Entrepreneurs in Publishing

Posted on September 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

On Thursday 5th September 2013, the SYP held a discussion about Entrepreneurs in Publishing.  We were honoured to be joined by four fabulous speakers who included John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound.co.uk, Anna Lewis, co-founder of CompletelyNovel.com, Julia Kingsford, Chief Executive of WorldBookNight.org, and Dr Kris Naudts, CEO of TheCultureTrip.com.  The speakers each explained their entrepreneurial journeys so far and how and why they are doing what they do today.

John Mitchinson explained how he left college to write a novel and worked in a bar before a friend asked him to became a bookseller at Waterstones.  He was asked to join their Head Office and over the next few years held various roles within the Company, including becoming their first Marketing Director.  He then worked at some other publishers and nearly joined Harper Collins, but instead started work on a new project with John Lloyd, which later became QI.

John described publishing as being like a drug: it’s addictive.  For this reason, after ten years working on QI, he returned to publishing and created Unbound – a platform to bring together writers and readers, who John believes are the two most important parts of the equation when it comes to publishing.

Anna Lewis got involved with the Young Enterprise scheme at school, studied law at University, and then joined the Foreign Office.  She explained that one Christmas, she decided to use her language skills to help a friend on a venture which involved travelling around France and Spain for a few days.  During the trip, Anna said she felt liberated and enjoyed working on a project without having to constantly ask permission to do anything, which she does not think can happen in large organisations.

Anna encouraged our audience members to talk about their entrepreneurial ideas, and not to worry about revealing them to others, as she believes that the criticism you received is always incredibly helpful.  She also described starting a company as being like a roller-coaster: it is great fun but also makes you want to throw-up.

Julia Kingsford grew up in a publishing family and studied English at University.  She told us that her first job was Marketing Assistant at Random House but that she hated it.  After realising it would be better to leave than stay (although she said she would not recommend doing this in today’s current climate) she did some temp work at the BBC and the Barbican before running the events programme at Foyles.  By the age of 27, Julia was Marketing Director.

Julia emphasised how important she felt it was to be a bookseller before being a publisher.  Although the pay is awful and it is a very dirty job (literally), she believes you have to understand selling books, as this will teach you about commerciality, which is crucial in the publishing world.

Like Anna, Julia spoke of the freedom, both creatively and strategically, of being an entrepreneur although also said it is impossible to do everything yourself and therefore essential to assemble people around you to do the things that you cannot.

Dr Kris Naudts was born and raised in a small farm in Belgium.  He studied medicine at university and became a psychiatrist and then secured a well-paid job in London as head of department in a private hospital.  After a few years, Kris decided to take a year out and went travelling.  He explained that he wanted a work of fiction from each country that he visited, and decided to develop this idea into a website on his return.

Kris spoke about the fulfillment you feel from working for yourself, although warned that you have to be prepared to put yourself and your loved ones in danger, to embarrass yourself and to have very little sleep!  He also suggested you should ask yourself why you want to do this – is it for the lifestyle, to get rich, or to change the world?

Although young publishers today may be facing some difficult challenges, our speakers all agreed with John Mitchinson that now is an incredibly receptive time for new ideas, and that ideas on napkins are made by future entrepreneurs.

Whether entrepreneur is a “synonym for wanker” or a “badge of honour”, our four speakers were inspiring and the evening was enjoyed by all.  On behalf of the SYP Committee, I would like to thank all our speakers and audience members for a very successful evening.  As a final thought and in the words of Anna Lewis, “if you spot an opportunity, just go for it.”


Colette Smith