One of the greatest assets you can have as an entrepreneur (and a professional) is a strong group of trusted friends/advisors. Nothing is more valuable than people you can call on for honest feedback when you need it.
Marina Cummins has worked in digital marketing and product development for more than 10 years. She has spent the majority of her career at large, well-respected organizations including Forbes magazine, The Economist magazine and American Express. She has an MBA from Wharton in Marketing and Entrepreneurial Management and a BA from Dartmouth College in Art History and Psychology. Marina and her husband James co-founded Little Book of You in 2017. The company combines their love of books, technology and, most of all, family. Marina and James live in New York City with their two young daughters Lila and Louisa, and their mischievous golden retriever, Stella.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
When my husband and I had our first daughter, Lila, in the summer of 2016, I wanted to create a keepsake book for her to look back on. When I went looking for something to make though, I found the traditional baby books that were available to be underwhelming and with a new baby at home—too time consuming to fill out! Around the same time, I was given a personalized children’s book that was cute but was actually hardly personalized at all. As a digital product nerd, I thought how fun it would be to bring the concept of a baby book together with a beautiful online interface used by many of the more modern personalized book companies to create a truly contemporary, hyper-customized baby book that today’s moms could easily make and love.
My husband and I also really liked the idea of starting something together and with my background in digital marketing and product development and his as the owner of a family-run rare book business, the idea of modernizing the ‘baby book’ seemed a perfect blend of our interests and skill sets. We launched Little Book of You, an easy and elegant alternative to the traditional baby book, perfect for busy moms, at the end of 2017.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wouldn’t say I actually have a “typical” day right now. My husband, James and I started our business with two children under 2 and are both working full-time jobs. We both loved the idea of Little Book of You and were really passionate about bringing it to life. James and I created concrete goals and were totally committed to doing what it took to hit important milestones. We really pushed ourselves at night when the kids were asleep, on weekends and anytime we could fit it in. As many people say, the more you have to do, the more gets done — we really found that as our responsibilities and to-do lists in every facet of life grew, the more efficient we became and the more we really could get done. With less time to agonize over every detail, we were able to quickly move from a simple idea to an actual product, cranking through things more naturally because we didn’t give ourselves the luxury of redoing each step 100 times.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The first thing I did when we first had the idea for Little Book of You was sit down with a pack of Crayola markers and paper from my computer printer and draw my concept of what one version of the book could be. I wanted a true MVP prototype to show as many people as I could and get their reactions. I find that when you just use words to describe what you’re talking about a lot can be lost in translation but once people actually see something physical you can start to speak the same language and get really good feedback. Beyond customer feedback, prototyping was also extremely helpful to use when we were hiring our first developers, illustrators and branding experts so they could understand our vision and really effectively collaborate and build on our concept.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend toward truly personalized experiences as a standard is exciting. As consumers, we are coming to expect that companies know us when we interact with them online and customize everything they serve to us based on our interests and preferences. Given the blending of all of our physical and digital lives — the future of personalized products, experiences and moments offline as well will be really cool to see evolve.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One of the greatest assets you can have as an entrepreneur (and a professional) is a strong group of trusted friends/advisors. Nothing is more valuable than people you can call on for honest feedback when you need it. I spend a lot of time trying to be helpful to friends with their ideas and professional ventures (even some that are very different from my own) and in turn, have an amazing group of people ready, willing and able to help me when I need it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I always used to doubt myself and worry about speaking up because I thought everyone else knew more than I did. I would tell my younger self that in reality, nobody knows 100% what they are doing in every situation and that the most successful people are those who go for it, speak up and trust themselves to work hard and figure it out as they go.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Attitude is everything.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Entrepreneurs can never have enough advocates. Whether those come in the form of customers, business partners, investors, employees or friends — it is essential to have a network of people rooting for you, supporting you and getting the word out about your company in order to grow. I find that regularly expressing your gratitude to the people who have helped you along the way and continuing to have them feel part of your journey is essential. I also do my best to turn every customer service interaction — especially when people have experienced issues with our product– into an opportunity to build a relationship, get feedback and ideally create a new champion.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We made a conscious decision to put a lot of time and thought into the first people we hired to work with us. People are so important in business, especially when you’re just starting out and your whole team consists of only a few people. For example, when hiring our illustrator we did an extensive search and narrowed the finalists down to the top 4. James and I asked each candidate to do a full day paid assignment that would closely mimic what we would ultimately be asking the person in the position to do. We then had them all present their work back to us and outline a project plan. Although it seemed labor intensive at the time it has paid off incredibly in our ability to quickly scale our business with someone who is incredibly talented and a great personality fit with us.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Originally, I think we thought it would be much easier to explain our product through our marketing. Although we have gotten tremendously good feedback on our product from everyone who has ordered, not everyone understands it right away. Going to events has been a great way to meet directly to customers and to understand what resonates with them and what we need to do a better job of explaining. We needed to pivot from pithy snapshots of our product into creating more demo materials and finding new ways to talk Little Book of You so we don’t miss out on opportunities.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I really wish there was a different way to put on sunscreen – maybe a pill? I don’t really have a fully formed business idea but it’s a problem I wish someone would solve it!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Life has gotten particularly hectic recently — so I would say the best $100 I’ve spent in the last few weeks was paying a babysitter and going on a day-date with my husband. We went to a spinning class, had a delicious brunch, complete with large foaming lattes and went for a walk outside. Amazing how just a few hours of taking a total break can rejuvenate you for days after.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Hotjar is a great analytics tool that allows you to understand user behavior better through individual session recordings and heat mapping. Used in combination with Google Analytics, it has helped us really understand what is going on with our users — where they are spending the most time, where they are getting stuck etc. Given our in depth check out process this has been really interesting for us.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Give and Take” by Adam Grant is a great book on generous leadership by a popular Wharton professor. He highlights that although somewhat counterintuitive, being a “giver” (rather than the other personality types he calls “takers” or “matchers”) is the most effective way to achieve success in both business and life. He argues that in the long term givers build better relationships and reputations and are better at positively influencing the culture of groups.
What is your favorite quote?
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”
Don’t get paralyzed striving for perfection.
Express gratitude to everyone who supports you along the way — customers included.
Help friends and let them help you.
Invest time in hiring the right people.