In this age of smartphone and internet, screen addiction for kids is a serious problem faced by parents globally (I myself am facing this issue with my two kids, aged 5 and 3, who are addicted to smartphone. As I am writing this article, both my kids are siting next to me watching some music videos on my phone).
Screen addiction for kids looks a bit like alcohol addiction for adults. To combat this, experts recommend that parents dedicate tech-free time activities, such as story telling to help their kids reinstate interest in the world beyond iPads and video games.
Malaysian startup Amazing Fables (AF) is doing just this. Co-founded by Warren Leow, a London School of Economics graduate who built MaGIC accelerator, and his two IIT graduate-friends Koushik Challa and Akash Dubey, AF publishes personalised content to inspire young kids via rich storytelling, vibrant visuals, positive values and interesting facts.
“I have always had an interest in writing and was doing quite a bit of prose and poetry at one point. It was on my bucket list to write a full book and I figured, heck, why not. I believe reading helps liberate the minds of children and can inspire curiosity within them,” CEO Leow tells e27. “It certainly sparked a vivid imagination in myself from a young age when I was reading classics such as Famous Five by Enid Blyton, Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter before I graduated to other graphic novels by writers such as Neil Gaiman and Bill Willingham.”
The journey, a fairy tale
AF’s journey started in August 2017 when Leow met the duo of Challa and Dubey during a chance encounter. All the three techies were in search of doing something in the education sector. They grouped together to start Amazing Fables. It did not take them more than a month to make their first hire. By September, the trio went into full production mode. By December 2017, the team found themselves working full steam on five books.
In a nutshell, AF lets your kids wander into a world of personalised adventures and be a special hero in the stories. The user (kid or the parent) can select a story listed on the AF site, and customise the name, avatar and gender. He/she can also personalise the dedication message for the intended recipient. Once it is done, a live preview is generated, so you get to see how the final product will look like.
Once the order is placed, it is funnelled to AF’s global printing and fulfilment partners, located in Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Germany and the US. The personalised books will reach the buyer within 10 days.
Leow claims that AF’s proprietary technology, built in-house, has a dynamic personalisation engine, a robust logistics system, and a powerful translation engine. “The user experience is optimised towards a three-step process, where you choose a story, key in a name, choose an avatar, and voila, you get an instant preview. Each of our stories has been designed with different iterations of avatars to cater to different genders and ethnicities.”
As of today, the startup has a team of eight freelancing illustrators, writers and proof-readers from Argentina, Indonesia, Italy, the US, the UK, Romania, and Malaysia. The company also employs a team of translators to translate books into Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Dutch, to start with.
The team is currently working on ten books, of which five have already been launched. Since launch in early June, AF has shipped books to the UK, the US, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia. “Each of these books puts the reader at the centre of the story, where you can change the name, avatar and dedication message to create a unique book for your child,” he boasts.
The typical price point ranges from US$24.99 (softcover) to US$32.99 (hardcover). Leow claims both have high-quality full colour finishing with premium thick egg-shell paper. “I hope to inspire 100 million kids to believe in themselves by sparking their curiosity to explore and learn from a young age.”
In the next quarter, AF will translate books into 10 languages, including several Southeast Asian ones such as Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai, as the founders believe the non-English markets still remain underserved.
Sharing the challenges faced by AF while setting up the business, Leow says that for an illustrated picture book, it is difficult to prevalidate a story without complete visuals to gauge the full reaction of the reader. “Other than this, our nearest competitor sells nearly a million books a year and did more than US$35 million in 2017 alone. They were relying on a small portfolio until very recently. This is why we have started off as a portfolio play very early on, because we don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”
Printing and cross-border shipping costs also make it a bit prohibitive, but Leow claims that AF is trying to solve this by localising its fulfilment globally.
Notwithstanding this, the market response to AF has been amazing, claims Leow. ” The Malaysian market has been extremely encouraging. We now believe that once we set up our relationships with the printing and fulfilment partners in the UK, Germany, Malaysia, the US and India, we will be in a good position to target the Western and Asian markets,” he remarks.
Empirical evidences show that parents are moving back to physical content, such as printed books in order to discourage kids from spending too much time in front of the screens. Many are trying to find ways to connect closer with their young ones amidst their busy and hectic schedules as modern parents.
“By having a personalised product, the AF book becomes a visual storytelling aide where parents can conjure up little tales of their own to wow their kids,” Leow signs off.