Although entrepreneurial success is occasionally a result of luck, most would agree that it is achieved through a combination of sound business sense, planning, and spirit. An excellent example of the seamless execution of these elements of entrepreneurial success is PMA member Maia Haag of I See Me! in Wayzata, Minnesota. Here are some highlights of my recent interview with her.
Q: My Very Own Name is certainly an innovative book. What was your inspiration?
A: I was looking for a product with which to start my own business. I wanted something in print because my husband has a graphic design firm and printer contacts. I kept thinking about notecards, but nothing seemed unique. Then I received a personalized children's book as a gift for my son, and the light bulb went off. I loved the book because it was about him, but the illustrations weren't very well done and the story line wasn't very interesting. I thought I could write a book that was more educational, with higher quality illustrations. I was on maternity leave at the time. Each day, as I walked my son in the stroller, I thought of ideas for the book. Each evening, I'd share the ideas with my husband, and this one clicked.
Q: Many books published over the years have used the child's name in one way or the other. What did you do to make sure yours would stand out?
A: I thought of the concept before I had looked at all the personalized books on the market, which was probably a blessing because it allowed me to think more out of the box. Then I ordered every personalized book I could find to confirm that there wasn't another book like mine. I researched the industry as I started writing the business plan.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background?
A: I was an English major in college. I started my career in marketing at General Mills and was lucky enough to have them pay for me to go to Harvard Business School. When I returned, the entrepreneurial bug hit me, so I moved to their new products group. I enjoyed producing new products for General Mills, but really wanted to start a business of my own. After I wrote My Very Own Name during my maternity leave, I didn't know whether the book would be successful; so I took a job doing marketing for an Internet start-up company, and marketed my book on the side. When the Internet company failed, I worked for a second Internet company, which also failed. By this point, my book business was starting to take off, so I began working full-time for it.
Q: What parts of that background do you think contributed most to your success as an independent publisher with I See Me! Inc.?
A: General Mills and business school taught me how to think strategically, and how to put together a business plan. But the failed Internet companies were probably the most helpful in teaching me how to do marketing on a limited budget. They also taught me what not to do, in terms of over-extending the business financially.