CMPTO: Start Your Engines!

Illustration credit: Jason Lorimer We’ve had a number of speakers from startups at past Code Meet Print TO meetups, but we’ve never done a whole show on what it means for publishers to be operating as, through, or for startups. That’s what our May 13th event is all about.

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator – a startup incubator with a roster that includes reddit, AirBnB and DropBox – elegantly defines a startup as “a company designed to grow fast.” Startup business models are structured to scale rapidly around products that are designed to sell in big markets. Startups are meant to take shifting market demands into account and iterate on their product and production processes until the formula is tweaked just enough to achieve their next level of growth.

Needless to say, many startups focus on technology services and digital goods and that’s where it gets interesting. Publishers, too, are purveryors of digital goods. We feel there’s a vast knowledge base originating from startup communities that can help us make good decisions when working with publishing technology startups and employing nimble startup practices within our own businesses. With next week’s CMPTO session, we’re going to explore two sides of the startup coin for publishers: collaboration and operation.

Mike Shatzkin had a great post a while ago where he offered advice on how publishers can smartly invest their resources in startups. In it he linked to a really interesting study titled How to Collaborate with Startups. It showed a burgeoning interest in mutually beneficial relationships between publishers and startups that focus on educational technology. One of the publishers mentioned was Pearson, who had just launched their EdTech incubator Pearson Catalyst, and we hopped on the zeitgeist to bring their story to our audience.

Opportunities to collaborate flourish when communities grow around the need to collaborate. Brydon Gilliss is going to talk to us about what that kind of community building looks like. As an aside, Brydon is looking for client projects for, which is a “flight simulator for startups”. They provide mentorship for entrepreneurial developers and put them to work solving technological problems faced by their client partners. Every client project gets a team of three developers that works away at their specific problem.

Besides external collaboration, publishers can also benefit their internal operations by referring to the startup hive mind in industries with similar challenges. Mark MacKinnon is going to take us through his startup journey in the board game business. Mark’s strategy board game Upon a Fable is being funded on Kickstarter and he has nearly reached his goal with thirteen days still to go.

The board game production landscape appears similar to book publishing in that it has traditionally been heavily controlled by a few large players but more and more indie games are being produced by quick footed, passionate entrepreneurs. Crowdfunding opportunities and indie marketing opportunities, like Wil Wheaton’s TableTop celebrity gaming web series, are creating word-of-mouth buzz in place of traditional advertising. Adult hobby games still very much appear on bookstore shelves. Board games are about as dead as books, which is to say not at all. It’s an industry in flux but like the book industry, an evolving set of business models and cross-industry experimentation make it clear that the glass is half full.

Another lesson in altering publishing operations to run lean comes from Todd Satterson, author of Every Book is a Startup. Todd’s approach takes tech industry concepts like agile business practices, minimum viable products and iterative product releases, and builds a roadmap for publishers and authors to use in their businesses. We’re super pleased to have Todd rounding off our event with a special presentation all the way from Portland.

Here are the time and place details for next week’s CMPTO: Start Your Engines!

Date: May 13th
Time: Doors at 6 pm, presentations at 7 pm
Remember to join our Meetup group if you haven’t done so already. See you next Monday!