Sherisse Hawkins | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sherisse Hawkins


Pagedip, formerly Beneath the Ink, is a cloud-based publishing platform that allows users to create interactive content featuring clickable “binks,” which pull up multimedia content without forcing readers to leave the page. 

The company was founded in Boulder, Colorado, in 2012 and has fewer than 10 full-time employees.

The Mistake:

I didn’t understand the unspoken pain points of the industry I was trying to enter.

Back when we were starting this company, we had a negative opinion on ebooks. They were basically paper under glass, and they didn’t offer any other advantages from a story perspective over reading a paper book. There was a lot of flexibility and technology and convenience that the ebook format provided, but none of that enriched the content.

We wanted to improve them, and our plan was to embed adjacent materials associated with the story into the files – things like images, videos, definitions, character details, etc.

That process went pretty well. We got to work with a best-selling author and a famous rock star. We did a number of these interesting one-off or pilot projects.

It was an exciting time. I was running all over the world, doing talks, keynoting conferences in Sweden, and there was a lot of activity. We were on national television. We had lots of exposure. But at the same time, we just weren’t making the returns we wanted to for our investors.

It wasn’t a fiscally rewarding path.

We were readers that had a desire and a passion for the way we wanted content to be presented for us. But we didn’t understand, for example, the hold Amazon had on major publishers.

At the time, when Amazon first offered a way to provide ebooks, they had a very healthy revenue share for the authors and booksellers. They were the main game in town when it came to getting ebooks to readers. As a result, booksellers had to go to them and adhere to their constraints, which included ebook functionality specifications. That meant things like videos, images, and even color would not work.

We were readers that had a desire and a passion for the way we wanted content to be presented for us.

The Lesson:

You can’t be a prophet in your own land.

We fell into a trap. You can read about an industry. You can go to conferences. You can interview people on the inside and have them talk to you. There’s still a difference between an insider view and an outsider view.

There were unspoken rules and norms in the publishing world, and there was no one in our company that came from that world. In a situation like that, it’s hard to provide a solution that’s sticky enough.

One of the challenges of being a leader of a new technology and the CEO of a startup is that you have to have blinders on to get things done – by definition you are resource limited – and at the same time you have to have the peripheral vision to pay attention to the trends outside of your immediate goals.

For us, we had a client come to us and say, “We haven’t been able to find anything like this. Could you do something specific for us?” We said sure, but I thought it was an anomaly. They were great to work with, and it was an interesting project, but I didn’t think much more of it.

Only after recognizing that our original dream to work with publishers was not the right path did we see this one-off project was a perfect fit. That’s when we pivoted the company.

What was peripheral has become our main offering. Often our clients are at the enterprise level. They have a lot of clout in their industry, and they have the luxury of taking risks and pushing the envelope.

Pagedip is on Twitter at @gobeneaththeink.

Photo courtesy of Pagedip.

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