Sleep deprivation, imminent divorce, and a face recognition camera

The Book of Everyone CEO Jonny Biggins offers a glimpse into startup life.

I think I’m possessed by our company.

Not in a “Call the vicar he’s mouth-painting the bedroom walls in green bile” kind of way. No, not like that. In a quieter, omnipresent kind of way.

Wherever I turn, The Book of Everyone is there; from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. It‘s perched on my shoulder like a benevolent dictator commanding my attention and ruling my thoughts.

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My previous life as a creative director in an ad agency didn’t feel like this. It never had a physical hold over me or a family-like sense of permanence. It was more like a holiday tan that when I left peeled and faded away with the holiday memories.

We didn’t plan The Book of Everyone, it just happened: a destination on life’s trajectory. After 20 years of having too much fun in the ad world, my soul was left a few grams lighter, and I knew the next thing I set my heart on would involve a little redemption.

Jason, Steve and I had all worked together through those years and shared a love of design, creativity and all things crafted. We could see how the digital tornado was tearing across the globe sucking up tangible things and regurgitating pixels. We wanted to counter this, we imagined a technological playground where anyone could create something beautiful, meaningful and tangible.  A democracy of the creativity that we loved.

At the same time, Steve had become a father and gone out and purchased newspapers from the day his son Saul was born to give him on his 21st birthday. The seeds of The Book of Everyone were sown.

Since 2014, we’ve been on the start-up rollercoaster.

We’ve dipped into the valley of death and risen from the ashes. It’s taken every ounce of grit and determination we could muster. It’s been tough, but it never knocked us all down at the same time. It’s good being three.

We made mistakes: hired the wrong people at the right time and the right people at the wrong time. We spent and saved money in the wrong places. But we kept the business tight; every penny wasted hurt like hell, but we never stopped experimenting or learning.

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This included wearing a 15kg pregnancy suit for a month to launch our personalised book for mums – a marketing stunt that accidentally launched The Book of Everyone in the USA.

We were very fortunate to have the partners of Notion Capital & Ben White as early investors. They didn’t have all the answers – no one does, you have to work them out – but they kept us focused on what was important, never let the successes go to our heads, and kept the dream alive when things didn’t go our way.

Today, we’re very proud that our little hub in Barcelona houses a thriving personalisation company and an amazing team of creatives, writers, brand builders, technologists, digital marketing wizards, and customer service wonderfuls. We’ve created a personalisation platform that can scale anywhere, with no stock and no returns. It’s been recognised as pretty awesome by Ryan Hoover, Chris Sacca and Mark Suster, but above all we’ve created a business that makes happy people. And that makes us happy.

But it’s taken its toll. Most days, my wife threatens divorce (she is Colombian, though). Steve claims to have gone grey last Thursday at 10.35am. Jason has taken to obsessively tiding his desk and wearing plus-fours. And I found out recently that I must have changed physically.

Let me explain. We’re in the middle of raising money, so I spend my time zipping between Barcelona and London. I wake up at an unearthly 5AM to catch the first flight to Gatwick. When I get to the automatic passport-scanning machines, I place my passport carefully on the scanner and look at the camera. The little circles progressively fill with green lights as the algorithm gets to work, but the doors never open.

The machine blankly refuses to acknowledge that the person staring in the camera is the same person as in the passport photo taken 3 years ago: the pre-Book of Everyone ad man. It rejects me as a fraud, and I have to shamefully reverse out of the booth and then be escorted by an official to a human border guard who checks my passport manually.

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I cannot blame the machine for its error, as secretly I suspect it simply detected the presence of The Book of Everyone Benevolent Dictator sitting on my shoulder, ruling my mind. I am possessed, after all.


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