As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kinga Jentetics, CEO and founder of PublishDrive, the all-in-one digital book publishing platform for e-books, print books and audiobooks for authors and publishers.
She made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media and was named one of the Top 100 European Female Founders by The Hundert. With PublishDrive, she took part in global accelerator programs of Google in Silicon Valley and in Europe. She was also nominated for the 2018 Digital Book World Awards (in a list that included Jeff Bezos). As an advocate of using new technologies such as blockchain and AI, Kinga is helping to rewrite the rules of the publishing landscape with PublishDrive by providing digital services from global book distribution to promotional tools and financial services tailored for indies. So that publishing will not be the privilege of a few but a resource for many.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have a business and marketing background, and music and literature are my passions. I wrote my master thesis about how music affects the image of a country. When I decided to publish it digitally, I faced many hurdles. These included technical aspects like formatting, publishing on different platforms, and analyzing data. This is how I started working with my co-founders, Robert Csizmar and Adam Rendes, on the idea of PublishDrive to make publishing easy for everyone.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early on, I was involved in editing our website — I managed to delete 50% of our website. That’s when I learned that in general, but especially when running your own business, to never delete anything. Archive instead! :)
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?
I am grateful to my co-founders and my husband aka my other half, Adam. They helped me go through the most difficult phases. My partner has been supportive even when I went away on business trips for 3–6 months. He did get to join me at times, making things even better. He actually proposed during one of these trips!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Since the beginning, our purpose has stayed the same: to help authors and publishers thrive by streamlining the publishing process and maximizing their royalties. We believe that publishing should be accessible to everyone. With our platform, we offer proven publishing tools to help indies save time and build profitable businesses.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
PublishDrive is the all-in-one digital book publishing platform for ebooks, print books, and audiobooks. We help authors and publishers from all over the world, across 100 countries. When I say all-in-one, I mean formatting, publishing, distributing, and even marketing. We do this with automated processes, transparent analytics and financial tools, and beyond. Our indies can start by uploading their manuscript, converting it to the right format, optimizing their metadata with AI, and publishing in over 400 stores. Our distribution network includes stores like Amazon, Apple, Google, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, and thousands of digital libraries. The platform allows for easily tracking book links, rankings, sales performance, and more. We got built-in promotion tools that help with Amazon Advertising, editorial submissions to get featured in stores and newsletters, or sending DRM-protected review copies. We help indies minimize the time spent on administrative tasks and help boost their discoverability by reaching out to millions of readers globally.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
In 2007, the first Amazon Kindle device appeared on the market that changed the way people read. A few years later, audiobooks shook the industry as more people could access them through streaming platforms. Also, the rise of podcasts helped drive the audio trend. Recently, print-on-demand technologies have changed the way print production is being done (where a book is printed only when purchased) as more publishers look for ways to optimize their cash flow.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
We knew that audio and print-on-demand formats had to be added to PublishDrive. In March 2020, we launched ebook, audio, and print distribution to the platform, making us the only self-publishing company to handle all three formats for thousands of book channels.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
I’ve been following the audiobook trend for the last couple of years (as I became an avid listener myself). I realized that we can reach a totally different and new audience of book lovers with audio. To physically hold a print book is an essential part of an author’s journey. I also love seeing print books on my shelves! With the emergence of print-on-demand, we thought we can make every dream come true with these different formats.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
It is going well! Audiobook and print publishers joined our platform. And more of our existing customers started to produce audio and print from their existing catalog. Sales are exponentially growing month to month. We see these trends continuing in 2021.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Our audio and print release happened at the same time of the COVID-19 outbreak. There was a lot of noise (justifiably), and it was a unique situation for us to navigate in regards to how we communicate with our indies and more. Although numerous industries were impacted, fortunately for publishing, digital books saw huge booms as more people sought at-home entertainment and education via online. Providing digital formats such as audio and print-on-demand gave authors opportunities to expand their revenue streams.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
To engage team members and to stay on top of what’s happening in the world.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I learned the importance of vulnerability — to share as much information as transparently as I can with everyone. This includes sharing data and results about new innovation brought to the table. Also, I learned to celebrate every achievement. Team members are treated as partners. All of us are building something together, even through challenging times.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Build a transparent and safe environment. Although hard times may impact our personal lives, I hope that at least our work space can feel safe.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Underestimating the power of technology: It’s important to consider interesting solutions whether it relates to AI, text to speech, or blockchain. Learn when you can, and you’ll be surprised where and how you can apply certain tech in your business.
- Overestimating technology: I’ve seen many businesses prioritize technology and buzzwords over the needs of customers. Don’t look at innovation because it contains a buzzword, but look at the use case of how it can improve your customer’s lives.
- Seeing disruptive tech as a threat or competition: To build a sustainable operation, keep up with the latest tech and build alliances with potential competitors in these spaces. I’ve encouraged myself to collaborate with more business partners and even competitors to put customers first.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Ask customers about their needs and problems: For instance, we were able to launch multi-format distribution thanks to our beta customers joining the platform a year in advance. We gathered as much feedback as possible. All of our ideas and developments came from our beta testers and the data they provided.
- Involve high-level decision-makers in discussion with customers: I encourage myself and team members with decision-making positions to talk to customers before any development. We have talked to customers ranging from debut authors to big publishers. I am always humbled by their attitudes and could not be any more grateful for their contribution to what we’re building. I’m always learning something new, too!
- Innovate continuously based on customer problems: We developed a system for product development where customer feedback and data are weighted for prioritization. First, we collect ideas from customers and the internal team. Then, the product team weights the importance based on several factors. Our product roadmap has developments up to half a year, funneled from customers.
- Keep up to date with the latest technology: I do not have an engineering background, but I make sure to educate myself about new technologies. Keeping up with tech is how we integrated an AI robot for book indexing. Usually, book indexing is a maze for authors and publishers with over 5,000 different categories to choose from. We automated that process with an AI that reads the book’s content and suggests the best fitting categories.
- Get out of your comfort zone: PublishDrive started as a platform for book formatting, distribution, and analytics. We worked with many third parties like book stores to grow our distribution network. However, we saw the need for a tool that is independent of third parties. This included authors who are selling exclusively with Amazon and want to stay like that, but who are also interested in PublishDrive. That’s how we developed a standalone product called PD Abacus. It’s a book collaboration and management tool for calculating royalties and other finances for publishers, co-authors, and teams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
– Mark Twain
I remind myself to live my life with no fear. All the things I regret in my life so far are the things I did NOT do. That’s how I make decisions in business as well. I’ve heard folks call my choices bold, but I just call them “I don’t want to regret” decisions. :)
My other learning is to not be afraid to ask for help. As a female entrepreneur, I have heard disappointing comments like “you will not make it” too many times. I’ve also heard comments like “the product is not good enough” or “the market is not there yet.” Those comments could have discouraged me, but I looked for helpers instead. I learned to shut out the negativity and find the best mentors, business partners, clients, and team members.
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