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A conversation with Lulu Skantze: Founder of StoryTime, the magazine made for your children to learn through the magic of story-telling!

Hi Lulu! FEM-START is glad to be speaking with you today. Tell us, what inspired you to start your own business? What drove you to create Storytime?

My journey into entrepreneurship was sparked by a passion for literacy and the transformative power it holds. I believe literacy is the great equaliser, capable of unlocking doors to new worlds. This belief was coupled with a realisation that we must inspire and nurture the next generation’s ability to learn and believe in themselves, something that was missing. I knew the potential of storytelling to foster diversity and inclusion and felt it was lacking from publishing at the time. Over the years, the focus drifted towards merchandising rather than enriching the core qualities of childhood in publishing. It was a daunting task to articulate our mission of reviving the art of storytelling in an industry heavily influenced by TV and games, where success was often measured by such standards, and high-quality content was not the primary benchmark. 
Starting from scratch, self-funding the business, and the imperative to turn a profit within the first year added to the challenges. Our business plan had to be impeccable, resilient to the volatile market conditions, and adaptable. Despite these hurdles, the drive to create meaningful, inclusive stories that could shape young minds and reflect the richness of our diverse society kept us going. The goal was not just to survive but to thrive by making a positive impact through the stories we shared.

What are some of the most essential things you did to get your business off the ground?

To get our business off the ground, we leaned heavily on our extensive experience in the industry and our comprehensive understanding of publishing as well as subscription models and licensing. This foundational knowledge was crucial in crafting a robust business plan that anticipated potential challenges and incorporated contingency strategies (Plans B and C) to mitigate them. We also made sure we learned the skills we did not have. My co-founder and I made sure we saved diligently to bootstrap our product launch beforehand, ensuring we had sufficient funds to operate the first 6 months without the need for borrowing. That gave us a peace of mind which is helpful instead of the pressure of not being able to draw a salary or pay bills. Moreover, a clear deadline was set to evaluate our business plan’s effectiveness, allowing us to make timely adjustments before facing any financial strain. Recognising gaps in our expertise, we invested time in learning new skills and secured partnerships with top-notch suppliers to enhance our capabilities. We did not try to do everything alone – but we knew we could if needed – again that creates great resilience. A thorough analysis of the market, including understanding the numbers, and competition, and identifying niches where we could excel, informed our strategic decisions. We love data – and still survey our customers, suppliers and keep well informed of market trends and numbers.

How did you build your customer base and grow your business?

Building our customer base and growing the business was at first, centred around community engagement. From the outset, we focused on creating a community where we could connect, share information, and ask for support and gather feedback. We offered blogs, additional resources, reading tips, and shared content generously to spark conversations and foster a sense of belonging and brand building around Storytime.

Some of our marketing and customer acquisition strategies included content sharing where we consistently provided valuable content to engage our audience and encourage community participation. Self-sustaining marketing ensured that the investment paid for itself through measurable outcomes. We also partnered with third-party sellers to distribute our product and raise awareness, leveraging their networks to reach a broader audience. It also helps to build trust as no one knows your brand when you launch! Additionally, we did pay for some strategic promotions with major retailers, but always with the intent of gathering customer data to build our database for ongoing engagement. Regular surveys provided insights into unexplored niches, allowing us to tailor our marketing efforts and expand our reach. When we found new customer bases we also developed extra content and tailored marketing to them. We developed distinct marketing campaigns, and order processes, and even launched an additional website to cater to the unique needs of each customer segment.

The key to our strategy was not just in the execution but in the agility to respond to the market’s needs. We believe that promotions without data collection are missed opportunities, so we made it a point to capture customer details at every interaction. This approach enabled us to maintain a dialogue with our customers, understand their preferences, and serve them better.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?

Reflecting on our journey, one of the biggest mistakes we made was not ensuring that our partners and suppliers were fully aligned with our vision and commitment when joining us. We learned the hard way that collaborators with divergent visions can significantly drain resources and create internal stresses that distract from the core objectives. It’s crucial to work with partners and suppliers who share your business’s vision. We discovered that smaller suppliers who genuinely value your business can provide better services than larger, less engaged companies. These smaller trusted partners can become lifelong allies and many times our businesses grew together so that really paid off. We have an internal policy to review our partnerships once in a while and reward loyalty. Recognising and rewarding the suppliers and partners that support you is essential. It reinforces the value of a good partnership and encourages continued collaboration. Moreover, I think finding an accountant who understands start-ups, aligning them with your business plan and looking into more case scenarios rather than just what is more profitable at that moment is something I wish I had made different. 

Lastly, we didn’t seek help and network enough. Engaging with industry peers from the beginning can offer invaluable support, feedback, and partnership opportunities. It took me by surprise how helpful it is to be able to ask – and how willing everyone is to help. But it also leads to great partnerships and PR opportunities that are quite hard to get if you are doing it alone. Additionally, having a mentor from the outset would have been invaluable. The guidance and support from someone with experience could have helped us navigate the complexities of starting a new business.

What is your biggest achievement since founding the company, and how did you get there?

I believe our most significant achievement has been establishing a global business that stands among the top children’s publications worldwide. This accomplishment is not just in the scale but also in the integrity with which we’ve grown. Our business is robust, with multiple revenue streams, and our content—cherished by readers, schools, and parents in over 60 countries and translated into more than 7 languages—has never strayed from the high-quality standards we set at the beginning. I still pinch myself when I think we actually publish in many other countries beyond the UK where it all started. I tried to elaborate on how we achieved this, specially without having big publishers backings us then – as we carved a place among media companies and I know that wasn’t a small feat.

We’ve consistently focused on maintaining the quality of our content without compromising our values and we made sure our product evolved. We’re particularly proud of our Social Enterprise initiative, which allows us to offer our product to low-income readers, staying true to our mission to entertain and educate all. We believe that a business must serve a societal purpose at all levels to thrive in the future, and we’ve embedded this belief into our operations. My journey has been one of passion, purpose, and perseverance but our year-on-year growth from the start and the fact I still get goosebumps every month when new content is out, even after 10 years, is a testament to my commitment and love for what we do.

What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own business?

To all the aspiring female entrepreneurs out there, my advice is to arm yourself with knowledge. Dive deep into every aspect of the business you’re about to start. Understand the numbers, get a grip on finances, and familiarise yourself with the potential challenges within your industry. Seek out and engage with other entrepreneurs whose journeys resonate with you or whom you hold in high regard. Engage in skill-sharing but also remain open to adapting your vision as you gain insights – I can’t stress enough: be open. While having a clear vision is crucial, be prepared to tweak it based on feedback and learning.

Once your product or service is out –  listen to your customers; their reception of your product is invaluable for your growth. Moreover, embrace the journey of learning and evolving, not just as a business owner but as a creator and individual. Be ready to assume various roles and responsibilities. Flexibility and a sense of adventure are your allies, and so are the good people you will meet along the way. Cherish them. They can be your support system and guideposts.

What’s next for Storytime? Anything we can expect in 2024?

There are several exciting developments on the horizon for Storytime. We’re in the process of seeking a strategic Edtech partner or investor to enhance our tech platform further. Our pipeline is brimming with content nearly ready for release in various formats, including gaming, interactive learning, and video content, which we believe will significantly enrich the user experience and reinforce our brand message of being “a world of stories”.

We are also planning to introduce more international editions, ensuring our content is culturally relevant and accessible to a wider audience – and we are working with local partners in adapting it to the right format. So hopefully a couple of new versions will be out by the end of the year! Finally, September marks our 10th anniversary, and we’re excited to celebrate this milestone with all those who have contributed to our success. Stay tuned for a year of growth, celebration, and continued dedication to literacy and learning.

If you want to know more about Lulu’s company, click here

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