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Boris Wertz – W Media Ventures

Boris Wertz is the Founder and CEO of W Media Ventures, an angel fund focusing on early-stage Consumer Internet opportunities mainly in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. Before founding W Media Ventures, Boris was the Chief Operating Officer of AbeBooks.com, the world’s largest marketplace for new, used and rare and out-of print books which got sold to Amazon in 2008. Boris joined the company in 2002 after JustBooks, the German company he co-founded in 1999, was acquired by AbeBooks.

Here’s how he did it.

Entrepreneurial Background

  • Boris always wanted to become an entrepreneur and run his own company
  • as a teenager, he grew and sold snails because people in Europe like to eat snails
  • in college, he started a consulting company, and then a car importing company (importing cars from North America to Europe)

JustBooks

  • JustBooks was an international database for the inventory of local bookstores and private sellers of used books
  • it was founded in September 1999, at the peak of the internet hype, in Europe
  • there were 5 co-founders

Niche Market

  • JustBooks’ niche was for them to be for collectors of books; for book lovers to come their and be able to find an ‘out of print’ book
  • they soon added other niches, i.e. college textbooks
  • overtime they became a market for all books
  • they were in the Europe, UK, and French markets because the US market was already mature

Funding

  • 10 million Deutsche Marks ($5 million) in 3 rounds
  • 1st round of funding was extremely easy: in September ’99 all of their angels went for their business by only seeing a business plan, they didn’t even have a site
  • 2nd round was easy as well: they were able to choose their VC’s from 4 different offers
  • 3rd round was difficult: funding died down in March 2000

Launch

  • they built their website in a month
  • one month after their launch they had a full market place online
  • the first day they started with 28,000 books and had 20 orders, it felt surreal

Getting The First Users

  • they got their first users by making phone calls, asking bookstores to send over their inventory
  • they even bought books themselves to add to their supply online

Getting The First Customers

  • they got their first users by attending book fairs for book collectors and promoting their
  • they grew from word of mouth and referrals

Sale To AbeBooks

  • AbeBooks was bigger and already had the US market but they wanted to expand internationally
  • the CEO of AbeBooks contacted them and told them he wanted to look at their business, and 3 months later they closed a deal
  • the deal was for them to get 20% of AbeBooks, and they stay and run the Europe market of AbeBooks

Running AbeBooks

  • one the day Boris and the only other one co-founder of JustBooks (who was still there) handed in their resignations, the CEO of AbeBooks offered them to co-run AbeBooks and they accepted

Sale To Amazon

  • it is reported that Amazon bought AbeBooks for $90-120 million
  • it was the right time to sale; to get money back to investors and because Amazon had the resources to take AbeBooks to the next level

In Hindsight

  • JustBooks had too many features, features they didn’t need and that didn’t scale
  • JustBooks had too many founders, founders that weren’t passionate soon left until it was down to 2
  • JustBooks expanded too quickly

W Media Ventures

  • this is Boris’s current business
  • W Media Ventures is an angel fund focusing on early-stage consumer internet opportunities
  • he deals locally, mainly in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada
  • it is self-funded by him but he works with other angels who sometimes co-invests
  • he finds his deals through a network of entrepreneurs, mainly word of mouth and referrals
  • he also wants to help the companies he invests in by being the experience partner
  • Boris has invested in 15 companies

IndoChino

  • IndoChino is one of the company’s that W Media Ventures has invested in
  • it is a site for buying tailored made suits
  • he met the founders through one of his business partners, who was mentoring at their school
  • when Boris met them they only had a business plan, so him and a couple other angels provided funding to get them a site
  • he invested in them because they always had a clear vision of what they wanted to build, they knew the value of their product, and they knew the direction of the business
  • he’s helped them by being their experience partner, by having them focus on the analytics and understanding their customer

Why Invest?

  • Boris invests because he can make a big financial gain, and because he is passionate about helping startups grow
  • this is what he loves to do and has fun doing

Advice

  • When building a company, start off with a small niche and then expand.”
  • Get as much supply out there as possible, then it’s only a matter of time and continuous pushing.”
  • Look at investors who you feel will support you in the good times but also the bad.”

Side Notes

  • when Boris started to run AbeBooks, he had to transition from being a hands-on owner to managerial owner; he had to set the vision and the strategy and let others execute
  • IndoChino is a business that’s hard for them to scale, but the good news is that it would harder for a competitor to scale

Connect With Boris

W Media Ventures

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