In August 2015, prolific podcaster and bestselling author Tim Ferriss made waves when he announced the launch of a new startup called LitLiberation.
This publishing venture aimed to fund translations of English language books into a variety of languages around the world.
What made LitLiberation’s mission unique was its plan to raise $1 million in just one month. Ferriss himself jumpstarted fundraising by lining up an array of prominent Silicon Valley tech investors from Uber, Stripe, Facebook and PayPal as founding contributors. He then opened up LitLiberation’s one month campaign to crowdfund a global book translation movement embracing readers worldwide.
Why Books and Languages?
While regularly hosting A-list performers, athletes and leaders on his podcast, Ferriss developed a passion for promoting global literacy and cross-cultural understanding. He saw book translations as a powerful conduit for spreading ideas across borders.
The sobering statistics also grabbed his attention - only about 3% of all books published in the English language get translated into other languages. The majority of these are commercial fiction, mass market bestsellers and YA novels. High quality non-fiction often gets left out, creating a knowledge gap for international readerships.
At the same time, rapid advances in digital reading brought books within reach of vast new audiences. Ferriss recognized digital formats provided easier access but language still presented the #1 barrier inhibiting the spread of ideas for global citizens.
LitLiberation aimed to change that by jumpstarting high quality non-fiction translations at scale. Its goal? Raise $1 million to translate 40 influential English texts into 40+ languages for free distribution on digital platforms.
Launching The Million Dollar Book Club
To attract major capital in a short timeframe, Ferriss conceived LitLiberation as an exclusive funding circle for prominent tech founders apt to support global literacy causes. He playfully dubbed it the “Million Dollar Book Club” with a dramatic challenge:
“40 Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors. 40 days starting today. $1 million.”
Could he rally elite business minds to hit that seven-figure target enabling LitLiberation’s lofty translation plans? Ferriss kickstarted momentum by recruiting personal friends as founding contributors like:
- Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison
- Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz
- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
- Angel investor Naval Ravikant
- PayPal co-founder Max Levchin
- Evernote CEO Phil Libin
Many donated $25,000 each. Some like the Collisons, Moskovits and Kalanick even matched outside donations dollar for dollar up to $100,000. Their anchor support gave LitLiberation instant credibility to court wider participation.
Ferriss Fever Takes Over
Tim Ferriss fanned his popularity and influence as an early podcast pioneer to drive buzz around LitLiberation’s campaign. He discussed the mission on his own podcast while also securing features on other shows like Recode Decode.
Bloggers rallied behind LitLiberation’s vision to expand access to ideas globally. Prominent authors like Seth Godin and Stephen Dubner promoted the initiative to their own readership. LitLiberation’s feel good mission even landed coverage in general media like Forbes, Time Magazine and HuffPost.
As momentum reached fever pitch, software founders dominated donations ranging from $10,000 to over $100,000. VCs like Chris Sacca, Naval Ravikant and Matt Mullenweg joined the growing list of contributors. LitLiberation galvanized Silicon Valley’s elite, many immigrants themselves, who understood firsthand the power of books and education in a new country.
In just 18 days, LitLiberation crowdfunded $1.2 million before closing the doors to new donors. Ferriss’s wild experiment mobilizing wealthy tech founders for a literacy cause succeeded beyond all expectations. LitLiberation instantly commanded the capital necessary to execute ambitious translation plans on schedule.
The exhilarating journey left participants hungry to repeat the giving frenzy. So in 2016, Ferriss launched LitLiberation’s Chapter Two, this time expanding the Book Club concept as an ongoing funding mechanism for global literacy projects.
Six years later, LitLiberation continues empowering readers worldwide to access life-changing books in their native languages. The journey all started with Ferriss putting his reputation behind an improbably fast moonshot campaign fueled by tech influencer dollars. The story stands out as historic testament to the power of books and bold ideas - the same things LitLiberation ultimately seeks to spread.