A digital bookstore helping 30,000 readers fall in love with literature.

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Founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Libros 787 is an online bookstore that aims to broaden the reach of local publications and independent authors beyond the island to the diaspora. From fiction, comics and gastronomy, to history and children’s literature, Libros 787 delivers Puerto Rican culture to all parts of the world. With over 2,100 titles, 30,000 books sold in the past three years, $75,000 in funding and a synergistic duo driving the company, this startup’s future shines bright. In a interview with BĀSED, founders Carlos Goyco Blechman and Gerardo Enríquez Rivera described their path to building Libros 787. 

Building a tech company with no internet

Libros 787 was first conceptualized in April 2017 and officially founded in October of that year. The founders adopted a slow and steady approach to building the company. In the first six months of researching the digital bookstore industry, they began talking with key stakeholders, including editorial houses, editors, publishers and independent writers. The founders’ first goal was to validate their business idea. Would a digital marketplace for local literature appeal not only to readers, but also to the leading distributors and producers of those titles?

Before founding Libros787

Prior to October 2017, Enríquez Rivera and Goyco Blechman had accrued a wealth of experience that impacted their worldviews as well as their approach to business relationships and opportunities. Before establishing the startup, Goyco Blechman completed a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico in Ponce, Puerto Rico, as well as a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in international management of sports organizations from the Universidad Católica de Valencia San Vicente Mártir in Valencia, Spain.

Goyco Blechman recalls exposing himself to new experiences in Spain and how that strengthened his mindset. The experience of living abroad at 23 years old helped him to understand the responsibilities of living alone and the challenges of building community and respect among his peers. Goyco Blechman emphasized the inexorable power of facing challenging situations head on and how that can foster the traits of diligence and efficacy in entrepreneurs. “In those positions where you have little alternatives,” Goyco Blechman said, “you find out what abilities and skills lie dormant within you.”

On returning to the island, Goyco Blechman worked in a number of different positions, beginning with a stint as a marketer for a soccer academy. His love of soccer led him to accept the challenge of coordinating transportation for a historic match between the New York City Football Club and Puerto Rico’s national team at the Juan RamónLoubriel Stadium in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

He then went on to work for a book distribution and fulfillment company. The company, JR Blue Label Management, is one of the island’s largest book distributors. In 2009 they acquired the operations of a 40-year enterprise in Caguas, Puerto Rico, which they merged with their ongoing venture. The experience proved formative when Goyco Blechman began to rethink the best ways to provide value to readers. In our interview, Goyco Blechman clarified their approach, explaining that in the effort to expand access to Puerto Rico’s most coveted authors and writers, the startup focuses primarily on building community. 

Enríquez Rivera’s experience followed a similar route, though it didn’t involve studying abroad. He completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Puerto Rico, where his curiosity and leadership helped him tap into the expertise of his professors. During his time at the university, he co-founded a publication called De Tinta y Lente. His passion for devouring literary works led him to pursue writing. In the conversation with BĀSED., Enríquez Rivera emphasized the power of stepping out of the classroom, talking with professors and grabbing a beer with them. These indispensable experiences ultimately shaped his outlook for years to come.

Before founding Libros787

Enríquez Rivera’s creative and analytical skills, combined with Goyco Blechman’s management and marketing expertise, created a foundation of powerful business acumen. The co-founders expressed that the operating principles for Libros 787 at its inception and to this day boil down to two core beliefs: 

 

  1. One must get out of their comfort zone, or “ir a la calle” (walk the streets)
  2. One must be “un presentao” (excessively curious or inquisitive)

Their operating principles are also reflected in the company’s relationship to technology. The duo pointed out that while technology creates a toolset to facilitate interactions, it doesn’t replace the human aspect of speaking face to face with clients. Their approach of interfacing with stakeholders directly early on enabled them to begin building a tech company with little to no tech infrastructure. They incorporated the company in October 2017 and began building their page when the island was still recovering from the impacts of Hurricanes María and Irma.

Their operating principles are also reflected in the company’s relationship to technology. The duo pointed out that while technology creates a toolset to facilitate interactions, it doesn’t replace the human aspect of speaking face to face with clients. Their approach of interfacing with stakeholders directly early on enabled them to begin building a tech company with little to no tech infrastructure. They incorporated the company in October 2017 and began building their page when the island was still recovering from the impacts of Hurricanes María and Irma.

Even during that time of uncertainty, the co-founders remained focused on the goal they wanted to achieve. The vision was to create spaces that encourage people to fall in love with reading. For Goyco Blechman and Enríquez Rivera, the ability to facilitate unique literary experiences, especially at a time when communities needed that sense of connection, was the most valuable offering they could imagine.

How to help people fall in love (with literature) While focused on creating these experiences, Goyco Blechman and Enríquez Rivera spent a few hundred dollars building a website on Shopify, a platform that they still use. In the months before launchingin December 2017, they were accepted into Startup PR, a program from Up Global and the Universidad Ana G. Méndez, which provided them an equity-free grant of $15,000. With the funding from this first program, they launched their online marketplace and quickly found more writers, publishing houses and editors willing to bet on their approach.

On launch day, Libros 787 carried over 400 titles and 60 authors in their digital bookstore. It’s no surprise that three months later, in March 2018, they won a place in the first generation of Pre18, a business accelerator run by the Puerto Rico Science & Technology Research Trust. Following the natural disasters of 2017, the program was created to support early-stage entrepreneurs, with the hope of spurring innovative solutions on the island. Along with 20 other companies, Libros 787 received an equity-free grant of $20,000 in 2018, as well as access to mentorship and resources within local and international networks.

The following year, the total number of authors and titles available on Libros787.com doubled. With a ratio of 80% of publications derived from local publishing houses and 20% directly from independent writers, their marketplace quickly expanded from hosting 400 titles and 60 authors, to over 800 titles and upwards of 120 authors. At the end of 2018, the company entered Parallel18, the parent accelerator program to Pre18, where they received an additional equity-free grant of $40,000. This was the last capital injection into the business to date, which brought funding for the enterprise to a total of $75,000, though the early profitability of Libros 787 has given the company a sustainability that sets it apart from other startups.

The company basics

Libros 787’s key performance indicators for growing the business included developing an understanding of not only their customers’ literary preferences, but also the metrics behind purchasing behavior. By helping new customers to quickly find books of interest, the team at Libros 787 was able to fulfill their mission. They soon noticed that with recurring clients, the order value of each purchase averaged $35 excluding shipping. Most books on the platform generally range from $15 to $25 each, so the average Libros 787 customer therefore orders about two new books at a time.

With titles spanning over a dozen categories, including cooking, poetry, history and folklore, customers can easily find books that appeal to their interests. Goyco Blechman and Enríquez Rivera’s keen focus on bringing books from community bookstores to an online market proved worth it. Two years into their operation, they had sold over 15,000 books. As Goyco Blechman recalled, in April of 2017 they were selling 50 books per month and, remarkably, by September of 2019 they were selling 50 books per day. Though we don’t inquire about specific revenue numbers at BĀSED., since most books on the platform sell for $15 – $25, we can safely estimate that revenues generated from those sales reached over a quarter million dollars.

That kind of revenue stream is not insignificant when considered in the context of Puerto Rico’s small community of writers, publishing houses and editors – a community that gave their vote of confidence to Goyco Blechman and Enríquez Rivera’s vision early on. By providing a digital marketplace for local literature, the entrepreneurs discovered the opportunity to create value for the community and themselves.

With more than 2,100 titles listed to date, over 30,000 books sold and a month-over-month growth rate that surpasses 24.15%, Libros 787 is forging a new path in Puerto Rico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. While the company isn’t currently raising further funding, they continue to progress and set their sights higher. To follow Libros 787’s inspiring progress, watch or listen to their complete interview at http://www.joinbased.com, where they share inspiring stories, quotes, lessons and what’s next for the company.

Gustavo Diaz Skoff

Gustavo Diaz Skoff

Gustavo A. Diaz Skoff is an entrepreneur born and raised in Puerto Rico's startup ecosystem. Gustavo has over a decade of experience leading non-profit organizations, administering real estate ventures, and consulting small family-owned businesses on the island. Gustavo completed his Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration at Babson College. He serves as the president and founder of BASED.