This new social media photobook service is local, sustainable, powered by AI - and Brexit proof.
Brand new startup Sokbook is offering people a chance to turn their social media profiles into a printed book. The company's proprietary online AI software tool will scrape social data and imagery, before the SokBook team design a personalised hardback or softcover, then print it locally to where the customer lives.
"Ever thought what happens to your social media profile or online blog when we pass away?" founder Duncan Hazell asks. "Ever thought that one day, a mega platform may go down and be offline forever? Maybe you’ve had enough of your online life, and wish to delete your social profile for good? But of course the problem with that is, all your favourite pictures great moments will also vanish. So... why not place it into a real book? Problerm solved."
The offering is not just confined to Facebook; SokBook aims to create books using social networks as diverse as Twitter and Instagram; blogs such as Wordpress and LiveJounrnal; international platforms from China's WeChat to Vkontakte, Russia’s equivalent to Facebook; and even messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Originally from Sussex, Hazell has been working in the book and publishing industry for the past nine years. First setting up a magazine focused on business and social affairs in Kyiv, he then moved to the Netherlands and co-founded a manufacturing print-on-demand company for photobooks and book companies.
Sokbook’s chief technology officers, Moti Sadon and Yonatan Naor, are both from Israel. Moti and Yonatan have considerable experience in both technology and the photobook market, as well as specialist expertise in complex cloud infrastructure.
"Moti and Yonatan have helped me create an AI-based system for creating well-designed and ready to print books," Hazell says. "Utilising state-of-the-art machine vision technology, their system scans, analyses and learns the essence of images. It then organizes them into a pre-designed theme using intelligent algorithms."
What's the gap in the market?
With 2.1 billion active users creating content on social networks every day, and a new user joining a social media platform every 15 seconds, the potential size of the market is clear. And Hazell believes that SokBook has two unique selling points in the photobook space. The first is his laser focus on social media.
"Coming from a web-to-print background, I saw many book companies come and go," he says. "Many companies would use this type of product as an afterthought. e,g, you’ve just created a photobook, how about creating a book from only Instagram or only Facebook? This type of product was being sold as an upsell to give the customer more choice. But it’s not their main product, and very little AI is being used, if any at all. We're totally dedicated to doing this one thing very well."
The second involves sustainability in the printing and delivery process.
"I had to find a better solution to deliver products in a far more eco-friendly manner. Sending a book or books across the world has massive impact on CO2 emissions. Alongside that, is the impact on delivery times and extra shipping costs. My previous co-founder from the print-on-demand company in the Netherlands, Martijn Eier went on to setup cloudprinter.com – And I went on to set up Sokbook. So now both our highly automated IT systems are fully integrated with one another in real-time. Together, we can now receive an order from Sydney, and print and deliver it from Sydney. Likewise, a customer can order from London and the book will be printed and delivered from London. Together, we’ve built a global print network."
Hazell also believes this will protect the company from any post-Brexit implications. "As no product will be imported or exported from the UK, the outcome of Brexit will have no impact on our business. Don’t wait for politicians - get puzzle solving yourself."
Success so far?
With SokBook launching its Kickstarter campaign this week, there are few figures to report so far, but Hazell is proud of what he's already worked to achieve.
"Our first success was to bring together a team of experts all within their own sector, and most importantly ones who live in different counties - marketing in the UK to customers is far different from marketing to customers in say, Eastern Europe or China," he explains. "This is a downfall for many global wannabes. Just because something works in one country, it doesn’t mean it will work in another country. Therefore, one should also employ locally for best results to be really globally accepted.
Hazell estimates the company will be ready to receive orders from late September/ early October.
Hazell believes is greatest hurdle will be achieving the kind of global brand recognition SokBook needs to cut through.
"This is always achievable, but only if you as a founder take the time to travel to places and learn other cultures," Hazell insists. "I cannot underestimate the impotence of this critical experience. You will not learn anything valuable about another culture sitting behind a PC. These experiences you cannot buy or seek or learn online. You need to get up and go."
Hazell aims to create a company that is as ecologically harmless and sustainable as possible. He's also after deep customer passion. "I’d rather have 1,000 people who love our service, than 10,000 people who like our service," he says.
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"Bootstrap it! Receiving venture capital does not equal success. Entrepreneurship does not equal financing. Entrepreneurship equals customers, revenues, and profits. Financing is optional, exit is optional. Keep in mind the criteria based on which VCs invest in companies. VCs are looking for companies that are ultra-fast growth, ultra-large total available market size opportunity. And these are far and few between. So always start with your mindset focused in bootstrap mode."