There are lots of reasons to start a business, but having baby isn't often one of them. Nevertheless, that was exactly the source of inspiration for Wauconda, Ill. couple Shawn and Christine Currie with Lookio Books. The business, which is expected to launch "in a couple weeks" will let other new parents buy customized books for their little ones to read about themselves. It's also Shawn and Christine's first startup, so they've chosen instead to proceed cautiously and purposely by intentionally starting small: Shawn will keep his job and Christine will run the day-to-day operations instead of going back to work. They've also launched a Kickstarter (which ends this week) and expect to start filling orders shortly. To find out more their business, I gave Shawn a call.
So how did all this come about?
Shawn Currie: We kinda started talking about this in July of last year, and what led us to that was my wife and I were both working regular 9-to-5 jobs and we had a baby and so we had the question that a lot of two-income parents have: Does she go back to work or do I and then pay for childcare? When you crunch the numbers, unless you're making, like, I don't know, a lot more than we make, it doesn't make sense to do child care. You end up coming out even. At that point, you might as well stay home with your kid.
So, we just started talking about that and we said, "Let's think of something we can do ourselves from home." If it's just a modest second income, it will be the equivalent of her working and paying for daycare. So that's where we started thinking about small business and then I think from there what led us to the actual idea of customizable children's books was from the books you can make on Shutterfly, which are like those photo books my mom made for my nieces and nephews. Like, she'll put in a bunch of photos of them and write little cutesy captions on them and they're kinda geeky but they're cute. They're super cute. There's no other word for them. They like looking at things about themselves.
That led me to, well, how about making this process easier and being able to create a children's book that starts that child? So that's what led us to the initial idea. From there it was figuring out what we need. That's how we ended up on that path.
How did you figure out prioritizing all the steps you had to take as a first-time entrepreneur?
Shawn Currie: It was mainly keeping super-organized. It was weird because it was just my wife and I but we would have meetings. We had to. We're like, "Okay, we're sitting down and we're talking for two hours about this. We're making lists. We're assigning tasks to each other." We really had to be that organized or else we would have never gotten anywhere. At that point we really harnessed the power of the Internet, for lack of a better term. Everything you need to know about starting a business or anything you would want to know about printing books, making books, it's all out there somewhere. You just have to be creative in how you find it. It was just a ton of time online researching about all this stuff. I don't know how many hours I spent on YouTube just looking up book-binding equipment. There's a billion things out there and it's just trying to figure out what would work for us, what's affordable, and what is it exactly that we're trying to do. And then, of course, the other part of it was just picking up the phone and calling random people and being the sort of green -- "I'm an idiot, I'm gonna ask a bunch of questions to this person and half of them are gonna be dumb but the other half are going to get me answers." You have to be willing to feel like an idiot a lot to start a small business. [Laughs.] But that's all right. That's part of the learning experience.
So what steps do you have to take before you're off to the races?
Shawn Currie: We're planning to launch within a couple of weeks. I've been saying that for a long time but hopefully we are actually a couple weeks out, because we have our Kickstarter campaign that's live right now. So, we're hoping to roll pretty much into the Kickstarter campaign into having the site launch in a couple of days. That may be closer to a week, but we need the site to go in order to fulfill the promise that we made through Kickstarter. Basically, you could buy your books in advance. We already have pre-sold, or however you want to phrase it, about 70 books or something like that. Once we get the site up, then we gotta get those books to people and really start doing the whole marketing push and everything else. I could list off the things I have to do but I don't think you have an hour, because there are so many things. It's ridiculous.
I think that hour is probably better spent by you accomplishing those things.
Shawn Currie: Yeah. [Laughs.] Exactly.
So, once you guys have this launched, is this something you see yourselves doing for the foreseeable future? Or is there a finite window you want to explore this idea within?
Shawn Currie: That's a good question because it goes back to the whole thing with starting small. The thing that we realized we had to do? Christine, my wife, is going to be the day-to-day half of the operation and then I have a "regular" job that I'm going to have to keep to support the family and insurance and all that stuff. So I'm the night-to-night guy. But the whole idea with starting small was we don't have -- it's not a one-shot opportunity. If we get out there and it falls on its face, we don't have to close our windows in a month and then the bank is going to come looking for our house. We've funded it, basically, with our own money and Kickstarter. We're starting in the hole to ourselves, but that's it. We can build this slow. I'm thinking about it, it's a lame analogy, but we're like a new band starting off. We're not gonna try to play Metro or the Vic or something. We've got to start at Beat Kitchen or Schubas --
Or the Hideout.
Shawn Currie: Exactly. We've got to build a small fan-base. If we get them good products, then hopefully they bring their friends to see our band the next time we play. And that's kinda how we're gonna grow. We're going to do it as organically as we can and we're not looking to, like, explode onto the scene. I think that's an unrealistic expectation for any small business to have.
It's more of a slow burn.
Shawn Currie: A slow burn. And that's the beauty of social media, too: If you have a really good product, people will talk about it, they'll tell their friends about it on Facebook, they'll tweet about it. All that stuff. So it's really just about making a good product and building it slowly.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.