Dorka Horváth is the CEO and co-founder of BOOKR Kids, a Hungarian ed-tech startup seeking to engage children in reading and learning with their novel reading-based apps. We caught up with her one year after her team placed in TOP3 at Salto Growth Camp EMERGEncy, our first-ever fully virtual bootcamp born in response to the global Covid-19 crisis.
This, however, was only a start to a spectacular year for BOOKR Kids. In 2020, the team went on to raise altogether €4 million in funding, signed a deal with the world-famous US Publishing House “Albert Whitman & Co.”, and doubled their annual revenue to €700k.
In her interview for Salto blog, Dorka shares her lessons from Salto Camp and the year 2020 as well as her vision for BOOKR Kids. Read on to also learn why she thinks the post-pandemic world offers better opportunities for female entrepreneurs than ever before.
(PS. Did we mention Dorka also casually set the record for the fastest responder in Salto blog’s history while juggling the duties of a home office and, with the nursery closed, taking care of her 1-year-old son ‒ AND finalising her PhD thesis? 🏅🏅🏅)
What inspired you to start BOOKR Kids back in 2015?
Growing up with publisher parents and being a young mother-to-be, I wanted the love of reading to inspire my son, just like other children. But the world is changing, and so are the content consumption habits. The youngest reader generations need new types of smart and interactive content to read and learn from.
With BOOKR Kids, we launched a solution to bridge the gap between the traditional values of literature and engaging digital content to develop the love for reading among children.
We have come a long way since then. We began by digitising existing Hungarian bestsellers and gradually transitioned into EdTech.
Why is it important for kids to have these new types of reading experiences?
I believe that literacy must be one of the most crucial areas of development in education starting from kindergarten to the 12th grade. Not developing reading skills and comprehension does not just result in bad marks at school, but will also make it difficult to do well or compete later on.
In a world where machines can do more and more, it is becoming essential to define the skills and knowledge we need as humans. What are those skills that make us irreplaceable in competition with AI? These are critical thinking, creativity, and social-emotional skills. Reading develops all of them on a very effective level.
Who is using your solutions today?
Our original BOOKR Kids unique stories were researched by European universities and were proven to work efficiently in engaging children in reading and learning and helping to develop comprehension skills. Creating an international app for English as a Foreign Language teaching was a logical choice to extend our portfolio.
Many pieces of research prove the positive effects of reading in a foreign language. Through reading stories a new language starts to make sense much quicker thanks to the context. Reading literary pieces and related texts facilitates the development of implicit, automatic knowledge of the language, naturally accelerates vocabulary and grammar acquisition.
Our market research also showed that teachers need high-quality digital materials, including leveled related texts and exercises. BOOKR Class app for learning English uses our proven methodology, our unique features and format to answer these needs.
With BOOKR Class interactive graded readers, we target teachers and schools. By now, we have users from 77 countries and more than 200,000 students use our solution.
What are your plans for 2021 and your BIG goal for the company?
We will launch BOOKR Class 2.0. by the beginning of the school year. I truly hope it will be a huge success and the teachers and the students will love it even more than the current version.
As to our BIG goal, then we would like to be the best in interactive book production. Producing quality content is a costly mission. We spent three years developing a software environment and a comprehensive workflow to make this process affordable and relatively quick. I believe we can create an animated interactive book in the cheapest and fastest way today globally.
What led you to take part at Salto Camp back in 2020 and what challenge were you focusing on at the event?
We had participated in some bootcamps before, mainly in Hungary. When I applied to the Salto Camp, I felt it would be different. It turned out to be the most inspiring end energising experience for me in the last few years, despite being entirely online. I didn’t feel the distance from each other; it was super intensive.
Ragnar Sass, the co-founder of Salto, was able to create a very motivating and challenging atmosphere that I loved. As a former athlete, I can say this is the kind of environment where I can make the maximum effort! What we learned and experienced was a mindset changer. We also gained advisors, connections, and friends from whom we learned more than ever before.
During the camp, we worked on our business model and made our app also available for B2C users. We made a pilot as well, and now we are working on a new approach: a self-learning mode in BOOKR Class.
Did you receive any particularly useful advice from mentors?
We met with Adam Springer who is now our B2B sales advisor. With his help, we created a fully online automated sales process targeting potential B2B customers, and now we are hiring together for the Head of Sales position.
It was also a very “unforgettable” moment when I finally had the chance to book a 1-to-1 with Taavet Hinrikus, Co-founder of the fintech unicorn Wise.
When I joined the call, my baby woke up and screamed in my lap for the whole meeting. Then, Taavet told me our whole UX experience on our website was a disaster. That was the moment I felt I could bear criticism very well in any situation. (We restructured our website, for sure, and I think he would be satisfied right now.)
How can founders maximise benefit from events like Salto Camp?
We need to train ourselves and learn continually. Learning always gives new ideas and motivation that protects us from burnout.
“Learn from the best” is the most beneficial advice I can give to startup founders. I know it sounds a little bit profane, but it is so true for the Salto Camp!
The year 2020 proved a huge success for BOOKR Kids. Which milestones did you hit?
After the camp, we closed €2 million in new funding and a further €2 million in convertible note. The round is led by Bonitas, a Private VC owned by Sándor Csányi (the only Hungarian member of the Forbes World’s billionaire lists). We will use the financing to take our English-learning literacy program BOOKR Class to the global education market with the goal to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on education.
2020 was a massive milestone for us from many perspectives. After a year of negotiation, we contracted with Oxford University Press, one of the world’s best-known textbook publishers, allowing BOOKR to digitise and redraw a selection of classic stories specially adapted for English learning, such as Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
During the first school closure, BOOKR Class was also recognised as an “official textbook” in Hungary and is now used by 100k Hungarian students. We also doubled our revenue and generated 700k in EUR in 2020.
The past year brought changes for all of us. What was your takeaway from it?
I learned that we need to adapt to changed circumstances. We need to be able to change and not be afraid of it.
There are moments when you need to stop and re-plan. This is not a problem. It is part of the evolution of a business.
Being an entrepreneur is an addiction ‒ addicted to the excitement of constant change, responsibility, and continuous strength test. You are a sprinter, but you are also running a marathon at the same time.
You are engaged in promoting female entrepreneurship and encouraging young girls and women to make a difference. What message do we need to send out to grow the number of women in the tech sector?
I am a Founding Partner of the Women in Technology Hungary Association which is a perfect platform to motivate women to make a difference.
According to Boston Consulting Group, companies in which women account for more than 20% of the management team have approximately 10% higher innovation revenues (revenue from products and services launched in the past three years). I think the secret formula is even more straightforward: half of digital products are bought by women. How could companies understand us if they didn't ask our opinion?
I never dared to say I was building a tech startup. Our Angel investor, Peter Balogh, said it first:) It took time and self-confidence until I believed it.
“I think today’s world even favors us ‒ women ‒ it doesn’t matter where and when we are working anymore... In pajamas or a suit, during bedtime, or on the way to the nursery. We never had a chance like now to find the devoted harmony between work and family. Let’s live with it and learn more every day than yesterday and share what we have learned with each other!” — Dorka Horváth, BOOKR Kids
Salto Growth Camp is an ultra intensive growth accelerator for early-stage startups with existing products. Our most recent edition in December 2020 attracted 4 female CEOs ‒ a record we are surely hoping to break in the future. Read more about Salto Growth Camp and follow our updates to be the first to hear about upcoming events.