Female Founders: Alessandra Torre of Authors AI On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
You’re going to get run down, and that’s okay. I had a moment this year where I was working eighteen-hour days, seven days a week, and my energy level and passion were sapped. I shouldered on, and the kinks worked themselves out, and my schedule lightened up, and I could breathe again, but it doesn’t mean that there weren’t times when I was miserable, and it wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the product or our team, it was because I was human and I ran out of gas — and that is okay and natural. It’s important to be aware of your own mental and physical state and not let it affect the company or your decisions and leadership there.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alessandra Torre.
Alessandra Torre is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of twenty-seven novels. Torre has been featured in such publications as Elle and Elle UK, as well as guest-blogged for the Huffington Post and RT Book Reviews. In addition to writing, Alessandra is the creator of Alessandra Torre Ink, a website, community, and online school for aspiring authors. Her annual conference is INKERS CON In 2019, Alessandra co-founded Authors A.I. — a company that uses artificial intelligence to help authors with their development and editing process. In November of 2020, Authors A.I. launched BingeBooks, an online community that helps readers discover their next great novel.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Absolutely! My life has changed drastically in the last ten years, and is a great example of what can happen when you find and chase your passion. For me, my passion has always been stories. I was devouring stories from an early age, and was that kid who lived in the library and always had a book hidden on my lap during meals. I didn’t start creating my own stories until I was 28 years old, and in between jobs and trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. I wrote my first novel on a whim, not expecting it to turn into a career. I wrote it for myself, as a step deeper into the book world I had enjoyed for so long.
I self-published the novel, which ended up becoming a chart-topper and led to a six-figure publishing contract. That taste of success gave me the confidence and financial security to commit to writing as my full-time career.
Fast forward eight years, I had three more traditional publishing deals, twenty-five published novels, and hit the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller lists multiple times. I was an executive producer on the Hollywood Dirt movie, which was based on my novel, and had built an online community of over ten thousand aspiring and published authors. I was looking for ways to improve my marketing and writing processes, and found a group of bestselling authors who were putting together a new community for readers, one paired with A.I. technology, and immediately knew that I had found my next passion — improving the book discovery and creation process, which is what we’re now doing at BingeBooks.com and Authors.ai
I initially joined the group as an investor, advocate, and contributor — then slowly became more and more involved, until I landed where I am today, which is C.E.O.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One interesting moment occurred in an early marketing meeting, when we were discussing the launch of our A.I. book editor. One of our team members suggested that we give the artificial intelligence a name — and initially, I was against the idea. The marketing team kept warming to the idea, and it was finally decided that the A.I. would be female, and would be named Marlowe — a decision that ended up directing and shaping our entire brand and messaging in an incredible and much-loved way. When I think back, I laugh because Marlowe has become such an exciting and integral part of our company — and she is very much a working team member, with her own quirks, strengths, and personality — it’s hard to believe that I ever thought of her as an inanimate technology and not the interactive and intelligent (and very personable) addition that she has become. I can’t wait until readers ‘meet’ her and experience her book recommendation abilities.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As the old adage goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” But I came in with full confidence. I figured, since I knew all of the aspects of book publishing and marketing — I would slot easily into this role and be able to easily get the ball rolling. Not so fast! I had to pull back and accept that creating and launching an editing and book-savvy A.I. hasn’t been done before. Much of my early days were spent listening and learning from my co-founders and colleagues who were more adept in technology and machine learning. Thanks to the wonderful team at Authors.ai, we were able to pull together our strengths from various areas of our experience and build a platform that works behind the scenes to provide authors an honest and intelligent critique of their work.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My very first boss was a terror, to put things nicely. I was thirteen, working ten hours a week, and she brought me to tears on multiple occasions — but through that experience I learned so many things. I learned what sort of leader I didn’t want to be. I learned how to figure things out for myself. I learned how to work in difficult and hostile environments. I learned how to communicate with different types of people and how to find positives in most situations. She was very very tough, but she made me stronger and wiser, and I will always be grateful to her for that, and for the good memories (there were a lot of good memories too!) that I have from that first job.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
In my opinion and experience, it’s a mindset issue. Often women are relied on for implementation. At least for me, my entire life has been “getting stuff done” — because if I didn’t do it, it just wouldn’t happen. In so many marriages, a husband and wife might decide to go on vacation — but who is the one packing? Booking the hotel? Making sure that the homework is done, and the pets have a sitter, and the mail is held? At least for me, growing up and as an adult — the women handled all of those details. And when we’re so busy in implementation mode, we often don’t have time to dream up new companies — or aren’t in the position or habit of delegating duties.
Our new generations are getting better — but there are still fundamental roles that females are falling into. I grew up thinking of myself as an independent woman, with the mindset of “I don’t need a man for anything, I can do it all myself” — and that isn’t the mindset that a founder should have, and that isn’t the mindset that can build great things. So, I think we’re getting there, and I think that women are becoming more confident and independent, but there is still a need, for many women, for a shift in mindset and approach — and for many, a more selfish approach where they put their dreams and ideas first, even if it is inconvenient to others.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
We need better leadership programs with mentors that teach young women the mindsets and processes of how to build companies, lead teams, and manage finances. Women have such high emotional intelligence, and can be such fantastic leaders, we just need to show them the paths to success and the tools and resources at their disposal.
Women also need to continue supporting one another. I have seen so many female friends and fellow authors who have combined talents to launch new initiatives and empower one another to take leadership roles in organizations. In my own, we have women in every level of management, and over 65% of our shareholders are women. We need to find or create more opportunities where women can bring their perspective and experiences to the table.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women have so many unique strengths — both innate and learned which can help us to connect, empathize, and create. We are used to multi-tasking, finding creative solutions, and working with different personality types. We can lead by example and deliver criticism with grace and kindness.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That founders are once-in-a-million brainiacs. What they are is a combination of smarts and good timing. Many aren’t even educated at Ivy League schools anymore. I would never claim to be the smartest person in the room. What I am is surrounded by — and look to hire — smarter people than me. Smarter people, meaning, those who have had varied experiences, educational backgrounds, cultural interests, and work practices. The best founders retain and pull the best out of others. A founder may have had a great idea to launch, but it takes a village to get those ideas off of the ground.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
It depends on which role the founder plays. Not everyone is cut out to lead a company — but not all founders lead. Many founders provide the vision, and work as a regular or senior team member, while allowing others to oversee. The traits that I see as necessary for a founder are passion, work ethic, adaptability, and humility. They must believe in the product and vision, and must be willing to work long hours, for years, towards that vision. They must be adaptable and open to changes and new ideas, and must be willing to set their ego aside for the betterment of the company.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Pause often and breathe. Sometimes you get so bogged down in keeping everything running, and moving forward, that you don’t get a chance to make sure that your path is heading in the right direction. I try to pause at regular intervals, reassess the big picture, and make sure that our path, priorities, and vision are in alignment and no new concerns, opportunities, or factors need to be evaluated.
- You’re going to get run down, and that’s okay. I had a moment this year where I was working eighteen-hour days, seven days a week, and my energy level and passion were sapped. I shouldered on, and the kinks worked themselves out, and my schedule lightened up, and I could breathe again, but it doesn’t mean that there weren’t times when I was miserable, and it wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the product or our team, it was because I was human and I ran out of gas — and that is okay and natural. It’s important to be aware of your own mental and physical state and not let it affect the company or your decisions and leadership there.
- When in doubt, talk it out. I was raised to bottle things up and sort them out on your own. I then married into an Italian family where everything is immediately blown up, then forgiven. I prefer the latter, and it’s taught me to confront things early on, before they fester into bigger problems. Confrontation is not a bad thing, if it is approached with respect, willingness to communicate, openness to change, and a calm demeanor.
- Recognizing your own mistakes is key. When we first set out to build a book site for readers, we didn’t have the large-scale vision that BingeBooks grew into. We had much smaller goals, and started with infrastructure and development on that small scale. When we realized the opportunities ahead of us, we halted development early on (but still after months of work) and turned a sharp corner to move down a different path. It meant months of wasted effort, but the new path was the RIGHT path, even if it was a painful and expensive decision to make. Continuing forward, just because we had invested time and energy in that direction, would have stifled our success potential in dramatic ways.
- Approach every problem as a possible opportunity. When COVID hit, it happened right when we were launching our A.I. book editor. While it was initially a problem — press was overrun with COVID items, jobs and health were up in the air, and everyone was distracted and stressed out. We had a launch plan that we had worked months on that was suddenly useless — but we embraced the new reality and changed our messaging to focus on productivity during the pandemic.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I haven’t… yet. But I strongly believe that stories can change our world by educating, influencing, and inspiring readers — and if we can connect readers with books that they love, we can foster and grow our world’s love of books. I want to bring great undiscovered novels to the readers that will enjoy them, and our artificial intelligence can do that in a way that has never been done — by recommending books based on their storyline, characters, and reading experience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I fear that new generations are skipping books in favor of video games and television. The novels that are pushed in schools are classics that don’t appeal to younger generations, so children and teens grow up believing that they don’t like to read. We need to introduce younger generations to popular fiction, to find and spotlight books that spawn tens of millions of new readers, the way that Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games revitalized the reading habit. We can find and spotlight those books through artificial intelligence — we just need the vessel to deliver those undiscovered gems to readers, and that’s what we’re building at BingeBooks.com.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri are the co-creators of Goodreads, which is the largest book and reader site in the world. I’d love to learn about their journey, chat about great books, and see what lessons and wisdom they have to share.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this