Making tracks into the US market

Booktrack CEO Paul Cameron on setting up shop in San Francisco and New York

Doing business in the US is massively different compared to New Zealand, according to Booktrack CEO Paul Cameron

“Things happen really fast, and it’s very dynamic. You’ve got to be really hungry. There will be 20 guys behind you looking to make a deal,” he says.

Paul Cameron spoke to Computerworld from San Francisco, where he is busy setting up the company’s second US office, in addition to its office in New York. Booktrack creates synchronised soundtracks for e-books. The software automatically matches music and sound effects to where the reader is on the page.

But while it may be competitive, Cameron says it's also a supportive environment.

“Especially in San Francisco, everyone is out to help each other, and it’s so refreshing.”

There are thousands and thousands of startups in the US and they all “sound and look American”.

“When New Zealand startups come [to the US] they sound and look different and their view of the world is quite different – but that is also a big opportunity,” he says.

“I think it’s much harder for New Zealand startups here but only as hard as their attitude. If they come with the right attitude they have as much opportunity as any American startup. But you have to be prepared to perhaps operate a bit differently, not hang on to the way things are done at home, and work a bit harder.”

Cameron started Booktrack in Auckland in 2010 together with his brother, Mark. It was Mark Cameron that came up with the idea for the technology. He was commuting to work on a ferry and would usually read and listen to music during the trip. He noticed that quite a few of his fellow commuters also read books and had earbuds in as well. From time to time, a happy song would come on just as he was reading a happy part of the book and that made him think about having a soundtrack to match the story. He got his brother onboard. Paul Cameron was running a technology company at the time – developing military electronics software.

This was pre-Kindle times, so it was early days, Paul Cameron says, but when the iPad came along, they knew the right time for their idea had come.

Booktrack now employs twelve staff.

The software calculates the reader’s reading pace by indexing when the page is turned. It also uses other indicators, such as double-tapping of words.

“We use those cues to continually estimate what words you are reading. Every time you interact with [the app] we update it.”

A number of algorithms determine how the soundtrack should be delivered – if you are speeding up or slowing down the app will adjust, he says.

Last year, the company secured around $2 million in funding, with investors including Stephen Tindall; Peter Thiel; Derek Handley; angel investors Sparkbox; and Park Road Post Productions – the Wellington sound studio behind films such as Lord of the Rings.

In addition to the cash, there is huge value in the investors’ connections and their ability to help the business, Cameron says. If you are looking to raise funding for your startup, his advice is to start small – use your local networks and go to friends and family. Once you have got that support behind you, you can work your way up the tiers.

“It’s difficult to jump straight to a venture fund,” he says. “If you are not prepared to ask your friends and family to back your business there is no point going anywhere else.”

Cameron’s top tip for budding entrepreneurs is to get your product to market as quickly as possible. “Don’t wait for the perfect moment. The longer you wait the more money it’s going to cost you.”

“Give it a go – but be prepared to work hard,” he says.

Getting the idea is the easy part. Actually making it happen is harder.

“But that is also the most exciting part. You get to drive your own destiny – both your business and personal goals.”

The company is now building tools to allow third parties to create their own soundtracks to books, whether they are publishers, music fans or school children. They will be able to share or sell their soundtracks among their friends, he says.

Comments

Grant Raven

1

An impressive performance Paul, well done.

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