Excitement, Exhaustion & Losing – The Story of a Great Weekend
Last weekend, I did something out of character that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that it was almost laughable. I participated in a weekend startup event called 48 Hour Launch. I pitched an idea, put together a team and then did everything I could do to get a company ready to launch over the course of one weekend.
Now, thinking up an idea is not the part that is out of character because I’m a veritable fountain of ideas. Telling people about them, acting on them, doing something with them – now that’s a different story. Usually, I just voice these ideas, do a little research, and discard them pretty quickly.
Here’s what my idea was: an online bookstore that only sells books by independent authors. I love to support small businesses, and to me, an author that self-publishes is basically running a small business around her book. Besides writing the book, the author has to handle all the marketing and selling that is involved in getting it in front of the eyes of readers. I applaud the entrepreneurship involved, and besides, there are some really good self-published books out there.
My teammate, the incomparable Chanté Newcomb, and I created a plan, put together a site through a storefront template, scrapped it, built an ecommerce site on WordPress, contacted some authors, and found out…writers probably wouldn’t want to list their books in a self-published only store.
What we learned is that there are plenty of places to buy self-published books online and that writers still fear the stigma of self-publication. Plus, writers make more money through direct sales on their own sites. As writers make more money from their own websites, it’s important that their online store is prepared for these sales. Having a good website is important, it draws people to the site. Once they’re on the site, they need to be able to purchase the book easily. With the help of software from companies like FastSpring, customers should be able to purchase the books in most currencies on their credit cards. This makes the checkout process a lot safer and easier.
At this point I had faced two potentially idea-killing blows: Chanté and I were the only two working on this project and the people I wanted to help didn’t like my plan.
Instead of quitting – which was tempting – I decided to change it a little and turn it into something that would appeal to writers and that would help them make more direct sales of their books. While authors may not need another outlet for sales, what they do need is help in marketing their work.
Writers need information about where people who view their pages and sites are coming from so that they can make informed decisions about how they will market. They need a way of separating themselves from the crowded slush pile that (in some ways) the Internet has become. They need assistance in getting in front of the eyes of people who would read their work – if they knew about it.
So, my idea went from building an online bookstore to creating a directory of independent writers, where readers could also purchase books if they wanted. Each writer would be given an author’s page, where they could blog, or host contests, or present trivia, and generally promote their work. Most importantly, readers would be encouraged to click through to authors’ sites to make direct purchases.
Besides giving the author access to and control of his or her own space in the directory, we would also do interviews, produce pod casts and feature different writers on the home page and the Facebook page. We would send the authors statistics about their traffic on our site – how many visitors, where they were referred from and so on, so that they would have an additional tool for finding their target audience.
All of these changes came about on Saturday night, approximately half way into the 48 hours. Right about the same time Chanté decided a storefront template wouldn’t work for our project.
If you ever want to work with someone who will dig into your project and be committed to making it work, get in touch with Chanté. She worked throughout the night Saturday night (I know this because she was posting on Twitter at 6am Sunday morning) to put together the WordPress site, making sure we would have something to demonstrate Sunday evening.
Although we didn’t win in the most traditional sense of the word, we did come away with a viable plan to pursue, a site that we will continue to polish and build, and a really amazing feeling of accomplishment. Every project presented was a potential viable business. Some, like ours, will need more work to get there, but certainly success is foreseeable for all nine projects that made it through to the Sunday night presentations.
There are lots of people I’d like to thank for helping me (in no particular order):
Chanté Newcomb of The Mane Scene – I wouldn’t have even attempted the project without Chanté’s input and invaluable assistance.
The Company Lab – Sheldon and Enoch lead an amazing resource for Chattanooga in general and people here who are interested in starting businesses specifically.
Jon Moss of Moss Media Labs – Jon’s amazing networking abilities certainly came through in a pinch, not to mention several excellent, practical suggestions he offered over the course of the weekend.
Carlos Aleman, independent writer of As Happy As Ling – Carlos let us put his book up for sale on the site and offered extremely useful critical feedback from an author’s perspective.
Josh Davis of Churchsurfer – Josh brainstormed with us for several hours on Friday night and his suggestions and thoughts helped spur the project forward.
Lauren & Wade Honeycutt of TripRaiser – We shared a “station” with this lovely couple, who could have viewed us as competitors but instead consistently listened to problems, made suggestions and helped us over hurdles. They drove all the way from Nashville to be there and I’m so glad they did.
Yosef Hamadeh of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel – Yosef was there to offer legal advice and listened to my plan at a critical moment on Sunday, gave great feedback and made me feel much better about the presentation in general. Plus, he told me what sort of legal documents we would need to be in place down the road.
David Niall Wilson, Jenn Mattern, and Evelyn Lafont who are all experienced in writing and publishing and who took the time to evaluate our idea and identified pitfalls and obstacles and issues we were sure to encounter. Constructive criticism is the best kind and all three of these people went over and above by taking the time to help.
There were so many others who dropped by and made suggestions, listened to my presentation and offered feedback, reached out to people they knew who could help and much more. I don’t know everyone’s name, but thanks to every person who even put in an appearance over the weekend. And, definitely a huge thanks to all of the restaurants, individuals, Velo Coffee Roasters and Chattanooga Brewing for keeping us supplied with food, coffee and excellent beer.