Does this sound familiar? Anyone with a professional work history can relate, I’m sure… Working at a company with few and unclear paths toward professional development and advancement. Unclear guidelines to execute work. Chaos from massive workloads and attentional demands that never let up long enough to find smarter ways to work. Lack of cohesion and alignment with coworkers. Ringing any bells?
I’m Zach Rubin, Co-Founder and CEO of Professional Book Club Guru. My co-founder Chris and I worked together at a civil engineering company with the same problems described above.
It wasn’t all bad. We had great peers, as I’m sure you do: knowledgeable, successful, hard-working people. We connected with each other over these same qualities and an intense desire to learn and grow. We regularly shared recommendations for business books with each other. Both in our early 20's, we found that the ideas we were getting from books were having a very positive impact on our career, helping us contribute and advance more quickly than many of our peers.
Often, we would suggest something in a client meeting that we read in a book and coworkers and clients alike would be impressed with how perfectly the idea helped solve a key challenge. And saying something was from a book made it more credible than if we had just had the idea on our own. It seemed like we were accelerating in our careers so much faster than our peers… Often just by just listening to audiobooks on our drive to work!
We wanted others to benefit from reading—and to cultivate peers who could accelerate our growth—so we launched an office book club. People loved it. But we realized that if we ever stopped organizing the group it would likely end. There were many people who enjoyed participating in a book club, but very few who wanted to manage one.
That gave us our big idea—to create a business that manages book club programs for other organizations. We've been testing and refining that basic idea ever since and have grown new lines of lifelong learning programs beyond book clubs based on feedback on unmet customer needs from the segments we served.
Since then, we’ve created a business that has helped hundreds of organizations surmount the same challenges we faced and fulfilled the same goals we held all those years ago. But it wasn’t always an easy journey...
We've since developed dozens of tools that allow our team to manage hundreds of book clubs without needing to work all hours of the day. This helped us become profitable and most importantly, helped us produce highly effective managed book clubs at an affordable cost for universities and companies of all sizes and types.
Once we had a dozen or so successful clients that wanted to stick with the service long term, we knew it was time to scale up our programs so we "hit the road" so to speak to tell other organizations how valuable our programs are. We worked to become experts in online engagement in the alumni relations and corporate training spaces and to share our lessons learned broadly at conferences and in webinars so others can create their own programs even if they don't want to use our services. We want as many people to benefit from reading and engaging in learning communities as we can so that is our focus.
People are often surprised that our business exists. That there is a market for enterprise book club programs. Not us. We saw it from the very start, with the hunger to learn together that we witnessed in our very first book club. And while it was never guaranteed, we look back at the vision and determination that got us here and find a purpose and meaning in the journey that feels almost like destiny.
There’s a satisfaction to that feeling and that story. But, we also know the deeper truth: our success comes from the same growth mindset and dedication to learning and tinkering that we’re trying to foster in other people and organizations.
For example, we follow the principles of The Lean Startup, regularly experimenting and trying new things to keep improving our programs. We also benefit significantly from a network effect of learning where many of our best ideas have come from individual clients wanting to customize their programs—when those changes have been successful then we're able to roll them out to all of our programs that make sense to keep making things better over time. This ability to learn from others comes in no small part of the act of learning through book club conversations.
Ultimately, we believe deeply that reading books is one of the best ways for people to develop themselves. We're passionate to our cores about finding ways to help people read more. We hate to see when people are stressed, overwhelmed, unfulfilled, and unsatisfied with their work and personal lives because they've never taken the time to explore better ways of thinking and operating. There are wonderful books on building a better career, managing stress, building effective habits, negotiating, being more persuasive and so much more. But people don't seem to realize how much can be improved by spending a little time reading and trying new things. We want people to embrace a growth mindset and develop themselves so they are happier and more productive in the areas where they can contribute most. And we love that reading and discussing together happens to be extremely fun, rewarding, and connecting.
These days, we get hundreds of emails each year from participants saying how much a book impacted their lives. From finding the courage to reach out to an estranged parent after 20 years, to finally asking for the raise they know they deserve and getting it, to reconnecting with their teenager after a messy divorce and so much more.
Listen to what our happy customers and program participants say about the results we deliver.
"We’ve appreciated working with PBC Guru on our social justice movie club as it has allowed us to create a unique experience for our university and alumni. PBC Guru provides the program framework and staffing which has given us capacity to create additional opportunities for engagement and connection."
"We have seen a notable increase in engagement amongst members of our association who are a part of the book club. We highly recommend PBC Guru as they provide professionally moderated book club discussion groups in a turnkey fashion, allowing us to provide a great benefit to our members with minimal day to day oversight."
"The team at PBC Guru are thoughtful, accessible problem solvers who are interested in our goals. It’s like having another dedicated colleague on our staff thinking about virtual engagement strategies full-time!"
"PBC Guru has provided a professional, flawless and dependable service to the members of the NC Medical Society with its book club program. This program has allowed us to offer a member engagement resource to our members in North Carolina without being “experts” in executing a formal book club."
"We have been able to engage over 500 alumni in one year in a new and interesting way. With a small staff, being able to rely on PBC to manage the program has been an easy and efficient way to add value to what we offer our alumni."
"The PBC Guru program consistently aligns with DPR’s core values (Integrity, Enjoyment, Uniqueness and Ever Forward) and provides creative collaboration. The addition of PBC Guru to our existing reading program has exceeded our expectations; the level of customizability and their customer service is impeccable!"
"We’ve been able to engage a larger population of alumni with the ALC platform . . . The white label content really helps us bulk out our engagement offerings without taking up staff time or resources. We love that everything is built for us, including marketing images and copy to assist with promotion."
"The webinars and resources offered to our alumni, friends, and students have been a terrific complement to our program. We can showcase interesting speakers and topics through our partnership with ALC, further increasing the benefits to our McMaster alumni community."