Meet Swaraja Batra and Jaya Nakra from MakeMyTale who got into creating personalised storybooks for children. Swaraja shares with Mums and Stories their entrepreneurial journey.
” MakeMyTale was actually conceptualized over many informal dinners and casual conversations. As mothers, Jaya and I often discussed the need to make reading a more attractive concept for children who were restless and impatient and didn’t give even the first few pages of a story the chance to grow on them. As against this, I-pads, apps, video games seem a more attractive and luring option to which children easily fall prey to. These are curated storybooks for children largely for 5 to 9 year olds.
We always felt that there were so many strategies that were conceptualized out there to get children addicted to online apps and video games. Why not get children addicted to books instead of screens? We wanted to make reading a more personal, relatable experience for the child where he would be a ‘here’ in the story. His name would appear as the main character all throughout our story. And he wouldn’t be alone – his mom, dad and even his real life friends would be in the story with him!”
We did quite a bit of research as to what was available out there when it came to personalised books. And there are some really good efforts too. But mostly, we realized that while most of the competition was doing pictures or messages, none of the stories really impressed us. When that happens, we think ‘personalisation’ becomes more superficial and commercial a term. In fact, at MakeMyTale, during our initial start-up months, we refrained from using words like ‘personalized’ or ‘customised’ as we thought that it categorised us into a segment that was too limited or superficial. The truth being, that our stories have important take-away values for children and the lessons and morals find a much permanent home in our young readers minds when they read the story as their own story.
For example, our book titled – ‘The Genius Magical Camp’ is a lovely, adventure story of 4 friends on a camping trip. It’s amusing for the child to read an adventure story with all his real-life friends as characters and the moral take-away is so beautiful – That Love and Friendship can help you survive all odds. And the bond of friendship toughens in difficult situations. When faced with a tough situation, trust your instincts and presence of mind to sail through any problem. Isn’t this, what we all want as parents? – That our children learn to solve their problems independently; to be solution seekers rather than cribbing about them.
Seeing oneself as a HERO in a story is a major confidence booster to the child and his self-esteem. He or she feels special, talented, and confident. We were very clear that we wanted to have stories that leaves the child inspired after reading them. The child should feel warm and special and lucky at the end of all our stories.
We have ensured that we are never preachy in our stories. So we decided to start with concepts that form the main pillars of a child’s life during the ages of 5-10 years. Things like friends, parents, school, performance, confidence, fun, independence, wanting to do things in their own way – small incidences and wishes! Things that may seem miniscule to us, as adults, may mean so much to the child in his world.
For example, our story, ‘The Genius Shrinks Mummy’ is an amusing story about how the child in the story wishes to live his day without any instructions or ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’s’ from his mom. That’s his small, simple wish. We think most children can relate to something simple like that. And while parents could have a much serious outlook to “Keep your school bag in place, don’t throw your socks around, wash your hands, clean up, dirty clothes in laundry bag, please” – kind of instructions. For a child, it is just a matter of compulsion or losing control or authority over his day. He wishes, he could be in charge of his own life! Only if, my parents were small and I could be as big as them – then I would enjoy my day, the way I wanted. And what happens ahead is an amusing story, where the child becomes the parent’s parent for one whole day and the chaos that ensues thereafter!!
All MakeMytale stories are conceptualised in such a way that no matter which child reads our story – he or she will be able to relate to at least some part of the story, the character or what the main protagonist feels or behaves like. Our stories are very, everyday stories that every child can relate to and identify with.”
Talking on how they went further with the idea, these mompreneurs duo share with Mums and Stories, “ At the start up stage, to build any business and to ensure it has its holding firmly in the ground, one has to put in crazy amount of work hours and mind space too. We have been helped tremendously by our spouses on the technical, website and even story writing and conceptualisation front. There are a lot of things we do not know. And a whole lot of things we need to learn. And it’s a new, enriching, tiring, at the same time, thrilling experience for us. The road ahead for MakeMyTale is an ambitious one.
We are planning to venture into the toddler age group and will be adding more titles to our current genre too. We are also still figuring out the international market. There is still so much to explore and achieve. And I think, our children are learning with us too – to be more independent and to achieve more during a day than what seems possible. They often ‘advise’ us on crucial matters related to what a child perceives as interesting or not! They call themselves the ‘the advisory panel’ to MakeMyTale. I think our family and friends are proud, despite the daily madness that has now become a part of our life! We literally do have ‘miles to go before we can sleep every day’. But we love every part of it.
And that shows, because we are ready to go that extra mile when required. Be it, an urgent birthday delivery that needs to be completed, or when we know that the child is in a boarding school far away from his parents and misses them. When we got to know that a mom was going to miss her son’s birthday as she had to travel for work, we personally went and delivered the gift on his mom’s behalf. We once made a Farewell gift for 4 friends who had been together since kindergarten but now had to part forever since their parents were relocating.
We made a collage of all their happy moments and they wrote special messages for each other which we printed at the start of the book. On another instance, we got to know that one of our little 8 year old readers had recently lost his father – so we removed the dad from the story and made his granny a part of it. Script changes or illustration changes do not work out for us financially and take a tremendous amount of time and cost a lot of money. So it’s practically not possible to change the script, dialogues, illustrations and visual depictions, as these are very expensive and also structured after a lot of thinking and consideration to appeal to every child who reads it. But this was a situation that demanded exceptional measures and we wanted to deal with it sensitively as parents rather than as business women.
Every book is personally looked at by both the partners. We ensure that every child looks beautiful in our books and hence we have not kept that part automated and give it our personal attention. Also we have always respected the parent’s judgement to decide whether they are happy with it or not.
A lot of parents share their feedback with us. We get messages everyday stating how elated, excited the child was to see himself as a Hero in the story. Not just this, to discover that his real life best friends are a part of the story with him. And it’s not just the child; I think the parents are as excited to see their child as the Hero in our stories. “It’s like they fulfil some part of their dreams too, through our books”.
Personalised gifts leave that special feeling in your mind. That something was made especially for you. And rather than vogue, it’s the impact of this feeling is what counts. Besides, children today have everything and one really wonders what to gift them. Books and personalisation (done the right way) can be a powerful tool to make someone feel special not just through personalization but more importantly through the message that the story conveys. Our books are also accompanied by surprise, customised freebies that we include with every book and are an absolute thrill for the parent as well as the child. Besides, this is one book you want to keep on your shelf or that special trunk of memories which you hold close, forever. Because every time the child will see our book, even 10-20 years down the line as a grown up adult, it will still make the young one feel special and loved, no matter what stage of life he or she is at.”
Sharing a few tips for other mums who want to try their hand in entrepreneurship, Swaraja says, “As a new found status of a ‘Mom Entrepreneur’, we would just say – Be comfortable in whatever you do whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a working woman. No one defines us or has the right to judge women for the choices they make. At the same time, try new things and explore what makes you feel good. Cause – “Boundaries, don’t keep other people out; they fence you in. So draw some and cross some too.”
To know more about them check this link- – https://www.makemytale.com/
(All pictures are subject to copyright).