Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interview with Rethink Books Entrepreneur Jason Illian

Where are you from originally?
I was born in the Omaha, NE, but I grew up in Lake Havasu City, AZ. Both of my parents were educators, so we moved around quite a bit until high school. My parents were always looking for the best educational and athletic opportunities for their three boys.

What university did you go to?
I attended TCU (Texas Christian University). I played collegiate football for the Horned Frogs and studied International Finance.

What brought you to Dallas?
I originally came to DFW to go to school at TCU. After school, I moved to London for about 6 months and then took a job with a large institutional money management firm in the Midwest. After being away from DFW for 3-4 years, I moved back with the intent to re-engage the growing startup and technology ecosystem in the metroplex.

What is the idea behind your startup?
Our company is called Rethink Books, and our flagship technology is called Bookshout! Bookshout! is a group and social reading platform designed to build community around books. It is our belief that long-form content can be more viral, collaborative, and engaging when like-minded people can interact with it.

What need does it fulfill?
For readers, Bookshout! provides a number of social and collaborative tools that make the reading experience more robust and interactive. For publisher and authors, it creates viral marketing and sales, as well as a creative distribution channel. It leverages the concept that people sell books to each other better than any retailer can.

What exactly does your product do?
Bookshout! is a social and group reading platform that allows friends to read a book together. Imagine a teacher reading and sharing her notes with the class and the students with each other. Imagine a CEO having a virtual book study with his executives. Imagine a pastor sharing his thoughts over multiple books with his congregation. These are the types of things Bookshout! can accommodate.

Who is it for?
It’s a B2C play. It’s for readers and individual users. We have developed partnerships with major publishers and key organizations, but the end game is to provide the best reading experience for the users.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?
In DFW, one of the most challenging aspects is raising capital. It’s ironic, really, because DFW is packed full of successful businessmen and thriving companies. But very few have experience in funding or operating a tech start-up. Once we are able to redirect some of the capital that now goes to more traditional ventures, we’ll have the ability to create a vibrant tech ecosystem which will draw and retain talented entrepreneurs, unlock the resources of larger corporations, and create wealth in the metroplex.

What is the next step for you and your startup?
We just launched our Bookshout! platform, which is a group and social reading application connecting users around books. We are in the ramp-up phase of our company, generating growing revenues and acquiring new users.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
Know what time it is. There is a time for building companies, and there is a time for working for others. There’s a time to raise big capital, and there’s a time to bootstrap a company. There’s a time to swing for the fence, and there’s a time to just get on base. As an entrepreneur, very rarely will you find yourself in the same season of life for very long. If you do, it’s time to start hanging a question mark on some sentences that you often end with a period.

What Dallas-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?
Startup TX has been exceptionally valuable to me and Rethink Books. It has been so valuable that I volunteered some of my time to help ramp up the program on a state level. Through Startup TX, I’ve received access to discounted resources, connections, and potential capital. There is no substitute for connecting with other wise entrepreneurs and building out a network that can help you build, and later sustain, your company.