ssg: founder interview John Lillywhite, Project Pen

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Founder contact info:
John Lillywhite


pen LLC


Questions in bold (by contact info)
Answers in regular font
Founder interview:
1. What is your elevator pitch of startup (super quick summary)?

Storytelling for the internet. Project pen is a platform for imagination, where the best creative stories get up-voted, featured in daily ‘Cloud Stories’ and turned into eBooks & print books. Our revenue streams are digital advertising & ebook advertising, for sale print books, and licensing content to animation, TV and Game Studios where possible.

2. Why should anyone use our product?

In the Middle East, publishers charge up to $1000 USD to print and design a book, which they might put in a couple of bookshops if a writer is lucky. If the book is controversial, it won’t get printed. We publish for free, distribute for free on a regional scale and because project pen is a US publisher, our digital publications are censorship free. No one else is doing that (especially not in Arabic).

We’re also work with some of the best writers in that part of the world.

Here in the US, we’re working to identify talented writers creating niche content for the internet that you won’t find anywhere else.

3. What’s your personal story and startup story?

We created an outlet for imaginations in a part of the world where imagination has been under siege for legal and religious reasons. It blew up, receiving hundreds of submissions a month in English and Arabic. Partnerships with media and NGO government followed, as well as a seed investment from MENA’s largest tech incubator, Oasis500.

As for me, i’m an Oxford History Grad who grew up with the arts, and has a degree in IP Law. I went out to the Middle East after the crash, and never looked back.

4. How can SSG community and others help you and your startup?

Right now we’re trying to identify market fit and market need in a larger US market. Some have said this is too much of a challenge; compared to the challenge of the Middle East, we disagree. The idea that all voices & reader preferences are served by the big four publishers and amazon simply isn’t true – just as it hasn’t been true in the music, game or film space, leading to innovation in all these markets online.

In the US market, we’re searching for a content niche and looking at delivery platforms. Right now we’re A-B testing that theory and talking to everyone we can for advice. SSG is a big part of that.

5. What are your top priorities?

Being able to create, package and distribute great content in a way that’s scalable and doesn’t require large editorial teams.
6. What kind of timeline are you working with now (projects for next month, 3-6 months, year?

2 months.

7. Do you see competitors in this space now? Who are your top competitors and why?

Plenty of competition, from MakerStudios, Atavist, Wattpad, traditional book publishers; all these creators have concepts that involve large audiences and differing styles of creative content. Our concept is different in two ways:
Crowd-publishing i.e. everyone gets to create.
We combine this with print and have a physical presence in bookshops.

8. Why are you and your finding team the ones to deliver this product to the world?

Our team have a professional background in digital publishing and news and entertainment content. By working with very strong creative teams in film, design, development and events, we’ve managed to compete on a much larger scale than our 30,000 USD seed investment would allow anywhere else.

10.If outside Silicon Valley, what is the startup climate (is the govt business friendly, providing support, etc?)

LA is the place for us; we need somewhere tech and entertainment meet. LA has a niche in this small but growing space.

11.How many users have you talked to?

In MENA 100s, here in the US we’re talking with artists and writers every single day offline.

12.What have you learned from talking to users? (asked by @yangterrence)

Better Content-Management-System for creators and integration of user-accounts on home-page so people can browse profile’s.
Clearer editorial guidelines, simpler publishing contracts and improved online content marketing.

13.Do you have any co-founders? How well do you know them?

Yes, we know each other very well!

14.On average, how many hours a day do you and your team spend total on project pen?

8-10 hours a day.

15. Describe your working culture.

Our work culture is a combination of creative, business & technical; project pen team have built some of the largest content platforms in the Middle East in the past, and worked as digital consultants during the Arab Spring; a period in which digital participation was playing a revolutionary role in every aspect of life. Our work on project pen tapped into that, even though we are apolitical. So our working culture is interesting, both from a talent basis, and a contextual basis.

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More about us:

Project Pen | Cloud Stories
Twitter @ProjectPen | Skype projectpen

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John Lillywhite | Founder
Tel: [001] 424 206 0667
Twitter @Orpheus1
LinkedIN | Skype projectpen

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