"What they do may not be the most glamorous digital service, but it is one that is much needed."
So says Ebury's Rebecca Smart of Kadaxis, winner of the 2016 BookTech Company of the Year Award - a sentiment that was unaninmously shared by her fellow judges Dan Kieran, c.e.o. of Unbound, and media investor Paul Smith.
Kadaxis, a New York-based startup founded by Chris Sim (left), uses data science to improve book discovery across the publishing value chain, for authors (at AuthorCheckpoint with metadata and marketing tools), publishers (with metadata optimisation and data APIs) and readers (at experimental book discovery site BookDiscovery).
"They are already generating revenue from working with publishers, and they are all about great execution in both speed and quality," Smart continues. "I was impressed by their journey, by the fact that they started with a general goal of improved reader discovery and ’tacked’ via small pivots towards a powerful way of delivering that."
Kieran agrees. "For me it was clear what problem they were solving and the track record of revenue was a solid stream for a young business. I also liked the pivot slide where he showed how the company had evolved."
Sim is still glowing after last Friday's pitch-off. "It was humbling to be grouped with the other BookTech finalists who are all accomplished entrepreneurs building ambitious businesses," he says. "While a business model is proven through revenue and customer growth, the recognition from an organisation such as the Bookseller, and their well-regarded judges, is an accolade that means a lot to us."
Competition to win the award was tough, with pitches ranging from a matchmaking service for authors and publishers to an app that uses voice recognition to sync special effects to children's books. Swedish AR startup StoryTourist, "a kind of Pokémon Go for stories", scooped a Highly Commended, and all five finalists were praised not just for their courage and ambition but their willingness to understand the industry and find ways to work with - not against - it.
"I was impressed that all of the start-ups began with a clear sense of what readers need, but that they also all thought about how to partner with authors and publishers," Smart says. "Given that the theme of marketing was repeated across most of the pitches, this makes sense – they had thought about how to reach consumers via existing audiences." Kieran, however, does sound a warning note. "On the one hand I was heartened that so many were successfully working with traditional publishers at such an early stage," he says, "but simultaneously nervous for them too. Relying on a traditional publisher for content, access or revenue is a strategic danger for me."
But Sim is optimisitc. "On the day I had many interesting conversations with publishing people, and the overall sense I had from them was one of positivity," he reports. "People seemed less concerned about the future of publishing, and more energised about the opportunities ahead to help readers find and read books in the digital age. When describing what Kadaxis does, publishers notably seemed to understand our value proposition (using keywords to increase book visibility online), more acutely than publishing service providers."
With the BookTech Award under their belts, his team are looking forward to a bright 2017. "We'll continue to build on the success of our keyword platform, by further improving the product through new data science research, and learnings from our publisher partners," he explains. "Keywords are our contribution to helping solve one of today's discovery challenges through improved search, but we are also working on building the next generation of discovery solutions. With the increasing flow of books coming onto the market each year, discovery mechanisms that deeply understand both the book and the reader are needed. As I said in my pitch, I think books aren't broken, we just need to help readers find their way in an increasingly noisy world."