Serial edtech entrepreneur David Blake, who co-founded Degreed and launched LearnIn, is living the dream of any book worm. He reads at least one book a week, talks to the authors behind it and unpacks his biggest questions around the subtlest of passages.
And it’s all thanks to his latest startup, BookClub, which first launched in September to bring author-led book clubs to readers. “With Degreed, it’s big, it’s enterprise and it’s structural. It brought a deep sense of fulfillment, it felt rigorous and challenging” he said. “BookClub has felt joyful, a lot of fun, and like a blessing in my life.”
The platform gives authors a chance to hold book groups, share exclusive video-based interviews and engage in questions readers might have. And months after announcing its existence and $6 million seed raise, BookClub is back to announce a $20 million Series A round, led by Signal Peak Ventures. Other investment firms that participated in the round include GSV Ventures, Maveron, Backstage Capital and Pelion Venture Partners.
Blake often describes BookClub as “MasterClass meets Goodreads.” It’s fitting that he got the founders of both of those companies on his cap table as well, with Aaron Rasmussen, co-founder of MasterClass and founder of Outlier.org, and Otis Chandler, co-founder and previous CEO of Goodreads, joining the Series A round.
The capital comes as BookClub prepares to open its private beta, which includes thousands of readers, to the public by July. Along with opening up for business, BookClub is investing heavily in adding more authors to its platform. So far, there are 11 books featured on BookClub’s website from writers such as Emily Chang, Lara Prescott, Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.
Blake declined to give specifics for how many books are in production, but said that BookClub’s plan is to hit 200 books for its service by the end of 2021.
The startup is currently experimenting with two services to bring author-led discussions to readers. One service is that users can find a book and then click through videos as they progress through the book. When BookClub was recording with Emily Chang, the author of “Brotopia,” it produced eight to 12 hours of content, which ranges from Q&A to readings to behind-the-scenes musings on writing the book, Blake explained.
“A lot of that sounds simple, but in a lot of ways it is special in its own way,” Blake said. “If you grew up in most places in America, there weren’t New York Times best-sellers coming to your local indie bookstore and just doing readings…in a lot of ways, this is able to democratize a lot of what authors do to engage the big cities [on book tours] but for everyone else,” he said.
The other service is similar to Oprah’s Book Club, a long-existent discussion series where Oprah interviews a different author behind a book each month. BookClub’s version of this is picking an author to discuss their book, as well as a series of books with similar themes, in an interview-style format. For example, Barbara Corcoran is discussing her book, “Shark Tales,” as well as five other books in an entrepreneurship-featured club.
One limitation for BookClub is figuring out how to generate enthusiasm through its platform. Book clubs often start off with the best of intentions, but then fall apart due to lack of accountability or limited interest among members to invest in deeper conversations. The startup will have to find a way, beyond author appeal, to integrate excitement without being overly prescriptive in its prompts. Another limitation might be the authors themselves. Because the startup’s products only work with living authors, it is missing out on a chunk of classical text.
The company might need to figure out a different way to represent authors, the non-living or camera shy, to reach what Blake views as its ultimate goal.
“Right now, statistically, the chance that we’ve covered one of the books on your nightstand is pretty low,” he said. “We want to get there, fast.”