Toronto Based Start Up | Reads Books for You

Mar 10, 2012 • Startups
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Time is a valuable commodity. Worded a bit more starkly by Benjamin Franklin: “Time is money.” For we live in speed. McDonald’s  IPOed  46 years ago with a market cap today of over $100 billion, why? Because, they make food faster. Time is money.  Google’s current market cap sits at just over $200 billion (Yahoo! Finance), because they save us hours-upon-hours of searching, indexing, and for today’s student, researching. Time is money. Remember the days when automation in appliances changed our lives? (I certainly don’t, as I was not even close to born yet). For the tremendous amount of baby boomers, this saving in time, certainly meant money. And with these examples, there is one assumed property. It is exactly the reason why we so earnestly pay to save time. It is this: the saving of time allows us the opportunity for a better use of time. Whether it be taking in information, learning, executing, or increasing our output, or investing it into relationships and health, this is the goal for the time we gained. For newly launched start up, founder, Steve Cunningham, this is exactly the thought process he went through when developing a product to help you take in and use information faster.

“When I was running my digital marketing firm I was constantly in corporate meetings. In most offices there would be a shelf of business books. Since, I am constantly reading to learn I would always ask questions about advice from the books. Almost every time the response would be, ‘that sounds great, I haven’t read them yet’ ”

If this were a cartoon, this would be the moment when the light bulb appeared above Cunningham’s head. He thought, ‘of course they haven’t read them, when would they get time?’ And there lied a problem for an entrepreneur to solve.

Cunningham’s current business, a marketing agency, Polar Unlimited in Toronto, had expanded in growth through the last decade by embracing social media and web 2.0. They specialized in content creation. Like Gary Vaynerchuk, Cunningham built the family business 10 fold through creating branded web content with a viral touch. Cunningham walked into his office one day and thought, why wouldn’t I make content with the information from my favorite business books, but speed it up and make it visual? was born.

The first video was created in a couple weeks by the team back in 2009 with the intention of continuing to create great content for social media. “We thought, this isn’t a business, this is social media,” laughs Cunningham in reminiscing about the beginnings. The video was meant to be an engaging 10 minute video to summarize a valuable book. Then the agency would use this content to interact and create conversation around executing the advice given in the video from the book. And it really genuinely worked… until Cunningham found himself in a flurry of emails regarding partnerships, more videos, and customer requests for selections. This time his cartoon light bulb was so bright it was about to combust.

Taken from officially launched 4 months ago taking the original content a ballpark further. From a piece of content, to a full business model with ‘freemium’ features and a vision. Cunnigham talks of the ups and downs, but more about the serendipity of the project becoming a business. In fact, many of the books they cover today are staff picks and e-mailed requests from the early adopters of the video content. Cunningham recently launched the affiliate program out of requests from students who enjoyed the product so much they asked if there was an affiliate program. For Cunningham and the team at Polar Unlimited, together this created the product. soon became not just about the speed of getting ‘to the meat,’ but rather embracing many different types of learning styles. After all, not all of us are book smart, nor care, nor have the time, to ever be. Rather, created the L.E.M.A. approach. Coined by Cunningham, ‘learn, experience, memorize, act,’ is about taking the content a few steps further.

“I had looked back at all the books I had read over the previous year and thought to myself ‘how much have I actually executed?’ I started to document what I was actually taking to the streets and it turned out really not much.” This is when Cunningham approached the team about creating a platform where viewers could move quickly and seamlessly to action based on their new knowledge. The ‘learn, experience, memorize, act’ platform meant video, PDF summary and a related workbook to help you put the information to use in your workplace or company. Not only did you watch the quick video to save you the hours of reading, but it replaced those hours spent ingesting into digesting. Believe it or not, these great time-savers are only slightly past the minimum viable product at this point.

“My grand vision came a bit after” the inception of the product, explains Cunnigham. When asked about the current scope, Cunningham reveals that the grandiose vision is actually for a marketplace between authors and their audience to create more robust products and learning tools. “Many authors do lectures and other services. In fact, many times they write a book to point you to these other tools.” would like to create a seamless platform for information services, not only for people looking to save time learning but for students, as well. “I pictured a better way to teach kids the things they don’t learn in schools” and looks to build that imaged oasis. “I want teaching to become communicating,” says Cunningham. How to run a marketing program, how to run a better business; these are things that is proving that kids want to learn just as much as working adults.

But turning this vision into an entire business model proved tricky, despite the serendipitous inception of the brand. “At first we did a 30 day trial. Then a week. Then we had to figure out how to transition these users into customers,” laughs Cunningham. “We started realizing that every user had different needs and the product really wasn’t a product until we started catering to those.” That’s how they bridged the gap into a subscription model that people would actually pay for.

After only four months on the market, Cunningham has already set up a team subscription plan and is working on a corporate version. You can also expect new features to roll out in the coming months including more content and differing services from authors in the coming year. Although, we do have to remember, no matter how much time they are saving us on reading books at, it still is a start up and we truly don’t know where they might pivot; and perhaps more notably, are we really using that time for better purposes?

Jenna Hannon

Jenna Hannon is a a creative marketing professional passionate about innovation and technology. She specializes in online revenue and acquisition growth, currently at video discovery service, @Fanhattan. She also advises Silicon Valley based start-ups for marketing strategy. Check out her personal blog here:

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