Pretty much everyone agrees that reading books is educating and eye-opening. More accepting nods follow when people are agonized by how much time reading takes. In this busy world, our brains can gobble massive amounts of snaps, tweets, and headlines but the attention span of ours is shorter than of those well-known golden fishes. Regardless that it might be an exaggerated parable, there surely is demand for faster learning. An interview with founders, who answer that need, sheds light on the future of learning and prospects of their company Blinkist.
“We think of Blinkist as a modern way to boost your knowledge and broaden your horizons. Our purpose is to inspire people to keep learning by creating intelligent, relevant content that helps you to live a smarter, better life,” say Holger Seim and Niklas Jansen, Founders of Blinkist. Together with the two other Founders, Tobias Balling and Sebastian Klein, they eventually started fulfilling the desperate dream of reading as much as Mark and Elon despite the lack of time.
Thus, targeting the “time-poor and knowledge-hungry”, Blinkist condenses non-fictional books into short summaries – blinks. Blinks are the key insights of a book packed into two-minute reads and soundbites. As Techcrunch reminds, it’s not an algorithm but a writer who condenses the books. Already the initial idea of Blinkist was exactly that – but the form was a bit primitive.
From Emails to Book-in-blinks
“The very first version of what later became a book-in-blinks was a series of emails in which Sebastian shared his notes and key insights from the book, The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton,” explains Holger. As they all four were students back then, with plenty of time to read, they didn’t yet recognize the busy bees’ problem, which eventually became their business.
After they started working, time scarcity became an issue and revealed a gap in the market. “We realized that there was an opportunity to create a service that would help busy people to read more by providing a more flexible, shorter format. So, in the beginning of 2012, we turned back to Sebastian’s emails and created our signature format based on those first versions,” Holger recalls. Once they discovered the right business model, Blinkist was launched globally in October 2013.
Blinks Don’t Kill Books
Their vision is not replacing books but “creating a market that didn’t exist and expanding the one that did”, Holger mentions on Forbes. To us, he and Niklas clarified that a bit: “When you take a step back, a nonfiction book is a learning tool – a knowledge capsule. And while it has been one of the most important learning tools in the past, books are becoming less relevant because our world is getting more and more digital, and books haven’t really made the transition. Yet.”
So, instead of talking about the future of books, it’s rather a matter of new ways of reading them. According to Niklas, “publishers and authors are limited by the constraints of eBook formats” even though the great ideas for digital books are already there. That’s about to change, at some point: “We’re pretty sure that AR and VR will open up new possibilities for sharing knowledge and telling stories. What will this look like, we don’t know. But we hope that Blinkist will play a role in this transition,” he concludes.
Ok Google, Let’s Learn!
In addition to topic immersions and vivid learning experiences enabled by AR and VR, the Blinkist team is curious about, as simple as it may sound, audio: “It offers the opportunity to sneak learning into formerly wasted time. However, people still struggle with knowledge retention when listening, so we’d love to see some smart approaches to solve this.”
When pondering those solutions, it’s obvious to bring in our new roommates, Alexa and Google Assistant: “In the future, we’ll see a lot of smart learning applications for platforms. Wouldn’t it be cool if your Alexa could give you some useful tips about sales the morning before an important meeting?” Holger asks rhetorically and continues: “But, maybe all of this will become irrelevant when we can pair our brains with computers and upload knowledge to our minds within seconds. Who knows?”
Well, let’s backslide a bit. While painting the future past books and learning devices, Holger and Niklas don’t see that the very fundamental process of learning would change: “The future will definitely be more and more about bite-sized learning and we don’t think that’s a bad thing. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean superficial. You can still choose to take a deeper look at a topic if it sparks your interest”, they convince in unison. “Knowledge is powerful when applied, and if only one soundbite helps you to get started and master a new topic, that’s amazing!”
So, Where Next?
Tied around the belief of bite-sized learning and sparking interest, Blinkist is a purpose-driven company with a shiny guiding star. That becomes clear when asking for a peek into the next ten years: “We want to build the leading destination for modern lifelong learners, worldwide. We hope that Blinkist will be the first name that comes to everyone’s mind when they think about improving their professional or personal skills,” Holger phrases. “We might re-invent ourselves once or twice, but that’s part of the process. You want to stay awake and agile, and not follow a fixed plan,” Niklas adds.
Something they have locked in their calendars though. At Slush 2017, they’re especially interested in meeting like-minded entrepreneurs to share experiences with: “Every startup is different, but a lot of the challenges of building and scaling a company are similar. It’s always interesting and energizing to learn about how others have tackled and overcome certain challenges,” Holger and Niklas highlight.
What they already can share with us is, surprise surprise, a book-in-blinks recommendation: “Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith has recently had a remarkable impact on how we build our company. We have always strived to find an organizational model that reflects our modern view of working and empowers everyone in the team, while still doubling the team every year. This book helped us to implement a culture of accountability within our organization and showed us how you have to change beliefs in order to change behavior.”
Whether choosing the good old hardback brick, or a quick snack blink – that’s up to you.