Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Jesse Potash

Publishing & Media

Jesse Potash is the founder of PUBSLUSH, a publisher with a non-profit extension that enables book fans to fund the new novels they wish to see published.

Jesse Potash is the founder of PUBSLUSH Press, a publisher that lets readers decide which books get published and donates a book to a child in need for every one sold. Jesse comes from a financial services background but has worked across a wide array of industries including publishing, fashion, and advertising. Jesse also serves on the board of directors for the PUBSLUSH Foundation, which supports children’s literacy initiatives worldwide.

When on the PUBSLUSH website, book fans can pledge either USD 10, 20, 100 or 500 to fund their preferred stories, having read a sample extract first. If a book gains a thousand or more supporters it will be published, and those who pledged money are sent electronic, printed or signed editions, or an edition with a dedication in the front, depending on the value of their pledge. The writers, meanwhile, receive higher royalties than in legacy publishing and retain copyright for their work.

1. Where did the idea for PUBSLUSH come from?

JK Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech in 2008. I had always admired her, and when I learned of her trials and tribulations in the publishing world, I felt appalled and inspired to impact a clearly inadequate talent discovery process. The timing was ideal because of the industry’s evolutionary state, and I imagined (as someone with limited publishing experience) that the system could benefit from an unbiased perspective. The concept came full circle when I introduced my experience with human rights activism, and committed to aiding children’s literacy initiatives through a one for one book donation program.

2. With authors around the world achieving success through self-publishing, is PUBSLUSH relying on its non-profit activities to attract writers as well as readers?

While self publishing is fantastic and many self published authors have found success, that number is still quite low. Self publishing has many, many issues simply because there is no quality control, and the content is often poorly curated, if at all (meaning edited, marketed, etc.). The role of the publisher is changing but the need for publishers that fulfill this new role has never been greater.Having a publisher used to be for access, exclusivity, credibility, etc. Moving forward, I believe having a (successful) publisher will be for support and guidance. Publishing is still a very complex landscape, and in my experience, authors are often unable or unwilling to navigate it alone. At PUBSLUSH, we work for the author, not the other way around. PUBSLUSH’s nonprofit activities are at the core of the concept and absolutely attract Slushers to become involved in our publishing revolution. Our community of writers and readers is punctuated by a love of reading and social responsibility. We’ve created a new opportunity for people to be directly involved in the publishing process, and have a vested interest in changing the lives of children through literature. We think of ourselves as a global book club with a cause, by the people, for the people.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

Um, not really! But if I had to, it might go something like this: review daily/weekly to do list (constantly reprioritize); follow up emails/calls; READ (mediabistro, Publisher’s Lunch, Gawker, etc.); breakfast meeting with our community or marketing director; call with developer; more meetings (partnership development, industry specific, event planning, media, PUBSLUSH team, legal/financial); READ (The New Inquiry, NYT, etc.); business development power (2) hour; review user engagement and outreach strategies, evaluate development pipeline; networking or author recruitment event; READ (manuscripts on the site, personal).

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on PUBSLUSH?

PUBSLUSH literally consumes my entire life, but I do force myself to find some balance. Right now my distractions include training to be a boxer, yoga, learning Spanish by watching Sex and the City in Spanish, travelling as much as possible, and playing piano. I love learning new skills and spending time with friends. You know, the usual.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

A dash of delusion. Just enough so that your old reality doesn’t stifle you from imagining and achieving the new reality you’re trying to create. Or a regular yoga practice. I can’t decide.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Having to work around others’ schedules. I’m an extremely impatient person (well actually, I’ve gotten MUCH better) and as I’m sure any entrepreneur would agree, when you have an idea for a company and decide to go for it, it’s pretty much a race against time and the only thing you can think about. I was always frustrated because everything wasn’t happening fast enough. I felt like I was in a perpetual state of waiting. Waiting for someone else to make my vision real. There’s nothing worse than feeling helpless. Looking back, I was kind of a psycho at points but it still does baffle me how long it takes people to accomplish certain things. And I live in NY where supposedly people are more efficient than other places. I still semi have this problem because I’m always going to want everything done yesterday, but I’ve learned to mitigate it greatly, particularly by only working with amazing, committed people. But that is a luxury I didn’t always have.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

I’m motivated by the children I’ve met, and the children I will meet, around the world, who are thirsty for knowledge and laugh so loud (literally) in the face of adversity. Also, I’m so incredibly inspired by how talented people are. Whether it be a brilliant line from a TV script, a soccer ball that captures energy (sOccket), a photograph that redefines a common perspective, a book that changes the world, a computer that is almost weightless, or a nonprofit that crowdsources microfinance. The list goes on, and I’m amazed by it everyday.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Nothing. Even the mistakes I did make (and believe me, there were many), have positioned me in a much more perceptive place. Oh, except I maybe wouldn’t have planned a red carpet launch benefit to coincide with the launch of the business. I’m still speechless that even happened.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

Having reinvigorated the publishing process to be more democratic and philanthropic. We are aligning ourselves with a progressive new view of what it means to be a publisher in the 21st century: to facilitate the discovery, nurture, and distribution of quality content (in our case, as determined by readers). I hope we will become a global brand of literature recognized by our commitment to change the lives of aspiring writers and aspiring readers. We will expand to support emerging publishing technologies and offer a well-rounded gamut of services. We will also likely embrace additional content mediums beyond books. While in beta, we are being extremely diligent in our outreach to literary tastemakers to maintain integrity. As our platform scales to a wider audience, we will see the addition of enhanced functionality to engage our Slushers and build a more robust, interactive community. I think the only way we’ll get there is by staying committed to our cause and showing people that this model really does work, that anyone can be involved and make a difference, and that this isn’t a fad; we’re genuinely passionate about what we do.

10. If you weren’t working on PUBSLUSH, what would you be doing?

Hmmm.. I don’t even know where to begin. Getting my pilot’s license, furthering the conversation around intellectual human rights, living in Buenos Aires and Cape Town and everywhere, training to be a yoga instructor, working for Worldreader, learning how to make films…

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

I’m obsessed with Mariah Carey. I think she’s the greatest vocalist of all time and the definition of raw talent, perseverance, versatility, and ability.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I have nothing profound to say. Though a sentiment that always stuck with me and has helped me greatly, is “be your own rock.” Other than that, I’d say just talk to everyone and read everything, but take it all at face value. If you start to over-process, you’ll explode.

You can read more about PUBSLUSH in our article here, or visit the PUBSLUSH website here.