Welcome to our new series, “Alumni Spotlight.” To tell you more about all the great things our alumni are doing in the media marketplace, from time to time we will ask a current MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media student to interview a fairly recent grad who is a leader in a specific area. To launch this series, we asked Melanie Iglesias Perez to interview Miral Sattar. Here is her report:
Miral Sattar, CEO of Bibliocrunch.com and LearnSelfPublishingFast.com, graduated from the NYUSPS M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program in 2011. Bibliocrunch is a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with vetted publishing professionals. LearnSelfPublishingFast is the company’s online educational course series. Miral oversees a team of six, most of whom she met and worked with during her years at NYUSPS.
What drew you to the M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media at NYU?
I’m an engineer by background, with a Bachelor of Science from Columbia. I was working in product development at TIME magazine when I realized that I wanted more in depth knowledge of both the editorial and the business sides of publishing. I started exploring graduate school options while still working full-time. I didn’t want to go to business school because I knew I wanted to stay in publishing. I looked around at the publishing programs and the only one that stood out for me was the NYU MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media. I loved that you learn the content creation and the business sides of publishing.
What would you say was most valuable for you about the program in developing your business?
The class subjects and professors were the most valuable to me. The financial classes were tough, but I still use the models we created in class for my financial projections and reports and investor pitches. We had to do a slide deck and presentations for class. In the beginning, this was tough, but it gave me practice in how to become a fearless speaker in front of any audience and to convey my idea in a concise and clear manner. The professors are amazing because the classes are taught by leaders in the publishing industry. I reached out to all my professors and discussed my business ideas with them; they were very helpful in making connections in publishing. Through them, I was able to get some of the big names at publishing houses to check out and test Bibliocrunch.
Where did the idea for Bibliocrunch.com start? How has it grown since then?
In 2011, I was in my last semester at NYU and noticed that people were buying ebooks based on breaking news events. I pitched a similar idea to my bosses at TIME Inc. and I constructed a tool that helped authors and publishers build their own books. Using the tool, we did a few prototypes at TIME Inc., but the company was too slow to implement the idea. So I left to launch my own company, which pivoted into what Bibliocrunch is today.
What need did you see in the market?
The resources [available for freelance services] in publishing were disparate and disorganized: hiring editors and designers was done through word of mouth. The tools to find reliable freelancers didn’t exist at the time. A huge chunk of our members are self-published authors, which is where we see the most need [for the service provided by Bibliocrunch].
How does Bibliocrunch help fulfill that need?
Bibliocrunch takes the offline interactions and brings them online. We have about 1500 freelancers who have been vetted through our application process and then through user ratings and reviews. We offer access to services like editing, cover design, fact checking, digital book development, and book marketing to publishers and authors.
What were some of the assumptions made or perceived challenges you saw initially that have changed drastically as you continued to learn about the market, customer needs, and the perceived value of your service?
In the beginning, I built a tool that let you write your ebook in the cloud and then convert it into various digital formats, like EPUB, MOBI, and PDF. When I launched the product, it got very little traction. No one writes their books in the cloud. Writers usually use Microsoft Word and then upload their documents to be converted to a digital format. The hard lesson I learned was that I should have surveyed potential customers before building a product. However, we did end up getting a lot of questions about where authors and publishers could get access to editorial services. I found myself referring everyone individually. The Bibliocrunch marketplace was launched to address that need.
What feedback have you received about Bibliocrunch so far?
If authors and publishers already know what they are doing, then they don’t need any additional help. But a lot of our authors were new to book marketing and publishing, so they needed someone to guide them through the process. That’s when we launched our subscription service, which gives you access to real-live help and to our author training courses and templates. So far, authors and publishers love it. Bibliocrunch has been used by bestselling authors and a lot of the “Big Five” publishers.
What’s next for Bibliocrunch?
We’re expanding our LearnSelfPublishingFast site into an expanded course series which doesn’t just teach authors how to self-publish their own books, but how to market and promote them.
In your opinion, how does life as an entrepreneur differ from having a traditional 9-to-5 job?
There is no such thing as a traditional 9–5 in New York City. However, at a traditional job, you can check out and not work weekends and go on vacation stress-free. When running a company, your business is always at the top of the list of things on your mind when on vacation and during the weekend. You’re always thinking about growth and scaling strategies. If you stop, then your business dies. Being an entrepreneur is fast-paced and an exciting opportunity to build something from the ground-up. You really have a chance to make a difference and build a product.
How do you think the “startup” mentality at Bibliocrunch helps your business over a more traditional publishing model?
We’re an entirely digital business so it’s very easy to develop and test new ideas and see if they generate revenue. If something isn’t working, we can pivot and try out something else and measure results in weeks. Also, we’re willing to experiment, which doesn’t really happen at traditional publishing houses. There are tons of reports that ebooks are on the decline, but that number is only true for traditionally published books. Self-published books account for 40% of ebook dollars on Amazon and continue to grow exponentially. Traditional publishing houses are not as quick to adapt to new technologies because their access to digital teams is limited.
What is your advice for students currently in the program (especially for Capstone students developing their business plans)?
Work on something you’re passionate about. Make use of all your professors. Take the courses that really teach you about business if you’re serious about launching your own publishing startup. Knowing business models will really help. Even after you graduate, keep up your connections with the professors and keep them updated on what you’re doing. Your professors are a valuable resource that you can’t get anywhere else.
What is one thing you want others to take from your experience? What do you hope to inspire in others?
Always get feedback first before you launch something: from professors, your classmates, and alumni. It’s easier than ever now to launch a startup. Book publishing is one of the most exciting industries to be in right now because it’s one of the last to go digital. There is still room for a lot of innovation.
by Melanie Iglesias Pérez