Nadia Odunayo is the founder and CEO of The StoryGraph, the new website that helps you to track your reading and choose which book to read next, based on your mood and any topics or themes that you’re interested in. She previously worked at Pivotal Labs as a software engineer and originally learned to code at Makers Academy in London. In her spare time she loves to take dance class and, naturally, read!
What do you create?
I created the site The Storygraph, which makes book recommendations based on your mood and any topics you may be interested in, on my own in January 2019. Initially, it was a small side project but after a lot of customer research we’ve grown into where we are today, including two colleagues I gained through their interest in the site. We have a super powerful recommendation engine where you can put in the types of topics, tropes, things you want to read, and types of authors you want to read in order to pinpoint the perfect book for you. We also use stats based on the mood and pace, have filters for finding books in your house to read to fulfill reading challenges, content warnings, half- to quarter-star ratings, and the similar books feature. If you are a paid member, a subscription service we recently launched, you can see similar books that take your personal preferences into account.
Why did you create The Storygraph?
The Storygraph started as a side project to create, track, and share reading lists. I have a friend whose five star reading list I wanted to follow using a progress bar to track my way through it. When a job opportunity in the U.S. fell through, I decided that I no longer wanted to work for anyone else. I’d always had side projects and had started business ventures with other people before, so I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I began working on side projects of my own, I felt a jolt of ‘this is where I want to be.’ I spent built out a prototype reading list and did customer research. I learned that recommendations and book discovery were still a problem and came up with the moods product. I kept working to solve issues up and through the full launch of The Storygraph in January 2021. In the full launch we fixed bugs brought up during the beta process and revealed a redesign of the website, displaying that we are here to stay.
Who is your audience?
General wisdom around crafting a good product means finding a niche group and building on their needs. When I first crafted the product, the audience I looked for were mood readers who read 50 or more books per year. My thinking was that I needed people who struggle with knowing what to read next and who also read quite quickly so they could provide me with feedback and recommendations. Later my audience became mood readers in general, and it keeps growing wider and wider. I wanted to make sure to avoid marketing our work as “Goodreads, but better,” because I didn’t want to be trapped into always being concerned with what they are doing. I wanted to accomplish this by focusing on real needs and pinpointing them, which has led to a lot of customers comparing the two sites. We’re not looking to be spoken about as a Goodreads alternative—we’re just looking to build a really good book tracking and recommendations website. If people want to make it their primary book tracking website, great!
Have you found yourself coming back to any of your earlier ideas?
We have come back around to some of the stuff like the reading challenges where you can create the reading lists and have a progress bar. Recently, we launched a public website where you can see exactly which updates we’re making to the site right now, what’s coming soon, and what’s on our radar for the medium-to-long term. However, you can only make suggestions as a paid member. We need to hear ALL the feedback and ideas to make the project better so I encourage people not to self-filter with reluctance to tell us their thoughts. Don’t self-filter. Please share!
Can you share some upcoming tools we’ll see on The Storygraph?
Soon there will be a similar users feature where people can find new favorites and other books to read. Following the feedback of users who are more inspired to read based on setting goals tied to pages read, there’s a way to share how much of a book was read before DNF’ing (Did Not Finish). The number of pages read for unfinished books, including those currently in progress, will be added to your overall pages read stat. We’re also adding progress notes so that you can treat the site as if it’s your own personal reading journal, if you so choose.
Who or what inspires you?
Seeing people, particularly Black women in their respective fields, excel inspires me to push myself—especially when I know they’ve overcome a lot of obstacles. There’s also my mother who has done everything to make sure that I’ve been set up for success. Her support has moved me to be driven and motivated to make good on that pride. However, I am primarily pushed by my personal ambitions.
Do you have any books that inspire you?
I was encouraged and comforted by Michelle Obama’s relatable insights in Becoming as well as Tomi Adeyemi’s journey to writing Children of Blood and Bone that went from her big dream to making a film and a major community out of her work. She made it happen!
What is your favorite creation by a Black person, and why?
There’s so much great stuff created by Black people, but the most recent creation to blow me away is the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin—the complexity and richness makes this a stunning body of work.
How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
Something I’ve been doing more of is saying no—even when I want to do a task—if it doesn’t fit in with my time or energy. I’m quite big on routine and habits. Making sure things are scheduled leaves space on my calendar for things that are not work related. Day to day, I like to keep in mind the main product goals, which things I need to make space for that are business based or product based, then working through those. I start the day off with meditation—which I’ve been doing for the past few years now—to get me focused before I start reading any emails or messages. I’ve found structure and routine, along with putting things into the calendar that are not work, ensures that I get those things done as well. It sets you up for success to acknowledge some things may take longer than expected and that you’ll need some breaks throughout the day.
What is your favorite piece of content that you’ve created?
One of the things I’m most proud of is my conference talk called “Case of the Missing Method,” a Ruby mystery story that I tell as if I’m a private investigator running an agency and people come to me with Ruby coding crimes. Over three years, I have given this talk all around the world—Japan, India, Australia, and various states in the U.S. specifically. I look forward to the world opening up because I miss conference speaking and would love to do a new installment. Tech talks can be very dry so I am proud of my ability to be both informative and entertaining.
I do dance too. During lockdown, The Storygraph had just exploded and I couldn’t go to dance class. So when one of my favorite dance teachers did a mini-tutorial for choreography to Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” in a compilation video I made sure to join. The video came out really nicely and it made me proud to be a part of it during lockdown because of the meaning the song has for me and a lot of brown skinned girls. My dancing in general has improved during quarantine as not having a teacher directly in front of me has forced me to find the confidence to sit in my own style.
Any advice for new creators?
Always know why you’re doing what you’re doing and the need behind what you’re doing.Nadia Odunayo
Always know why you’re doing what you’re doing and the need behind what you’re doing. The need could be for you, maybe you need an outlet and that’s fine. But it always helps if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you think the outcome is. If you are building for other people, make sure to do your customer research. Talk to people all the time, it is important even if you don’t want to do it. There’s no need to guess: there are resources like The Mom Test and product-market fit blog posts. To do good customer research you must learn how to talk to people.