7 Questions for Andrew Rhomberg of Jelly Books [Interview]
Why is JellyBooks unlike anything Amazon or conventional book retailers have done so far?
Jellybooks was created to look at book discovery and book retail from a new perspective. Our mission is to help people discover what to read next.
The way we see it, most online retailers are pretty much digital catalogues. They are based on endless lists: best seller lists, popularity lists, Top 10 this, Top 50 that. This is about as entertaining a retail experience as shopping from the yellow pages.
Amazon is great, if you already know what you are looking for, but poor at helping you discover that great next read you’ve never heard about before.
At Jellybooks we are doing things differently. We’re creating a much more visually engaging and fun way of discovering books. There is no checkout or cash register at Jellybooks. No time pressure. When you discover a book that you like, you simply get a downloadable sample (first 10% as ePub and entirely DRM free) to read later at a time and place that suits you. You can send these samples to friends as a sharable link via Twitter, Facebook or email. At the end of each preview is a link to your favorite online bookstore (it could even be Amazon). All the previews are DRM free and you will be able to read them on the Kindle and Nook or on one of the Jellybooks reading apps for iPhone, iPad or Android (including Kindle Fire).
We look at social sharing in a different way to other book retailers, too. We want to make it really easy for people to share book samples and book recommendation with specific people, as we know that this is how many of us learn about our next great reads. But we do this by analysing how people engage with books and who is influential in making recommendations. We don’t assume that your Facebook friends will have exactly the same taste in books as you. So we think of sharing as being something targeted and directed, rather than broadcasting your book choices to everyone in your social circles.
Anybody can make use of our free book samples. They can be used by book reviewers, by bloggers, or even by independent book stores (why not promote printed books with free ebook previews?)
Then there are our Sweet Deals that feature hand-picked ebooks or ebook bundles at half price. You only qualify for these deals if you share books with friends and if you join as a group to buy the book or bundle and talk about it. The discount has to be earned, but once earned you save even when compared to Amazon. Sweet, isn’t it?
How did you come up with the name ‘JellyBooks’?
I tried hundreds of names, but the inspiration for Jellybooks came when I went back to Innsbruck in the Tyrol to see my folks for Christmas. Every year, for over 20 years, I’ve decorated the family Christmas tree. My mother’s favourite decorations, which she so much loves when I put them on the tree, are star-shaped jelly sweets in yellow, red, purple and green.
My mother loves them because over Christmas we can take the sweets off the tree and share them with family and friends. And that was when I thought that maybe my idea – Jellybooks – should be like these jelly sweets, in that they’re fun and colourful things you can share with friends. Only in the case of Jellybooks our shareable treats are the ebook samples your discover and then share with friends and colleagues. The name also works nicely with our “Sweet Deals” offers, which feature special prices for people who join with their friends and mates to buy featured books as a group.
You’re looking for co-founders at the moment, what do you hope they’ll be able to bring to the business?
At the moment our biggest need is for technical people who can help build the digital experience. We are, however, also looking for great designers and user interface experts to join the founding team.
After we launch, we’ll be looking for people from non-technical backgrounds, too.
Above all, we are looking for people with a passion and a dedication to great customer service. People who thrive in the experimental, act quickly and stay optimistic environment of a start-up.
All very exciting. Where would you like to see JellyBooks in 10 years’ time?
In 10 years’ time we want to be helping people in every language and in every country on the planet to discover what to read next. We’ve already started talks with publishers on almost every continent.
Books are far from dead. Most books will be ebooks in the future, but printed books will still be important as well, and we embrace people using Jellybooks even if they go to their local bookstore to buy a printed book.
Over, the years we will hopefully come up with better and better ways for computers to help people discover what to read next. I don’t expect computers to be making book recommendations. Instead I expect computers to become more useful at filtering reviews, recommendations and conversations for readers.
I don’t think we’ll be doing music and movie discovery in 10 years though. We’re squarely focused on great reads and nothing but books.
What are you most proud of?
Applying and being admitted to the graduate program at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
People sometimes ask me if, I wasted 5 years of my life pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at MIT given that I went on to work in technology and ecommerce in companies like Skype and Nokia Maps. But the truth is that MIT had an enormous influence on my life. I learnt to think like a scientist, I met fabulous and super smart people. I got my first email account at MIT and tried the first Mosaic browser (1993). Next to my desk was the prototype of a GCMS that travelled all the way to Mars on the Viking Lander. It was a unique environment.
I also did things that I would never have done otherwise, such as learning to play ice hockey and rowing on the Charles River. I had 5 of the most enjoyable years of my life at MIT and the institution changed my life, my career and my world view.
Naturally my folks were mighty impressed when US President Bill Clinton himself gave the commencement address at my graduation in 1998.
Which 3 people would you like to have at a dinner party?
Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Eric, because he is changing the way we think about start-up creation and execution. Fred, because he is one of the most open, transparent, as well as successful tech investors of our generation. Jeff, because not only is he a really smart guy, but because you should keep your “enemies” in your pocket.
What makes you tick?
Figuring things out. I’m a scientist, which means I’m hyper-analytical and never satisfied with just data. I always want to understand why things are the way they are. Satisfaction comes from the Eureka moment of figuring something out, or when you successfully create something from a simple idea.