Despite keeping busy as the first innovation partner at AOL ventures, Doug Ludlow, former CEO of Hipster, which was acquired by AOL early 2012, is at it again. This time, however, he’s teamed up with his wife and kids to launch The Little Book Club, a subscription-based monthly book delivery service for children aged 0-6. The co-founder couple have had the site up and running with 100 beta customers, however recently opened up the beta to additional users.
Ludlow spoke with BetaKit about why he wanted to start and run a family business. “For the better part of the last decade I’ve been doing startups, either running them or working for them, and it’s all kind of a black box to my wife who’s an OB/GYN…I wanted to do something that we could involve our kids in,” said Ludlow in an interview. “In this case we’re able to involve our kids, they help with the screening process of the books, so we wanted to make it a family affair.”
The $24.95 monthly subscription includes free shipping, with each household receiving three books in the mail. The selections are curated from a combination of expert lists from the likes of National Library Association, or The New York Times list of best children’s books, by skipping titles that parents likely already own, and lastly through asking children about their favorite picks (if parents receive a book they already own they can donate it or get a $12.50 refund). Hoping to provide a way for parents to save the hassle of continuously going book shopping, the company’s value proposition is that they provide a ‘book club that grow with your child,’ since the selections change as the customer’s kids get older.
Some months kids receive two books plus an activity derived from each theme-based month, which range from ‘Adventure Month’ to ‘Dinosaur Month’ to ‘Colors Month.’ Though there are a number of monthly book subscription services aimed at adults and children alike, including GiftLit, Just The Right Book, and WORD To Your Mailbox, Ludlow said the biggest competitive threat is the elephant in the room, Amazon, or alternatively local book stores parents like to venture into with their kids. Especially because right now the company only ships in the U.S., though it says it will be adding Canada, Australia and the UK shortly.
Looking to take it as far as possible as a bootstrapped startup, Ludlow’s focus is on becoming profitable before considering raising any capital. Although initially the startup ordered its books from Amazon, it’s now in talks with wholesalers as it continues to scale. With saving time and convenience being on top of each parent’s wish list, a curated platform like The Little Book Club looks to do just that, however the question will be whether it can find a base of parents who prefer to outsource their book selections rather than keep up on the latest literary trends.
And the cost might be a setback too, since kid’s books can easily be purchased at a discount at secondhand stores, gifted from other parents whose kids have outgrown them, or borrowed from the library for free. With ebooks on the rise and kids increasingly turning to their iPads to draw, play games, and read, it will be interesting to see whether an old-fashioned physical book still holds the attraction it once did, both for kids and adults.