Taking a punt with a book scanning business

Owen_SelfTNIn this Q&A, My Business meets new SME owner Owen Self, who has jumped on a business idea from Tokyo that he hopes will make an impact on our shores.

In this Q&A, My Business meets new SME owner Owen Self, who has jumped on a business idea from Tokyo that he hopes will make an impact on our shores.

Brisbane-based husband and wife duo Owen Self and Annmaree MacGinley founded Book2bits, a book scanning business that affordably converts hard-copy books into digital files for iPads, tablet PCs and eBook readers, earlier this year.

The idea for the business was first communicated in April 2011 after Owen, who has a background in IT systems, and Annmaree witnessed first-hand the success of a book scanning business in Tokyo. The couple are hoping Book2bits will achieve similar success in Australia.

My Business: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started in business?

Owen Self: How much preparation is required to get systems and processes in place. And despite the preparation, how many exceptional circumstances will arise. I assumed e-commerce and internet payment – the first wave of customers preferred to pay cash, and so on. Going in, I assumed a pure consumer market for book scanning. Instead we have SMEs asking us to scan and store their hard-copy paperwork.

MB: What are your most effective work habits?

OS: Waking early and getting into the paperwork before the working day starts. I find I am fresher in the morning, and the lack of interruption lets me get through it twice as fast.

MB: Best business decision you’ve ever made?

OS: To ensure one of our partnerships remained salaried during the start-up phase so we minimised worries about cashflow.

MB: What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business? How did you fix it?

OS: Outsource website development on a T&M basis. In my previous profession I negotiated and managed major software contracts. This time, with far fewer zeroes in the estimate, but far more personal interest at stake, I chose to forego the safety of a hard-and-fast contract for the potential cost saving of a tightly managed T&M job. With the benefit of hindsight, I would not do that again. Moving forward, I critically assess every software change for cost versus potential benefit and only commit once the mock-up is agreed and quoted.

MB: How do you delight customers?

OS: Invest time to do more than expected. We are a low margin business so discounting is a sure-fire path to financial failure. But we can throw in additional value-add services without being asked, ensuring our customers walk away feeling very satisfied with the cost-effectiveness of our service delivery.

MB: Share your number one sales technique with us.

OS: Word of mouth. Our customers are always happy, so we never fail to ask them to pass the word on.

MB: What’s your favourite piece of business technology? And why?

OS: Cloud computing. We use it ourselves to store all our documentation and software products, off-site, secure, available 24/7. We also offer it as a service for SMEs who need the security of knowing their business paperwork is immune from fire, flood, whatever.

MB: What’s more important in business: passion or preparation? Why?

OS: I think the answer is both. Luckily, my wife contributes no shortage of passion to the business, and I like to work in the background getting the systems, processes and service delivery working like a finely-tuned machine.

MB: How do you relax?

OS: Planning my next overseas holiday. These are far and few between, but when we do them it’s a full-blown adventure – typically bareboat charter of a sailing boat somewhere in the Mediterranean with family friends. That requires a lot of forethought and planning just to get everyone together in the same place, as well as the navigation and trip planning. I suppose the relaxation is in the 110 per cent focus required on something other than the day-to-day, if only for an hour or two at a time.


MB: If someone gave you $100,000 and said “Invest this in your business by the end of the week – or lose it”, what would you do?

OS: Buy more scanning hardware. Every machine leverages the staff cost all that much more and is inevitably a good investment. With a bit more time in the hypothetical I would have answered ‘invest in more web software development’.


MB: The Internet is a massively disruptive force. What’s your reaction to disruption?

OS: It creates opportunity. I just wish I had the capital, foresight and time to exploit it to its fullest potential.

MB: How do you foster and express creativity?

OS: Continually asking “why?”. Or better still, “why not?”. And then genuinely listening to the answer and teasing out the logic behind it.

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