At Byte the Book’s annual pitching event, sponsored by HW Fisher, four budding entrepreneurs were offered the chance to pitch their book businesses to a panel of industry experts, in front of a live audience. Paul Freedman of Four Elements LLP chaired, while the panel comprised Graham Goodkind, Founder and Chairman of Frank PR, Mary Keane-Dawson of MKD Consultants and the Arts Council’s Emma Langley.
Our sponsors, HW Fisher (from left to right): Barry Kernon, Andrew Subramaniam, Andy Levett, Chris Pitsillides and Ajay Jassal.
Prior to the pitching itself, the panel spent some time discussing whether there was one “special” ingredient to a successful investment. Paul revealed that he likes to be able to “look the founder in the eye” and assess whether they’re “the sort of person who’ll give you a run for your money”. Or, to put it another way, an excellent CEO can make an average business idea successful, but it doesn’t tend to work the other way round. Mary stressed that an entrepreneur must know exactly what they want from their business—do they crave global dominance, for instance, or aim to remain local?—and added that, at the end of the day, quality of service and product will always win out.
Our panel of judges (from left to right): Paul Freedman (Chair), Mary Keane Dawson, Graham Goodkind and Emma Langley.
Having a strong team is important, said Graham, as is a robust strategy, a novel concept and a first-mover advantage, but these elements often pale in comparison to a far more cryptic one: timing. He explained that he’s seen many brilliant ideas fall by the wayside because they simply arrived too early (Facebook being a golden example of a business that landed at exactly the right time), and concluded that “winners get their timing spot on”. Finally, Emma came at the question from an Arts Council standpoint, revealing that while cultural and social impact is obviously of huge importance to her when considering pitches, it’s a myth that the Arts Council have no interest in commercial potential. “Even not-for-profits need to make money,” she said.
Our brave pitchers (from left to right): Neil Marcus, Daniel Morrell, Jacquelyn Guderley and Candide Kirk.
The floor then opened to the pitching entrepreneurs, who each had five minutes to present their ideas. Daniel Morrell began proceedings by introducing Chant Music, an app-based tech initiative which allows users to contribute to the “chants” of their favourite artists, and in doing so help fund pro-social initiatives around the world. Next up was Jacquelyn Guderley, pitching her literary magazine for emerging female writers, Salomé. The magazine is different from its competitors in three important ways, she explained. Firstly, it’s the only magazine of its kind to exist in both digital and print; secondly, the editorial team offer a full page of feedback on all submissions (accepted or otherwise); and thirdly, they pay all their writers (“Not even the Guardian do that!” noted Jacquelyn).
Jacquelyn pitching Salomé.
Candide Kirk then pitched her innovative app Novellic, a digital platform that helps people discover, create, join and manage book clubs. The app, which is currently experiencing month-on-month user growth of 300%, is monetised through affiliate book sales and live events, as well as by working directly with publishers on analytics and trends, mined from Novellic’s user data. Finally, the convivial Neil Marcus presented his entertainment business, The Stable, which is essentially a collective of experienced theatre professionals working on a wide portfolio of new musicals for regional touring. Musicals, which have recently become “cool” again, are notoriously difficult to make money from (around 70% of shows fail to break even), but the portfolio nature of The Stable spreads the risk, greatly increasing the likelihood of investor profits.
Our eager audience in the Soho Room at the Groucho.
All four pitches attracted praise from the panel. Paul said that, were he investing for real, he’d pick The Stable, which in his eyes had the clearest route to return. Mary chose Salomé, which she felt benefitted from a real opportunity of scale. Emma, who again came at things from an Arts Council perspective, praised Novellic, as she saw in it the potential for huge public benefit. Finally, Graham highlighted the fact that different businesses offered different benefits—for an impact investment that “makes a difference”, he would favour Salomé or Chant Music, but he felt that The Stable offered the highest chance of return.
And, of course, there’s always time for networking at Byte the Book.
A definite highlight of the night was when Neil Marcus was asked why he was restricting himself to musicals, and he replied, quite simply: “It’s my passion.” Because if there’s one thing a new business needs, it’s passion by the truck-load.
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