Ricci Wolman is founder and CEO of Durham-based Written Word Media, a book discovery platform that connects authors and readers. Ricci has over 15 years of experience building online audiences using data-driven customer acquisition techniques. She holds an MBA from Harvard University.
1. What is in your pockets?
I have a purse, and the essentials that I carry are a book, my laptop, and English breakfast tea bags. I am a tea drinker but it’s actually quite challenging sometimes to get tea when you’re out and about. I always carry some English breakfast tea bags with me in the event that I go out and I want to a cup of tea and a restaurant doesn’t have it.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
Written Word Media is a book discovery platform where we connect readers and authors. We help readers find their next book and we enable authors to access the million-plus base of readers we have to put their books in front of. Predominantly our customer base is made up of independent authors—or “indie authors”—who traditionally lack access to discovery platforms or ways to get their book in front of readers because of what has historically happened with traditional publishing. We have an incredible team of talented, smart, passionate individuals who really care about our customers. We’re also very data- and process-oriented, so that’s enabled us to scale the business without compromising the quality and the personal touch that we have.
The first exciting thing is that when the pandemic hit, we were able to launch an initiative to support authors who were financially impacted by COVID. We were actually able to support hundreds of authors through the initiative, which is ongoing. Using our platform for good and to actually support our customers has been the most exciting thing in very recent memory.
The other exciting thing is that we reached the milestone of over a million subscribed readers across the different brands that we have at Written Word. In 2019, we spent a lot of time investing in infrastructure and processes so we could be poised for growth in 2020. We’re seeing some of that growth pay off, which is exciting because it means we can serve more readers and more authors than we ever have before.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
My go-to for meetings and tea is the Durham Hotel. They make a great cup of tea. I really like to have meetings there as well, because it’s got a good energy but it’s quiet enough that you can actually hear the person you’re talking to. I would say a close second would be Beyu Caffe.
4. What keeps you up at night?
There are three questions that I have on loop at any given time. The first one is: Are we doing the best that we can to support our employees, both professionally and personally? The second is: How can we leverage innovation and technology to better serve our customers? The last one is: Are we contributing in a meaningful way to both our local community where we’re based and then our community of partners and authors and readers that we serve? It’s the three C’s—I’m constantly thinking about culture, customers, and community.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
We’re in the American Underground, so I would say Luna, M Sushi, and Neomonde are the three restaurants I usually grab my lunch from. M Sushi is next to the Durham Hotel and has some of the best sushi in the Triangle.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
On the business front, we have some really exciting product launches slated that expand on the current offerings that we have to our authors and our publishers that were on the roadmap before the pandemic. Something that’s been interesting with the pandemic is that shoppers have not been able to go to bookstores as much as they used to so some readers are trying eBooks and audiobooks for the first time, just because it’s easier to get them than physical books. We think that the pandemic will accelerate eBook adoption, which is exciting for our customer base because a lot of our readers and customers already are predominantly focused on eBooks, so we feel like we’re already poised to take advantage and help authors and publishers thrive in this new world.
On the community front, when we first started Written Word, we felt it was really important to support a local nonprofit and have that nonprofit be a partner organization to us. That partner for us is Book Harvest. They are a Durham-based nonprofit and their mission is to ensure that literacy and learning is basically a right and not a privilege for children in the Triangle. They have a 10-year anniversary coming up in January of next year. I feel like their work could not be more relevant in the current circumstance that we find ourselves in, and so we’re a sustainer for them. We support them and have for many years, but we’re also looking to see how we can support them to celebrate their 10th anniversary, and then what the next 10 years holds for them.