How BookSloth’s Lincy Ayala Builds Communities for Book Lovers Around the World
The Transparent Collective alum moving book clubs online
By Jessen O’Brien
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Lincy Ayala spent nearly five months without electricity. Ayala’s personal book collection became a kind of lending library for friends and family looking for analog entertainment, and sparking discussions on what they were reading.
“That experience sparked the idea of creating a book club that works online and creates that same sense of community,” says Ayala. Ayala and her cofounder, Xiomara Figueroa, realized that vision with BookSloth, an app that not only tracks what you read but also helps you build connections based on a shared love of reading.
We sat down with Ayala to learn more about how she went from studying biology to being the CEO of an app, BookSloth’s acquisition, and what it was like to attend Transparent Collective’s 2021 virtual cohort.
How did BookSloth get started?
Back in 2017, I was working in a media company with my co-founder. We were both part of the tech team and one of the few women in that area, so it was easy to click with her.
I’m an avid reader. During our free time, one of the things we would talk about was my frustration with Goodreads. As great as it is for logging what you’re reading, it’s not very social. Since I’m a designer and she’s a mobile developer, we thought we’d make our own little app just for fun.
We’re based in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria came around that time, and reading became much more important for everyone because the only things you could do for fun were things that didn’t require electricity. I started lending books from my personal library to friends and family then talking to them about the books that we had read, which led to the original idea behind BookSloth: creating a community around books and readers online.
How does BookSloth create those communities?
In the first iteration of BookSloth, you created your profile then told the app what you’re reading and what your favorite genres are. As more people joined, we started to do book matches where you could follow people with similar reading profiles for recommendations.
In the latest version, there are clubs. So if I add a book, it tells me that 30 other people are reading this book, and I can create a live chat with them. That’s how we started to connect readers in a way that other apps haven’t really done.
How have you maintained those communities as BookSloth has grown, particularly when it comes to popular books that hundreds of people might be reading on the app at the same time?
Our app was still fairly small when we started and focused on young adult readers. As it kept growing, we had to think about how to split people into different groups so that we could emulate what in-person book clubs are like online.
We try to group people based on what their reading pace is, or whether they’re currently reading a book or have already read it, so that people can have genuine conversations and it doesn’t become a live chat with 10 messages per second that’s impossible to read.
How do you track and measure the relationships built on BookSloth?
At the beginning, we looked at the number of books added to profile lists and the amount of ratings books got. Once we had clubs, we also tried to see how many clubs were generated and how many messages came in through those communities.
At some point during the pandemic, our number of users went very quickly from 20K to 50K, 60K users. People could no longer connect in-person, so they were looking for communities online centered on different hobbies, and reading was one of them. Those users added more than 700,000 books to their profiles and left over 300,000 reviews on our platform.
What are your customers saying? What has their experience been like on the app?
We receive a lot of emails from people saying that they’re so glad we made this app because Goodreads has stayed pretty stagnant in terms of technology. There aren’t live chats, notifications or instant messaging.
People also write to us how important it was to find a community. Our users are from all over: the United States, the U.K., India, Brazil, and Peru. It’s really amazing to me that my friends and I were just doing this for fun a few years ago, and now I can meet people around the world.
How did you find out about the Transparent Collective?
BookSloth got started through a local accelerator in Puerto Rico. From there, we met our first pre-seed investor. She saw this program that was specifically directed at minorities. Our whole team is female developers, all from Puerto Rico — so it was pretty much exactly what I needed.
Because of COVID-19, it wasn’t in-person, so I could do the cohort virtually. Although I would’ve loved to have seen people in-person, being virtual made it a lot more accessible. I was super excited to participate because it would be one of the first times I wouldn’t be the only minority in the room. Everyone there is a founder who understands that struggle.
What was the most valuable part of the cohort?
Someone said something that totally shifted my perspective: When you feel like you’re the only woman in the room, and that no one understands, instead of seeing it as a negative, see it as a positive. Be empowered by the fact that no one else has your experience.
Another part of the struggle that everyone talked about was wondering when you get a rejection, is it because of your business, or is it because you’re a woman or Latina, and that they’re always going to say no?
Being able to talk with people who understood those challenges and then reframe them was life-changing for me on a personal and psychological level. It helped end my imposter syndrome.
What advice do you have for other underrepresented founders?
There are people out there willing to help. Find the right people to surround you and back you. In my case, Transparent Collective was one of the support programs that I was very lucky to have found through my investor.
You’re not alone, you can do it, and there are a lot of resources out there. I studied biology, and I’m not working in anything remotely close to that field. I learned a lot about tech through resources online, and now I’m the CEO of a tech company that ended up getting acquired with users around the world.
What’s next for BookSloth?
At the end of last year, we were acquired by another company in the States called BookClub. Its mission and vision is very much aligned to ours. They have a bigger team and more resources, so we see it as an opportunity to grow BookSloth through them, especially as more and more competitors come around. We’re super happy to be a part of the BookClub team.