Startup of the Week – Liquid State: Pouring print publications into digital devices

Liquid State
Liquid State

Having launched in open beta this year, Liquid State is on a quest to make the transition from print publishing to digital easier, smarter and designedly more effective.

The startup for publishers, with a base in both ends of the globe – Berlin and Brisbane, Australia – creates custom digital publications for all devices. It also allows multiple users to collaborate using inbuilt task and team management tools.

We spoke to Liquid State’s CEO and co-founder Philip Andrews about the cutting-edge creation he hopes will revolutionise the publishing world…

Liquid State team eating out in Berlin

From the left: Philip Andrews, Cyril Doussin, Kit Kriewaldt

Hi Philip, tell us about Liquid State

We enable publishers to get printed content to tablet in the fastest way possible. We currently have a system which allows users to do this in five clicks – the fastest in the world. It enables publishers to be profitable from day one in the app store.

Why the name “Liquid State”?

We keep your publishing content in a liquid form – we pour it into different tablet shapes, formats, and operating systems like Android, Windows and the iPad without having to relay the content out.

Liquid State

How did you come across the idea?

My background is in international publishing, of magazines and books. About four to five years ago we started to see the writing on the wall, in terms of dropping sales in traditional channels at bookstores, newsagents and news-stands, and so we started playing with digital. We did some ePub to start off with but it didn’t suit the publications we were working with which were highly illustrated and graphic.

We then started working with the existing systems at the time and we found them really cumbersome and labour intensive. In fact, the first magazine we tried converting to a tablet publication took us six weeks. There’s no way you can make any money with that. We basically went about building a very lightweight and responsive way of building magazines as tablet publications, that enables you to get into profit sooner, rather than spend all your money on production.

Who are the founders and how did you find each other?

There’s myself and our CTO Cyril Doussin, who’s French but lives in Australia with his Australian wife. We found each other because we were doing app development in another company and we were looking for someone who had good experience with web and app development.

His name came up. Initially, we engaged him to produce the first prototype of the publishing system, which we used for our own publishing company. He got back to us and said that “this is something we could do for a worldwide audience by providing a cloud-based version of this system that I’ve built”.

Cyril managed to convince us to put our money where his mouth was and funded the development for a year or so…

What makes you different from competitors?

We’re cloud-based, and most of our competitors are desktop-based. Given that we started this whole system development in Australia – it became really important, because we have an international focus with publishing.

So often, we have writers and publishers that aren’t in the same city, state or even country. We’d typically have writers in the US or the UK, and production publishers in Australia, and they’d all need to work on the same document in the same way and have some kind of project management.

So we pushed that process into the cloud, which just made a lot more sense for how modern publishing should work.

Also, if you want to have content displayed when you have the iPad vertical or horizontal, you need to lay the page out a second time. All of that gets handled automatically by our system, so you lay the page out once and it automatically changes according to the size, shape and position of the tablet it’s being viewed on.

What’s your business model?

We use software as a service with a monthly subscription fee. We have multiple levels of that to account for different types of publishers.

We also have a one-off publishing fee, if you just wanted to create a simple book rather than something that has ongoing magazines within a library framework, or chapter-by-chapter book sales where you’re publishing regular content on a monthly basis.

Where are you up to with financing?

We bootstrapped in the first year using Cyril’s web developing company and our publishing company’s money and managed to get a staff of six.

Now we’re at the point of going to markets, implementing our sales strategies, and scaling our development and sales teams. We’re raising our first external money and we’re about 30 per cent of the way through our funding round.

We’ve now been looking at business angel syndicates in Australia and the Asia Pacific region where there’s a well developed system of syndicates. We’re currently in discussions and our early funding of a few hundred thousand came from business angels as well.

In addition to that, we’re in a second round of government funding. The great thing with some of these government funding projects is that they’ll match dollar for dollar or euro for euro from what you raise privately.

For the investor – they put a dollar in and they get two dollars worth of value in the company. For the entrepreneur or the startup – it means you sell off less of your company in terms of shares to the investor and still get a sizeable chunk of money.

Why both Berlin and Brisbane as your base?

BrisbaneThe whole team comes from Australia. But once we got to the point of our product being almost ready for sale, we wanted to validate the technology and validate the product market fit in a market we hadn’t developed it in – outside of the Asia Pacific region. We looked at the UK, the US and then we looked at Europe.

That’s why we looked at StartupBootcamp Berlin – with the number of mentors they had and their connectedness with the ecosystem there. It was a great opportunity for us to spend five months in Berlin.

We hit the ground running there with a bunch of good mentors and training for building our product and business. Berlin and Europe as a whole is a key market for us. Like Australia, publishers have a smaller market than say the US, and it’s really important for them to have cost-effective solutions to get to market.

We still have clients in Germany and we want to maintain those clients and eventually set up a sales office in Berlin on a permanent basis. At the moment we travel back and forth between Europe and Australia – depending on where we’re needed in terms of sales or money raising.

What advice would you give to fellow startups?

There’s nothing better than validating your product with your target customer groups as soon as possible. It meant that we could hone our product by going out to markets really soon… and it’s substantially better than what the product would be if we were just sitting in our cubicles developing it based on our own ideas rather than based on the customer’s needs.

Number two: Perseverance. Startups aren’t easy, especially when you’re getting to the point where you’re trying to raise money, accelerate, or scale. You need a lot of perseverance because you’re going to get a lot of “no”s before you start getting “yes”s.

If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?

Johannes GutenbergI would love to eat with Johannes Guttenberg, a super-smart German guy who changed the way that publications were produced back in the late 1300s by creating a movable type printing process. I think he would love the way we are also revolutionising the publishing process.

 

Image credit:
flickr user cyron
F. A. Brockhaus (Brockhaus-1837 zeno.org) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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