Writing a book is an intimidating process and not to mention the publishing industry which is a gauntlet itself. We’d all love to save time, energy, and attention on spreading our invaluable ideas to the world.
If you want to write a book why does this matter to you?
What if there was a different way to write a book? A more simple process to where you didn’t even have to touch a keyboard? And no, I’m not talking about hiring an expensive ghostwriter. But a proven system of where you actually talk about your ideas out loud and have them turned into a physical and selling product.
This is where I had the opportunity to talk with The Co Founder of Book in a Box, Zach Obront. In this interview we learn how this startup was born and why it’s phenomenally changing the way books are being written and published. Trust me, if you’ve ever had the idea of writing a book you’ll want to read this interview from start to finish. Plus Zach is a cool guy and you’ll get to know what he’s involved with in his unique role.
How was your company Book In A Box created from idea to service?
It’s definitely one of those situations where the opportunity emerged. A lot of preparation went into place which I think is usually the case. Myself and my business partner (Tucker Max) have both done a lot of work in publishing over the years. We’ve run a publishing company, done book marketing, and the whole ins and outs of what’s around in the publishing industry.
To be specific how the idea came about. My business partner was at a entrepreneurial dinner where he met Melissa Gonzalez who’s an expert in pop up retail. All these big companies such as Marc Jacobs and Chanel go to her when they need help to setup a pop up shop. And she was mentioning a lot of people in her industry who weren’t the experts, had the time to sit down and write books. And the experts like Melissa, who knew what they were doing, were too busy to sit down and write a book.
She was looking for help. And at first my business partner blew her off and said if you want to write a book, sit down and write it. Eventually we worked around speaking how we could solve her problem. We discussed thoroughly on how do we make sure the book isn’t ghost written, no one else is coming up with her ideas, and they’re all straight from Melissa’s mind. A process that doesn’t require her sitting down and spending numerous amounts of hours over a keyboard.
We worked with her to develop a process. It ran smoothly and we weren’t even marketing our services and just casually bringing it up in conversations. And by Tucker mentioning it on one podcast. We realized how much this was something people really needed and there were a lot of people in a similar position to Melissa. We immediately scaled back other projects we were working on and focused how to grow this, and turn it into something that serves a lot more people. And that’s where we’re at now. (Below is The Pop Up Paradigm by Melissa Gonzalez and the 1st client of Book in a Box).
What was running through your mind when your business partner approached you with this opportunity?
Honestly, it wasn’t anything dramatic. We were doing a lot of things where people would have a one off problem that we could solve. Maybe it was someone who had a great book but didn’t have a website or a platform that could capture email or people that couldn’t get design done. We were use to having people with specific problems that we knew how to fix and we would help with.
With Melissa, it was a matter of talking more with her to make sure this process was actually possible. There really wasn’t a moment of excitement as much as the gradual process of working with her.
Very quickly we ended up saying wow this has turned into a great book and she’s happy with the experience. And readers are happy and learning from it. It was a slow realization that it was something bigger than we initially realized and at first it was another person to help.
Her book’s great and the process has obviously changed a lot since working with her. And she was our first client when we were creating it along with her. She has a great end product, but she suffered a little bit because we hadn’t ironed out all the kinks. Where as now we’ve done around 100 books and it’s a lot smoother from the author’s perspective.
How much of an education tool has it been for your experience during this learning process as being Co Founder?
It’s been amazing and at first I was handling a lot of pieces of the process. With Melissa, I know an uncomfortable amount about Pop Up retail because I was involved in the sales process, outlining, and with interviews. I wasn’t initially doing the editing but I was heavily involved in that. As times have gone on, we’ve grown and hired more people who are a lot better than me at a lot of those slices. I like to give up the interviewing and outlining which is personally my favorite. And then give up the majority of the sales calls. It’s still great for me because I get to pop in and out and learn from a lot of these people. Our employees get a lot of benefit of chatting with interesting people with interesting perspectives and becoming a mini expert in a whole bunch of things.
We often hear of sports strategy’s such as Phil Jackson and the triangle offense, Bill Walsh and the west coast offense. What’s your personal philosophy on leadership to make your company so compatible working together in getting projects done in an efficient and timely manner?
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Our cultural principles are a big part of our hiring and onboarding process and to make sure people share that mindset. I’ll mention right off the bat: not hiring people even if they are the best fit for the job if it doesn’t align with what they want. There’s a lot of people who get excited by a job description that appeal to them in the short term. And they like what we’re doing and want to work with us. When getting into deeper conversation, it becomes clear that the job they are actually looking for, if they did that everyday for 6 months they would start to be bored with it.
Thinking in advance we try to put ourselves in their shoes and say what are they hoping for and make sure we’re serving that. Another piece of it is we really focus on openness and honesty, and be willing to give and receive harsh feedback. And so I think especially in an early stage company where so much is changing it’s important that we all develop this thick skin so our ego isn’t involved in our decisions.
And it allows all of us to communicate effectively and move the whole company forward as opposed to get caught up in politics or trying to make ourselves feel better. I think it’s great because we really do live it and just don’t say it. I prefer to have people come on board to move forward as a team opposed to everyone trying to make themselves look or feel better individually.
Simon Sinek has a powerful message of ‘Start with why.’ With the work you do now, what do you think your why is and what keeps you doing what you do?
What I found was talking to someone like Melissa, who’s truly the person in her field with the most wisdom to share and the most hands on experience. She mentioned it would be difficult to write a book because the amount of projects she’s working on. And I think we ended up with unfortunately, is a world where a lot of books are written by people who aren’t the actual experts. They create new books that are pleasantly written and not the best source of information. And all that is true because there are so many barriers between having good ideas and a finished product.
The big goal for me is how can we eliminate or reduce those barriers enough that people with the best wisdom to share are the ones who other people are learning from. And truthfully a lot of people are mentioning that there’s so many books being published now and it’s too much. Personally I think that’s a view based on how things have been and it’s not right. In most industries we’re not bothered by there being too many options. We trust that the best ones will rise to the top. And so I think we need better sorting mechanisms, recommendation engines, in which there’s lower barriers to people creating books. And that the best product ends up reaching more people which is better to learn from than what’s currently out there.
How are you forever changing the publishing industry?
So what we do right now is great from a business developer perspective and as a learning tool. We’re getting a lot of press and seeing this process work. It’s been profitable and that’s great, but the long term goal is how can we do that for as many people as possible. And we’re going to come out with a book for people that walks them through the process that teaches them how to do it on their own.
Hiring experts is always going to be expensive. And if we can pass on the efficiency as a very smooth process then we can at least reduce those barriers somewhat for people. So it may not be easy as what we normally do but it’s easier than any other option for writing a book. The long term goal is to spread that to more people and influence those who have the best ideas. So they won’t be intimidated by the book creation process and end up with a finished product that other people can learn from. (For more on how to learn the process of writing your own book, here’s The Book in a Box guide).
I understand you do improv. How does this help you with play, fun, and the role you’re in right now?
For me it wasn’t stage fright that bothered me. I think improv is amazing for people in terms of helping them overcome fear and stage fright. The things I learned most from it is you have to be actively listening and be constantly in the other person’s head and really playing off what they say. A big benefit has been getting out of my ‘think about what to say next mindset’ and paying attention to the other person. I work a lot and there’s nothing more than just having fun, being goofy, and doing improv. It’s been a good relaxation and unwinding tool. I’ve seen where other people can overcome a need for perfectionism or stage fright. It’s honestly a tool that can benefit a huge number of people.
How has the Pomodoro Technique affected your productivity when it comes to working on projects?
It depends most on what I’m working on. I’ve been through a phase of where I’m on a lot of calls and other people’s schedules. When I’m in a creative cycle, it’s the greatest thing in the world when working to achieve big goals. Before I started doing this, I heard many people talk about it and it does makes a huge impact. It’s less about the flow and more about the fact there’s so much clarity about what you care about during those 25 minutes.
You can hit reset in between or shift priorities later, but for right now there’s not a balance or a trade off. It’s just one thing and I think we all overestimate how much time a lot of things that we have planned take. We go in and distract ourselves by picking up our phone, checking email, and other things we might even think of as productive. For instance, I think I’ll have a huge amount of work scheduled for a day and I’ll be able to fly through it in 2–3 hours because it’s such focus time. (The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as “pomodoros”.)
In your personal life, what do you want your legacy to be for leaving your impact on the world?
I’ve found trying to pre plan that is never a good idea. Having the right moral compass and then going with the flow tends to be the best route to developing an idea and in reality. There’s so many people with awesome ideas and knowledge locked inside of them. If I can help get it out of them then I’m helping the world in whole a bunch of small ways by breaking down those barriers. In terms of personal legacy, I think it’s not something I’m 100% clear of. It’s very easy to look back in retrospect. So I think doing what’s right and trying to make the world a little more better will define that answer through action.
In conclusion, when has work become play for you?
Honestly for me at this point it’s a lot of play. And I don’t know if this is the right advice for everyone but for me it’s the day to day happiness. It has less to do with the big picture success and more with having fun solving something new and if I’m not, how can I change my strategy to work on something I am.
Contact Book in a Box directly at: bookinabox.com
You can learn more about Zach at his blog.