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Jon Westenberg

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Meet the guy who wants to change how we read books

If you’ve been following me on Twitter lately, you might have seen me sharing some awesome little excerpts from Hardbound, an app where creators have built interactive book summaries that can let you consume great works on the go, grow your mind and tap into some extra knowledge nuggets every day. I sat down to chat with Nathan Bashaw about his app. My comments are in italics.

Nathan Bashaw

Who is the first person you think of when you talk about Role Models?

Walt Disney. He invented a new form of storytelling and built an enduring business around it that he worked on for the rest of his life. That’s exactly what I’d love to do.

A lot of folks I interview actually talk about this, and the impact that Disney had on storytelling. Me, I’m more into Pixar…

What is the one question you’ve always wanted someone to ask you?

That’s a really interesting question. It makes me feel special to even think about it! I’m honestly not sure. My ego is feeding me lots of questions along the lines of “what makes you such a wonderful person?” but that’s not really what I would want to be asked 😉 Maybe it’s something more personal, like “What’s something you’ve been through that shaped a core part of who you are?” I like questions that reveal character.

I’m chasing Nathan for his answer to it though!

How would you explain what you folks do at Hardbound?

We’re trying to create a new artform. Throughout history, when a new communications technology is invented, it’s first used as a faster and cheaper way to distribute content in the existing forms. For example, the first movies were basically filmed vaudeville theatre acts. But then artists start to experiment, and they invent new formats native to the technology that move people more deeply than ever before. Smartphones are an amazing new technology, but reading on them still looks exactly like it did hundreds of years ago. Our goal with Hardbound is to create a truly mobile-native reading experience that is way more engaging and effective than plain text. And we’re starting by creating short, illustrated versions of bestselling non-fiction books.

What makes you different to services like Blinkist?

The biggest thing, of course, is the format. All book summary services are just plain text. But beyond that, there are some major differences in our storytelling style. Blinkist and other services like it are great if you want a really comprehensive set of notes about a book that takes about 15 minutes to finish. Hardbound is great is you want a really entertaining, engaging 5 minute read. We’re OK being slightly less comprehensive in favor of having a more focus on high-quality storytelling.

This is very true. Their library is smaller, but as a Blinkist subscriber, I can honestly say that their library is better produced and focuses on a higher quality.

How could writers collaborate with Hardbound to put out books?

Email me! n@hardbound.co. We’re still early on this front, but I would love to at least chat.

Watch for a Jon Westenberg Hardbound folks…

Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?

Hunter – not in the sense that I chase things down and kill them, but because I work in really intense sprints followed by periods of deliberate laziness and boredom.

What book would you give to someone who’s at their lowest point?

It depends on why they are down. For example, if it’s an entrepreneur whose business is failing, I’d give them “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.” If it’s a college student who has no idea what they want to do and is becoming cynical about the world, I might give them “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman.” The specifics of the situation, as always, are key.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a book I recommend to so many people all the time. It’s worth a read!

What’s one good reason you’d never want to win the lottery?

Honestly I wouldn’t mind winning the lottery today. But I’m glad I didn’t win it when I was 23, because I would not have spent it very well. So maybe in five years I would be glad I didn’t win it today 😉

How would you spend $100 to advance your career, business or life?

I know this is going to sound predictable coming from me, but for your career/business/life, probably the best way to spend $100 is on books.

So happy about this. Books are the answer, to almost any question.

When was the last time you were so obsessed with an idea that you couldn’t sleep?

Last night. Seriously! I was tossing and turning thinking of a thing for Hardbound. But maybe I just had too much coffee that day 🙂

What is your hill to die on? (IE, the one belief or principle you have that you’d stake everything on)

I try to never work on anything that isn’t deeply important to me. Even if I make no money, and nobody knows who I am or cares about what I did, I at least want to know that I tried to build something that I thought was an important and meaningful contribution to the world.

What’s the worst investment you’ve ever made?

Ooooh that’s a tough question. Honestly I’m not sure! I’ve never put a ton of time / energy / resources into a project without feeling good about it on the other end, even if it didn’t pan out. I haven’t put much into stocks or anything. Probably my worst investment was saying yes to a “promotion” at my last job, where I got more responsibility and pay, but it took me away from working in the area I cared about.

What words do you live by?

Stay curious.

What advice would you give yourself in 10 years?

Stay curious. (Seriously, the older you get, the harder it is.)

What’s the worst cliche that is just never true?

“Follow your passion” – it’s not that it’s never true, it’s that it’s not helpful. If you know what your passion is, it’s pretty easy to follow. The trouble most people have is figuring out what they are passionate about. I would suggest studying the world and thinking about the biggest problems we face, and the biggest opportunities in front of us. Write about it until you hit something that makes you cry. That’s the thing you should focus on. Re-adjust often.

Do you believe in anything that can’t be scientifically proven?

Determinism.


Thanks for sitting down with Creatomic Nathan Bashaw! If anyone wants to check out the Hardbound app, you can do so right here!

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