You never know when inspiration is going to strike, and sometimes it strikes unexpectedly. Follow that inspiration whenever or however it presents itself.
Payal Kindiger is the creator and owner of Storymakery, the only self-publishing destination for children. Located in Irvine, California, Storymakery guides children through the process of becoming a publisher writer – from character creation to storycrafting and ultimately, having a printed copy of their illustrated storybook. She was honored as the 2013 Executive Woman of the Year by the California Golden Bridge Awards.
Where did the idea for Storymakery come from?
A few fortuitous things occurred at the same time: I took a class on how to write a novel, my older daughter – who was 7 at the time – was writing, drawing and stapling her stories together, and self-publishing was an emerging market. And after selling a hi-tech company that I co-founded, I was ready to begin a new phase in my career. With my love for writing, the “kids can make a story book” business concept took root in mind.
I began researching printing, locations, and most importantly, began designing the blueprint for the proprietary software that would create the contents of a for-real story book. And it was at this time that my love for writing and my professional background in hi-tech came together to create Storymakery.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My days tend to be busy . The schedule often varies so effective time management is critical. Over the last few years, I have had to balance my time across operations, business development, product development, marketing, back- office, shipping and sometimes even customer deliveries. It was common for me to work 80 hours a week.
Now that our store operations have matured, I am at the store only on busy days to help with events such as birthdays, camps and field trips. During the remainder of the week, I focus on marketing, which requires recurring tasks such as social media posts, email campaigns, and business development such as scheduling special events and new programs. Once a week, my day is allocated to back-office work such as payroll, tax, bills, etc. The rest of the time is allocated to business and product development.
How do you bring ideas to life?
During the experience at Storymakery, children design their own main characters, work with our ‘Muse’ staff to create a custom story, and add illustrations. Character design and illustrations are created and then combined with their typed stories using our proprietary self-publishing software. The main character that the child creates at the beginning of the experience also helps with the visualization and idea-generation process.
The key part of the self-publishing experience is where children work with our staff to construct their story. Our Muses guide children by asking plot development questions based on the genre the child chooses. Employees are light-hearted and excellent with kids, balancing focus and direction with curiosity and encouragement. It’s important that the experience is both fun and enriching.
The Storymakery venue itself is a physical representation of the app: playful, colorful, accessible, and inviting creativity. In addition to ample creation stations, there is a curated retail area with costumes, clothing, and gifts that reflect storytelling and the app’s themes (mermaids, pirates, superheroes, etc.). In addition to coming home with a book, young authors can also buy posters and t-shirts of their main character.
What’s one trend that excites you?
More women becoming entrepreneurs. My previous position was in a male-dominated industry (hi-tech.) When people don’t see role models where they can’t see themselves, it can be discouraging. However, seeing other women entrepreneurs inspires me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Time management. I tackle sales-generating activities and customer issues over other tasks when starting the day. This allows me to keep a pulse on how the business is doing and where it’s headed, whether it’s for the current week or the next few months. To manage the multitude of tasks and on-going projects, I prioritize and re-prioritize my lists daily.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s okay to jump with both feet in and sometimes, fail. It has been a process to understand that my failures (or even my successes) don’t define me. I am learning that it is more about my attitude on how I tackle new challenges or change course.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’ve hired hundreds of employees both in the consumer and business-to-business worlds over the last 25 years. I often hear that “with the right coaching” employees will grow into a position. While to a degree that is true, I also believe that hiring employees with the right attitude is paramount. For me personally, I look for employees who can “do more with less.” When first starting a business, entrepreneurs have very little time and resources. In the beginning, I recommend looking for employees that will put in the time and think on their feet, even when not specifically asked.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Pivot when needed. Your initial business assumptions and hypotheses are bound to be off the mark, even after market research. Immediate product breakthroughs and business success are rare. There have been several times where I’ve stumbled, hit dead ends and in a couple of cases, felt like closing up shop. When this occurs, I force myself to take a mental break for a couple of days and then revise my execution and/or strategy. I continue to ask myself these questions: Has this product line hits its maximum growth — or not? What can I offer a new segment of customers to increase sales? What can we do better? How are my existing customers changing?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Sometimes the best way to assess whether a new product or program is going to do well is to sell it first. This is counter to some of the things I’ve learned in business school or as a manager in a large company, where detailed planning and set up occurs before marketing or selling a product. As an entrepreneur, I have very little time and funds to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on a new offering that may not even resonate with customers. I also have very limited time to conduct customer surveys. For example, once I assessed that customers were interested in a new character illustration workshop that we promoted on social media, my team put together a 2-hour workshop. Once we had customers, we used their feedback to evolve new the program into a series of classes.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Since I was introducing a completely new product category in retail, there were several assumptions I had made about the business model when I first launched. My initial hypothesis was that 50% of the consumers would be planned visits and 50% of the consumers would be drop-ins since I would be located in a premier regional mall center with heavy foot traffic. Within a few months, I quickly learned that, in fact, the majority of my visits were planned. Though customers would discover us at the mall, more often than not, customers would decide to come back another day. Additionally, some customers wanted to create a book but felt like they didn’t have the time.
To better facilitate drop-in visits, I started offering 30-minute experiences where families could still work on the key elements of creating their original book. (The storybook experience at the time of launch was a 1-hour experience.) With the shorter experience, my staff would then finish the book and have it available for pick up or shipping at a later time.
One the flip-side, some families wanted the experience to be longer. Today, we offer 30 minute, 60-90 minute, and 2 hour experiences. We also offer books that can be simply personalized with a name and dedication for consumers who want to provide the book as a gift. This only takes 5 minutes.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love to see a platform or app that is only accessible to retail businesses where owners can search and locate business for cross-promotion. In other words, only businesses that are interested in working with a complementary business to cross-promote their products would be on this online platform.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently went out with a group of moms for a Girls Night Out. I don’t do it very often but when I do, I realize it’s good for my soul.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We use Canva, a design app, that allows us to create signs, ads, graphics for newsletters and social media posts. It’s incredibly easy to use and you don’t need to have graphic design skills. You can begin working with the app for free and then decide to upgrade if you see a broader/heavier use for it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I enjoyed reading “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” by Mindy Kaling. It’s funny but also honest and authentic. As a first-generation Indian American, I found some of her experiences especially relatable. Her stories about her perseverance in her profession conveyed both depth and inspiration.
What is your favorite quote?
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle
- You never know when inspiration is going to strike, and sometimes it strikes unexpectedly. Follow that inspiration whenever or however it presents itself.
- Time management – prioritizing and reprioritizing – should be a daily exercise.
- It’s OK to fail. It doesn’t define you. Neither do successes. Your attitude toward them is most important.
- Be nimble and pivot when needed.
- Sometimes the best way to assess whether a new product or program is going to do well is to sell it first.