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? We asked StoryTourist, one of the five finalists in FutureBook's 2016 BookTech Company of the Year Awards, to share their challenges and learnings on the journey from great idea to going concern.
I can vividly remember how my partner Andreas Jansson came thundering through the door last October, screaming: WE GOT ACCEPTED! At that moment, I had no idea what he was talking about, and I have to admit that his rambling words took some time to sink in – StoryTourist was a BookTech Company of the Year finalist!
I had been nursing this idea of reading and experiencing books on the locations where they are set since I was a teenager – and over the years, Andreas and I had experimented with this as a tool for fiction tourism and to increase literacy skills in children. Developing an app for the StoryTourist concept felt like a logical step to take, but we found that a lot of people had trouble grasping what we were trying to achieve. Geolocation and augmented reality – it was all too technical.
But in the summer of 2016, thanks to a certain Japanese cartoon-based gaming craze, everything changed. Suddenly everyone understood what we were about, and we just had to say the magic words: StoryTourist, it’s like Pokémon Go for stories.
Since that day in October, I’ve wondered more than once if Andreas accidentally crashed open a door to an alternate reality – because the world has been spinning at such a ridiculous speed in the past few months.
And in fact, opening doors is exactly what being nominated for BookTech Company of the Year has done for us. We’ve been invited to speak at innovation conferences, approached by some of the largest publishers in Europe and named one of the 20 best business ideas in Sweden.
Through our BookTech nomination, we were spotted by the Dutch accelerator program Renew the Book, and asked to submit an application. After an extensive selection process (that seemed to go on forever!) we were delighted to hear that they had managed to choose four startups from the 53 applicants – and that StoryTourist was one of them. So in late February, we packed our bags for Amsterdam, and prepared to spend the next 40 days challenging our business by doing hands-on experiments with the Dutch publishing industry.
The Renew the Book finalists, with Johanna front right
Ironically, even if you spend every day working with geolocation and maps, you might still be a bit lost. Renew the Book provided us with an opportunity to recalibrate our compass. Racing through all the doors that being a BookTech finalist had opened for us, we hadn’t taken the time to stop and truly test some of the assumptions that we were building our business on - about our customers, their problems and the values that StoryTourist can provide for them.
We thought we were going to Amsterdam to experiment with different business models. Instead we ended up spending 40 days gaining much needed insights into the needs and wants of publishers, book lovers and tourists – radically changing the way we view our business.
Renew the Book, now in it’s second edition, is organised by the startup ecosystem Rockstart, who provided us with tailored business development, excellent mentors and an inspiring environment to work in. And while we knew that the program was sponsored by the Dutch General Publishers Association, we were quite surprised to find that they were also the initiators. But Wiet de Bruijn (Chairman Dutch General Publishers Association and CEO VBK Publishers) explained that one of the program’s aims is also to benefit the Dutch book industry: “Our publishing sector is creative, but for innovation you also have to look outwards. These startups have fresh, effective and valuable ideas for the book sector.”
This attitude of open collaboration for the common good certainly seems to permeate the Dutch publishing industry. Several associations, organisations and publishing houses took active part in our experiments, generously granting us access to their authors, customers and industry know-how, and openly sharing the results with each other.
And Program Director Jan Paul Grollé told us that he hopes to expand Renew the Book in the future: “It would be great if we can add pre-accelerator programs in other cities, or help proven startups with partnering in new geographical markets. We're quite openly talking with parties in other countries to see if we can build a collaborative network benefitting book innovations globally."
I can only hope that they succeed. Taking part in Renew the Book was a challenging but deeply rewarding experience for us, and the book innovation world is too small to not collaborate and support each other.
Being nominated to BookTech Company of the year opened more doors for us than we could ever have imagined. There are some very exciting things happening with StoryTourist in the near future, that I’m unfortunately not allowed to share with you just yet. In the meantime, we are calling all Sherlock Holmes fans – get in touch and tell us about all your favourite places from the stories!