Spotlight on BitLit, an App that Lets You Download Digital Copies of Your Paper Library

by Bianca Bartz 2 years ago

BitLit is a free app for iOS and Android that lets readers get free or highly discounted digital copies of their paper library. Readers simply take a “shelfie” (wipe the grin off your face) using the app and get to download and read the ebook on any device.

BitLit has signed deals with nearly 300 publishers, including major publishing companies like HarperCollins, Elsevier, Wiley, and O’Reilly, and offers nearly 80,000 titles.

Bitlit website screenshot

About Peter Hudson, BitLit’s Co-Founder & CEO

Peter is a serial entrepreneur who started his first company when he was 14 and figured out that people would pay him to write HTML. A few years later he studied physics at UBC and would have pursued his dream of being a professional astronomer, but right as he was graduating, he co-founded a company called Aquatic Informatics.

10 years later, Peter was having an argument in a bar with his friend Dan. Dan said he had a book at home that would prove him right, and he wished he had ebook copies of his paper library on his phone. 11 days later, Peter had filed a provisional patent application of BitLit’s core technology.

Q&A with Peter Hudson

How has being part of HIGHLINE affected your startup journey?

They say an army marches on its stomach. The parallel is that an early stage startup marches on investor capital. Pretty much everywhere other than San Francisco, entrepreneurs have to compete to get in front of investors… in SF it’s different because there are so many venture funds all competing for the best deals. One of the benefits of having graduated from a top tier accelerator like HIGHLINE is that it makes it (slightly) easier to get meetings with Canadian VCs.

What’s the most important lesson you learned as part of GrowLab (now HIGHLINE)?

One of the things that bothers me about the forums in Vancouver that bring together investors and entrepreneurs is that they typically don’t allow the entrepreneurs to watch each other’s pitches. The pitch forums often feel like entrepreneur pageants. One of the best learning experiences of GrowLab was being able to watch the other cohort companies pitch and receive feedback.

What was the moment you knew BitLit had legs, or felt validated?

My co-founder Marius has a BSc. MSc. and Phd in computer science, so even though I had an engineering degree, it was my job to do the business development while Marius took on the technology development. When we started the company, I spent 29 days making cold calls to every book publisher in Canada. On the afternoon of the 29th day, I finally got through to a guy named Brett who owned Chizine Publications in Toronto. Brett was the first publisher who didn’t think our idea was insane. This turned out to be an amazingly lucky break because a year and a half later, bestselling author Joe Hill found out about BitLit on Twitter and happened to have a ChiZine book in his pocket at the time. Joe said some nice things about us on Twitter [see below], and immediately got in touch with his publisher at HarperCollins to ask for his books to be listed on BitLit.

How has your product evolved from MVP to now?

I think successful startups never think they haven’t reached MVP. Stay hungry, my friends.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Raising capital in Canada was hard. Convincing book publishers to sign up for a new digital business model was hard. Recruiting talented software developers was hard.

Let’s talk failure. Was there ever a moment in your entrepreneurial journey when you felt you’d failed?

Yes, often. The trick is to fail early and fail forward.

Building a business comes with ups and downs. How do you bounce back or motivate yourself in tough times?

I’ve heard that when you get into Y Combinator they tell you that you have to do four things: eat, sleep, exercise, and work. If you try to do less, you’re almost certain to fail. If you try to do more, you’ll almost certainly burn out.

Who are the founders that inspire you?

My current entrepreneur crush is Elon Musk. I admire his success, but mostly I admire the way he attacks market problems from a fundamental physical level. His attitude is that if you can make the physics of a problem work — be it electric cars or reusable rockets — then it’s simply a matter of relentless executing against that vision.

What are you focused on right now?

Right now I’m focused on 3 things: 1) bringing more publishing partners on board, 2) building out the next phase of our app, and 3) recruiting additional talented developers to join the team.

Describe BitLit’s culture in 10 words or less.

Innovation, excellence, integrity, and engagement.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Do it by the book, but be the author.

What advice can you give other entrepreneurs?

Don’t get discouraged when an investor or advisor or mentor says, “I don’t get it.” Take those 10 letters as a compliment. The best startup ideas aren’t obvious. I received “I don’t get it” as the only feedback on an 8-page business summary from a judge at New Ventures BC… I have it framed on my office wall.