Startup of the week: Riffle

Startup of the week: Riffle

The "Pinterest for book discovery" is hoping that beautiful design and personal recommendations will capture book lovers' hearts.


The pitch

Hailed as "the Pinterest for book discovery", Riffle is a social network that "inspires people to read more books by connecting them to avid readers, librarians, authors, and deals on books they’ll love."

Who is the team behind it?

New York-based founder Neil Baptista pioneered the SaaS (software as a service) model with hotjobs.com, leading to their successful IPO and later sale to Yahoo. He worked on early sms and ringtone apps and was one of the first Facebook preferred developers in 2009, creating an author platform for Facebook marketing that was used by all Big Five publishers to run audience development for several of their New York Times bestselling authors.

It was the social data from these Facebook interactions that inspired Baptista and his team to launch Riffle, harnessing his insights into how people interact with books in a social network "in order to meet the needs of a broader reading community."

What's the gap in the market?

Good design. Baptista believes that book sites have not kept up with our passion for beautiful visuals online.

"For people who love books, their reading histories and libraries are a part of their identity," he explains. "Riffle responded to a demand for an elegant, more visually driven social profile for book lovers. Just as Instagram or Pinterest let people express themselves through photos or collections of images, Riffle organizes your library into gorgeous visual profiles and reading lists, leading with a visually minimalist user interface that allows books cover art to shine. This interface flows across book discussions, reading lists, and an ebook deal newsletter that alerts readers to discounts on books in genres they’re interested in."

Riffle also focuses on personal recommendations rather than algorithms, backing the experience of the librarians, authors, publishing professionals, book sellers and genre bloggers who use the site. 

Success so far?

Riffle has been used by over a half a million people in 220 countries, although the primary audiences are in the U.S. and the U.K.  They add new features every couple of weeks based on feedback from users "so major advances can be seen every month" and Publisher’s Weekly has hailed it as “a replacement for Goodreads.”

Biggest challenges?

"Convincing investors that there is growth and opportunity in the book publishing industry," Baptista admits. "Although trade publishing is still growing and still profitable, many people outside the industry tend to think of publishing as staid and in decline. We’ve found the opposite to be true, as book publishers and especially authors are forced to compete for attention on the digital landscape. Big publishers have also attempted to build their own platforms, most now defunct, rather than partnering with a startup."

Ultimate ambition?

Riffle's mission is simple: to inspire people to read more books. "We endeavor to achieve that goal whether it’s through positive peer pressure, abundant reviews, vibrant discussions, personal recommendations or deals on bestselling ebooks," Baptista says. "We truly believe that amidst the ubiquity of digital media, the wonder of reading books can see a resurgence to its rightful place in the hierarchy of storytelling."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Talk to people who have been in the industry a long time. Book publishing is part art, part science, and all grit. There is plenty of complexity and lots of counterintuitive practices that can really surprise newcomers. So, don’t underestimate the incumbents while you disrupt them."