Tobi is Co-founder and Co-CTO of Blinkist, a bite-sized-learning service that condenses knowledge from great nonfiction into powerful little packs. He co-founded Blinkist in 2012 with a vision to inspire people to never stop learning, and grew it into a global brand with customers in more than 140 countries.Follow Follow
Storytelling about Blinkist for Business with Tobias Balling
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 145. This week we have storytelling about Blinkist for Business with Tobias Balling. During this episode, Tobias and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Blinkist.
Tobias is the co-founder and co-CTO at Blinkist and an expert in all things education and B2B. His passion to inspire and empower people to never stop learning really comes through during the podcast. Recently, Tobi transitioned to his CTO role, leading Blinkist into B2B territory. He also ventures into creative cooking, enjoys connecting and is an organizer of the Berlin CTO Club.
Blinkist is a bite-sized learning service that condenses knowledge from great nonfiction and podcasts into powerful little packs. The company was founded in 2012 and grew into a global brand with customers in more than 140 countries.
A few things about Blinkist that we cover today: How does the platform play into the recruiting process? What kind of reception has the company received on an enterprise level in terms of bringing content on board? How does Blinkist fit in with existing HR technology?
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 28 minutes
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Welcome to Recruiting Daily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better. As we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen this William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Tobias from Blinkist, but it’s really… We’re going to be talking about the enterprise part of it, the Blinkist for Business. So we’ll talk a little bit about Blinkist proper, but we’ll also be always kind of focusing on the business side, the B2B side, the enterprise side. This is obviously, The Use Case Podcast where we kind of discuss the business case that practitioners should make et cetera for buying software and services. So Tobias do us a favor and introduce yourself, and also introduce Blinkist.
Cool. Thank you so much, William, for having me.
I’m Tobias. I’m working out of Berlin. So at the moment as we speak it’s in the evening, very excited to be here and to record this with you. I’m one of the co-founders of Blinkist. We have started the company nine years ago, when we identified that there was so much knowledge out there, but not enough time to consume it and we always thought, we needed to work on the solution to help us get at least… get an idea and get some… Get all those books, or great source of information, in our lives that we wanted to. And what Blinkist is today, it’s a micro-learning app that helps you read or listen key insights from nonfiction books and podcasts.
Recently we call them Shortcasts. We on the B2C side of things have about, I don’t know, what we communicate, I think roughly 20 million users on the B2C side of things and we help busy people we help people that don’t have time to read, to listen to all the podcasts, to all the books, to all the blogs, to all the knowledge sources out there. And lots… I think we have in our onboarding on the app, we ask people, why do you come to Blinkist? Why do you use it? What do you expect from us? And I think, about half of the people, they say they use Blinkist to get better in their professional lives.
So quite naturally at some point over… Not at some point, but over the last nine years, people that have used Blinkist for their professional lives have gone to their learning and development department or to their team leader and been like, “Hey, we should buy this for the company. It’s cool. It really helped me learn better, time-manage better, present better, negotiate better, whatever you want. We should get this for the team.” And so we got inbound requests over the years that sometimes we took because the young Tobias was like, “that’s cool. That’s a Silicon valley company I want to talk to them. Let’s get them in.” But most of the times not ignore them, but said, “look, we can’t serve it because we need to focus.”
But after eight, nine years, we were like, “let’s take on that opportunity and let’s try to transport the great success, the engagement, the learning, the value that we have provided to individuals. And let’s see how we can transport that into organizations.” So that’s Blinkist today. It’s still a massive B2C consumer brand, and it’s slowly but rapidly… Not slowly, but it’s rapidly growing to B2B and enterprise space, and I’m trying to do this.
I love this on so many levels. One thing I love is, that we’ll just take the internet as an example. The internet is a great place for information, tons of information, but it’s actually hard to distill that into knowledge. And y’all have done this with books, and with podcasts recently, and you’ll do this with other things. You basically take that information and distill it down into its most salient points so that, not just busy people, but just folks that want to consume and get to the… Out of those 300 pages, there’s 10 things that you need to know, great learns or great wins, and I think… First of all,
I think that’s just our attention span it fits us now… It fits us more. I don’t have time to read 700 pages of James Michener, talking about Mexico. I literally… I want that rolled up into the 10 things that I need to get out of this book. So I love that, but also love the enterprise play, helping people. This is something that either you build your own LMS or this would be content that would go inside of an LMS or kind of a historic kind of an LMS or learning situation where you find out what people want to learn, during the recruiting process. Optimally, you validate that onboarding process. What do you want to learn? And you put them on a learning path, and then you give them access to Blinkist for Business in this case so that they have access to all types of learning.
Exactly. So I think… I don’t know, if I missed the question I had, I think I have a bad internet connection, but I’m-
No, you Fine. You’re fine. You’re fine. I ended it with a statement. The question is how do you get folks to the enterprise level? What’s the process? Now the consumer… You’ve obviously got a great consumer model and you’ve got a great customers there, et cetera. They’re pulling you into the enterprise. How are you finding the reception from the enterprise so far?
Yes, I think-
How are you finding that reception from them in terms of bringing the content on board?
I think it was quite a natural progress actually. As I said earlier, we have a lot of business people in our customer base and they use it, they love it for themselves, and I think that naturally when it helps an employee grow and learn, get better, get more efficient, learn new skills, it automatically helps the organization. And so I think it was the most natural step into B2B I could have imagined to be honest.
And then when… About one and a half years ago, I said, “let’s try to, ,, really make that a thing and really try to focus on it and try to build for it.” The cool thing is that at first one or two persons, or like, depending on company size, maybe even hundreds of people, they use Blinkist and they become our business champions and then they introduce us to the learning and development department, HR, smaller companies and bigger companies.
Bigger companies have complete learning and development departments, bigger and Blinkist. They have good, great efforts to make people better because that’s what ultimately makes the organization better. And so I picked that up and as a founder, I went quite… Customer-centric about it. It’s like really picking up the phone, picking up zoom, talking to somebody and, and like, “so you called me, why did you call me? What do you want to try to solve? How can I help you doing so?, What are your goals? What is the learning and development goals?, The company goals. And let’s see if we, first of all, are a solution that can help you achieve those goals. And if so how? How can we do it?” And then I just went quite iteratively about it, listening, learning, making some hypothesis on what’s the learning and development and space needs, and then go for it.
And I think ultimately it is… My belief is that the big problem these days is that learning offers or books or webinars, podcast, trainings, all of this, it’s everywhere. But it’s very hard for a single person to take the time to do it, especially regularly on a habitual basis. And that’s not so easy and I think companies come to us because they want to have something that, people take regularly and engage with it and learn something with it and get inspired and have all these great ideas, maybe they even buy the books. Maybe they even go and take deeper studies about it, but having something lightweight, as Blinkist that fits into your mobile daily use case, and get an easy access to knowledge, and I think that’s why, why companies come to us.
And then what we are building around it now is a nice enterprise offering where, imagine you have a company that has a strategy to go more into digitalization or diversity, performance improvements, finance, et cetera.
And they come to us and then we have learning experts. We have knowledge experts that design learning path with them that help them, design and discover experience that cater, specifically to that organization and helps them push out knowledge to the employee that is relevant for the company. I think… And something that always works is we interview a CEO and we are like, “Hey, what are you reading? What are you into?” And CEO gives us 10 books and then we push it to the people in that company that is engaging, that is relevant, that has high context, and that’s something that we can’t have for the individual user. I think that’s, that’s where we try to translate the Blinkist of success from B2C into the B2B space.
Well and I love micro-content just personally, just because it just gets you down to the… Again it cuts out some of that time, and I can see the business… I can see on the enterprise side, professionals love kind of the Blinkist in this way. Let me ask you a question about dealing with L&D or training departments versus HR. What’s. I know they’re different. I know actually both of them are really well, but I know they’re different, but for you, which one do you find easier to kind of explain, kind of what you do and how you do it?
That’s an interesting question. As of now, I think the easiest, it is to explain to the individual person, as well as the learning and development people. I think it’s very obvious that for the individual person, that Blinkist is something lightweight. It’s engaging. If you listen to some of the content that we are producing for everybody listening, if you check out one of the books and Blinkist called Scout Mindset, you’ll find we are now experimenting with content that is… It’s not only somebody reading out the content, it’s like a conversation. It’s multiple speakers. It has sound effects. It’s really going into the more entertaining area where it’s really trying to get me hooked into it. And to them, it’s the easiest to explain. And with this, I’m like, “look, then you go to the learning development department. You’re like, you have all those topics that you want to push in the organization. And we want everybody to get better on, well, we have a service that can provide content for it and makes it engaging for the people to, use it. And I think that’s, that’s a story that works quite well.”
So right now, AI is obviously, it’s mobile. I get that. Do you… With the enterprise, and again, you might not have the answer specifically right now, but in a year or so you might. Where does this, where does this technology fit within kind of all the other technologies that they have? Do you see it kind of being a part of an LMS that they’ve purchased? Do you see it as career pathing and kind of individual training and development programs, and so it’s a standalone, like how do you see the technologies either fitting together and being integrated or not, like what does that look like for y’all right now?
Well, we believe that the content should be at the point where the user needs it. So from the B2C side of things, we have very early focused on audio because we believe that, you’re on the go, you have AirPods in or your headphones and you needed your under run. You’re going to the gym, you’re going to an airport, you’re in the bus. So we wanted to provide content there, and I think the same principle applies for the B2B space. If you have an LMS, I’m happy to provide a content in your LMS. That’s no problem. I think the beauty is it doesn’t have to be in the LMS.
It’s also as valuable for the user if it’s just in our service, the power of Blinkist is in the end that it’s a service that’s very user-driven. It’s supposed to be simple, intuitive self-directed and kind of an informal tool that people can use, however they learn. And so also being the CTO… a core CTO Of the company, I’m constantly listening to clients and what they need, and then I’m adapting the service so that-
That people have the content, whenever they need it. Let it be an LMS, let it be the car, let it be the phone. I don’t mind whatever the platform. I want it to be easily accessible. I think that’s the key. Yeah.
I think you’re absolutely spot on it becomes ubiquitous. If someone wants to… If a company says, “Hey, we want to release this as a benefit or as a perk to all of our employees as just a way for them to get better and let them, you use it as they want to use it. Great.” If-
“If they want it tightly integrated into something, ,, a bit more formal and in their LMS. Great.”
Exactly. What it comes down to is that the people use it, right?
Where they use it. Exactly secondary. I mean, the Blinkist app in the itself has a lot of cool things that we built, obviously that, we can’t control on other platforms, data science, like recommending things, having editorial spaces, et cetera. So obviously, I think the state of the art Blinkist is development is within the Blinkist app. But if a company wants to have a specific LMS, that’s good for us.
It’s funny. I see this also, in the future, I see it getting pushed out into recruiting in the sense of talking with talent about what they want to learn, how they like to learn what they want to learn. If they had two or three weeks to read something, what would they like to read? All that types of stuff, just finding those things out, and then being able to provide them a way to actually actualize the things that they want to learn. I think it’s just a smart way to attract talent, much less engage and retain talent, which I think ultimately, I think that’s one of the value add that y’all are going to be providing, the enterprise is a tool, a way to engage the talent that they have, employees that they have, and retain that talent by always kind of making them better, always giving them access so that they can make themselves better. So I-
Also, if you think about-
I love that. Go ahead.
Also, if you think about the past years, how things are changing, right? There’s Corona crisis, there’s digitalization, remote work. Things are changing all the time. So giving people access to stay up to date, to always be informed, to have an easy access to knowledge. I think it’s so important to a company.
Do you see Tobias, cause y’all are global. Do you see anything in terms of regionality or generationally or gender? Do you see anything like what people want to learn and do you see any trends that you can kind of go back to the enterprise and tell them, “okay, Hey, listen, you’re recruiting Gen Z. Folks under the age of 25, let’s say, here are the things that they’re interested in, just in general, of course. But here’s a way here’s a path forward, at least speaking their language. You might want to think about these things.
That’s an interesting one William, I think generationally. I think, I believe the time spans get short and shorter. People are used to having access to knowledge just in time. I think my parents, they would’ve gone to library to-
To study, to prepare. And then after three weeks, be ready for the job. Today, I believe that the younger generations, they are just used to having access to everything they want right now. And I think, how would you call it? I think it’s learn in the moment. You have a problem. Then you face it. And then you gather a few perspectives. You make yourself your own opinion and then you move forward. And I think that’s what definitely has changed. On the other hand, it has changed for all generations, right? But I think the younger, the more this is just natural and expected. Otherwise I believe that there are certainly some differences in the American and the European markets that are probably a little bit too complicated to explain right now. But I think in general there are differences. But all of us, we tend to have this need to just get the knowledge when we need it live. Basically I think that’s a common.
Yeah. It’s especially with Gen Z and probably even millennials. They’ve always had that X in a corner, almost everything they’ve done and it’s just too easy to hit the X. And I find it fascinating, both my sons are Gen Z. And I think it was misdiagnosed. Their attention span is shorter on average than millennials by about four seconds. But what’s interesting is I was misdiagnosed, that’s a bad thing. We would’ve come to understand, not just about my sons, but in general about Gen Z is they just make decisions faster. So some of it is we think they just don’t have the attention. No they’re actually, they make… They consume it faster and go, “no” “delete”. And they get out of it. That’s, what’s kind of fascinating on some level I got two questions. One is for those that haven’t used Blinkist. So of course on the consumer side, they’ve never used it. You’re talking to them for the first time and you show them a demo or you show them the technology, et cetera. What do they fall in love with?
I believe what they fall in love with once we show it to them is the content. The content is really not just condensed text. It is text structured in a way that you can consume it on a mobile. Use Case it has in itself encapsulated chapters. They’re all two minutes long. You can drop out one at one chapter and pick up again. It has audio that’s really engaging. That has conversations that really gets you excited. And then secondly, it’s a very modern app that, not only serves… That not only place you, that great content, but it also learns what you’re interested in. It serves you what’s relevant because that times when… what I said in the beginning of the conversation, there’s so much knowledge produced every day. It’s also not easy to find something that you like or something that’s good and so I think having an app that, that really learns what you’re interested in as you go and then serves very relevant content, plus having a huge and strong human curated part to it, I think that’s what people really, really love.
And then brand new to organizations, we can configure all of this. We can adapt this to the organization. [inaudible 00:22:44] I’m talking to a learning leader and you have those five objectives for that. Well, then we adapt to this. Then we provide you a discover experience… A content discover experience. That’s exactly catering to your to your goals. And I think that’s what the- [crosstalk 00:23:04]
I love that.
Its not only just a few condensed text piece thrown to them. I think it’s much more than just-
And again, it’s right where they want to learn, what they want to learn and it’s in a format that people are comfortable with. Right now you’re getting to a point in life where everyone have smartphone, they’re comfortable and there’s a smartphone. Content’s there and it’s not just content. It’s not just information. It’s getting to the root of knowledge, which I absolutely love. So the last question is, before we roll out is your favorite customer story, and we can do a B2C one. And if you want do one, that’s an enterprise one, that one’s fine as well, but just kind of stories that you just find fascinating of people that-
Can I tell you both?
Yeah, of course, of course.
From the B2B side as a founder, when you start something, you develop something that you believe is great, and then you talk very early to the customer and you listen. And so when we started B2B and developing the enterprise offering, we talked to customers very early. And then we asked questions like, why did you buy Blinkist? What is the problem that you wanted to solve? And did we solve it? And if we solved it, how did we solve it? And so there were, I think, a few customers in the very early days, like a year ago. In the very early days of B2B, we asked them like, “what, what was the problem you wanted to solve?”
And they said, “yeah, we have all these offerings, but people in the organization never use it.” And I think that’s probably what all the learning and development leaders or the HR leaders out there know is that, all the offerings often don’t get used until it’s the last time of the month and of the year and you have to use the budget. And everybody gets like, okay, I got to use my learning development budget and they search for something that people use regularly. And I’m like, “so did we achieve this?” And they’re like, “yeah.” And I’m like, “how?” And then they said, “yeah, we built this book club around it.” So they meet every week. They meet every week.
Oh, that’s cool.
It’s not only an app. They have a meeting and they put books and Blinkist they set this to read together and it’s very lightweight. You can fit this into your workday and then they discuss it and then they discuss how they take it into action on work. And I’m like, “yes. Wow.” And then the founder me gets all the fantasies about making a technology supported book club kind of system and whatnot. I can dream about this, so that’s cool. On the B2C side things, I don’t know, eight years back, much younger Tobias, very new in the business, couple of 100 thousand users worldwide. Like literally not many. And somebody calls… rides into customers the report. The customers report is like, “Hey, that person is a director.” I’m not saying name, very famous Silicon valley company. “Do you want to talk to them?” And I’m like, “yeah, cool, blah blah.” So I reach out to them and they were like, “Hey, if you come by valley, just give us a text and you can come to the office.”
So I actually fly to the valley a few months later and I thought I would just go for lunch. And when I arrived there, they invited, I don’t know, 10 directors to the whole learning development department. And everybody was like, we are Blinkist fans. And I’m like, “cool.” And they’re like, “can you sell it to us?” And I’m like… I really, that was like eight years ago. And that’s the first enterprise sale I ever did. People really getting excited about the product and pulling in L&D. And, and then we did this enterprise sale back then, and that was my first ever touch on enterprise sales. But recently, specifically on organizations, I think it’s so cool if they built things around it habits. Team habits on learning.
That was just… What was beautiful about that is those advocates, people that just, they were already fans. And you didn’t have to convert them they were already converted. Now you just had to like come up with a financial model and obviously a bunch of technology stuff on the back end, but yes when somebody wants to buy something. Yes. Now let’s figure it out. Might take a [crosstalk 00:27:36]
Guess. I don’t know how .
What’s in your budget. How much is in your wallet? Tobias. This has been fantastic. Thank you so much for carving time for the Use Case Podcast.
That was really great. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it.
Absolutely, and thanks for everyone listening to The Use Case Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.