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Not unlike other startups, Blinkist grew its roots in a college dorm. Only, its creators didn’t know it at the time. It took years before the founders decided to build a business on their college study tricks. Blinkist condenses nonfiction books into pithy, but accessible 15-minute summaries which you can read or listen to via its app.
“It all started with four friends,” says Sebastian Schleicher, Director of Engineering at Blinkist. “After leaving university, they found jobs and built lifestyles that kept them fully occupied—but they were pretty frustrated because their packed schedules left them no time for reading and learning new things.”
Rather than resign themselves to a life without learning, they racked their brains as to how they could find a way to satisfy their craving for knowledge. They decided to revive their old study habits from university where they would write up key ideas from material that they’d read and then share it with each other. It didn’t take long for them to realise that they could build a business on this model of creating valuable easily accessible content to inspire people to keep learning. In 2012, Blinkist was born.
Six years later, the Berlin-based outfit has nearly 100 employees, but instead of writers and editors, they have Tea Masters and Content Ninjas. Blinkist has no formal hierarchical management structure, having replaced bosses with BOS, the Blinkist Operating System. The app has over five million users and, at its foundation, it has MongoDB Atlas, the fully managed service for MongoDB, running on AWS. But it didn’t always.
“In four years, we had a million users and 2,500 books,” says Schleicher. “We’d introduced audiobooks and seen them become the most important delivery channel. We tripled our revenue, doubled our team, moved into a larger, open-plan office, and even got a dog. Things were good.”
Running into trouble with 3rd party MongoDB as a Service
Then came an unwelcome plot twist. Blinkist had built its service on Compose, a third-party database as a service, based on MongoDB. MongoDB had been an obvious choice as the document model provided Blinkist with the flexibility needed to iterate quickly, but the team was too lean to spend time on infrastructure management
In 2016, Compose unexpectedly decided to change the architecture of its database, creating major obstacles for Blinkist as they would become locked in to an old version of MongoDB. “They left us alone,” says Schleicher. “They said, ‘Here’s a tool, migrate your data.’ I asked if they’d help. No dice. I offered them money. Not interested, no support. After being a customer for all those years? I said goodbye.”
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