Brad Feld is a busy guy and I personally doubt that he ever sleeps. When he's not blogging or running The Foundry Group, he's writing books. His latest is called Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. I know from personal experience that writing books makes you particularly opinionated about the publishing industry, but Feld is actually doing something about it. I sat down with him to talk about BookShout.
What's the premise behind BookShout? What sparked the idea?
The premise behind BookShout is to collaboratively read books with other people. We are collaborating across an incredible amount activity today and sharing / interacting with each other online continually, but for some reason the publishing industry has been slow to adopt and integrate these technologies.
Jason Illian, the founder, reached out and asked if I wanted to use BookShout to read Startup Communities with other members of Startup America, where we could comment on different parts of the book and have threaded conversations about them. This functions similar to comments on a blog post, but is directly linked to a highlight that anyone can read in the book.
I played around with BookShout and thought it was awesome. I've tried pretty much everything I could get my hands on over the past few years as each of my books has come out. (Startup Life is my fifth book since 2010.) BookShout is the first thing I've found that I thought really addressed the issue of collaborative reading.
In addition, I love working with entrepreneurs on new ideas that link to my world. In this case, Jason hit a few seams at the same time. One of the premises of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City is based on the power of a network, and the idea that I'd written a book and could interact, within the text, with the people reading it, appealed greatly to me.
Seth Godin has disrupted part of publishing with The Domino Project? Is your goal similar? How?
Seth is one of my mentors in this arena. My goal isn't to disrupt publishing. Instead, I've become fascinated with being a content provider at this point of the evolution of the publishing industry. As a venture capitalist, I'm constantly investing in companies that are challenging incumbent companies and disrupting existing industries. But I realized that I wasn't actually in the middle of it. By being a writer, and publishing books in 2013, I get to be a participant in the dramatic change of this industry, from a content provider perspective. This experience helps me understand the dynamics of massive disruptive change more broadly, which I think I can apply to my investments in many different industries.
I also recently realized this was a substitute for me for writing software. I wrote a lot of code between 1983 and 1990, shipped several commercial products, and was involved in the development of a lot of custom applications. By 1991, I no longer had time to code because of all of my other responsibilities. Over the years I've dabbled, spending a few months at a time learning new programming languages like PHP, Ruby on Rails, and Python. But I never had enough time to focus on doing anything in a production environment, and I found that the underlying context was changing so rapidly, that I couldn't keep up with the advance of technology. By writing, I'm dealing with a language (English) that isn't changing. Sure -- the tools evolve some, but I'm still typing words into a document. The lightbulb went off for me one day and I realized this was the same type of creative activity I was doing when I was writing software, just in a more accessible context for me.
How has adoption been so far?
I've been really pleased with the first few weeks of working with BookShout. We've got a couple of hundred people reading Startup Communities. I'm about to roll out the next book in the Startup Revolution series, which is titled Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship With an Entrepreneur. I'm also going to roll out the Startup Revolution Book Club, where I read a book a month online with a community and end each month with an hour long Google Hangout (On Air) about the book.
What's the endgame?