Podcast #61 Holger Seim of Blinkist


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Show Notes

Ari talks about some productivity hacks he's been up to this past week, including making a standing desk from stacks of diapers (shipped via Amazon subscribe & save of course), to learning how to overcome cognitive bias. Ari also answers listener questions about saturated fat, HRV training, and tools for planning big projects. Later in the show, he interviews Holger Seim, CEO of Blinkist. Blinkist is a service that creates beautiful summaries of must-read non-fiction books. Most "blinks" take less than 20 min to read. Be sure to check out Ari's personal curated collection of blinks available May 1.

Chapters: 00:01:30 Ari's Diaper Standing Desk http://bit.ly/1izX0jf00:02:00 Ari's Extreme Standing Desk http://bit.ly/1izXq9p00:03:20 Kelley Starrett: Supple Leopard http://amzn.to/1m9ijw300:03:50 Survivorship Bias: You are not so smarthttp://bit.ly/QYQgGj00:10:00 Listener Q's: HRV training http://amzn.to/1iygSJK00:12:45 ithlete HRV http://bit.ly/1lUuKA500:13:30 High Fat = Heart Disease? http://bit.ly/1iA29b800:16:00 Inside Tracker http://bit.ly/1iA2muS00:17:00 Saturated fat doesn't cause heart diseasehttp://bit.ly/1iA2RVZ00:18:47 Jimmy Moore on Heart Disease http://bit.ly/1iA5GGC00:25:30 Less Doing on Blinkist http://bit.ly/1iA6pYf00:27:15 VA's making purchases http://bit.ly/1madwPo00:28:30 Planning big projects w/ Asana https://asana.com/00:30:10 Planning w/ Trello https://trello.com/00:30:20 Chris Bailey on Productivity http://bit.ly/1mae9bE00:30:30 Dr. Nick case study http://bit.ly/1maehbk00:32:22 Interview w Holger Seim http://bit.ly/1maeCe900:47:32 Holger's Productivity Tips http://bit.ly/1maeXxb

ARI: Hi everybody, welcome to the Less Doing podcast. Today I am talking with Holger Seim, one of the cofounders of Blinkist. Hi, Holger.

HOLGER: Hi, Ari. Nice to be here on your podcast.

ARI: Yeah, thank you so much. I’ve spoken a little bit about Blinkist before on my podcast and on the blog, but why don’t you tell everybody what it is?

HOLGER: Basically, in short, Blinkist is a service that brings you great content from nonfiction books to your mobile device. When we founded Blinkist two years ago, we were really busy in our jobs and there were so many great books that we didn’t manage to read, but they offered so much great content, and we thought that it’s a pity that so much great content is kind of buried in books and that it’s so hard to get the ideas out of those books. That’s why we decided that it’s time for a solution that unearths the content from books and makes them easily accessible with nowadays reading habits. So that’s what Blinkist is about, basically.

ARI: Great. So I have been using Blinkist, for those who have been following me, I have been using Blinkist. I made a commitment about a month ago that I was going to read one nonfiction book a week, and thanks to Blinkist, I’ve been reading four or five a week, actually. The thing that I love is that, especially with people I deal with, there’s this big fear of missing out, and with the books that you have on there, at least for the most part that I’ve seen, it’s like all the books that you should have read if you’re in a conversation with almost anyone. First of all, how are you going about choosing the books? That’s a good place to start.

HOLGER: It’s is really straightforward approach. We try to talk to a lot of experts, try to get graded reading lists, which is as we did with you. We got a great reading list on productivity and a lot of things around this. So this is one approach to great books. Obviously, we do a lot of research; Amazon bestseller lists, we crawl all the magazines that write about books. And yeah, obviously our job involves reading a lot of books ourselves, so yeah, there are different sources that we use to create the [inaudible 00:02:09].

ARI: Gotcha. There’s other services that have been out there before where you can subscribe, for instance, and get business books. A lot of people have probably seen them on SkyMall. If you’ve ever had any experience with them, some of them are good, but in my experience, they’re almost like a weird cliffnotes-ish version, whereas with you guys, you have people reading these and really editorializing, right?

HOLGER: Yes, this is really important to us. We don’t want to just take some part of the books and copy-paste them together. We want really intelligent, smart people that are true field experts in the matters they write about, and we have them crunch the books, as we say. They really read the book with the perspective that focuses on what does the reader want to take out of this book, and what are the most inspiring and actionable facts from that book, and then they put that into those short articles, which we call Blinks, that everyone can read in a blink on the go. And yeah, just the value we provide to make this knowledge more accessible and add value through thoughtful reading and thoughtful putting stuff together.

ARI: Yeah, and I want to point out to people, I’m very happy to know this, but Blinkist is going to have my book available on the platform in a couple of weeks. I already thought that I’d written a very efficient book; it’s about 144 pages, but they’re going to boil it down to basically 9 short pages, so I really can’t wait to see that version.

But that’s what’s so cool about this, is that – and again, this is coming from someone who’s written a book like this – a lot of nonfiction books have a lot of fluff in them, unfortunately, because the real nuggets of knowledge wouldn’t be enough to make a full length book. So you have to fill it with something, and in my case, there’s some personal stories, which honestly, I realize may not be of interest to a lot of people. They’re there to illustrate points and stuff.

But with you guys, you’ve really pared it down to “this is what you need to know, this is what you need to know, this is what you need to know,” and what is even better, for those who haven’t seen this year, is that basically you go to a page and there is a bold, three line thing, basically, which is “the point,” and then there’s a page that’s a little bit more. But there’s been two books where I literally just read the bold points, and I really felt like I got what I needed out of it, and I’ve actually used that information in my business and my podcasts and stuff. So it’s really amazing to be able to present the information that way.

HOLGER: I couldn’t have pointed it out better. What I like, too, is that it’s not about replacing books. I think there is a market for both. There are avid readers, and we never can replace a book with 10 Blinks. You said you had a lot of personal stories, a lot of anecdotes, and this is great. This is what a lot of readers value. This is actually what helps the readers to remember the content, anecdotes, repetition, examples; those all are really important to really retain the key findings. So there’s great value to books.

I mean, written on another page in five years, we will still see 300 or 400 page nonfiction books, because as you said, a lot of books, usually the content makes up for an essay of say 50 pages, and the rest is stories, anecdotes, to be able to sell it as a book. So that’s on a whole different page, whether the publisher wants to publish long books or cut them down to say a 50 page essay. But yeah, anyway, for 50 page essays is the same as for 300 page books; it’s always important to have teasers that get people where they’re actually reading content, and people read a lot of content on their mobile devices while they’re on the go, in their in between times, and this is where we go with our content. So I think, as I said, there’s a market for both and a need for both.

ARI: I think that’s a very point, and to be honest, I’ve actually bought three books after reading the Blinks. If nothing else, they’re books that I want to have on my shelf in case I want to refer to them again later, or in case I need to speak to a client about something, or ideally, if I want to read everything in that book. But a lot of times, those nonfiction books end up being personal references in some ways. I know that like Malcolm Gladwell books and 59 Seconds to Change Your Life, those are the kind of books that you will go back to and look at those stories or look at the points to try to reinforce them. So I’ve definitely gotten that where the Blink has given me the basis, and then it’s like “Okay, I need to have this book available in case I want to reach over and look it up.”

HOLGER: And the really nice part is that publishers tend to realize that more and more, too. Obviously, some publishers look at us quite skeptical because there’s always the fear that we might replace or cannibalize book sales. But I think the market is going into a direction with or without us. The market shows that we read more and more short form content, so there’s a growing market for short form, and a maybe shrinking market for long form when it comes to actually reading. As you said, still a lot of people buy nonfiction books, but then they put them on a shelf more as a reference point.

But yeah, the reading market goes more to what’s short form, and publishers realize that, so they get more and more interested about our solution, and yeah, we hope that we can strike some bigger corporations or licensing deals with publishers soon.

ARI: Actually, I was going to ask you about what the plans for the future are. That’s one of them, then, I guess, is you’re going to try to just suck up as much as content as possible, right?

HOLGER: Yeah, right. It’s all about readers value [inaudible 00:08:28], so not everything – it’s not all about putting as much content there as possible. But then on the other hand, you can put as much content there as possible and solve the [inaudible 00:08:40] problem through algorithms. Rather than only putting the 40 best books out there, we could put 400 books out there but then have algorithms that show the individually graded 40 best books for you this month.

ARI: Right. I do want to delve a little bit more into the process that your editors go through. Is everyone in-house, or do you have editors around the world, or how does that work?

HOLGER: It’s part-part. We have an in-house editing team. That currently consists of six people. And then we have a big pool of freelance experts for every category we’re featuring on Blinkist so far. We learned a lot within the first two years and set up a really efficient process that lets an expert read the book and come up with a structure of the key messages. Then one of our in-house editors skims the book too, and so there is always four eyes reading the book, then discussing about the structure, coming up with the key insights we want to highlight in Blinks, and then we have good writers that are capable of taking those structures and insights and making nice texts out of it, basically.

ARI: Okay, that actually sounds fairly complicated – in a good way; it’s amazing that there’s that many people working on the one thing, because I was under the impression that someone read it, summarized it, and you were good. How do you manage that process? I’m really curious, since you are using some people that are remote and you have several different processes that involve some creativity. How do you manage that process? I want the nitty-gritty.

HOLGER: We have a publishing manager who is kind of the spider in the web who has to contact all the freelance experts, who knows who’s available, who knows who’s available for full-time for a week and can do a fast track book whereas others might only have two hours in the evenings; they rather need a book that can take four weeks to summarize.

Yeah, so publishing manager is at the core of everything, and then he just gives away the books to experts, collects the insights from the expert, looks for a writer who can write a nice text out of it. It sounds more complicated than it is. You just need a really structured person who knows all the let’s say resources out there, who knows the availabilities, and then can manage that every book gets the best process possible through that resources.

ARI: So how long does it usually take from deciding that you’re going to do a book to actually getting it into the app?

HOLGER: It takes as long as it has to take. We have a fast track, like if we say there’s this really important book and we really want to have it in two or three days, we always have an in-house team that can do it really fast. But if it’s a book that is not too time-critical or that we believe can take three weeks to be finished, then we give it to freelance experts that are capable of finishing that in three weeks.

Obviously, we would love to have only fast track processes, make it even faster, but then that’s also more complex in terms of management and it’s more cost intensive, because then you have to really have full-time people or you’d have freelancers that are available all the time, basically. This is something we can afford at this time, but we don’t want to afford it because there’s no really need for affording that.

ARI: I realize that it’s a completely different animal, but have you considered doing any fiction?

HOLGER: No. I mean, we have considered it, because a lot of people keep asking us, but with fiction it’s all about if you really tell the end, you kind of spoil the story. So it doesn’t make sense – if you do a short version of fiction, it’s hard to really tease people to read the full book afterwards, which is something we still want to do because we believe there’s a value in reading a full book.

So yeah, it doesn’t really work for fiction. In an ideal world, you read fiction to be entertained, so it’s all about reading for 10 hours because you want to be entertained 10 hours, whereas nonfiction, it’s more about you want to learn something, you want to get out something that you can use in your job or in your private life.

ARI: Absolutely. And the service is free for a limited time, right?

HOLGER: Yeah, we have a three day free trial, and if you refer people and they sign up, you get seven days for every successful referral – seven additional free days. Afterwards, you can choose to subscribe on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis starting from $5. The monthly subscription starts at $7.99 and the yearly is $50, so far cheaper.

ARI: Yes. And I’ll tell people, even if you just try it for those three days, you can legitimately, if you really want to, you could probably read 10 books in those three days using Blinkist, because the average I think is like 15 minutes, right, for a book?

HOLGER: Yes. Yeah, the average is like 15 minutes. The magic really is that you can read one Blink, like one key insight of a book, in about 2 minutes, or even if you only have 5 minutes waiting in line, you can already knock off two key lessons of the book and then split up the 15 minutes throughout your day whenever it fits.

ARI: Yeah. I was doing radio interviews the other day for my book which came out last week, and they had scheduled 12 interviews for me in one day, and they were 10 minutes each, and I had a 10 minute gap. It was the same person who kept calling me and then putting me through to the radio station, and I had the 10 minute gap, and she called me back and she’s like “You ready to go?” I was like, “Yeah, I just read three books.”

All right, Holger, thank you so much for this. Actually, there is a question that I always like to ask people at the end of this, because you’re providing something that I think makes it so much more efficient to do something that is very difficult for a lot of people: what are your top three personal tips for being more effective in general? It doesn’t have to be reading or anything; just what are the three things that you do to be more effective?

HOLGER: I think it’s always be aware of your most important goals every day and knock them off as soon as possible. Then it’s focusing actually on stuff; don’t do a lot of stuff all at once, but focus on one thing at a time. And then the last point is make time to sharpen the soul, actually, like really make time to relax, because productivity is always about being relaxed or having good balance between being efficient, being productive at work, and also taking some time to just enjoy your life.

ARI: I think those were – I love those. Great, Holger, thank you so much. Tell everybody where they can get the app or they can find out more.

HOLGER: Blinkist.com. It’s really an easy signup process without any credit card information required. And yeah, we’re always open for feedback, for good suggestions. That’s something I forgot, another source for great books are our customers who suggest a lot of books.

ARI: Awesome.

HOLGER: Yeah, I’m really happy to have the chance to represent Blinkist on your podcast, Ari. Thanks for having me.

ARI: Thank you. I just want to out to everybody also, when you read a Blink, at the end of it, you can share it with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. If you guys do that, use the hashtag #ldbookclub, and we’ll put that in the show notes. But that’s what I’ve been using for every one I read, and it’d be great to see what everyone else is reading that follows this podcast. Holger, thanks again, and I’ll be talking to you soon.

HOLGER: Yeah, thanks for having me. Have a good one, Ari.