I’m certain it’s all about connection. The connection from one location to another or from one person to another. Six degrees of separation. Romantic connections between couples. The bond from parent to child. And who can forget the connection between readers and writers?
Not Brian Sanders, the CEO of the Penned app. He’s all about the business of connecting readers and writers and the words that both groups crave. I had the privilege of chatting with Brian on this lovely Saturday in March, both of us connected through Penned’s Marketing and PR guru who had the idea of a CEO interview.
Who is Brian Sanders?
A man known to his family and friends for his entrepreneurial spirit and bursts of creativity, Penned is one of Brian’s technological babies. The idea came to him through his combined interests of writing and designing apps. “I’d always thought of Wattpad as a place where folks could read free books and I had this idea to create something different”.
By “something different”, Brian was thinking about people who are interested in writing, maybe novice writers or folks who are just getting their feet wet with sharing their written words with others. And as we writers know, when we start sharing our soul with others, nice to start out a little on the smaller side; a chapter here, a poem there. As Brian puts it, Penned is the perfect place for “something bite sized”.
And where did he come from?
He grew up in Hawaii, born to his teacher mother and likeminded father who tends to have his own share of creativity and ideas that he enjoys talking about with his son. Brian moved to L.A. where he attended UCLA and received a degree in mechanical engineering, which makes him laugh saying “it isn’t related to either reading or apps”.
As he got into the workforce, he realized he wasn’t totally into mechanical engineering but worked in the field for a while and had a cool job. “I realized I wanted to do something on my own; like I’m gonna control destiny and do something big that helps people or does something fun for people that they can use”. He said he knew he “just wanted to make something bigger and be on my own”.
So he did. By donning his entrepreneur hat he gets to spend his time coming up with ideas and making things that people want to use. And Penned was born.
Penned was launched on December 20, 2013, just in time for the holidays and already has a fair amount of traffic. Since then he tells me “we’ve been trying to slowly, organically get users. We’re not trying to spread across the whole world instantly”. He’s working on the Android version now and “then we’ll try to reach everybody”.
The Penned team is small in number –Brian Sanders (CEO), Philip Tolk (CTO) & Sonia Chopra (Marketing & PR). For a young company with a new start up, they’re generating quite a bit of traffic on Penned so far. Brian and his team are excited that Penned “struck a chord with some people. Some folks add three stories a day. It’s great to see them engage”.
Penned isn’t the first idea Brian’s ever had. After his engineering phase, Brian went through what he calls his “learning phase” when he worked on developing something that he never released to the public. That project was “a little bit related [to Penned]”. (I won’t share all the details in case Brian decides to someday release that project to the world!)
When Brian was first toying with the idea of Penned he had trouble finding just the right folks to help him get it off the ground and out to the world of writers and readers. This is where the internet came in handy as he scoured sites like Craigslist looking for just the right designers to join with him in making Penned everything it is today. –A mobile cross between a personal journal and a place to read and write poetry, short stories, or whatever else a body wants to weave together and share with others.
How does Penned work?
“You kind of figure it out as you go. If it’s too personal or just mundane life stuff, folks might not read it. This is about enhancing the diary idea and giving it a poetic language or making it more interesting. A place to test the waters and see if others will read it or not.”
There are three different kinds of things you can post on Penned: your whole story, your personal journal entries, and short pieces of work. Brian doesn’t know if “any of those are going to merge or if they can live simultaneously.”
Since the launch, Penned has already evolved some. When it started there weren’t any categories on it, but now there are several that are user generated. Brian explains “you can type in the box and choose your own categories. People are going to do what they do and if they create a narrow category and it doesn’t work out and it’s the only story in it, maybe they’ll post it in a different category. You kind of make a decision about where you want to post your story. Or you make your own category”.
What is Brian’s hope for Penned?
“To see it be the de facto place to go. Just like twitter is the place to go for social media. I want it to be the place to go for writers. It’s like your writing presence.”
Are you Penned?
I joined Penned the other day. Easy process. I set up a profile (Vickie_s_miller) and plan to do some writing of my own on Penned. But I tend to be technologically impaired so it may take me awhile to figure things out. I’ve been doing some reading though and have even followed a couple people. The writing I’ve come across is eloquent, personal, and touching. There is mystery there that entices me to come back for more. This app is definitely a place for readers and writers connect. The only question that remains is: are you penned?