Money makers: an indie publisher that’s killing it

Betsy Reavley
Betsy Reavley: giving frustrated writers a break

“Indie crime fiction house Bloodhound Books is killing it right now – and to such a degree that its doors have had to be temporarily shut for submissions,” says Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. Betsy Reavley co-founded the independent e-book publisher with her husband, Fred Freeman, in August 2014.

Reavley, a budding novelist, had suffered years of knockbacks before a smaller outfit offered to publish her story as an e-book. “I thought: why not? They’re a great way to get your name out there.” Reavley was pleased with her publisher’s efforts, but wanted to start her own.

Freeman looks after the “technical aspects” (website and design), while Reavley handles submissions. “We had no idea what we were doing, but threw everything at it,” she says. “It was a massive learning curve and we made mistakes, but tried to learn from them as quickly as possible.” Unpublished authors, who often hung out in online book groups, proved a rich source of talent. “We got people on board who, frankly, just needed some belief and a break.” That noble goal netted Bloodhound Books £1.1m in turnover last year.

A risky pitch for the future of publishing

Australian Melanie Perkins had read that if you want to impress someone, you should mimic their body language – a risky strategy when it came to convincing Silicon Valley investor Bill Tai to part with his money, say the BBC’s Kate Stanton and Hywel Griffith. “It was pretty funny,” Perkins, now 30, admits. “He was sitting there with his arm behind his chair, eating his lunch. So I’m there with my arm behind my chair, trying to eat my lunch, while flipping the pages of my pitch… to sell him on the future of publishing.”

Perkins had already borrowed from relatives and hired software designers to build an easy-to-use platform called Fusion for designing school yearbooks. It would become Australia’s biggest yearbook publisher. Looking to expand the idea, Perkins had the fateful meeting with Tai in 2010 (he introduced her to other investors and ultimately invested himself). Three years later, she launched Canva with her boyfriend, Cliff Obrecht, and former Google executive Cameron Adams.

To date, Canva has raised $82m in funding, with revenues last year growing to $23.5m, although the firm’s focus on expansion saw it post a $3.3m loss. After all, says Perkins, “our goal is to enable the whole world to design”.

The rapper who wants fans to back his whiskey

Perhaps looking to emulate the success that actor George Clooney had with his tequila brand Casamigos, which was sold to drinks giant Diageo for $1bn in June, Canadian rapper Drake is now offering shares in his whiskey label to fans. Drake launched his Virginia Black bourbon in September 2016 with drinks entrepreneur Brent Hocking, whom he met through mutual friends years ago.

The whiskey (slogan: “one sip, and wooh!”) costs about $40 a bottle in the US. While it hasn’t yet matched sales of Casamigos (which shifted 170,000 cases in 2017), Virginia Black has so far sold 60,000 cases in total.

Now the firm is planning to offer shares for sale in the US using a Regulation A+ listing. This is a form of crowdsourced fundraising, enabled by Obama-era legislation, that is sometimes a precursor to a full-blown stockmarket listing, says Anna Nicolaou in the Financial Times. Using this method means that instead of relying on the support of big institutional investors to raise money, ordinary investors (presumably Drake fans) will be able to buy equity in the company.

Last year, part of American rapper Eminem’s back catalogue was offered up to the public in this way. Drake and Hocking are hoping to raise roughly $30m from the offering.

The butcher who became a blockchain entrepreneur

“The career move from butcher to blockchain entrepreneur might sound an unlikely one, but Kieran Kelly’s experience in both fields is proving extremely valuable in his current business,” says Josephine Moulds in The Times. In 2014, Kelly helped launch Arc-net, a start-up that uses a digital ledger hosted on a network of computers – the “blockchain” – to track food as it moves through the supply chain for, among others, London-listed pork-producer Cranswick. Each animal gets a DNA tag, which forms the start of the blockchain. Information on veterinary issues, feed and movement is added to the ledger.

“When it comes to processing, we know where the animal came from, what farm, what age, what breed and, if it’s higher welfare, that it meets the specifications that the retailer has asked for,” explains Kelly. Trust is a key benefit. Existing data cannot be altered and new entries only added with the agreement of others, so the information on the digital ledger can be relied upon, notes news website Verdict. It’s also a far more efficient way to track produce.

Last month, IBM, Walmart and China’s JD announced a Blockchain Food Safety collaboration to improve accountability. As Walmart’s vice-president of food safety demonstrated at a recent shareholder conference, it currently takes at least six days to trace a packet of sliced mango back to its source. With blockchain, it takes 2.2 seconds.

The new technology is also great news for environmentally conscious consumers who, for example, want to know that their fish is sustainably caught. Viant, a blockchain start-up, along with the World Wide Fund for Nature, unveiled a new certification system in December that tracks seafood from the ocean all the way to your plate. It is a reminder, says Jeff John Roberts in Fortune, that “despite so much silly hype around blockchain right now… the technology is making real progress on the ground”.