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Dorka Horvath of BOOKR Kids: “Learn more every day than yesterday”

My ultimate role model is my father who started his first business at the time of the regime change in Hungary and was the first to found a company in the post-socialist country. He taught me that a successful business person should not just understand numbers but always remain optimistic and be able to renew […]

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My ultimate role model is my father who started his first business at the time of the regime change in Hungary and was the first to found a company in the post-socialist country. He taught me that a successful business person should not just understand numbers but always remain optimistic and be able to renew in all situations. Looking at colleagues not as employees, but as family members, focusing on value creation rather than short-term profit-making. And learn more every day than yesterday.

So, optimism, ability to adapt and innovate, long-term impact, giving value and purpose to team members, lifelong learning.


As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dorka Horvath, CEO and Founder of BOOKR Kids, the award-winner Kids reading App. BOOKR Kids provides a combination of beloved children’s stories and interactive tools that support literacy development and give families a smart array of digital books in one comprehensive offering. Besides her true passion for publishing Dorka is engaged in women entrepreneurship by encouraging young girls and women to make a difference. Dorka won the Founder of the Year prize on the Central European Innovation Award, and she was nominated for Forbes 30 under 30 lists. She is writing her doctoral thesis describing E-learning and New-media’s relationship at the Corvinus University of Budapest and most importantly the mother of a baby boy, Simon.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Growing up with publisher parents and being a young mother-to-be, I wanted the love of reading to inspire my son, just like other children. But the world is changing and young generations need smart and interactive content to read and learn. With BOOKR, I launched an innovative solution to connect beautiful literature and engaging digital books to develop the love for reading among children.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

As a former athlete, I learned that a match only ends when the referee blows the whistle. That’s why I’m unable to give up. I believe so much in our mission and in the company we are building, I would not believe anyone who tells me we will not succeed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In the beginning, we wanted to offer hardware to the software as well. We ordered 2000 kids-safe tablets from China; when they arrived, we realised they were not only not kid-friendly, but they literally did not function well either. We invested a lot in manufacturing and lost almost our entire investment. You should never do everything at once. If you are developing software, do not start a hardware business. 🙂

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We combined multimedia elements with print stories and created a new type of reading experience. I believe that books on a tablet and other interactive content are complimentary, but aren’t substitutes for traditional paper-based books! The point is for them to immerse themselves in a story and enjoy the world of books. A person who loves to read is “platform indifferent”; they do not choose between paper and screens; all they care about is reading, reading and more reading. I think our mission is outstanding.

In my PhD research I examine interactive books’ role as a new hybrid medium in education. I am in such a lucky position to put my theoretical work into practice as we are continually developing and shaping the BOOKR methodology based on the latest research.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?

We need to train ourselves and learn continually. Learning always gives new ideas and motivation that protects you from burnout.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My mentor, Peter Balogh, founder of the most successful startup NNG told me once a good analogy about knowledge. If you have two kegs of beer and share it with a friend, you’ll have less beer to drink. But knowledge works the opposite way. Somehow, the more people you share it with, the more you have left for yourself. When you explain it, you get to understand it better. When it gets challenged, your understanding gets more deep. When you apply it specifically to a topic, it helps you understand it more widely.

Some people are afraid that if they share their knowledge, they will be poorer without it. Less valuable to the world. I think the opposite is true. You gain more knowledge, new viewpoints, and also more credibility and respect from others: friends, collaborators, fellow sharers, followers. You become part of a network which helps in so many ways in your future success.

I am grateful for anyone who has shared his or her knowledge along the way.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

I think a good company is one that operates sustainably, offers a competitive product or service, provides a stable job for its employees. And a great company has a real impact on people’s lives and can change the world for the better. Trying to find real solutions to real problems. There are many ways businesses can do this from a bakery to a marketing agency.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

My ultimate role model is my father who started his first business at the time of the regime change in Hungary and was the first to found a company in the post-socialist country. He taught me that a successful business person should not just understand numbers but always remain optimistic and be able to renew in all situations. Looking at colleagues not as employees, but as family members, focusing on value creation rather than short-term profit-making. And learn more every day than yesterday.

So, optimism, ability to adapt and innovate, long-term impact, giving value and purpose to team members, lifelong learning.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose-driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Fortunately, we live in an era of business when you no longer have to choose between making a profit and making a difference. Being purpose- or mission-driven does not mean you have to be a charity, social enterprise, or even not-for-profit. It simply means that you are using your business to achieve aims beyond the bottom line.

According to our business plan, we need to double our revenue every year, but it also means that more and more kids are studying with us every year and more teachers are teaching with our high-quality books. Profit and mission can go hand in hand.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

We need to adapt to changed circumstances. We need to be able to change and not be afraid of it. There are moments when you need to stop and re-plan. This is not a problem. It is part of the evolution of a business. Being an entrepreneur is an addiction — addicted to the excitement of constant change, responsibility and continuous strength test. You are a sprinter, but you run a marathon at the same time.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

During the first wave of the pandemic, we decided to make all our educational products free; we also realised that the company was going to lose significant revenue in the coming period. But we could not have decided otherwise… this is the right way to go at this difficult time. You can imagine, it caused me many sleepless nights. It was a pleasant surprise that our partners helped us after the announcement immediately: we don’t have to pay for office space and for accounting services during this time — a massive gesture from our service providers.

However, we did not expect that one of the largest multinational companies, Samsung, would sponsor our apps and ensure that the free period will not affect the company’s stability very much in terms of CF. I haven’t seen a more important gesture from a big player to a startup.

One month later, The Educational Authority of Hungary has named BOOKR Class, our English as a Second Language teaching aid an official textbook. It means that our app is currently the first and only official cloud-based teaching material on the Hungarian list of approved textbooks. In September we gained 25k new paying customers.

If you can stand up to the most challenging times, the market will pay the bill in the end.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated?

Conversations. I think a leader’s life is about conversations, with colleagues, partners, investors, users. Conversations build the company, not excel spreadsheets.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience, what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

I think the most challenging part is finding the product-market fit. Once you find it, you are ready to scale. I recently read about Flywheel theory, which has dramatically helped identify the points that help accelerate conversion and revenue. I highly recommend it.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

I completely agree. Building reputation, especially in the online world is a challenging task. I think the most effective help is to have “super users” who build your brand as volunteer ambassadors because they actually became fans. Then the word of mouth machine starts to work.

If you also can present partners who already established their reputation in the market can also strengthen your own brand.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to building a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience, what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

You THINK that you know what your clients think and then… You meet them.

Finding out what your clients think is the only way to give them the best service.

72% of customers will share a positive experience with 6 or more people.

53% of unhappy customers will share their disappointments with more than 20.

People tend to get locked into the product development process and visualize their own ideas and thoughts as others’ needs, which is the worst in the business aspect. I also did it.

However, by avoiding listening to your customers, you are missing out on a lot of opportunities. Whether this is about fixing these customers’ issues or retaining them.

These are also valuable opportunities to learn and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.

I have now realized that it is much cheaper to keep an existing customer than to get a new one. In fact, it can be five times more expensive to attract a new one.

These days we have 7am-24pm customer service support because of the huge traffic and in order to learn and help as much as we can.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The biggest mistake is if the CEO is not mission-driven and sees the business as a “simple job”. If you love what you do from the bottom of your heart, you can do everything for it. This could be a superpower. And it is essential not to be afraid of failure. Failure is the key to success.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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