Who am I?
My name is Ben Fox, and I am a serial entrepreneur who loves to read. I live in Portugal with my amazing wife and my 5-year-old son Calico Jack (named after the pirate). Here is my LinkedIn profile to see my entrepreneurship background.
Why am I creating Shepherd?
Joy and fun (I am an entrepreneur) 🤪
I am a long-time entrepreneur who loves to take ideas and turn them into reality. Combining this with my love of reading is pure joy. I have so many ideas on how to help readers find books in new and unique ways, and I can't wait to share them over the coming years. Plus, I get the pleasure of meeting amazing authors and helping them achieve their dreams.
Please don't mistake me for a crazy dreamer. I plan to build a sustainable and profitable business that does great good. I have big goals, and Shepherd will eventually rival Goodreads. I have started and grown numerous companies over my career. One of the largest companies grew to 55,000 clients with 130 team members spread over 18 countries.
I love to read.
I can remember the exact moment when I learned to read. I was trying to read The Snow Baby and jumping from word to word. There was this magical moment where the words came alive, and it all clicked. It was one of the most amazing feelings in my life. I am lucky in that I read insanely fast. I read 100+ books a year. I adore books, reading, and the authors that make it all possible. I want to give a huge thank you to my parents for making books part of my life.
Authors & readers deserve better.
As a reader, I am incredibly frustrated with online book discovery. Goodreads does almost nothing to help authors meet readers or find fantastic books (what are they doing with that vast team?!?). At the same time, Amazon sells books the same way they sell toothpaste (hint - it isn't very exciting). A book is an experience, and the process of finding a book is part of that experience.
For Readers - I love wandering around bookstores and letting random books capture my attention. Nothing will ever replace the “bookstore experience,” but I want to reimagine book discovery online with more serendipity and delight.
For Authors - I want to help authors meet more readers. Authors illuminate our world, take us on faraway journeys, and entertain us. There is a growing trend that authors have to become their own marketing team. That concerns me because it is very difficult to do. I want to make this easier.
People need to appreciate and respect complexity.
I want to improve the world by increasing our understanding and empathy for complexity.
Humans are at their best when they appreciate the complexity of civilization, nature, society, and their fellow humans. And books are one of the best ways to feed this attribute.
One of the biggest global problems is that people are losing trust in the institutions that run our society. Politicians are telling us that there are easy and simple solutions to large and complex problems. Politicians are pandering to this simplistic nonsense to gain power. It is reminiscent of the rise of fascism in the early 20th century and is terrifying.
I think books are one way to fight this trend. If someone feels that immigration will be "solved" with a wall, they need to read a book to understand the complexity of immigration. If someone thinks the EPA is causing more harm than good, they need to read a book that shows them what the rivers were like before the EPA. If someone thinks the university system is fixed by forgiving $10,000 in debt, they need to read a book to understand how broken the current system is and how it could be fixed.
As the site grows, I want to do more to challenge readers to learn about these complex issues so that they are not fooled by politicians trying to gain power at any cost.
I feel powerless. I want to do something to improve the world on a bigger scale.
We live in a time where social media algorithms serve only to reinforce existing worldviews and propagate overly simplistic solutions. I think a book is one of the best ways to help us see the world through different eyes and understand the hidden complexities we are surrounded by. We need a lot more of both of those things right now.
I want to impact the soft culture in the USA and globally over the next thousand years. I want to play a role in creating cultural values that will create a better world for our children, their children, and so on. I am tired of feeling powerless, and Shepherd is a vehicle to help create a better world.
What type of world?
A world where science and scientists are respected and science is recognized as the best way to understand the physical world around us, where justice is accessible to the rich and poor, where healthcare is affordable for everyone, where critical thinking and financial skills are taught in schools, where citizens have a vote in how they are governed, where meritocracy is actively pursued and respected, where democracy is recognized as the best form of government that we currently have, where being poor is not seen as a moral failing, where political corruption has adverse outcomes, where starting and running a business is accessible and not full of overly burdensome licenses and needless bureaucracy, where college and vocational education are low cost so that everyone who wants to better themselves can, where labor and workers have a fair say in the economic system, where people are free to express their views without governmental punishment, where the environment is protected from pollutants that harm human/animal/plants, where religion helps you find *your* meaning in the world rather than personal beliefs forced upon others, and where taxes are fair for both the wealthy and poor.
I don't think any of those things are partisan. They are about us creating a world we want for our kids and future generations after that. And we need to have respectful discussions about what each of those things means and where we can meet on them. I will write and expand more as the project gets further along as well.
Who are your guiding stars on this project?
Anthony Bourdain is one of my guiding stars for this project. He is someone I've always admired. He epitomizes the ethos that humanity is similar and that every human on this planet has something to teach us. I also admire his constant soul-searching while not letting it hold back his day-to-day actions. He is missed.
Khan of Khan Academy sums up a lot of what I hope to do with this project with this quote: “If you believe in trying to make the best of the finite number of years we have on this planet (while not making it any worse for anyone else), think that pride and self-righteousness are the cause of most conflict and negativity, and are humbled by the vastness and mystery of the Universe, then I’m the same religion as you.”
And, of course, Wikipedia as they have done so much to help people learn and are a great source of truth in this world.
What values do you want Shepherd to advocate for?
It is early, and I have a lot of thoughts here. I will share more as I get further along.
- Advocating for democracy as the best form of government we have.
- Advocating for science and the scientific process as the best way to understand the physical world around us.
- Advocating for freedom of religion (the right to practice whatever religion, or lack of religion, one chooses).
- Advocating for meritocracy as an ideal we should forever strive for.
More to come, but I wanted to share that.
Where can I learn more?
Always feel free to email me; I am an open book!
Here is more info about Shepherd:
- The business model
- How sharing book recommendations will help you sell your book (with sales data)
- Our marketing plan
- A blog/newsletter that I update every two weeks about building Shepherd.
- A monthly newsletter for authors that shares traffic and other data.
Huge thanks to...
My family and friends for giving me advice and testing countless versions of the site. My brother for giving me fresh eyes on the project and helping me understand authors better. My wife for helping me with visuals and grammar checks. And my parents who instilled a love of reading :).
Want to help us build features faster?
I launched a membership program for founding members at the urging of authors and readers. 100% of the money goes toward developing new features and my goal of hiring a full-time developer in 2023 (currently, we only have one part-time developer).
Dear Ben, you have created a wondrous universe where the dwelling is good. I am proud to be part of your project, and I look forward to be guided by the Shepherd in the New Year. Best wishes to all, Leopoldine.
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