Holger Seim of blinkist
Knowing the content of books without actually having to read them? Sounds too good to be true. It is possible, though: Berlin-based start-up Blinkist offers books packed into key insight summaries. Instead of having to struggle through weighty tomes readers are presented with the gist of a book in a matter of 15 minutes. The start-up has recently announced another round of financing which means that readers can look forward to further 'blinks' scheduled to be released this year.We met managing director of blinkist, Holger Seim, for a short interview about his business.
Hello Mr Seim, let's begin with a question you probably hear quite often: When was the last time you read a book with more than 200 pages?
I actually hear this question a lot which shows that many people get the idea behind Blinkist wrong: Our mission is not to discourage people from reading books. On the contrary, we strive to offer a format that enables users to better integrate lifelong learning in their daily lives – regardless of whether they have the time to read entire books. Avid readers for example use Blinkist as a gap filler in between books or to discover new non-fiction books.
Accordingly, I do read many books as a whole alongside blinks, but I prefer fiction books, admittedly. 'Die weiteren Aussichten' by Robert Seethaler was the book I finished most recently - last weekend, in fact. The next book I have on my list is 'Leading' by Alex Ferguson.
You have just announced a successful round of financing amounting to four million euros. A US investor has decided to participate in the investment, alongside Greycroft Partners. Can you bring us up to speed on where your company is today and are there any news Blinkist users can look forward to this year?
We were able to record a five-fold increase in our user base with particular strong growth happening in the US. With 30,000 paying customers we're still in our infancy compared to the global market potential our service has to offer. We're very happy to have secured fresh investment and strong partners such as Greycroft and e.ventures helping us to get to the next level in terms of offering our services on a global scale.
In 2016, you can expect us to increase our user base by a significant proportion. Also, there will be innovative additions to our product and hopefully we will be able to announce one or two partnerships with renowned publishers from Europe or the US.
How do actually manage to pack hundreds or thousands of pages of content into summaries that are only a few pages long? Is it that authors have trouble getting to the point or is there a special secret to writing good summaries?
Authors can get to the point, of course, but this is not always the goal when writing a book. Most of the time it is about taking the reader on a journey, letting them understand the thought processes that led to certain conclusions. In order to truly delve into a topic, what's required most of the time is an extensive explanation of the origins of thoughts, the consideration of arguments and many examples and anecdotes to illustrate the book's theme.
As no reader is in a position to immerse themselves in every topic there is it would be a pity to just completely disregard all other topics and not pay any attention to them at all. That's why, alongside complete books, there's a large demand for the product we offer.
In order to cater to the demand for an objective summary of the key messages of a book, highlighting the most ostensive examples and anecdotes, we make use a of a large network of professional experts who take care of this. There's no secret to what we do, except for comprehensive expertise and a capacity for abstraction.
Movements advocating a shift towards slowing down life's pace, such as the slow food movement, have gained popularity in recent months. Are you concerned that your readership, too, could become weary of our fast-paced world and the permanent flow of information?
No, we're not concerned about that at all, because the essence of our service is not to deliver a daily flood of short-lived information to our readers. Quite to the contrary: Our goal is to offer useful information, as opposed to the short-lived information provided by the news and social media. We aim to give our readers the opportunity to integrate learning in their daily lives.
Incidentally, our editorial team carefully picks the titles to be published from the mass of recent publications and in doing so restricts the flood of information on behalf of our users.
Are there actually any books that just can't be summarised without having to omit important content?
It's in the nature of things that important content falls by the wayside when being summarised. However, these bits are often not critical to gain an understanding of the main ideas of a book. Of course there certainly are very complex books whose key messages are particular difficult to squeeze into a summary that could still be called a summary.
Our most challenging task to date was summarising Daniel Kahnemann's book ' Thinking, fast and slow' – however, we're very happy with the final result.
Have you compared if readers tend to remember more of the contents after reading a wordy self-help book or after ingesting one of your 15-minute summaries?
We haven't so far, as it is not our aim to outdo books in any way, as I've already mentioned. We feel confident stating that our readers tend to remember content best when they read the blinks of a book preliminary to reading the actual book, as this raises their awareness of relevant or interesting aspects of the book allowing them to subsequently read the book with a much more targeted and active mindset. Beyond that, we keep hearing of readers who use our blinks to polish up their knowledge of a book they've read two or three months ago.
Can you describe your typical reader?
Roughly speaking, there are two groups of Blinkist users: The first group integrates Blinkist in their daily routine using our service several times a week, for example on their daily commute or to help pass short waiting times, in order to continually upgrade their knowledge, partly with a defined goal in terms of content, or often to just extend their general knowledge across a range of subjects. The second group uses Blinkist every once in a while, in order to address specific issues or challenges.
Mr Seim, last but not least: Could you please complete following sentence: Berlin is...
... the perfect city to found a tech start-up in Europe.
Holger Seim is Managing Director and one of four founders at Berlin-based start-up Blinkist. As the company's CEO, he's responsible for business development, marketing and communications. He founded Blinkist in 2012, together with Tobias Balling, Niklas Jansen and Sebastian Klein, with the aim of providing people with little time to spare with easy access to new knowledge and lifelong learning opportunities.
After completing his business studies in Marburg and Mexico, Holger Seims worked as a commercial manager for one of Deutsche Telekom's digital growth areas, following a 15-month period as a management trainee with Telekom's in-house consulting team.