Booktopia CEO Tony Nash on the superpower that helped him succeed

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Tony Nash, CEO of Booktopia, Australia’s largest online bookstore, is not a reader. He loves books, collects rare ones, publishes them, hosts a podcast with authors and even wants to become one himself. But the 58-year-old founder of the Australian bookseller who sells a book every 3.9 seconds or so listens to audiobooks rather than reading physical books. This is due to his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition he was diagnosed with just four years ago, shortly after a family member was diagnosed as well.

Booktopia CEO Tony Nash at his home in Castlecrag.Credit:Janie Barrett

“ADHD means it’s hard for me to sit, concentrate, and read, especially while I’m working. I can read books while I’m on vacation, but I can consume a lot of audiobooks while I’m doing other things, ”says Nash.

At first adult psychiatrist Nash went to check it out and said “there’s no way you have ADHD, I mean look at Booktopia and all the things you’ve been doing … but before I do. don’t make my final decision, can your wife come over for a chat? “

After about 20 minutes with Nash’s wife, Catherine, the doctor gave the ADHD diagnosis and a prescription for medication.

“ADHD is like a superpower. Because when you find something that you really want to do, you go there and you can accomplish so much because it’s just all consuming and it’s the secret to your success. I’m sure some of the great artists, sculptors, or thinkers got it, probably at the cost of relationships because sometimes it’s pretty darn hard to be with someone who doesn’t put family first … that’s was one of the big ideas when I was diagnosed. “

Looking back on his life, the ADHD diagnosis now means a lot to Nash.

“I got 56 percent for HSC, I dropped out of college, I also went bankrupt. And when I’m asked to give talks on entrepreneurship, it’s interesting that at the end of the day people come to talk … it’s not about Booktopia or entrepreneurship, but about ADHD and health issues. mental, ”he says.

Seoulmate Signature Seoul Fried Chicken.

Seoulmate Signature Seoul Fried Chicken.Credit:Janie Barrett

For a man who runs an online business, who met his wife Catherine ten years ago on the RSVP online dating site, it is appropriate that we are having lunch online through Facetime. Him in his house in Castlecrag, me in my house in Coogee. He chose Seoul’s fried chicken from his favorite Korean, Seoulmate in North Willoughby, and I went for the same dish – “Kentucky Fried Chicken but business class” – as a Nash joke, along with a kimchi pancake from Uber Eats. .

Nash started Booktopia with his brother Simon, sister Elana Traurig and brother-in-law Steve Traurig on February 4, 2004, coincidentally the same day Facebook started.

Like Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, Booktopia has revolutionized the sale and distribution of Australian books through e-commerce. In 2015, the company bought the online business of 130-year-old bookseller Angus & Robertson Bookworld, and in 2016 tried to list on the Australian Stock Exchange, just before Amazon announced it would also start. to operate here.

“ADHD is like a superpower. Because when you find something that you really want to do, you go in there and you can accomplish so much.

“It wasn’t a good time, it was like going down to Bondi Beach on a winter’s day with a southerly wind coming in from Antarctica trying to sell ice cream,” says Nash.

But they’ve managed to fend off any threat from Amazon, which has been more tech-driven than the book here. In December 2020, with a market capitalization of $ 316 million at the time of the IPO and $ 43 million of capital raised, Booktopia was listed on the ASX. Nash is now a multimillionaire and the business continues to grow.

This year, home orders from the pandemic have only increased demand for books, leading them to purchase additional warehouse space in Enfield, which, combined with their Lidcombe premises, means the company has approximately 2.7 hectares of warehouse space to store some of its more than six million titles.

    Tony Nash (right) with Father Peter, Brother Simon and Sister Elana in December 2020, when Booktopia went public.

Tony Nash (right) with Father Peter, Brother Simon and Sister Elana in December 2020, when Booktopia went public.

[Last week, the competition and consumer watchdog the ACCC took Booktopia to court over alleged false or misleading claims made to customers over their rights to refunds for damaged and digital products. Nash says he is not permitted to say anything because of the court proceedings other than: “We have been customer obsessed for every day that we have existed and we continue to strive to get better at doing that every day”.]

Siblings Nash and brother-in-law started Booktopia as a side job for chat software they were trying to develop, with a budget of $ 10 per day. It wasn’t such a challenge for Nash, who had spent three years of his 20s hiking, living on $ 15 a day.

“In Europe, for nine months, I only paid 14 nights for accommodation – I slept in stations, on trains with my Eurail pass or I met people and they invited me to their homes from Scandinavia to Sicily. “

Travel taught him ingenuity and found him working in recruiting in London and on a glacier in the Chilean jungle, scraping lichen off the rocks, where he worked for the British charity then known as Operation Raleigh. He didn’t decide to return to Sydney until 1990 when he found himself in the high altitude Atacama Desert tuning his shortwave radio to Radio Australia.

“They played Mondo Rock Chemistry and I burst into tears, so I guess I was homesick, which I hadn’t been for three years.

Nash comes from a tight-knit immigrant family. Her Berlin-born Jewish father, Peter Nachemstein, fled with his family after Crystal Night in November 1938, along with 18,000 other Jews on a passenger ship from Genoa to Shanghai in early 1939. They had lived there a decade before. to flee the Communist China of Mao Zedong in 1949. in Australia, arriving by boat in Cairns where the family anglicized their name as Nash.

Peter played football for Hakoah from Sydney and other recently arrived Jewish refugees from Europe as Frank Lowy watched him play most weekends. When selected as a full-back for the NSW State Football team, Nash was mistakenly described in a newspaper as “Australia’s only team in the Cup” because of his name. In the summer of 58, on the steps of Bondi Beach, he met his wife Rieki, whose Jewish family had fled Poland and ran a hardware store on Oxford Street, Paddington.

Nash senior was a chemist working in the textile industry and Rieki became the first female computer programmer at IBM in 1960. Raised on the North Shore, the three Nash children attended Chatswood High.

“I got 280 out of 500 for my HSC, so I scratched Macquarie Uni, where I mastered Space Invaders and snooker and failed in accounting and economics.”

Tony Nash with his wife Catherine, son Tyler and stepdaughter Siena Jefferies.

Tony Nash with his wife Catherine, son Tyler and stepdaughter Siena Jefferies.

After dropping out of college, he went to work in the mailroom at NRMA, then studied programming at the Control Data Institute in St Leonards. “It was a six month course that took me 21 months to complete. I was playing five competitive sports at the time … it was a great time to be young and skip school. He then worked as a programmer in the shipyards of Cockatoo Island.

“I was a really bad programmer, so I left that to become a computer salesman. I sold a PC in six months. I wasn’t very good at it either. It was then that he went abroad.

Returning to Sydney in the early 1990s, he worked in recruiting in his early days on the internet and eventually started a thriving internet SEO company, which worked for the Angus & Robertson website. This is how they started to work in the book industry.

As a lifetime member of the Wilderness Society and a major contributor to the Wilderness Society and the RSPCA, he enjoys the outdoors and has a dog (Bentley). He was camping on a hot day in a national park in New South Wales, when insects were crying loudly. It reminded him of Insectopia in the animated film Antz, and that’s how he came up with the name Booktopia.

Tony and Catherine Nash's wedding in 2015.

Tony and Catherine Nash’s wedding in 2015.

Its goal is to generate a turnover of 500 million dollars for the company. But what do small independent bookstores think of him and his business?

“They thought we were the Death Star, to destroy the industry,” he says. “No one thought we were the Jedi Knights,” protecting justice in the world of the library.

“But some publishers are proud to have been able to face Amazon head-on and win. As for the bookstores, when I walk into one of them and no one comes up to me and says, “Can I help you? Selling books is about engaging with customers.”

He has an 18-year-old son, Tyler, whose mother left Nash while she was pregnant. Since the age of three, his son has spent every other week with Nash, who in 2015 married his wife Catherine, who ran an e-commerce business until recently. His 16-year-old daughter-in-law Siena also spends every other week with them at their Sydney home and holiday home in the Southern Highlands.

Nash credits his wife for dampening some of his enthusiasms, such as collecting.

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“When I was younger, I collected stamps, stones, stickers. Having been predominantly single my entire life – my longest relationship before my marriage was nine months – there is no doubt that Cath’s influence on me when it comes to collecting suggests that I have matured largely from a collection perspective. family life. I learn less is more.

His precious collection of books, which he estimates at around $ 300,000, is kept under security with alarms in an undisclosed location and contains His valuable collection of books, which he estimates at around $ 300,000, is kept in a undisclosed secure location and contains a rare limited edition of Toads room of toads, stage adaptation by AA Milne by Kenneth Grahame The wind in the willows, signed by both authors. But he’s been reducing his collection lately.

“My favorite books are Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the prophet, the alchemist, all these kinds of parable books. So I’ll probably write more commercial parables if I write.

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He is currently listening The dawn of everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow and is an in-demand professional speaker on the Incentive Circuit. He was recently invited to speak at a graduation ceremony at Macquarie University in the same room he used to be kicked out at 2 a.m. for playing Dungeons and Dragons.

When I learn that he can earn $ 10,000 for every 45 minute address, I realize that I have taken about $ 20,000 of his time at that rate. I say goodbye – not a game to do the math on how many books Booktopia sold while we were having lunch.

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