A few months ago we brought to you a startup that had just come out of stealth mode, Booktrack. I recently had the chance to ask a few questions to Paul Cameron, co founder and CEO of this innovative startup. Here is my interview:
So first of all what is your elevator pitch for Booktrack?
Booktrack is the creator of a new technology that synchronizes cinematic audio with text to create an immersive reading experience. Ebooks published by Booktrack include a customized, hand-created soundtrack that matches the action in the text. As readers go through the text, the music, sound effects, and ambient audio change to reflect what's happening in the plot and are automatically paced to an individual's reading speed to match the story line WHILE THEY READ. The result is a totally immersive experience that pulls readers into the world of the book.
When did you come up for the idea? What was the inspiration?
The idea arose from my brother, Mark, who was commuting to Hong Kong by ferry every day. During the trip, Mark would read books and articles while listening to music on his iPod. On occasion, there would be serendipitous moments where the music and the text would align tonally and thematically, enhancing the experience of both. He then called me up to explore how we might be able to make this happen on a regular basis for all readers. I had experience running teams of software developers, so we started prototyping and developing, and from that, Booktrack was born.
What were you doing before Booktrack and at what point did you decide to go fulltime, with Booktrack?
For over a decade, I flew as an officer with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, I am a qualified Aeronautical Engineer from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and I am a graduate of the Royal Canadian Air Force Aerospace Systems Post Graduate Course. In 2006, I founded the Marops Defense Projects Division, a high tech electronics and software company that provides products and services to the global defense industry. As the Division Director – I was integral in exponentially expanding the company's revenue, resulting in its selection as one of the top 20 fastest growing companies in New Zealand.
In 2010, I officially co-founded and became CEO of Booktrack, starting full-time. I believe that in order to have a company succeed, you need to give up your day job and keep going at it until you prosper—there’s really no other way to get your ideas off the ground.
You have some great investors in Peter Thiel, Mark D'Arcy & Derek Handley, how useful do you think it is having the right investors, in terms of understanding of the product and industry as opposed to purely money, for your startup?
Our investors are among our greatest resource, and for far more than the capital they provide. Peter Thiel has been one of the most successful and influential figures in Silicon Valley for more than a decade. Mark D’Arcy’s work at Facebook and Time Warner has given him an incredibly keen sense of the global entertainment market and consumer behaviour. And Derek Handley is a revolutionary figure in the global digital marketing space. Their collective knowledge, advice, and steadfast encouragement have been invaluable in allowing our company to thrive in the competitive entertainment and technology markets, and their insight and guidance will be crucial to our success as we grow.
Booktrack got mixed reactions when it first released, some loved it but some felt that it took away from the whole point of reading and leaving the sounds and images to the readers imagination, what do you say to that?
When film first arrived, many thought that it would mean the death of the book; authors from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemmingway to Joseph Heller to David Foster Wallace proved them wrong. When sound was introduced to film, Time magazine said that “…the effect is startling, but often annoying...”, and H. M. Warner, co-founder Warner Brothers, in 1927 was famously quoted asking “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”. There was a general outcry from major publications and influential people stating that it was ruining the film experience; today, we can barely imagine a movie without a soundtrack or sound. In fact, every new development in entertainment technology—from the phonograph to the Internet—has brought with it cries that the new technology would displace and destroy previous forms of entertainment, and every time, the naysayers have been wrong.
Our goal isn’t, and never has been, to replace books. Literature and books provide a singular, inimitable, and irreplaceable experience, and everybody on the Booktrack team is a voracious reader. Rather, we see Booktrack as a new genre of entertainment that will coexist alongside books, films, and other types of media. We have no interest in competing with or displacing the book—we just want to provide those who want it with a new way to experience great content.
Is your targeted market, those who have maybe lost touch with reading and maybe need something to make it interesting again?
Not at all! Certainly, we see Booktrack as a way to get more people, and young people in particular, to choose books over the other varied forms of entertainment from TV and film to the Internet and video games that currently compete for their attention. If we can provide an option that might get children and adults reading, then that would be a great feat.
At the same time, while there may be some people who read Booktracks at the exclusion of traditional books, we believe they will comprise a minority of our customers at least for the foreseeable future. Rather, just as people both read books and watch movies, we believe that there will be people who will choose to read a combination hardcovers, paperbacks, ebooks, and Booktracks—potentially even reading the same content in multiple formats.
Over the years what has been the hardest part of building a startup?
The amount of time that great software development takes. When you’re sitting on this great idea, your designs are complete, and you need to take it to market, it can feel like the development takes forever.
How did you keep your spirits up and drive through the tough moments?
Very few people get the opportunity to bring a new innovation to market that is the equivalent of adding sound to film, and the product is just so exciting that we want to make sure we get it into as many hands as possible so that people can experience it. The belief that Booktrack is something special—something transformative and revolutionary—has been a powerful motivator and has driven us to throughout the process.
What was your biggest mistake when starting a company and how did you overcome this?
If we had it to do over again, we would have scaled our developer team more quickly in order to get the product to market sooner. That’s the kind of issue that can slow you down, but we eventually worked through it by building a team of really great developers who are both brilliant in their work and passionate about our product, and we are fortunate to be where we are with them today.
What would be your tip for any aspiring entrepreneur?
Don’t give up and always believe in your product and idea. Don’t listen to the detractors.
What do you hope to achieve with Booktrack in the next 3 years?
We would like to see all e-readers and devices be Booktrack-enabled so that anyone can experience Booktrack on whatever platform or e-book store they are reading from.
In addition, we are working to create a whole community of people who can develop Booktracks that are then distributed to the world through our platform.
We have assembled the right team of people who are smart and understand our vision, and in order to achieve our goals, we will continue working with them to advance our product and business opportunities
What is your favourite book?
Anything by Booktrack, of course.
>> Nice, thanks Paul for a great interview and good luck in your future endeavours!
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