Startup of the week: Litsy

Startup of the week: Litsy

The entrepreneurs behind literary clothing company Out of Print think their addictive new app is "the next best way to talk about books for when you can't be face-to-face".

The pitch

Goodreads meets Instagram without the algorithms. Litsy is an independent social networking app designed to get readers sharing and talking about the books they love in an addictively short, snappy way.

Who's the team behind it?

Six years ago, Todd Lawton (ex-brand manager for Nike) teamed up with his best friend from the second grade, Jeff LeBlanc (ex-financial analyst) to start Out of Print, a literary themed clothing company that has donated more than 1.7 million books to communities in need.

Launched last month, Litsy "felt like a natural extension" of the duo's drive to get people inspired by books. A small team based out of North Carolina works on development while all marketing, partnerships and community outreach is handled out of the office in New York City.

What's the gap in the market?

There's a glut of literary chat online - which is exactly the problem Lawton and LeFranc identified. "We found that readers were using several different places to have conversations about books—reviews in one place, photos somewhere else, Twitter for other book news—so we set out to create a central place to organise and collect these conversations," Lawton explains. 

"Every post on Litsy is linked directly to a book, so we like to think of each book’s stream as a collective marginalia. It’s also a more casual platform than we’ve seen. Posts are limited to 300 characters, so one doesn’t need to come prepared with a lengthy review. Litsy is a place for any book moments. So far, we're seeing that two thirds of the conversations are non-review types and these posts receive the most reactions by the community."

Success so far?

Litsy has already been downloaded in 97 countries since the official launch four weeks ago, and has been especially embraced by early adopters in the comic book community such as Joe Hill, Chris Ryall and Kelly Sue DeConnick.

"We have users from every corner of the industry—bookstores, publishers, librarians, authors—and so many enthusiastic, incredible readers," Lawton enthuses. "The conversations happening on posts are engaging, whip smart, and often hilarious. The absolute best achievement is seeing how supportive and positive the community has been. 

Biggest challenges?

Litsy's rapid trajectory has proved a mixed blessing for the team. "We wanted to start small to make sure we could provide the most optimal experience possible, and didn’t expect so much traffic so quickly," Lawton admits. "We are developing a version for Android right now, and we’ve got lists and lists of new functions and updates in our queue. We love feedback. Our list of new features to add has largely been suggested to us from our early users."

Ultimate ambition?

Lawton is unabashed in his ambition for Litsy to be the default community for all book lovers, everywhere. "We want to be the central place people go to share and discover books. We’d love to reach more users around the world (we’re looking at you, Antarctica, and coming soon on Android!) and we really want to grow the most diverse book community possible. Ultimately, we want to be the next best way to talk about books for when you can't be face-to-face. "

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Get out and share your idea or product. Feedback from conversations and trials will do way more good than keeping your idea isolated. Learn from the feedback, refine your idea, and pitch your idea again!"