Just about fifteen years ago, Josh Schanker and I, along with our co-founders Elliot Shmukler and Tammy O’Neil Bolduc started Sombasa Media together. Our company offered a series of consumer-facing properties, including our flagship property BargainDog, which was an early e-commerce daily deals email newsletter. Over the course of a couple short years, we grew that property to more than 5 million members and 250 retailer relationships, profitably selling the company to About.com. Back in those Web 1.0 days, we quickly learned the power of email in driving real consumer engagement and purchasing events.
In the intervening years while I pursued a career investing in startups rather than creating them, Josh continued as an entrepreneur starting a handful of companies including early social networking site Sconex, successfully sold to Alloy Media. Fast forward to today, and Josh and his current co-founder Nick Ciarelli (ex-Daily Beaster and more well-known as the mastermind behind Think Secret) have created another business which very much “rhymes” with what we had built together Sombasa, as it leverages the direct influence which email fosters in a buying process. On the surface, BookBub is an ebook discovery service for consumer readers, featuring acclaimed ebooks in categories matching readers’ interests. They have relationships with over 3,000 publisher and author partners, including all of the Big Five publishers and hundreds of small-to-midsize presses. And what Nick and Josh plus the team (including many with strong backgrounds from major publishing houses and traditional agencies coupled with rockstar web marketing and engineering talent) have built without a dime of outside capital has been astounding – the service is rapidly approaching 3 million members (tripling since the beginning of last year), with members purchasing 1 million ebooks through their service per month, driving millions of dollars of ebooks sales, and running profitable on top of it all.
Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, and BookBub is forging a new road in a book publishing market which is still transitioning in the wake of ebooks’ arrival. It’s no secret that the way that people find, read, and purchase books is increasingly digital. With the discovery of new titles taking place less in book stores, it becomes challenging for readers to sift through new options and for publishers & authors to get their works noticed. The result is that publishers are shifting strategies, transitioning to investing in direct-to-consumer marketing, which represents a shift in the $10B per year globally spent on sales and marketing for books. And BookBub is in the pole position to help readers and publishers through this industry disruption — today already, (outside of retailers) BookBub is the largest community of readers purchasing ebooks.
Today BookBub is announcing its $3.8M Series A financing. This funding will empower the company to hire more aggressively, expand internationally, and unveil some new products beyond its current core which will allow it to take an even bigger role in an industry in transition… more to come there before too long.
On top of it, this financing is a bit of a “getting the band back together” of sorts. Not only does our investment give Josh and me the opportunity to work together directly again (as I’ve joined the Board of Directors on behalf of NextView Ventures), but it also brings in Rich Levandov at Avalon Ventures who was our original Investor Board Member back at Sombasa. Plus, Eric Paley at Founder Collective (who has known Josh since high school and we at NextView have invested with numerous times together) and James Cham at Bloomberg beta (who has known Josh for two decades and myself for one) have joined the investor syndicate. Given the long working history of everyone involved, the trust and communication, which lay the foundation for success, are firmly in place. I’m excited about the entire band, with both new team members and old, playing a tune together which is becoming familiar to millions and millions of book readers. BookBub is already remarkably impressive, and it’s about to become something truly great.