Featured Startup – PocketTales.com

Today’s featured Indiana startup business is PocketTales.com – and it is one that hits pretty close to home for me.  PocketTales is a tool that essentially adds a social game layer to books that kids read – which is a cool/fancy way of saying motivating/tricking them in to reading more.  I have two young girls, and I can attest to 2 things: 1) Anything that will motivate them to read more is awesome, and 2) Anything that involves a digital display is something my kids will use (my iPad was confiscated by my 4 year old 2 weeks after I bought it and I haven’t seen it since).  I am eagerly waiting for PocketTales to open its doors (for my kids, not for me)!  For the profile, I talked to Yaw Aning, the co-founder and CEO of PocketTales. He gives some great insight below, particularly with his advice about finding the right co-founder.   I have seen lots of good ideas and businesses go up in smoke because co-founders turned out to be incompatible for whatever reason.  You can also hear more about Yaw and PocketTales.com on the most recent 8ify.com podcast (by local technology rockstar Brandon Corbin).  Also be sure to check out the slideshare presentation by PocketTales.com at the 2010 SXSW at the bottom of the page.

Tell us about your startup…your words…whatever you want to say.

Reading is one of the most critical skills a child must develop. It lays the foundation for obtaining an education. When you ask any teacher or parent what the biggest challenge is when helping kids acquire reading skills, most will likely say its motivating them to read books in the first place. Pocket Tales has created a game layer on top of the books kids are reading to motivate them read and engage with any and every book they read. To play, kids create a profile. They add friends to their social network and compete with them to win points, and unlock prizes and virtual goods by answering trivia questions that leverage content from their favorite books. Passing these challenges also unlock other activities for kids to complete and earn points.

How did you come up with concept for your business, and how/when did the business model for that concept become clear?

We started our business by focusing first on a market we really enjoyed. We thought education, children’s publishing and digital reading were going to radically transform (we started the company before game-changing devices like the Amazon Kindle were even announced) and we were right on that hunch. Before we built anything, we talked with a lot of people (teachers, educators, publishers, parents, kids, investors, etc) and worked on a few different ideas before we landed on the concept for what Pocket Tales is today. It was a lot more about testing and iterating on ideas and seeing what the market responded to. Our business model still isn’t clear, but we’re taking the same approach to finding it as we did with the idea: testing a few concepts and seeing what the market responds to.

What made you first believe that starting a business is right for you (i.e. as opposed to working for someone else)

I’ve always loved taking ideas and concepts and watching them transform into tangible things. When starting a business, I found I had the opportunity to take part in the entire process of taking an idea and making it a reality. Very few jobs let you do that to the extent entrepreneurship does.

What challenges have you encountered?

I think JLM said it best on “The Herd Instinct”: “Entrepreneurship exists in the tiny space between madness and genius; and, its journey requires a few cross border violations across both madness and genius to get to the final destination.” When you work on a startup, you ride a very fine line between being in complete control and going insane, and its emotionally taxing. Managing those emotions while maintaining a clear head and resolved focus has been the biggest challenge thus far.

What sacrifices have you made to start your business?

In getting Pocket Tales off the ground, I’ve devoted all of the resources I have at my disposal. Starting this business has definitely put strain on my finances, personal relationships, my emotional state, and personal time. You have to live and breathe your product everyday, but I believe passionately in what Pocket Tales stands for so its made it easier to put all of those things on the line for the opportunity that it will succeed and have large social impact as well.

In your opinion, what makes Indiana a great place to start your business?

Access. The seasoned and successful entrepreneurs in Indiana are devoted to helping develop our community, and they’ve made themselves extremely accessible. It’s great knowing that I can send an email to someone like Mark Hill, Kristian Anderson or Brad Wisler and get coffee on their schedules days later. They support budding entrepreneurs and that makes it leaps and bounds easier to build a business with such a supportive community.

If you could give an entrepreneur looking to start a business one piece of advice…what would it be?

Find a cofounder. Find one that complements, not supplements, your skills. There’s no way you have all of the skills necessary to make a business a success. And choose carefully, you will spend some serious time with this person. You’ll experience a lot of fantastic and terrible things with each other as you build your product, and you’ll definitely see the spectrum of their true colors in these settings. I like to think of finding a cofounder and starting a company as being the same as getting married and giving birth to a child. Besides helping you build your product, they are your support group, the one who helps vet your crazy ideas, and someone who can pick up the slack when you’ve hit a wall. And trust me, you’ll hit a lot of walls. More than anything though, they keep you sane when everything around you feels insane


Stat Sheet:  PocketTales.com


Categorized: Featured Indiana Startups

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