It all started with an e-book.
In 2009, Kevin Gao wrote an e-book on how to work in management consulting, and, by 2011, it was earning more annually than most management consultants. That’s when Gao realized that there are millions of other people out there with good information to share, and millions more who wanted to read it.
But rather than start up any old publishing company -- after all, times and technology have changed in the last century -- Gao would build an e-book empire that didn't rely on authors to pump out blockbuster ideas. The San Francisco-based platform would find the subjects -- even really niche ones like Getting Consulting Jobs in India and Naturopathy -- that people want to know more about or that are trending and then write about them. The model also wouldn't be limited by page length and it would give back more to writers, up to 50 percent.
That's the idea behind Hyperink. "It’s kind of like if Random House or Simon & Schuster were started from scratch today," says Gao, 28. "We started Hyperink to publish the book that everyone has inside them." So far so good, since launching in January 2011, Hyperink has raised $1.2 million from venture-capital heavyweights like Andreessen Horowitz, SVAngel, Lerer Ventures and Y Combinator.
YoungEntrepreneur.com sat down with Gao, to find out more about what's it's like to break the publishing mold and take on giants like Amazon.com.
Q: What problem does Hyperink solve?
A: Books haven’t really evolved. For example, they’re generally the same length. Hyperink is really about thinking and publishing for today. If you look at Twitter and Facebook, they're all about microcontent. Shorter pieces seem to be what people respond to. What we’re trying to do is innovate on the concept of a book -- make it shorter, make it livelier and more interactive.
Q: What made you decide to go after the publishing industry?
A: This industry is massive and is going through a once-in-a generation shift to digital. No one has a very clear vision of what that future will look like. I think for us, in our heart we are innovators and entrepreneurs and the ability to define the future of an entire industry is an exciting opportunity.
Q: How is your startup able to draw in prominent authors like Penelope Trunk and Brad Feld?
A: Reason number one is the data that we have. We try to understand what books consumers are buying down to the chapter level. That kind of detail can help answer some of the biggest questions writers face: What am I writing and who am I targeting it to? We also started on day one with a focus on e-books and e-book marketing so we know what works very well and what doesn’t. We can really help the author build their audience and ultimately their profits.
Q: Are you concerned about competition from other e-book publishers Vook and WeBook?
A: Everyone seems to be doing different things and we aren’t directly competitive with a lot of them. I think it's a bit of a rising tide lifts all boats scenario.
Q: Where do you want Hyperink to head in the next 3 to 5 years?
A: I want to build a really large, successful company. I want to be able to really go out there and set a clear vision for the future of this type of publishing. And help all these amazing writers and bloggers make great e-books. I think if we can do that I think we can be in a leadership spot. And as we get bigger, we can really help define what it means to write a book.
Q: Do you see Hyperink as your life’s work? What else do you want to tackle?
A: I think it’s still early so I want to stick with publishing. The longer I spend in it the more I get excited about it and the more opportunity I see so I really can’t look beyond that right now. I enjoy the work and right now it’s all-consuming -- though sometimes a little too much -- it’s been a great journey.
Q: What advice would you offer fellow young entrepreneurs just getting started today?
A: Be a missionary, not a mercenary. And hire the best people you can find, even if you have to wait.
- This post was edited for brevity and clarity.