Meet The Three Female Tech Whizzes Behind A Mobile App Looking To Connect 30Million Avid Readers.
Lincy Ayala, Xiomara Figueroa, and Neysha Borrero are the co-founders and developers behind the app where book lovers convene. They’ve raised upwards of three hundred thousand dollars in the capital ($300,000), garnered the love of 20,000+ users, and positioned themselves as leaders in a space that we see as one of Amazon’s biggest blindspots: community. With more than thirty years of combined experience under their belts, the female coding trio has released their mobile app in stores for both iPhone and Android.
Military Artillery, Zoos, And Silicon Valley: The Brain Power Behind BookSloth
Lincy Ayala is the Co-Founder and CEO of BookSloth, overseeing the design and business aspects of the operation. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science and Biology from the University Of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, her approach to entrepreneurship and business management is, unsurprisingly, precise, systematic, and continuously seeking to test their team’s hypothesis. Having formerly worked for Tiger World in North Carolina following her graduation, she still considers zoology as a possible career path. During a recent interview, she explained why the word “Sloth” forms half of the company’s brand name.
Before starting BookSloth, Lincy worked as a web developer and design freelancer for six years, and as a front end developer for two years at GFR Media. GFR Media is one of the largest media companies in Puerto Rico. It includes brands such as El Nuevo Dia, Primera Hora, Magacin, Por Dentro, Construccion, Oferta Del Dia, Clasificados PR, SAL!, and many others. During this time, she met co-worker Xiomara Figueroa, an avid reader, who would ultimately become her co-founder at BookSloth.
Xiomara is also CTO of BookSloth, as well as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper for the San Juan Hub, an advocate for Girls Who Code, and the tech lead behind BookSloth. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from the University Of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, Xiomara spent several years before founding her current venture working for a series of startup companies in Silicon Valley and Puerto Rico. Responsible for optimizing the iOS apps of ThinAir, Polsense, Pair, and ZipKick, she also collaborated for two years with Dr. Patti Ordonez as a Research Assistant. After working for several startup companies, Xiomara joined GFR Media as a software developer in 2017. At this media-conglomerate, fate brought her to destined co-founder, Lincy Ayala.
A year later, Neysha Borrero joined the BookSloth team. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico in Hato Rey, and says the years leading to her integration with BookSloth were paved with fascinating learning opportunities. As a programmer for Helvetia del Caribe, she developed and maintained web applications for ATM systems and Private Branch Exchanges. Later on, she joined Axon Puerto Rico, where she served for five years as a senior consultant for their clients in the Aerospace industry. Transitioning from Axon to Honeywell, she stepped into leadership as a software engineer to test scripts for navigational systems within aircraft and military artillery — badass, right!?
Neysha boasts the experience of working not only for well-established Fortune 500 companies but also within smaller & bustling startups. After her time at Honeywell, she spent three years working as a freelance web developer and helping other startups such as StageBoom thrive. It was after the culmination of her project at the musician-for-hire digital platform that she met Lincy and Xiomara.
But, What About Books?
When you think of streaming music, you think of Spotify. When you think about video streaming, the red YT logo of YouTube comes to mind. The same goes for other streaming platforms — with radio, Pandora; with movies, Netflix, and with searches, Google. But what about books? For the 30 million avid readers, the answer is a combination of all of these, plus a website founded fifteen years ago called Goodreads. There are also a couple of dozen forums throughout Reddit. Unsurprisingly the latter has been the go-to place for enthusiastic readers to not only try and find their next title but also to initiate conversations and discussions with others currently reading books of interest.
The subreddit for r/books has grown from 179,000 subscribers to over 18,400,000 subscribers in the past seven years. Averaging 95 new book titles in-review per day, over twelve hundred comments (1,200) per day, and consistently ranking as one of the top 25 forums on Reddit, there is no question that readers want a place for community, exploring new titles, and discussion.
Yet, the way Lincy stumbled upon the idea of founding BookSloth, was not from a business and market data perspective. In fact, BookSloth didn’t start out as a business at all; instead, it was a passion project that Lincy and Xiomara worked on for fun. Lincy described how frustrating it was to have no one to share books she had just read with, or at least, no one with the same enthusiasm as her. She would talk with her mom about books, but if the title were under a Sci-Fi or Fantasy genre, her mom wouldn’t be interested—a sentiment echoed by Lincy’s fiancé.
Lincy began spending time online researching new books she could read, details in stories that she might have missed, and book discussions led by YouTube channels, Reddit boards, and Facebook Groups. Lincy certainly isn’t alone in her desire to share reading experiences, the second most visited book-related subreddit is r/suggestmeabook, with over 1 million subscribers, 1,000 comments per day, and over 140 book suggestions per day.
Building The First Iteration
Apart from sharing titles and occasionally discussing books with her mom and fianceé, Lincy also knew of another passionate reader: Xiomara. The two would talk during breaks about different titles they were reading, and how fun it would be to create a solution that gave book recommendations based on previous titles, and connect more deeply with your favorite book series. Many readers follow series by authors such as George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, and J. K. Rowling, but there is no way to receive notifications about book releases and availability.
Like many companies born in 2018, BookSloth began to take form through Pre18. The co-founders quit their jobs at GFR Media, registered their company (BOOKED LLC), and began working on a mobile app. From day one, they were clear on what they needed to build, and made a checklist of “must-haves” and “future features” — product management at its best!
With USD$20,000 in equity-free funding under their belt, they built their first iteration of the Booked app. They started collecting early user information in March of 2018 with a simple MailChimp-powered landing page. They launched a version of the app in September 2018, and rapidly iterated using reviews left by early adopters. After their fast-paced launch, they realized the approach of building a prototype and going to market quickly created two distinct issues for the ongoing success of their app.
Firstly, their initial domain name was getbookedapp.us. When it was time to market an app with the main keyword “Booked,” they found it costly. This keyword is mostly associated with booking engines for tours, flights, and hotel stays. The bid price to purchase and drive a potential lead to their page was therefore prohibitive. Optimizing their web page to compete with the SEO of the international travel, tourism, and hospitality industry was too darn expensive, to put it simply. After tackling the first issue and pivoting to rebrand their app to BookSloth, the team began receiving its first users. They achieved over 4,000 sign-ups in the first year alone.
The next issue to tackle was a login screen that was well, just a little too willie wonky. The bug was cause for multiple bad reviews of their newfound app. Undaunted, using quick iterations and tight feedback loops, the team fixed the technical bugs and earned their user’s trust. Users can now easily navigate through the app pages, and there’s not a single piece of feedback they didn’t either address, respond to, or improve on.
The team behind the app deserves serious kudos – as Lincy explained, no previous app had ever catered to the community aspect of the reader experience. The BookSloth team couldn’t see what Facebook, or YouTube, or Google was doing, and then try to implement it. There simply wasn’t a precedent in this niche for them to determine what would or wouldn’t work. Lessons gleaned from BookSloth’s experience getting started include the fact that a key part of building a company in this unique position is to focus on the essentials and then add features one by one. You never know what might happen when you add too many elements at once, but you can safely bet that: you’ll end up with angry customers. In this sense, companies like BookSloth continually engage with their community to build on each feature a little at a time.
Where They’ve Landed
After the initial release of the Mobile App, BookSloth’s founders gained a place in Parallel18. They received an additional forty thousand dollars in equity-free funding and decided to build the next three features of the mobile app. The built-in access to search and follow other users, tools to connect readers based on similar books read, and services for publishing houses, bookstores, and online retailers to create BookClubs.
This approach unlocks new potential tools for book owners to interact with their readers. With more than 6,500 establishments in the US with combined annual revenue of $9.6Billion and a global book market of $143Billion, the team’s “BookClubs” approach aims to nurture each store owner’s community, communities that in many cases they’ve been growing for multiple years, if not decades. The ability to gather storeowner’s customers, paired with a release calendar of book series and noteworthy books, as well as exclusive invitation capabilities and staff profiles, all combine to create a space that brings a fresh experience to the bookstore industry.
Part of the first generation cohort. With $20K in equity-free funding they developed the first MVP.
With a simple landing page they garnered the interest of over 4,000 subscribers.
Booksloth launched its first mobile app.
Obtained an additional $40K in equity free funding.
8,000 Users 1st Round
With 8,000 users, the team raised the first round of funding for $215K
The team entered the Rising Entrepreneurs Program by Orlando Bravo. Received $25K in Equity-Free funding.
Their platform surpassed 20,000 active users. The team focuses now on the the “BookClubs” service.
Still in a pre-revenue stage and growing the user base at a month-over-month rate above 73% in the first 15 months, the team raised outside financing to the tune of $215,000 by June 2019. With seed capital received from investors at Parallel18’s Demo Day, Xiomara & Lincy were able to hire their first full-time team member, Neysha Borrero. With Neysha onboard handling all the back end development, the team could split roles evenly and focus on the successful deployment of BookClubs. Both Xiomara and Lincy noted how proud they were, not only of Neysha, but also of the team chemistry, and each person’s openness to follow each other and their respective areas of expertise.
Growing From Puerto Rico
Although 4 of the top 5 publishing houses in the United States are in New York City: when BASED asked the team, “why to build from Puerto Rico?” they answered without hesitation. First, they value anonymity. Second, cities like New York are just a short distance away. Third, living in Puerto Rico allows them to keep costs down. Fourth, they know a secret about the island: we boast the incredibly sophisticated, well-educated, and well-trained technical talent that they intend to hire.
As Neysha leads the BookClubs vertical within BookSloth, Xiomara and Lincy are working on an additional iteration to their app that might prove even more useful for their corporate clients. That’s, leveraging the readers, purchasing, and reading behavior metrics to predict what book they might purchase and read next. Think of it the same way Netflix suggests new series or movies based on your watching history. They are approaching this opportunity the same way. Not only will this increase the app’s relationship with each customer, but it will also help publishing houses understand what genres, titles, series, and books are hot & on-demand.
Even as they continue to keep living and research costs down by staying in Puerto Rico, they recently raised one final round of equity-free funding. Through the Orlando Bravo Family Foundation Rising Entrepreneurs Program, they’ve obtained an additional $25,000 in early 2020. The program, founded by the SAAS & private equity entrepreneur Orlando Bravo, actively committed one hundred million dollars to aid the next generation of entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico. BookSloth is a member of the first cohort, and as a result, not only have they increased their user base to 20,000 members, but they are also expanding their team and looking for new developers.
With $300,000 of both equity-free and seed funding, a total of 20,0000 users, a month over month growth of 15.76%, this agile, lean-operated startup is poised to create the leading community space for over 30 million readers in the upcoming years.
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