Meet the co-founder of Blinkist
1. Who are you and what were you doing before Blinkist?
I’m Holger, one of four founders of Blinkist. Before starting our company in 2012, I was working at Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) in the fields of Strategic Partnering & Commercial Management for new product initiatives.
In both functions, I had a lot of contact with other startups and after two years at a big corporate, I decided to quit and become an entrepreneur myself.
2. This is a very interesting concept, how did you come up with the idea?
We came up with the idea for Blinkist when we joined the workforce and wanted to find a way to continue to read and learn, despite having significantly less time.
We realised that the majority of people were facing the same dilemma: A lack of time to sit down and read a full book, because more and more reading time was shifting to digital devices. At the same time, people are struggling with an ever-increasing burden of information on those devices, making it difficult to use “online time” to read and learn something meaningful.
That was the starting point for Blinkist. Starting with key insights from business books in a made-for-mobile format was natural because books are still the number one source of knowledge for lifelong learners. However, it doesn’t end there: Our aim is to become our users’ smart companion and always offer something inspiring or actionable to learn, no matter whether it’s been written in a book or somewhere else.
3. What do you enjoy the most about running your own business?
Being able to see quick results for everything I work on and to dive into new disciplines - as an entrepreneur, you’re constantly learning.
Especially in the early days, when you can’t hire an expert for everything, you have to become an expert at everything. I find it most invigorating when there’s a new challenge, and I have to think of a way to overcome even though I’ve never encountered anything like it before. It’s a huge rush when you figure it out.
4. What is the biggest hurdle you had to overcome so far?
Securing our second round of financing was quite a challenge as we hadn’t launched globally back then and hence, didn’t have compelling numbers to base our pitch on.
We managed to finally find two investors who shared our vision and were willing to invest, even though we hadn’t reached the thresholds that they usually expect to see.
5. Think back to when you’d just started out – what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wished I’d understand the „VC game“ a little better, especially what metrics investors focus on in which part of the funding cycle, and what kind of traction they want to see in certain metrics in order to feel comfortable investing amount X at a valuation of Y.
Having more in-depth knowledge about the VC game makes it far easier to focus on the right things from day one and be ready for the next round of funding.
One could argue that it makes more sense to simply focus on getting happy customers, and then investors will follow, but in the last three years I’ve learned that it’s a bit more complex than that.
6. Who are your competitors?
There are some services that provide book summaries, but none of them is really focused on the consumer market & mobile devices.
Hence, our biggest competitors are services that compete on readers’ attention when they turn to their smartphones & tablets to read something.
7. What is your favourite Blinkist book?
Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity. It’s a very inspiring autobiography that is fun to read and – most importantly – helps you to learn how to think big and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
I really recommend reading the full book – but in case you just don’t have the time, we’ve got you covered with Blinks, too.
8. How was the entire process from concept to launch?
It was definitely a fun time! After we came up with the idea, we started doing research about competition, market size, target customers, and required initial costs. We then summarised some books to test different formats, and created some rough UX concepts for how the apps should look.
When we saw that the idea made sense, we reached out to potential customers, along with business angels and investors we knew in order to evaluate the potential of our idea and refine the concept step by step with the most important stakeholders.
Since the feedback of these first “external tests” was very positive, we started actually developing the service (content, app, brand, etc.) and after four months of hard work, many more customer interviews and a lot of fun, we were able to release the first version of our app in open beta.
9. How have you funded Blinkist so far?
Blinkist is backed by a group of Business Angels and three institutional investors. We’ve raised €1.8m to date.
Since we had a monetisation strategy in place from day 1, more and more of our expenses are covered by revenue and we’re aiming to break even by the end of the year.
10. What business advice stuck with you until now?
There’s a very good quote from Steve Jobs saying “Focusing is about saying No.”
Especially in the startup world, I found that it’s very hard to remain focused. There are always new feature ideas that you’d love to test or partnering opportunities that seem promising. And as an entrepreneur, you sometimes feel you have to do all of it to increase your chances of success and ensure an opportunity doesn’t pass you by.
However, doing too much and losing focus will mean you get less done in the end, so it’s very important to always have a very limited set of key goals and activities to reach these goals in mind and focus completely on them, saying No to everything else.
11. Where do you see Blinkist in the next 12 months?
We want to establish Blinkist as a global consumer brand for lifelong learning, via content and apps that fit into people’s daily routines.
There is a huge market for such a service because more and more reading and learning happens on mobile devices. Despite this, there are only few services that really adapt content for these new consumption patterns and take on an end-to-end perspective rather than just taking the ‘old’ content and putting it on a mobile device.
In one year we’ll be three steps closer to this goal, with a stronger global presence, many new features and serivce improvements, and a ton of learnings on how and through which channels we can further grow our user base.