A startup journey taking in India, Silicon Valley, Mexico, Colombia and Indonesia.
One year ago Publishizer Founder Guy Vincent was ready to give up on his startup.
“I was bootstrapping in Chiang Mai, but I was out of money, I’d even offered one of my friends equity in the business and he’d declined.”
He’d been self-funding his crowd-publishing startup, Publishizer, for the previous 12 months in a range of ways, including appearing as a model in adverts for Japanese banks, and it wasn’t working. Either he was going to quit while he was behind, or get an investor.
He got in touch with a VC friend of his in Singapore. Did he have any advice?
“My friend suggested I try a few accelerator programs, but I didn’t feel I had enough revenue or traction to get accepted.”
He sent off a few emails and waited. Nothing. He rang some of his closest friends and told them the dream was over. He fired up his motorbike, and rode out of the city and into the wilds of northern Thailand.
“I felt waves of relief washing over me. It was over. I’d definitely made the right decision.”
The end was bittersweet, Publishizer had been born out of need to help promising writers and artists fund their print runs by selling copies of their books in advance through KickStarter-style pre-order campaigns.
To build it, he’d quit a job at South-East Asia’s largest book printing company, Tien Wah Press, in Singapore and moved to India, where he’d found an office space for $17 – per month – and teamed up with two German co-founders: Martin, a software engineer in Singapore, and Tobi, a front-end developer in Germany.
The first ever campaign was a cookbook for travelers called The Backpacker Chef, written by Australian business analyst, Jacqui Treagus, which reached $5,000 by the time the 30-day pre-order campaign was up.
But while Publishizer had celebrated some successes since it launched, it was still struggling to achieve the scale it needed to survive. The project had been a labor of love, but now it was over, or so he thought.
On returning to his Chiang Mai apartment, he checked his emails and there it was: a response from 500 Startups, the Mountain View-based seed fund and startup accelerator.
An early morning call was scheduled with the head of 500 Startups in San Francisco – the morning after a good friend’s leaving party.
“I don’t think I distinguished myself. I wasn’t really on top of the numbers on the call.”
Undeterred, they responded with an invite for a second call. And, soon afterward, they were making an offer. With a promise of $100,000 investment in the bag, he was soon boarding a 19-hour flight to California.
At that stage, Publishizer was a crowd-funding platform for books that allowed readers to pre-order books to help independent authors bring their work to market. But it needed to pivot.
“My mentor encouraged me to think about moving up the value chain to make us more sustainable.”
“We surveyed previous users of Publishizer who had used the platform to self-publish, would they self-publish again? And one hundred percent said they would prefer to go via a publisher if they could.”
Clearly, self-publishing was a sticking point for many authors. So they looked into using the platform to support authors who wanted to publish via a publishing house.
“We realised we could use our pre-orders metrics as a proxy for a book’s future success and match our authors with publishers based on their interests. So, rather than being painfully rejected dozens of times, we can flip that equation and bring our authors dozens of interested publishers.”
And publishers would have a good indication of a book’s promise through its performance during the pre-order campaign.
It was a good idea, but he wasn’t sure how it would work in practice. A TechCrunch article from March last year, (when the new idea was in its infancy) stated Publishizer had a vision to “create a platform that publishers might use to find new books, a sort of literary minor league stadium for hunting up new talent”.
“At that time it was just a vision. We didn’t actually have the technology and I had no idea how it was going to work.”
“I was sketching out wireframes. I just couldn’t get my head around how it would work. At the end of the program, I went to Mexico, and then onto Cuba. I was walking down the street when suddenly it hit me: Tinder. We needed a dating-like matching system between writer and publisher.”
He told his partner he had to leave Cuba, rang a friend in Colombia and flew over to sketch out the new wireframes.
After that it was up to the technical team to implement the new system. And up to Guy to sign up as many new publishers as possible. Before it was ready, we had half a dozen Big Five imprints on board, and over 50 small and medium-size publishers.
“Now we’re focusing on demystifying and democratizing publishing. We want more authors to realize that writing a book doesn’t have to be scary, complicated and confusing.”
By removing the black hole between many writers and publishers, Guy hopes to attract a new generation of talented writers onto the platform – and improve the way writers and publishers connect forever.
You can sign up to start your own book proposal here.