December 17, 2020 5 min read
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Ali Albazaz, founder and CEO of Inkitt. Inkitt leverages technology to systematically discover the most talented novelists worldwide and turns their stories into successful blockbusters. We want to build the Disney of the 21st Century, and create a legacy of talented authors from around the world.
What inspired you to create this product? What was your “aha moment”?
When I found out that Harry Potter had been rejected by 13 publishers, Twilight by 14, and Stephen King’s first novel Carrie by 30. I found that inefficient but also very unfair towards the authors. I asked myself: If these great talents were nearly passed by, what other amazing stories were currently sitting in someone’s notebook or computer unread? How many talented authors had been wrongfully rejected, causing the writer to give up simply because an editor said “No” and crushed their dreams? I wanted to solve this problem with my perspective as a software engineer. I decided to create a fair model for publishing using objective data analysis to make decisions.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that we’re continuously discovering hidden talents around the world and turning them into globally successful authors. For example, we discovered Seemran Sahoo, a debut author living in Odisha, India, an area with 70% female literacy rate. She has crossed $1.5 million in sales with her novel The Arrangement and is a globally successful author now. Or Sapir Englard, who was living in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, Israel, and is the author of The Millennium Wolves. It just crossed $5 million in sales and she’s now living in Boston and studying at Berklee College of Music. This is what makes us happy — giving authors all around the world an equal chance to succeed.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Build a great business and the best investors will come to you. I see many founders spending more time thinking about their funding rounds than actually working on building a great product and business.
When you’re on track to build a great business then finding investors is much easier. If you have no money to get started, figure out how you can bootstrap your company. One example that I always remember is how the Airbnb founders sold cereal boxes to help fund their business.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you pivot to overcome it?
Product-wise we saw an increase of +100% growth in readership and writership activity since the first lockdown, resulting in a 3 million spike in users. Readers are spending a lot more time reading and writers have more time writing and we’re very happy to be able to offer them an escape from the pandemic to alternative fictional universes.
The challenge was on the people-side of the business. When the lockdown started, we wanted to ensure that our team stayed motivated, so we had to create new remote-working routines as fast as possible, stay connected with each other and stay physically active. Our VP of Operations, Gonzalo, had to come up with a swift plan:
We arranged to ship desks, chairs and office equipment to employees’ homes.
Implemented a tool where employees receive a “pulse survey” on a weekly basis to see how they’re feeling.
Arranged virtual water cooler conversations with different online tools.
Organized different types of online fitness classes.
Arranged a service for employees and their families, giving them access to speak with professionals about mental health-related matters.
Recently we also set out a company goal of walking 5 million steps as a team per month.
Where do you see this company in a year? In five years?
Today’s astronauts, doctors and entrepreneurs, who are changing the world for better found inspiration in stories like Harry Potter or The Alchemist. We’re building the platform for the next Elon Musk to find his/her inspiration. In the upcoming decade, we hope to evolve storytelling from text to audio-drama, TV series, movies, games and theme parks.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
I never actively intended to become an entrepreneur for entrepreneurship’s sake. Rather than having a definition for it, I think of the word more of a mentality and way of life — want to provide value to society, and the way that worked for me, was to create a product and build a team.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
“Nothing is impossible.” — Walt Disney. Quite simply because he was such a creative person, innovating ahead of his time and not stopping if people told him he couldn’t do something.