Mon | Oct 22, 2018

First AngelsJa successes | BookFusion spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S (Pt 2)

Published:Wednesday | February 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dwayne Campbell (left), and his wife Kellye-Rae in discussion with Joseph M. Matalon, chairman of First AngelsJa.


In continuing our series on how First AngelsJa has been helping persons to make their business a success, here is Part II on BookFusion. Part I appeared yesterday.

Before BookFusion became a reality, co-founder and CEO Dwayne Campbell kept the idea close to his chest, and with good reason. Not even his mentor, one-time manager Claude Johnson - now a site reliability engineer at the San Francisco-based Palantir Technologies - could really see the need for it.

"At the time, the Kindle Cloud Reader wasn't a reality yet. They came out with the Cloud Reader less than a year after I pitched the idea to him, and he reached out to me and said he could now see what I was thinking, that I was on to something," Dwayne recalled. "He asked me to flesh out how the different components of the platform would interact. I wasn't a programmer, and because I couldn't afford developers at the time, I started to teach myself to programme. After about six months, I had a prototype where if you upload a PDF, it would be converted to images and displayed on the screen, and you could flip from page to page. It was basic."

Claude then urged him to put it online to get feedback, but Dwayne wasn't comfortable with sending it out into the world in its unfinished state. When he eventually acquiesced, there was enough feedback from users to help guide the development process in the end. He also started paying some attention to the business aspect of the project and looking at industry reports to help drive the planning for BookFusion's operations.


Opening a door


Dwayne still had a full-time day job as an application developer at Goldman Sachs in New York City, and worked on BookFusion in the evenings. He now had enough financial security to be able to hire help to develop the platform. It was still 'pre-revenue' at the time, so he wasn't looking for investment when he first met with First-AngelsJA manager Sandra Glasgow in May 2015.

"I was trying to meet with the Ministry of Education, but I was not getting through to them at all. So I ended up meeting Sandra through Gordon Swaby (founder and CEO of EduFocal Limited), and she facilitated an introduction to the ministry's chief education officer," he said.

Of course, having found out about FAJ, and making progress with the Ministry of Education, the Campbells started working with Sandra to pitch to the Angels. The first pitch was done in December 2015, and they pitched again in March 2016.

"I believe BookFusion was attractive to the Angels because we were getting traction with the ministry, and we were also signing publishers. They know that publishers are also looking for platforms to distribute their books, especially in the Caribbean regionnot only local publishers like Carlong and UWI Press and others that target primary and secondary schools, but also international publishers from the UK as well," he said.

The investment from FirstAngelsJa has helped the business to move forward. "I had no more personal resources, and they helped us complete key developments that have helped us to secure agreements with three UK publishers, which will soon be announced. Without the investment, we wouldn't have been able to complete the developments in the timeline required. At the time, we didn't have an iOS app, but we were able to put that out there as well," Dwayne said.

"In addition to the money, we're not well-connect-ed people, so they helped us to reach into their network to make introduc-tions so we could reach our milestones faster. Even before we got the investment, Sandra was kind enough to at least introduce us to the ministry so they would at least listen to our pitch. That, to us, is very valuable, because at the end of the day, even if you have all the money in the world, but you can't get in front of the right people, your business will eventually die," he added.

BookFusion also now has a structured board that provides governance and helps with major decision-making. FAJ-nominated board members have supported the company beyond attending board meetings, putting Dwayne and his wife Kellye-Rae in touch with potential clients and attending an overseas publishing conference in the UK at their own expense.

In addition to the upcoming announcement regarding the UK publishers, the company is also wrapping up an arrangement with Digicel, which has provided the sponsorship to make the ebooks interactive.


New technologies, new goals


Dwayne and Kellye-Rae Campbell's overarching vision for BookFusion is that it will be the premier, dominant ebook platform throughout the Caribbean region. To help ensure that this vision becomes a reality, they are working to differentiate it from any other similar platform by moving away from the typical 'flat text representation' with the continual incorporation of interactive elements. They are currently working on including a feature to set and track reading goals, and adding natural language processing elements. Think Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa. "Imagine you're reading an ebook and you have a question. Usually, when you search for a term in a book or look up the indices, it's because you have a question that you want answered, so what if you could just ask the ebook? Say you're reading about mountains and you want to know what is the world's tallest mountain. The ebook would immediately report that answer back to you," Dwayne explained.

Angel investment and pitching for such investment are, for tech companies, common in the United States, where the Campbells first started and pitched BookFusion. It is how a large number of these companies manage to get off the ground. Pitching for investment is now becoming more mainstream for players in the Jamaican industry, with several competitions taking place annually. Campbell's advice to his fellow entrepreneurs in the tech space is to not get caught up in the hype surrounding these competitions, but to make sure they have something worth pitching in the first place. "Focus on getting some revenue together, or agreements signed, so you can show that there is potential for the business and it can generate revenue," he said.

He also addressed one of the biggest fears entrepreneurs have about seeking Angel investment: "I know before we took Angel investment, we had heard a lot of things like, 'These guys will just take over your company,' or 'They're going to steal your ideas.' Ignore all of that. Nobody wants to steal your ideas. Angels are really there to help you grow your business. At the end of the day, they're investing their time and money, and they only have your best interests in mind."