In an industry news cycle where digital publishing darling WattPad has just shocked us all with the announcement they will be publishing… BOOKS!, it seems the perfect time to introduce the book world to another content innovator who is subverting the “innovative/digital” paradigm.
Meet Startup Guide, a publishing and media company on a mission to help entrepreneurs navigate startup scenes in cities worldwide. Led by Danish entrepreneur Sissel Hansen, Startup Guide is perhaps best described as the “Lonely Planet for entrepreneurs.”
Startup Guide was inspired by Hansen’s own obstacle-filled experiences as an outsider looking to launch a new business in Berlin. The results of her journey led to the first Startup Guide title: Startup Guide Berlin, which was soon followed by guides for more than 25 other cities (and counting) worldwide.
Publishing the guides as physical books was one choice Hansen never thought twice about. Hansen knew she wanted to focus on a product whose design and production process she could not only oversee, but also be hands-on with.
And, strategically, books made sense. Says Hansen, “Similar content on the internet already existed in droves.” People seeking out reliable and up to date content were not finding it online, and what they were finding, they approached with a certain skepticism. “By going with books, we knew were producing a visibly, tangibly high-quality product -- one that culturally signifies trust and connection.”
Beyond the end product itself, Startup Guide’s approach to publishing is somewhat innovative! They partner with well-vetted, local organizations to fund the development and production of the books, relying on each regional partner for guidance in identifying the best startups, founders, work spaces and resources for that market’s guide.
From there, Startup Guide’s own team kicks into gear, arranging interviews and hiring local journalists and photographers. While the content, printing and distribution teams are mainly based in Berlin, production and design are done by teams based in Lisbon.
Sissel Hansen in the Startup Guide offices
Now, more than four years out from the publication of their first title, the Startup Guide team has expanded to 20 employees, and they have learned a few things:
Let core product and concept drive your expansion. “If something takes away from the core product and the core revenue, it’s probably not a fit,” states Hansen. Currently, book distribution and sales are only accountable for 10% of revenue, while content partnerships are responsible for 90%. Production of the books, although very streamlined, is very intense and takes a lot of effort when launching one or two books every month. Says Hansen, “Last year, we began to pivot toward a digital platform intended to provide entrepreneurs with automated business-related services on a regional level. It did not prove scaleable, and as it was taking resources away from the core product, so we have shelved it for now”.
Listen to your audience. Startup Guides’ Chief Operations Officer, João Mira has been integral to keeping the company focused on what is resonating with their customers. “One thing readers of the books say again and again is that they love the personal stories which focus on local startup founders. As a result, we are repurposing our website to bring more of these stories to life - adding new and updated stories to inspire our readers.”
Make community engagement part of your marketing strategy. Startup Guide’s offices serve multiple purposes: showcasing the guides alongside products from entrepreneurs worldwide, hosting events, and even offering coworking memberships. While the spaces generate revenue, they serve more strategically as branding, marketing and research “playgrounds”. By opening up their spaces as gathering spots for the local entrepreneurial community, Startup Guide brands themselves as leaders while also placing themselves literally at the center of the startup world’s latest news and hottest new ideas. Their “stores as community spaces” generate data that ultimately feeds back into Startup Guide’s own iterative process as a company.
Think creatively. Hansen recalls meeting with traditional book publishing industry consultants for advice as she was starting out. Regarding the advice she received in those early meetings, Hansen states simply, “It would never be what we were trying to do financially”. Instead, she researched magazine advertising models, and settled on a hybrid of a sponsored content approach. This allowed her to stay true to her own demanding quality standards, while streamlining the process of curating the best possible local content resources, and had the very nice perk of working financially as well. Blending financial models and thinking outside the box resulted in a templated process that works splendidly for all stakeholders.
Hansen sees potential for the publishing industry to similarly take advantage of their existing strengths to find new revenue channels utilizing non-traditional models. “They should think more about what role does a publisher play. At the end of the day - it’s about getting the book out in the world. Why not provide publishing services to companies who want to see their content in book form? You have all these people and you could be giving them more work. Publishers can be more of a branding tool”.
Communication is key. Building a team that can collaborate and play off one another’s strengths is a key component of Startup Guide’s foundation. For each great idea that Hansen comes up with, Mira is there to keep the business grounded. And, while they are a global company, they are big believers that physical proximity between team members is crucial to success. Each member of each departmental team works side-by-side in that team’s office.
The future for this startup looks increasingly bright and global. Startup Guide is already off to a busy start for 2019 having just launched the Frankfurt edition of the Guide, and recently celebrated the opening of their Copenhagen store. Expect to see expansion of the series and stores into more cities in the US and Europe, as well as Africa and some lesser known, but very hot, startup hubs soon.