CompletelyNovel – the social, publishing startup

Beth Griffin meets the youthful team behind a bootstrapped, profitable, online publishing business.

7th July 2009 at 7:13 pm

How did this happen? That feeling of being, well, not quite as young as I once thought I was? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not old – at least this is what I tell myself. I’m just about clinging onto my 20s – granted the thread is precariously thin – but it’s still there. Just.

It’s more that as I reach 30, I suddenly realise my only assets are four bicycles (which I love dearly) and I am very definitely not the co-founder of a fresh new start-up.

The cause for this day of dawning? A meeting with Anna Lewis and Oli Brooke of CompletelyNovel – an online publication platform that allows writers to promote books, and publishers to see how the market receives them – virtual market research.

The entrepreneurs

The young entrepreneurs behind l-r Jon Gilbraith, Vincent Peresl, Oliver Brooks, Anna Lewis

Both mid-twenties and graduates of Cambridge University – Anna in Law and Oli in Engineering – the pair co-founded the company after Oli saw an opportunity to disrupt the publishing industry.

Writers can use the site to catapult them into the armchairs of publishers, without the cost of printing endless manuscripts (many of which no doubt go unread). has therefore inadvertently found itself with enviable sustainable credentials, while at the same time opening up a large door into a notoriously impenetrable industry.

Suddenly the sky for would be writers seems the limit.

When asked about previous entrepreneurial ventures, it is soon clear that for Oli, enterprise is in the blood. His first lesson in price placement came after the completion of a piece of software to design helical staircases.

With his father, a joiner, they bid for a contract with Dukes Mews, only to find they had won as their bid had been so low. Nonetheless they still made a profit. For Anna, CompletelyNovel seemed like a suitable challenge after a few years with the Foreign Office.

Let’s not forget, however, that CompletelyNovel is a team of four, and it is Jon Gilbraith who tirelessly builds and maintains the site with Vincent Peresl.

The concept seems to be working and their grasp of bootstrapping is refreshing. They clearly understand what to spend, when.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t out buying fast cars, nor are they rewarding themselves with six figure salaries, but I get the feeling that when Oli mentions ‘keeping things lean’, he means they at least pay their rent and eat without the need for personal overdrafts.

As I sit on the sofa in their North London home office, it’s apparent that these four mean business. They eat, sleep and breathe the business and it seems to be paying off.

While publishers are trying to grasp the move to digitising content, the trio have provided a platform where not only can writers sell their creations, they can connect with the rest of the industry and will eventually provide print on demand.

They have competition – Shelfari for instance is an online community with a book focus, and Lulu a marketplace for books – but there are no other sites linking the whole of the industry in one social place.

My only concern with their present concept is their lack of access to products like Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony E-Reader which could dramatically change the way people consume literature.

For the time being at least, users of CompletelyNovel can only access books online, but once they establish a way to ensure writers do not relinquish control of their works the company may even be able to start selling books to people on the move direct to their portable device of choice.

The company already makes a trickle of profit – which quite frankly is a great success for most internet companies these days, let alone such a new one.

And with an eventual premium model in place, a community and its comments broadcast to all and not just those that are following a particular author (think Twitter), I would happily stake my four bikes on the fact the wheels won’t fall off this particular venture any time soon.

Beth Griffin

With a degree in civil engineering Beth started life as a structural engineer for Arup. Looking for a change in direction, she became editor & blogger for startup website London Amigo before joining The Next Women team as a writer. Initially planning to cover her first love, cycling, she's discovered a new passion for writing about startups and entrepreneurship.

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