Knowing when to call it quits

My startup idea has been on my mind for at least ten years. However it has only been recently that the congruence of technology and time made it possible for me to try it out.

The idea has evolved over the last ten years and I have had many conversations with people about it during that time. No one ever said it was a crap idea. Many people said it was a great idea. No one ever said “oh, that’s already been done”. A perfect storm.

So with the combination of having no job to go to and a very supportive partner, of being in Wellington where there appears to be a plethora of support for business initiatives and startups, and of having a great idea, I was set up nicely to get underway.

The idea is about children and normalising diversity. In summary, it is to have a series of stories for children (2-5 years old). As a customer you enter your particular family situation (could be two mums, two dads, solo parent, mixed race parents, deaf parent etc) and the story is changed to reflect your family. But it is not the central premise that changes, it is the peripheral characters in the story. Just ‘by the way’ introducing different family structures without making a big deal out of it, or justifying it, or explaining anything. Just being there.

This came about as a result of my search for books to read to my daughter when she was a toddler. Almost every book or movie I found had ‘mum, dad and the kids’ – as our family was ‘two mums and the kid’ it just felt increasingly wrong to reinforce the message that we were different. I wanted something that just referenced our type of family without making that the point.

What was exciting about the idea for me was the concept of being able to create stories to reflect a diverse set of situations. Creating a system that made it easy for people to enter their own parameters and for the book to be created for them – and then be available for anyone else with a similar situation. The outcome would be a printed book, or perhaps an ebook.

I researched, I read, I talked to a lot of people. I business-modelled, I networked, I planned and schemed. I still hadn’t met anyone who heaped scorn on the idea. But I had quite a few conversations with people whose advice was ‘start small, think lean startup, keep it simple’. All of which made perfect sense.

The logic of starting simple essentially stripped my idea down to one story with a few pre-defined scenarios and a basic website to sell them. Again this all makes perfect sense.

But this stripped down idea is essentially a print publishing business. Even more it’s a children’s book publishing business. And that’s where I started to be a whole lot less interested. My passion is with things digital, my knowledge and experience is all based around digital business and being online. I don’t know about, nor am I particularly interested in, the world of print publishing.

Aside from this I had another problem. The whole concept hinges on having great stories. Fabulous books with gorgeous illustrations. Stories and illustrations that would be tailored for each scenario. But I am not a writer, nor can I draw or design. I’m the one with the idea and the ability to make it happen, but I really need authors, designers and illustrators on board.

So I decided to park the idea. Maybe one day, if STILL no one else has done it, I’ll pick it up again. Maybe if you’re an author or an illustrator or an investor and you want to come on board then you’ll get in touch and we’ll work it out. It’s a great concept – normalising diversity – giving children a familiar context for their lives without ramming the difference down their throats. I still believe in it.

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Brenda Leeuwenberg
3 Comments
  • Zef
    Reply

    I thought your idea was a good one and I still do – but you’re right – you need the talent and all the good ones are probably already in gainful employment. I had the opposite experience of you back in the late 1990s when I went around Wellington pitching an idea for a start-up (the idea was for a virtual earth featuring environmental and humanitarian projects around the globe and the ability for people on the web to find out about them and pledge time, advice or money). Too many people were skeptical and killed my enthusiasm, so I parked the idea. A decade later there’s dozens of massive initiatives doing “my idea”. In hindsight I should have persisted because of my core belief and not relied on the opinions of others!

    June 25, 2012 at 10:56 am
  • You may not be able to keep this on ice for too long… 

    Have you read ‘Building Books with CSS3’ http://www.alistapart.com/articles/building-books-with-css3/ and this two part ‘Publication Standards’ essay http://www.alistapart.com/articles/publication-standards-part-1-the-fragmented-present/ & http://www.alistapart.com/articles/publication-standards-part-2-a-standard-future/ and this savage burn: http://www.baldurbjarnason.com/notes/web-and-ebooks/ ?
    These articles examine the f**ked-up present and the glorious near-future where “ebooks” are standardised, and their current DRM-inspired madness is reigned in with a solid crack. The net result placing ‘Web (Standards)’ as the pivotal player in the race for single-source publishing. So… what about this: your storybooks could be online collaborations, where artists, illustrators and storytellers contribute ideas and artwork to an ongoing community of books. Each contributor shares in the profit of the sale of their story. There is probably advertising involved. The Web (“HTML5”) in this instance would be the platform for publishing bespoke stories to both digital readers and localised on-demand printers. See http://pressbooks.com for a proto-example of WordPress acting as a single source book publishing engine right now. Mix that up with a bit of this kind of thing http://codecanyon.net/item/flipper-for-wordpress/full_screen_preview/2300639 and you’ve got yourself a picture book that is both web and print friendly. Just add artists: see Threadless. I’m continually surprised that books are so separated from the web. If you found a community who were interested in publishing their own unique stories you may have the motivation you need to bring books and ebooks closer toward the Singularity. Which is why I’m a bit sad to hear that you’re shelving this one. But I totally understand.

    June 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm
  • I’ve loved the idea since reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diamond_Age I hope you can make it happen at some point. By finding the right creative partner. And I agree with the more interactive ebook concept below.

    June 28, 2012 at 5:17 pm

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