The latest literary-oriented startup to open in Boston’s Innovation District is the Wizeo crowdgiving platform, which combines video chats by authors and other leaders in their fields, or “wizzes,” for a cause. The idea, explains Wizeo CEO and cofounder Guy Bauman, grew out of an event that he attended, which was sponsored by Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., for food blogger Deb Perlman, author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The excitement at the reading coupled with the intense interest of the audience that led people to line up for hours despite inclement weather, helped him clarify how he and partner, Avishai Steiner, v-p of technology who manages the R&D center in Ra'anana, Israel, should proceed. “We wanted to do digital commerce for good and we knew video was ubiquitous and underutilized,” he said. But the Perlman event made him realize that they could use both to provide meaningful interactions for people who didn’t have the opportunity to meet writers or other leaders in person.
Last November, Wizeo began beta testing the concept through an interactive video chat with psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely, author of The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, who used the platform to raise money for Education for All. Since then the company has averaged one or two chats a month. When it has its official launch, Wizeo will begin amping up the number of chats on an ongoing basis. The basic concept remains the same for authors, musicians, scientists, politicians, and other authorities. Each is invited to give a video chat, which is accessible to Wizeo members with a laptop with a camera who donate at least $3 to the charity of the speaker’s choice. There are no apps or anything to download. In addition, each participant is automatically entered into a second 15-minute video chat that is one-on-one.
Wizeo v-p of content Jessica Alpert Silber, former associate producer for WBUR’s Here & Now, sees Wizeo as a natural for authors to connect with their audience. Working through publishers or directly with authors she has booked writers like Ayelet Waldman (Love and Treasure), Alan Dershowitz (Taking the Stand), and Andrew McAfee (coauthor of The Second Machine Age). Some writers Silber is hoping to book, like Malcolm Gladwell (David and Goliath), have been requested by members. Those requests are posted on the home page of Wizeo’s website, where Gladwell currently has over 1,000 requests.
“I’m trying to choose a diverse range of authors,” says Silber, adding “I think this is the future of engagement. For a lot of authors it’s a great way to communicate with their readers.” It’s also an opportunity for authors to raise money for a cause. But it’s not clear yet how much it will influence book sales. Wizeo is willing to link to a bookselling site at the request of the author or publisher or to purchase books and manage sales.
Silber sees Wizeo as another tool for publicists who want to get their authors exposure. She’s willing to consider self-published authors as long as they can guarantee that they have a following. She stresses that whether someone is published by a traditional press or self-published, there’s no upfront or flat fee. Wizeo, which is for profit, takes a 10% commission from the total members pay to a charity.