How to build a business empire based on reading. Find out.

Or why I gave up on making a million-dollar startup by disrupting a book publishing industry.

Is it a good idea to be on crack about reading?

It was my third year at the University. Our class watched an interview of one of the most famous Russian marketers. He had years of experience behind his back and owned a well-known publishing house. In the interview he told about the importance of self-education and reading. This interview dramatically changed my views on these things. Here is why.

Igor Mann is talking about books.

Imagine yourself as a business owner. Whatever your business is about, you will always have competitors. And now imagine the owner of the rival company who reads at least one book per month. How much knowledge will he get ahead of you in six months? And how much is it in profits? Your chances to lose in this battle of competition are getting higher and higher. So, read and learn more to be ahead of everyone. Both in career and business.

I started to read business literature afterwards. At the start of my journey, I wasn’t too specific about the book categories. I read books on marketing, business building, success stories, psychological stuff like Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits” etc. One day I opened a book “The Personal MBA” written by Josh Kaufman. It was another game-changing experience. After reading the first 20 pages, I saw him as the closest ally! Josh talked about ideas that were roaming about my mind.

At the beginning of his career, Josh wanted to get an MBA. An obvious path to reinforce a career growth. However, the final decision was to save money and create his own “Personal MBA”. Josh collected foundational business concepts from hundreds of business books. The concepts help understand what businesses actually are and what successful businesses actually do. He calls these concepts “mental models”.

Seth Godin
It’s hard for me to understand, why [getting an MBA] is a better use of time and money than actual experience combined with a dedicated reading of 30 or 40 books.

And I totally agree with Seth. But reading 40 books is no way an easy-peasy task. It takes time and can bring a lot of headache for the following reasons.

3 Reasons Why Business Books ain’t Sexy any More.

“It’s just too much”

At the start I looked for new sources of information — business books that had the most references over the Internet. After a while, I had so many results that it was easy to understand: I’ll never have enough time to read it all. Currently, I have around 13 GB ebooks on my hard drive plus 100+ titles that “need to be read” on my list. And every year there are 1000+ more business books. It’s just too much.

Another problem among newborn bestselling stars that they write 300+ pages books around only one idea. In the end, if you want to be clear about this particular idea, you just need to read three pages describing it. Another 297 pages of author’s life experiences, memoirs and vague examples… You can try to disagree, but this stuff disorganizes the book and turns it into a piece of crap. Difficult to focus, more difficult to put in practice.

On the other hand, there are books containing 100+ different concepts consistent with a variety of fields: management, productivity, goal-setting, problem-solving, selling, hiring, public speaking and so on and so forth… So it is hard to structure these enormous amounts of ideas given. What is more, these ideas are not supplied with any tools or schemes of implementation. That’s why it’s easy to fail by trying to use the fresh new ideas in any context.

These problems made me think of creating a tool that can help learn meaningful stuff from the books. And here is the story.

How to Make Reading Great Again

Photo by Daron Dean (Reuters)

I had an idea to create a web instrument that would contain the best ideas (= concepts & mental models) from the business bestsellers. I’m not talking about book summaries. You should think about it as an idea dump and such term as “a book” has a secondary role here. The main unit here is an idea taken from a book.

An early sketch explaining the concept. Each mental model can be used separately regardless of the context of the book.

We take business books at first. Then, we outline ideas and insights that can be helpful in developing career skills. Then, we convert every idea into clear tools ready to use. Each tool contains blueprint that person can pursue to improve one of his career skills.

One of the first sketches shows how to make a “Starup Ninja” Course out of mental models.

These skills are time management, decision making, oratory, negotiations, networking, etc. Each tool can be used separately regardless of the context of the book where they are coming from. That fact allows us to combine tools from different books into thematic educational courses.

In 2014 I mentioned companies that started to work in this direction. Check out Smart Reading and Blinkist. But their selling proposition is more about saving time on reading than about education. They offer business book summaries that can be read in 15 minutes without losing any of core ideas. My idea was different — to extract ideas, turn them into tools and design an educational process on a web platform.

3 Obstacles We Didn’t Overcome.

Why didn’t it happen? There were an idea that made sense, a large number of books to start with, no direct competition. I had an actual team as well at the moment. However, the team was just motivated “to do something” great… And nobody knew what should we do next to pull it off. Nobody of us had tech skills enough to code anything. There was no roadmap.

So after a month of ideation process everything came to the starting point. I became the only guy with an idea that could probably work out. And I stopped the project for the main three reasons.

  1. The team. I was the only guy in the team. And I don’t know how to code. And I’m not sure I want to learn it. Anyway, I will have to do that, at least a little bit. Just to be able to find a common language with software developers.
  2. I didn’t have any real experience. I worked for a digital agency, but it wasn’t a really big deal to my mind. I worked in a business development department of a consulting company. And I don’t find this experience valuable as well. I’ve also never tried to start a startup.
  3. The project depends on content production. And content production is one of the most expensive things in content marketing nowadays. Too much to do, especially for a non-native speaker who wants to build a product for the globe. I’ve decided redesign the core concept that can repivot the idea (or come up with another one).

With a course of time, I still believe that the idea has a potential.

And what do you think? Would you pay for such kind of stuff?