Under the Hood: Clare Carroll from Folio
Clare Carroll is the founder of Folio, the online book store helping millennials and Gen-Zers find their next favorite book.
How did you come up with the idea for Folio?
I was a huge reader as a kid, but years of required reading and conflicting priorities through high school & college made me fall out of step. I rediscovered my love of reading over quarantine -- there wasn't much else to do in NYC during the height of the pandemic! I started to post bite-size book reviews on my Instagram story, and my friends & followers started asking me for personal recs. I noticed the conversational way they were describing their desired book was incompatible with existing review & retail search functionality – a search bar that's optimized for title keywords won't understand when someone's looking for a "slower-paced murder-mystery set in the 1950s", but a human could help you find that! I decided to digitize the experience of talking to a really cool indie bookseller, wrapped inside a brand image that spoke to a primarily Gen-Z and younger Millennial audience.
Who are your competitors and how do you differ?
We bring together the book discovery functionality of Goodreads, the book selection of your cool local indie, and the clean functionality of the modern DTC site. There are a few platforms that help users track reading, but it's not optimized to the casual reader. Many people who use Folio haven't read a book for pleasure in years! We're building a curated selection and matching users to the books they actually want to read. Over a million book are published each year, and we currently carry around 250 of the buzziest books. I describe Folio as the Sephora of books: while not everything will be your cup of tea, you know that if it's in stock, it's been Folio-approved for quality.
How does Folio generate personalized recommendations?
For our v1 recommendation engine, we're using Octane AI's platform with a lot of backend decision-tree work. The 3-minute quiz we created gives you 3-4 recs based on your inputs. If you don't see something you like, we make "self-service" super easy.
Our product finder is super popular -- it shows users recs based on their chosen genre + mood! Our tagging methodology makes it easy to search in a specific theme or niche. For example, type in fast-paced and Folio will return all of the books in stock that will leave you on the edge of your seat!
What tool has been a game changer for Folio?
I wouldn't have been able to take Folio from 0-1 without the Shopify app ecosystem. Octane AI allowed me to ship an MVP rec engine. I'd also like to show some love to Dovetale, a new affiliate marketing tool. We received over 75 applicants to our ambassador program in the first week. I used Dovetale to onboard the ambassadors of my choice, track their referrals, and pay out affiliate earnings.
Could you tell us more about your "Folio Book Club"?
Right now the Book Club page is our rewards program – book lovers love to buy books (duh!) so we want to incentivize our loyal customers. In the future, we're looking to roll this into something that's a bit closer to a membership-based system, where our community can get access to great content, discussion, and deals. Stay tuned!
Are there any particular books flying off the shelves?
The coolest thing about Folio is that this changes all the time, and it's more dependent on social media than traditional publishing house marketing cycles. As we transition into fall, people are loving books with dark academia vibes – in particular, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which was actually published in 1992! Tiktok has a new favorite rom-com every week, and lately it's been The Love Hypothesis. Of course, I have to mention Beautiful World, Where Are You.
And what are the shipping logistics like for Folio?
We currently fulfill everything in-house – it's how we're able to give our customers the beautiful unboxing experience they love to post about. Instead of getting a book in a plastic bag, it feels like you're opening a present from a friend, complete with sustainable packaging & a handwritten note. We get our inventory through two different channels. We get most of our books through the industry-standard provider, Ingram, but we also work with brick-and-mortar retailers to help offload their excess inventory. These books have never been purchased, but we're able to get them for a great price and pass the savings on to our customers – it's the best way to get a hardcover for $15 or less!
Acquisition-wise, how are you spreading the word about Folio?
We started by tapping into the 'bookstagram' community – people that post specifically about their reading habits & book reviews! It was important to us to build a product & brand that people actually wanted to talk about, so our unboxing experience was key here. We sent complimentary book gift boxes to members of the bookstagram community, and members posted stories sharing their book & unboxing experience. The main way that people discover Folio is through their friend or a favorite bookstagrammer posting about their purchase! It's been a great way to build community organically.
Can you tell us more about the unboxing experience?
The book unboxing experience is something that's been missing from the industry for a while. Books are universal but inherently personal – you chose a particular title out of millions for a reason, be it a friend's recommendation or a love of a particular genre. But until now, they've been shipped in a plastic poly-mailer like they're a replacement part for your refrigerator. The unboxing experience for us is dual-purpose – it gets our customers excited to dive into their reads, but even before they do that, it makes them excited to show their friends. I created an unboxing experience that I personally would want to post about, and so far our readers are loving it, too!
Thanks Clare! Any last advice for young entrepreneurs?
If you want to start a company, you should first figure out what you're really passionate about. You should be making a somewhat unpopular bet in a certain industry because of a unique insight that others can't or won't see. This might not be in the sexy industries – if it's already cool, it might be too late.