Prepping books, books, and more books

Ra'eesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather
Diann Selman
Diann Selman

We hired two new interns in June to assist with the processing and upload of the African Books Collective material. I set up a workflow process, and offered support and instruction as they implemented it. By the end of June, they had finished processing all 385 titles, and these were ready for upload.

Having Diann and Ra’eesa to work on the processing of those documents meant that I could focus my energies on the language exam packs. We conducted a full audit of papers we were missing, and filled in these gaps where we could. These were all processed and loaded onto the site by 15th.

In the final week of June we had loaded a total of 279 products on to Paperight 1.0.

Caitlin continued to prep Paperight Editions over this period. I did the administrative work behind the scenes to organise files and transfer these to her. In the final week of June we had loaded a total of 279 products on to Paperight 1.0.

We also began to work on the ideas and budgets for Paperight’s first online advertising campaign. The aim was to provide a link back on Facebook that would direct interested students and parents to their nearest outlet. This campaign launched at the end of the month, with a set of Facebook ads which linked the user to a ‘tab’ on Facebook that included an ordering process and an outlets map.

Other administrative work included loading all registered publishers on the wiki, for ease of reference, creating a scripted process for dealing with new registrations, filming and editing of Arthur’s reapplication video due, and facilitating the transfer of OUP study guides.

Publishers approached

  • Oxford University Press (Arthur and Tarryn met with)

Publishers registered

  • Hedaaya Publications (11/6/2012)
  • Big Bug Books (13/6/2012)
  • Gabbema Publishing (17/6/2012)
  • Skawara News (28/6/2012)

New stuff we’ve made

On 9 May 2012 we saw Paperight 1.0 go live, a site I began designing almost two years ago. I’m incredibly proud of the way it turned out. See it live at (It changed a fair bit over time, here’s a video showing an early interface design.) We wrote up a technical explanation of how we built it from open-source tools on the Paperight blog.

For content, our team created over 150 packs of past matric exam papers. It was a mammoth undertaking that now represents the single biggest library of exam packs in the country, that (depending on your local copy shop) is the best-value way to buy them anywhere. Team member Nick Mulgrew wrote up the arduous story on our blog. The team also produced our impressive Outlet User Manual (PDF download), which we’re now converting into a support website.

I also crafted (and in a sense this took years) the Paperight story that will be my template ten-minute pitch presentation for Paperight. It’s had a dry run or two at small events, and gets it real debut at TEDxCapeTown on 21 July. It’s amazing to see a big, complicated idea finally distilled to a simple story.

Less glamorous, I made an office and a team (here are the outlet guys) and a long list of lessons learned in the last nine months.

Getting better at training outlets

On 5 June 2012, we presented the rescheduled training with Silulo store managers. Zimkita presented this training in isiXhosa as this was the home language of the store managers, whilst Zukisani and I assisted when manager were stuck. After the initial training, several Silulo managers voiced the need for training again as they weren’t fully comfortable with the website.

We recognised that we may have either had a problem with our training method or our website not user-friendly. Therefore, we arranged for a follow-up training session which was presented by Arthur and attended by a few Silulo managers. Despite these setbacks, Silulo Ulutho sold hundreds of matric exam packs and our correspondence with them led to our decision to break down exam packs into single-year versions.

Zukisani and Zimkita had connected with the owner of African Axxess in Langa. Due to the close proximity of African Axxess to Langa Secondary School, we also held a presentation at the school in conjuction with African Axxess. This time we used a flip chart instead of a projector and didn’t cater for attendees. The presentation went very smoothly and we have more attendees at this presentation than the one at Silulo.

Our roadmap, third quarter 2012

Our aims for the next three months:

  • Continue and learn from our promotional campaign in Khayelitsha working with Silulo copy shops.
  • Build our outlet footprint in Gauteng, KZN, and Eastern Cape (we’re working on collaboration with the three major copy-shop chains in South Africa).
  • Another phase of software development, primarily to automate document preparation and boost exponentially the speed with which we can add content to the site.
  • Build media interest in and coverage of Paperight through articles, interviews and speaking events.

Reading Ries and Christensen

I’ve done some fascinating reading recently, too. The most influential books I’ve read recently are The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. Both have left me reeling from ah-ha moments. Chief among these:

  • Ries’s explanation of how a startup’s product — what it aims to produce in its early stages — are not the things it sells, but the lessons it learns. The faster, cheaper, and more specific you can make what he calls ‘cycles of validated learning’ (build, measure, learn), the faster you can produce something that people want.
  • Ries’s description of vanity metrics vs cohort matrics. Vanity metrics are simple growth curves: ‘we signed up 10 free users last month, and 100 free users this month; 1 user upgraded to a paid subscription last month, and 10 this month’. These metrics always look good, because they show growth in every area. Here, tenfold growth in users and paying users. But they aren’t valuable metrics, because what matters — what tells you whether you’re *getting better as a business* is not growth in users or paying users. It’s how fast you’re increasing the *proportion* of paying users to free users. Cohort metrics are more valuable: ‘what percentage of users are paid users, and how fast are we growing that cohort?’ This totally changes the focus of a sales team.
  • I wish I’d read Christensen ten years ago. Big aha: established companies don’t invest in new approaches (like Paperight) not because they’re stupid or evil, but because they’re fundamentally unable to do so, even if they’re the best-run company in the world. Christensen describes how. This totally changed the way I approached large publishers.

Very few people get through a business conversation with me without hearing about these at least once.