Early attempts at franchise collaboration

May 2012 was a very eventful month for Paperight. We launched our website v1.0, Michelle Carstens of The Office Crew became the first outlet to top up her Paperight account and the marketing manager of Jetline registered with Paperight. All three of these events had particular significance for me.

It had been my idea to create an outlets map and I was in charge of placing the outlets on our original map. The Office Crew was an outlet which I introduced to Paperight and became our first VIP outlet. I believe the reason for this is that The Office Crew had an outlet owner who was passionate about Paperight and it was close to my home. This meant that I could give them close attention and get feedback from them regularly.

Jetline had already on my list of potential franchises to approach when, a publisher recommended that we contact Jetline and forwarded a contact number to us. This was the start of what led to our biggest outlet partnership yet.

I headed to Durban for two weeks to collect my car and in the process visits and sign up outlets face to face. During this visit I learned that outlets require at least two visits to have them buy in to Paperight effectively. The first visit to introduce them to our concept and the second to answer questions they might have thought of and physically training them how to use the service.

In the meantime, Zukisani and Zimkita were in Cape Town completing the tasks laid out in the Silulo Marketing plan. The main highlights of our plan were a presentation with H.O.D.’s from various schools in the area and a training session with the managers of the various Silulo Ulutho branches.

The training with the managers was postponed due to a miscommunication between Zukisani and Lonwabo (a director at Silulo Ulutho). The presentation took place right after I had returned from Durban which meant that I also had the opportunity to be involved. Zimkita was the MC whilst Zukisani and I each had a portion in the presentation.

Only 4 of the 40 H.O.D.’s that were invited attended. We made the mistake of supplying catering for 200 people and the projector for the presentation wasn’t properly organised. We also had Paperight-branded mugs and chocolates made for the H.O.D.’s and Paperight team. The biggest lessons that we learned from this is to manage our promotional spending better and to utilise resources that are fully in our control as much as possible.

The personal impact of a fellowship to build Paperight

The last nine months, for me personally, has been a ride of epic proportions. The opportunity to build a dream business with generous resources – alongside fellow Fellows who are constantly amazing and inspiring – is a kind of exquisite torture.

I’ve grown and learned as an entrepreneur at a rate I didn’t think possible a year earlier while running Electric Book Works. I’ve had to learn to let go in many ways, too: my role has transformed in the last three months from doing the work of Paperight to driving our team’s work, and making sure each individual is equipped and confident enough to deliver. I’ve learned new levels of focus, too, and have been forced to perfect time- and task-management skills. I’ve always been an efficient person; I reckon I’ve doubled that efficiency. I’ve always been a good public speaker; I’m ten times better now and still improving. I used to be a poor salesperson; I’m miles from that now, and know where I have to keep working to be better.

The Fellowship is not just a great way to build and nurture valuable projects. It’s a personal- and professional-development drag race that produces tougher, smarter, more effective people. As I prepare to apply for another year, I realise it’s also kind of addictive.

Getting to paperight.com 1.0

screenshot_20120510Getting Paperight 1.0 live was a huge milestone for us. While the build in the end – from scratch, without a base CMS, over only two months – was fast and smooth, this was only possible because we put every ounce of learning and planning I’d done for the site over the previous three years into its design and planning. It’s a very simple thing now, but that is deliberate simplicity.

I had one key principle for the site: all our choices had to favour making the site as fast and light as possible.

I had one key principle for the site: all our choices had to favour making the site as fast and light as possible. Outlets have slow connections and busy shop floors. This informed decisions like our simple prepaid accounts (the outlet manager can top up an account in advance very quickly); account balances and licence fees had to be shown in the user’s currency, no matter where they are in the world; the interface had to be clean with large figures and buttons, for quick, simple use at the point-of-sale.

I worked very closely with the team at Realm Digital on this. Realm were an expensive choice, and I’m pleased that our decision to use them paid off in fantastic service, great design, and real dedication to the time-frames and to the business model itself. Lead developer Shaine Gordon has described technically how the site’s built on our blog.

In addition to ongoing refinements, we’re now planning a second round of development for Paperight 1.1.

Time on the speaking circuit

I’ve enjoyed speaking at several events over the last nine months, mostly on Paperight, sometimes on broader innovative publishing issues (Foundation projects like Yoza and Live magazine often came up):

  • Open Book, Cape Town’s premier literary festival, panel discussion with Steve Vosloo and Ben Williams on digitisation in publishing.
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedebad, India: ran half-day seminar on publishing technology for senior publishing execs on a five-day MBA-style program at India’s top management school. It was great to get to sit in on the course, too: some of the best business teaching I’ve ever seen.
  • ANFASA (Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association of South Africa) AGM: presentation on Paperight to authors and publishers from around South Africa.
  • Publishers Association of South Africa, Higher-Education sector meeting: presentation on Paperight to the senior management of most South African higher-ed publishers.
  • British Council panel discussion event, ‘The Future of International Publishing’, at the London Book Fair 2012.
  • International New Publishers Network launch, London Book Fair 2012, pecha-kucha presentation on Paperight (see my slides-and-speech version).
  • Van Schaik Booksellers Ebook Conference (middle and senior management of several dozen trade and higher-ed publishing companies), presentation on how existing ebook infrastructure can be used to sell books to an offline audience using Paperight.
  • Franschhoek Literary Festival: Chaired panel discussion on fiction on mobile phones.
  • TED Talent Search, Soweto: talk on Paperight, as part of TED’s global auditions for their 2013 event (I was one of 19 South Africans selected for the event, huge honour to present alongside such incredible innovators).

  • International Publishers Association World Congress, Cape Town (11 June): Presenting on innovative business models in SA publishing (Yoza and similar, Paperight, and Siyavula).
  • Cape Town Book Fair, 14 June, Goethe Institute invitation programme, on trends in digital publishing.
  • TEDxCapeTown (21 July): talking about Paperight.

I’m taking every chance I can to get the word out.

Lessons learned so far

Nine months into our Shuttleworth Foundation funding, I’m proud and pleased with where we are in large part because, in getting there, we’ve had to learn fast from mistakes and successes. Some of the lessons we’ve learned:

  • The human story is more powerful than the financial one. I thought initially that publishers and copy shops would sign up because we offered them a new revenue stream. However, at first glance no one really believes it when someone promises them a ‘new revenue stream’. They really make their buying decision – which is always an emotional decision – because they connect with our social-impact vision. Then, they go on to justify that decision to themselves by calculating potential revenue, or by citing a need to look for new opportunities in tough times. Similarly, I’ve seen that when individuals don’t connect with our social-impact vision, they use the financial numbers to justify not participating. So most of our Paperight pitches now emphasise the human story – books are the key to upliftment, they save lives, we all have a responsibility to spread education – and then when necessary we move onto the numbers. This was a crucial lesson that took months of trial and error to learn.
  • Perhaps the hardest lesson was realising that three months approaching big publishing companies early on was not a good use of my time. Paperight is a classic disruptive innovation: a simple, relatively low-margin product for a new market. No matter how well run they are, established companies cannot justify putting resources into a disruptive innovation very early on. They can only follow smaller, more nimble players for whom new, early-stage markets are attractive. (I wish I’d read The Innovator’s Dilemma sooner; it makes this so clear.) Now that we have a growing stable of publishers and outlet footprint, it’s easier for larger publishers to justify joining us.
  • When pitching Paperight to outlets, it’s good to focus on the word ‘legal’. I initially emphasised concepts like ‘easy’, ‘more customers’ and ‘broader product offering’, thinking that the fact that Paperight is the first ever legal way to print books out was obvious and beside the point. While those features are important, we’ve also realised that ‘legal’ is a key feature: copy shops know they are often asked to copy books illegally, and this creates anxiety for managers. Our pitch then speaks to that emotion.
  • Building good software requires patience and impatience simultaneously: planning and designing Paperight 1.0 (the current site) took much longer than expected. We had to very patiently thrash a great deal early on, and this paid off in a very smooth build process that resulted in a great site. But none of this would have been possible without the impatiently built Paperight 0.5, a duct-tape solution on which we impatiently registered our first users and delivered our first documents. Even though we had to use 0.5 for two more months than expected, we learned from it right to the end. The lessons included refining terminology, online agreements, book metadata and taxonomies, customer expectations around document quality, marketing strategies (customers love free credit more than books priced at free, even though they’re effectively the same thing), and search and browsing behaviour.
  • My initial strategy was to create a large catalogue early on so that users could ‘walk into an outlet and ask for anything’. This was flawed – and not just because it’s very hard to build a large catalogue fast. The flaw is that with a new service, too much choice is paralysing. To gain new outlet sign-ups, we had to focus on one product: past exam papers for grade-12 learners. We have since got much better traction among outlets, who can visualise marketing that to their customers. We learned this lesson while distributing our first Paperight catalogue poster, and watching how outlets engaged with it. (That said, it’s important to note that many users want to browse a range of books not to buy but to evaluate the service before signing up.)
  • Unique, tailor-made content is hard work but incredibly valuable. Creating packs of past grade-12 papers involved a serious investment of time and energy. (Nick Mulgrew tells the story on our blog.) Essentially, we’re creating this content from disparate sources (no one organ or government can provide all matric past papers; we’ve had to visit various offices, numerous websites, and beg favours of officials). It is possible that the creation of Paperight-specific content may form a key part of our content strategy over time – potentially more important for growing our customer base than simply gathering others’ content. This is something I’m keeping an eye on.
  • A key future revenue model is selling integration with institutions’ user systems to deliver documents to specific people in remote places – for example, distance-learning students picking up their personalised printed course materials from a copy shop, using a code or student number plugged into Paperight, rather than relying on the post. However, to get in the door of large institutions – universities in particular – the outlet footprint has to be in place first. The first question I get is always ‘Where are your outlets?’. It’s a market where vaporware doesn’t cut it. In our first six months, this was a setback that wasted time. Now that our footprint is growing, we can begin making these pitches again.
  • Copy shops don’t want to be selling advertising. We had reserved advertising space on the pages of our documents for copy shops to sell to local businesses. It seemed like a good idea. But, for a copy shop, the cost of acquiring advertising is much greater than the likely advertising revenue. We’ve discovered, however, that publishers are interested in using this ad space to cross-sell books. So I’m looking into this ad space as a potential revenue stream for Paperight instead, potentially using it to offset rights fees.

Paperight 1.0 & our first large influx of content

May saw us moving into Paperight HQ, and going live with Paperight 1.0. The from-scratch site developed by RealmDigital included a simplified purchase process, account-top-up mechanism, outlet dashboard, and instant PDF delivery. This last meant that we no longer had to export and mail PDFs for each order as it came in, but the delivery function required that we prepare and upload documents in advance of sale. We could no longer list 1000 documents and process them only as orders came, we had to ensure that all the items listed on the site were processed in advanced.

We began by uploading the 88 documents that we had already processed (52 of which were the featured products on our poster). New uploading procedures (via CSV) resulted in some initial teething issues, and workflow re-design. We began maintaining an uploaded content list, in Dropbox, using file naming conventions for version control.

With the launch of the new site came other administrative updates. I re-registered all of the publishers/rightsholders. Arthur migrated the blog and wiki sites to new addresses, and we had to update all in-text links within the wiki. We began testing the new site’s functionality, and logging bugs to be fixed.

Nick and I wrote a full training manual for the site, which was uploaded, and sent to outlets. This manual would later form the basis of the Paperight help site.

Apart from the new site-related work, we continued processing matric exam packs, writing CSV for these, and uploading them to the site. By the end of May, we had officially uploaded all of the non-language exam packs. Caitlin started working with us on a freelance basis, and assisted this greatly.

The African Books Collective sent us 300 titles from their aggregated publishers. It was the single largest submission of content that we had received thus far – a very exciting step forward. We also flirted briefly with getting comics on to Paperight, in the hopes that high school students would be interested in this kind of content. We  got Project H (our first graphic novel), but other options fell through and we didn’t follow up on them actively as we had since moved on to other ideas.

Publishers registered

  • Marita Westenraad (7/5/2012)
  • Alta Schwenk (7/5/2012)
  • African Books Collective (7/5/2012)
  • Customcut signs (10/5/2012)
  • Communist University (10/5/2012)
  • Modjaji Books (11/5/2012)
  • Wonjoolaai Studios (15/5/2012)
  • Story Time (17/5/2012)

Highlights from the first nine months

Every three months, I sum up what I’ve been doing during my Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. At the time of writing this, I’m also reapplying for another year as a Fellow. In particular, I wanted to talk about lessons I’ve learned, what we’ve built over the last nine months, and where we’re headed. This post is the brief summary. In related posts I go into more detail about:

  • lessons learned
  • speaking events
  • website development
  • team and infrastructure
  • partnerships
  • a personal take.

screenshot_20120510After nine months, we’ve reached some big milestones for Paperight. Most importantly, the instant-delivery rights marketplace we set out to build is a reality, now that the Paperight 1.0 site is live. We have over 50 outlets registered – including copy shops, schools and NGOs – and have made our first revenue.

Innovative publishing companies have joined us, including Cover2Cover (youth fiction), Modjaji Books (acclaimed fiction and biography), the Health and Medical Publishing Group (publishers of the South African Medical Journal and a dozen others the and SA Medicines Formulary), and the African Books Collective, a renowned agency representing over 140 small and medium publishers from around Africa. (There are also several very small publishers signed up.) We are in advanced talks with several large educational and trade publishers in South Africa, too.

Promotional partnerships with Silulo Ulutho Technologies, a fast-growing chain of Internet-cafe-copy-shops, and copier-printer companies Canon and ITEC are kicking in now, too.

We’ve also made some shifts in our promotional strategy as we’ve learned through trial and error where time, energy and money are best spent.

So, listing the key milestones:

Lessons learned:

  • The human story is more powerful than the financial one (even when both are good).
  • Spending lots of time chasing big publishers isn’t worth it. There are many smaller, more interesting fish.
  • We needed to focus more on how we make it legal to print books.
  • We’ve learned to blend patience and impatience in software development.
  • Too much choice for our customers is paralysing. Simplify the offering.
  • Making our own content is hard work, but very important.

Speaking event highlights:

Other highlights were hiring our outlet team, co-branding promotional material with ITEC Innovate, a forward-thinking local copier company, and spending time with Zakes Ncwanya, who is moving back to his rural hometown to set up an Internet Cafe and Paperight outlet. (This later became a story in the Mail & Guardian written by our communications manager.)

A personal note: The Fellowship is not just a great way to build and nurture valuable projects. It’s a personal- and professional-development drag race that produces tougher, smarter, more effective people. It’s also addictive.

Marketing first steps

I started work at Paperight on 1 March 2012. I finished work at Paperight on 31 March 2014. A lot happened between those two dates.

In the beginning, I had only two other colleagues – Arthur and Tarryn – and we worked out of Arthur’s study in his home in Wynberg. There were many creature comforts – a kitchen full of coffee, a bowl full of avocados, and a box of free-range eggs weekly. I had signed on for a two month contract, thinking I would stay as an intern for a while and then go back to my rather miserable existence as a part-time blogger and a writer with no portfolio. (Luckily, Arthur decided to keep me on at the end of it.)

My first tasks at Paperight were quite simple: design covers, prepare documents when orders came through, and to write a weekly featured author post. During my time at Paperight, I designed roughly 900–1000 covers for Paperight editions of public domain books; most of these covers were designed during my first two months in the job. Tarryn had also initially delegated a small amount of content management to me, in the guise of master sheets and product uploads to the Paperight site, which at the time was a WordPress shell with what seemed like a hundred add-ons and extensions installed.

Over the first few weeks, however, my incompetence with regard to file and content management was made apparent. I was less than meticulous with file naming (to Tarryn’s significant chagrin), and even less so with keeping my version of the sprawling content spreadsheet up-to-date. I think that that had a lot to do with the fact that I was barely Excel-literate, and the thought of having to update the spreadsheet every time I designed a cover (all 900 times I did so) and every time I had to upload or change the details on a product page seemed like a particularly torturous circle of hell.

Building the outlets network

Arthur had already made contact with Silulo Ulutho in Khayelitsha and wanted the outlet team to work on a marketing plan on how we will roll out Paperight via Silulo Ulutho stores. With my strong interest in marketing, Arthur allowed me to take the lead on drafting the marketing plan. In order to make the most of my teams strengths, I decided to include them by brainstorming ideas together on what we should do.

We already knew that we wanted to connect schools with their local Silulo Ulutho outlets which meant that Zukisani’s past experience would come in especially handy. We sat down and put several ideas in place, some ideas I disagreed with but, added for Arthur’s approval or disapproval so as not to appear to dictate to and disregard my new team. After feedback from Arthur we finalised our Silulo Ulutho marketing plan and began setting the wheels in motion.

At the same time, I began work on connecting Paperight to national franchise outlets. I began by attempting to set up a meeting with Chris Dunn, the head of 3@1. At the time, 3@1 was in the process of establishing franchises in the UK. This meant that a meeting with Chris Dunn was near impossible. In the meantime, I approached individual 3@1 outlets and managed to sign up several of them, who also insisted that I approach Chris Dunn as they felt that he would love the idea.

After failing to solicit a response from Chris Dunn, I could only manage to get a hold of a lady by the name of Megan. When she explained to me that Chris Dunn is unavailable for the foreseeable future, she suggested that I send information about Paperight to her and she would then forward the information to all of their outlets nationally. I sent her the information but, she failed to forward it to the outlets, despite several times stating that she would.

I called her one day and asked for permission to contact them myself, which she gladly gave. Nick drew up an information booklet about Paperight and I forwarded it, along with a detailed description about Paperight urging them to register for the service, to all the 3@1 outlets nationwide. It was initially successful with about 10 outlets registering within 2 days. Until one outlet forwarded the email to Chris Dunn who warned all outlets against us, saying he knew nothing about us (despite Megan stating the contrary telephonically) which resulted in 3@1 outlets ceasing to register for Paperight.

I appealed to Chris Dunn that Megan had given me permission to send out the emails but, Megan had suffered an onset of amnesia and didn’t know who Paperight was. I decided to refrain from contacting 3@1 any further, with the intention of contacting them again in future when tempers have calmed down. I focused on the 3@1 outlets that had signed up, identifying other outlets to approach and working on the Silulo Ulutho Marketing plan.

In order to keep track of what we were doing, I designed a weekly report sheet that we shared with the rest of Paperight. This proved to be quite effective in stoking the friendly competition within the team and ensured that we were all busy despite working independently.

Manual orders and the last days of Paperight 0.5

Everything Maths Grade 10I was on leave for much of April, but spent the majority of my time in the office creating packs of matric exams. We also uploaded Siyavula creative commons textbooks to the site, though this took some time as there were compatibility issues with their images in InDesign.

From November 2011 until April 2012, we had to fill orders that came in to Paperight manually. Throughout April, while the new and improved Paperight 1.0 was being developed, Nick and I continued to manually fill the orders that were coming in. This entailed prepping books, and then filling in licensing information and exporting PDFs with licensing information . We’d then email these directly to the outlet for printing out. April 2012 was the last month we had to fulfill orders manually, as Paperight 1 .0 was launched the following month, in May.

Publishers approached

  • Macmillan
  • Other Press
  • Peter Lang
  • Night Shade
  • Subterranean Press
  • Cover2Cover/Fundza

The inside story of our experiment in distributed print-on-demand