Ebookadabra: Tom Grayson
Created by the team behind Moondog Books, the "Netflix of kids’ picture books" has already got the likes of Harper Collins and Disney on board
Tell us what your business does:
Moondog Books is a mobile technology business with roots in music and games. We were interested in what’s not happening in the publishing sector and as a result, we created Ebookadabra.
Ebookadabra is essentially a ‘Netflix of kids’ picture books’ – a subscription reading model for young kids in a fun and rewarding environment.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Moondog Books has two founders –Stéphane Valcauda and myself. Stéphane is from a mobile gaming background and has five kids and I am from a music background and have two children.
We focused on subscription services like Netflix and LOVEFiLM in the audio-visual space and Spotify and Deezer in the music sector and whittled down where there were gaps in the market. We knew that there was a major shift in the way consumers expect to receive their content to access models and predicted this would impact the book industry too.
After years of talking to publishers about how this would work for kids, but not getting anywhere, we decided to do it ourselves.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Kids love interactive experience on tablets and parents want kids to read. There is a move to subscription model content offerings; Spotify, Sky, FT, Netflix, but there is a distribution ‘gap’ in the books market.
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If you ask a publisher, why they are not selling kids’ books in digital format they will say ‘they don’t sell’. However, we don’t agree. We think the reason they don’t sell is because you can’t buy them in a form both kids and parents will like. Crack that, and you define a new and significant market.
What were you doing before starting up?
Previously, I was a senior executive in Accenture’s digital practise and prior to that SVP Business Affairs at Universal Music Group. Stéphane Valcauda ran his own mobile software business with client’s like Dior, Zegna and Fleurus Editions.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Definitely. In 1995, I put together a plan with a friend for an online property retail website with 360 degree images of every room, plans, local information and financing information.
I was doing well as a young lawyer at that point and I didn’t have the courage to follow through with it.
At that point, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know enough to execute the idea with success, but have always wondered if anyone ever did this.
How did you raise the money?
I could write a book on this! It’s a long and painful process with a lot of dead ends, wasted time and frustration. But, finally I met a young VC guy who told me how it is. All start-ups begin by putting in their own money, then tap family and friends and then create an angel group before moving onto larger ‘corporate’ sources of finance.
After much lost time this is exactly what we did. We completed our second round last November and we always have an eye on the next. Our investors are people from media and finance and are incredibly supportive of what we are doing.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
Ebookadabra is a subscription model business. We offer it to our members to try for free for a limited period and then we charge a monthly fee for a family subscription that covers parents and up to four kids.
A member has access to our entire library without limit and benefits from all the new books we add as well as the enhancements we make to our reading platform – such as new rewards, games, themes. We are all about building a community and improving the experience so families tell their friends and come back for more.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Raising money is painful but we are getting better at it. Building a mobile content platform is extraordinarily difficult and I thank my luck meeting Stéphane, our CTO, in Paris in 2013 through a mutual client. Without him, and his development team, we simply could not deliver on our promise to build Ebookadabra.
I wake up to a new challenge every day – be it a thorny negotiation with a publisher, a technical issue or a difficult decision on priorities. One I highlight, though, is the issue of keeping a stable and positive outlook. Setting up a new business can be an emotional roller coaster, the highs are euphoric but the lows can lead to despair. Getting perspective, pulling away from the coal-face to find a solution is crucial to business success and preserving your sanity.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Getting major publishers like Harper Collins and Disney to support our vision by licensing us their content. Many large traditional publishers still resist the access model – it’s too big a change to their business model and they are paralysed in the face of Amazon.
To win the support of more innovative publishers who support our vision of creating a digital reading channel for kids got us off the blocks.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Talk to everybody. Network, take advice, get in front of people. You need to be active in working your address book and if you don’t have the right contacts – create them! Not everyone you meet will be right – you need to filter – but a constant flow of comment, perspective and ideas unlocks doors and creates opportunity.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Announcing hitting quarter of a million subscribers in China.