A conversation with Readmill founder Henrik Berggren
August 29, 2012 | 11:57 am
By Cara Gavin
Editor’s note: Where I come from, we tend to refer to people like Readmill founder Henrik Berggren as “young pioneers.” Berggren works incredibly hard on a project he’s hugely passionate about, and the result, for those of you who may not be familiar with his online service, is pure fun for book obsessives like myself.
The easiest way to understand exactly what Readmill is and what exactly it can do for you is to watch the simple introductory video on the company’s homepage. To put it simply, though, Readmill is something like a social networking site for the sorts of readers who like to share what they’re reading, and who like to discover what their friends are reading, too. (And if you’re the type who enjoys “scribbling in the margins of books,” as the intro video says, Readmill is most definitely for you as well.)
Last week, TeleRead’s Cara Gavin had the opportunity to ask a few questions of the Swedish-born, Berlin-based Berggren. Read on for the interview, and then check out Fast Company’s Innovation Agents video, featuring Berggren, at the tail end.
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TeleRead: Hi Henrik. Can you tell us how you got started with Readmill?
Henrik Berggren: David and I were really excited about digital reading when the iPad came out but none of the platforms lived up to our expectations, so we decided to do something about it. This is Caterina Fake’s copy of Ulysses. When we visited her in San Francisco in December, we had just started hacking on Readmill in a one-room apartment in Stockholm. During our pitch, she ran upstairs in her house and got her copy of the book and showed us the inside—every page was full of highlights, notes and other forms of marginalia. She told us that she read it five times and had huge amounts of things around the book that she wanted to share with friends and peers but couldn’t—it was all stuck in her copy, in her library, and unfortunately for her eyes only. It’s at that point that we decided to create this experience on the web for e-readers.
TR: Is this your first business? If not, what were the others and what happened to them?
HB: Depending on what you call a business, I guess so. David and I have done a series of projects before, including a design studio in Stockholm focusing on physical interaction design. They all more or less failed.
TR: How have you financed Readmill, and what has that process been like?
TR: How would you describe Readmill’s brand image?
HB: I hope that it reflects the service we are building: valuable, enjoyable, exciting and fun.
TR: Who would you say your target audience is?
HB: Right now it’s readers of e-books. Which will soon be all the readers in the world.
TR: Can you explain why Readmill is such an important service? For instance, why is it necessary to be able to share the e-book experience?
HB: It’s important for a number of reasons. Sharing is a natural habit for us humans. Telling friends and peers about experiences we’ve had, good or bad, is a part of our lives. And since reading a book is quite a commitment, you want to be able to choose the right ones. We can help you with that. Apart from that, we make knowledge and information that previously was hidden more visible.
TR: Currently, Readmill users can share passages, but not whole e-books. Is there a plan in place to expand that in the future?
HB: Highlights have existed for hundreds of years and they are great in recommending books. That’s not going to change in the foreseeable future. Will we try and make it easier to access e-books while still making sure authors and publishers gets paid? Yes.
TR: You’ve worked with other startups. What’s the most important thing you’ve taken away from those experiences?
HB: Good question. There are many things, but I think one of the more important ones is keeping a balance between structure and chaos to optimize for speed and creativity.
TR: How large is your team, and what do they do for you?
HB: We are eleven people right now. We’re six engineers, two designers, a business developer, community manager and one person helping out with finances.
TR: What’s an average workday like for you?
HB: There is no such thing! My most frequent task is to solve problems for others so that they can focus on building great things. And that can be anything—from running down to buy coffee, to talking to one of our partner stores to make sure everything is working just fine.
TR: What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
TR: Do you have any new products you’re planning on launching soon?
HB: We have lots of exiting things in the pipeline this fall. First of all, it’s all about making Readmill available to more people, which means both supporting more types of books as well as being available on more devices.
TR: And finally, what does the future look like for Readmill?
HB: Bright! E-books are growing steadily, and we see a clear place for a great reading application connected to networks of likeminded readers.
VIDEO | Innovation Agents: Henrik Berggren (Fast Company)