Q&A with Beemgee founder Olaf Bryan Wielk

Q&A with Beemgee founder Olaf Bryan Wielk

The founder of Beemgee—a tool to help authors develop their narrative material—explains the benefits to authors.

First, can you explain why and how Beemgee was started?

The idea for an online outlining tool arose in a Berlin coffee shop. My friend Amos is a documentary film editor. We were talking about his latest project as well as an idea I had for a novel. We discovered there was no web tool specifically for outlining narrative material, for developing stories.

The idea germinated in me. I went to this guy I had worked with before, Robert, who had a web agency. Well, we brought out a prototype character development tool on Beemgee.com in time for the next Leipzig Book Fair and immediately got very positive responses, including an investment offer. Which we ended up declining!

Could you sketch out how Beemgee has developed, both in terms of subscriber base and the user experience?

The first version of Beemgee was free. It took us a while to release Premium, and to be honest, in the first months of Beemgee Premium there was literally no difference between Free and Premium. But gradually Premium subscribers received more and more features, and by now we have a powerful suite of Premium tools—for characters, for plotting, and for pitching the story. Thousands of authors all over the world develop their stories with Beemgee.

You must have a delicate balance of what you give out for the Free and Premium services. What’s the key getting people to upgrade from Free users to Premium subscribers? 

Back when we launched, the idea of an outlining tool was so new that initially we wanted a very low threshold to using the tool, so you could start developing a story right away without even registering. Now, a lot of people go straight to Premium.

We had to learn all that stuff about conversion and retention rates. Our Premium vs Free rate is pretty high, but yes, getting the balance right is difficult. If as an author you are serious about story development, you need Beemgee Premium. Free is just to give you a taste of how it works. It replaces the trial period.

The key to getting people to go for Premium is of course providing value. As a company, what you offer has to really help people. But it is surprisingly hard to tune your offer to what people really need. In our case, we don’t really know more about most of our users than their e-mail address, so we only know through those authors we have direct contact with whether they are developing novels, screenplays, theatre or games. We even have business consultants using our tool to define personas, or for stakeholder analyses.

Some of our authors are professional and publish in traditional publishing houses. For them, Beemgee is an efficiency tool. Others are keen amateurs. Using Beemgee, these budding authors learn the craft of dramaturgy. They all get a tool to communicate their story content to editors or publishers.

You aren’t the only author-tools software firm. What is fuelling the rise of these platforms? And what makes Beemgee unique?

Telling and being told stories is a human need, a defining characteristic of the species. These days, it is easier than ever to tell, or rather to disseminate, your own stories. So, the rise of author tools is directly linked to the phenomenon of self-publishing, which is now merging with traditional publishing. When we started, we were pretty much alone in our space as a story development tool. Now there are a couple of others.

What distinguishes us? Firstly, Beemgee is solely about story development. It’s not a writing tool or word processor. So, we come in at the idea stage already. With Beemgee, you structure and form your ideas into a story, which you then write somewhere else, for instance in Scrivener. You can import the story outline you made in Beemgee into Scrivener, then write the novel.

Secondly, Beemgee is web-based, with all the benefits that brings. For instance, never needing file documents or software updates (it’s always the newest version), and online collaboration.Thirdly, Beemgee is being recognised by publishers and other creative industries, so you might get your Beemgee account from your publisher rather than buying it yourself.

How you are working with publishers? And what areas are you looking to grow into?

We have authors all over the world. In Germany, we have a few well-known publishers as B2B customers. We are keen to have UK publishers try us out for things like adaptations (for instance, making a game to a novel). But also author care, story evaluation, commissioning and helping the editorial team to brief authors. Or story development and doctoring facilities will help editors, too.  We’re already doing some of these things with publishers in Germany. Any innovative publisher looking to improve the early-stage processes, are welcome to get in touch with us.