on writers’ habits and productivity tricks I’m turning it all into a book. If 2015 was all about the tech, in 2016 we’re rediscovering, ironically, the power of the book.
We’re not just sharing our users’ stories now – we’re living their experiences too.