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Yun and I are a magazine publisher's dream. We not only subscribe to 10+ different mags, but we're all too willing to reward a catchy headline by paying the full news stand price too. This morning Time Magazine got me with its cover story on its June 6th issue: The Science of Optimism. It's an interesting piece about how humans are hardwired to be optimistic, which the author contends is the underlying force that has fostered our evolution from cave dwellers to space travelers. In particular, author Tali Sharot points out, "To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities - better ones - and we need to believe we can achieve them." While the author's conclusions relate more generally to mankind's development, the connection between optimism and striving for a better future struck a chord with me in how they relate to entrepreneurship. 

 
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As previously tweeted, Yun and I are in New York City this week to, amongst other things, attend her little brother's graduation from NYU. It has been several days of celebration culminating in yesterday's commencement, New York University's 179th. With the forecast calling for rain all day, we were a little less than thrilled at the prospect of spending three cold, wet hours in Yankee Stadium. 

 
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Sorry we've been a little slow on the posts this week. Kevin and I are moving apartments and as you know, that's never fun! You always seem to have more stuff than you ever thought you needed, and that stuff all seems to be just that much heavier than it looked before you picked it up.

I guess that's probably a lot like starting a business. You often worry so much about getting all the details right that by the time you get started you have weighed yourself down with more than you needed and all those plans and details can bog down your product/business from moving forward at a suitable pace. That isn't to say that you shouldn't plan of course, just, as my mum likes to say, everything in moderation.

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A great example of this was recently written about in the May 7, 2011 New York Times article, The Class that built Apps, and Fortunes. The article features a 2007 class from Stanford's Persausive Technology Lab whose primary objective was to build apps on the Facebook platform and disseminate their work as quickly as they could to the internet world. It makes for a fascinating lesson in scaling down and simplifying in order to achieve results quickly. As you often hear from graduates of Stanford's b-school, one of the mottos drilled into them is to fail fast, and fail cheaply. Makes a lot of sense given today's intertwined business, technology, and social media environments.

Well, I need to be moving a bit faster myself this morning so I can clear out some of that unnecessary stuff from this apartment and start afresh in our new place! Have a great weekend everyone! — Yun

 
Occasionally, Yun and I will post a “retro diary” that will reflect on how a series of random encounters, which at the time may have seemed innocuous, helped to lead us to where we are now with our business.

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A year ago at this time, Yun and I were in the Windy City eating lots of deep dish (for what it’s worth, our favorite is Lou Malnati’s) and attending the International Reading Association conference (IRA). IRA is the educational publishing industry’s equivalent of the SuperBowl, without the fanfare. Yun and I were there to meet with our distribution partners - Curriculum Associates and Oxford University Press - and to see all of the new products that were on the market. 

One of the companies that we discovered at IRA was a small publisher called Mandy and Pandy, which focuses on helping young kids to learn Chinese. In speaking to the company’s owner, Chris Lin, we learned Mandy and Pandy had just signed a licensing deal with an agency that would help the brand expand beyond books into different product categories (think: TV, movies, t-shirts, plush dolls, etc.). We thought,  “why aren’t we doing this with our characters?”. If Mandy and Pandy could get a licensing deal, why not our Letter Buddies or Zoozoo characters...? I immediately envisioned a Letter Buddies TV show, an image to this day that only plays in my mind.



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After this epiphany, we decided to exhibit ourselves at the biggest licensing show in the world - Licensing Expo - held in Las Vegas every year. Sure, every huge multi-national brand like DisneyMattel, and Nickelodeon would be there to sell their wares too, but we were determined to carve out our own niche, our own licensing deal (shouldn't every kid be wearing a Letter Buddies t-shirt with their favorite character; we think so:)). With only 1 month to prepare for the conference and a booth budget similar to Disney’s except with four fewer zeros to the left of the decimal, we decided to DIY our own booth. As I mentioned, the other companies exhibiting were the creme de la creme of brands, so there were a few misgivings about whether our handmade booth would fit in with this crowd. That said, when you're small what do you have to lose? But, as it turned out, the disparity between our booth, which we thought looked quite good given our constraints, and the big boys' booths could only make you laugh. Please see the visual evidence.


 
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When you have your own company, you’re always looking out for the next “thing” that could make running the business simpler, more efficient, and (better yet) less costly. So naturally, Yun and I are always excited whenever we discover a new technology or company that is doing something to make some aspect of our work easier. I, in particular, am a sucker for trying new consumer technologies. Sometimes what I discover is flat-out terrific (think: Google Business Apps) and sometimes it’s not quite as good as it sounds (think: Google Voice). On the KandY Shoppe, we’ll be sharing some of our discoveries and experiences with these products and services that have made running our business just a little easier.  *A quick disclaimer, we are by no means spending a lot of time testing all of the different products that are in a category to figure out the very best one (or cheapest one) and are not claiming to be to be experts. Rather, we enjoy trying new things and when we find something we really like, we’ll share with you in the hopes that you will find it helpful too.  
 
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A few issues from my Fast Company collection over the years...

When you’re trying to start/grow a business, it is impossible not to let your emotions creep up on you — fear, doubt, stress, anxiety...and so much more! K + I know these feelings well and go through the regular roller coaster of ups and downs at least several times...a day, really! And there are definitely times that you sit back and wonder, "What am I doing?? Does anybody care? Do I even care?"


 
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I already posted about Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, (and also see his TED talk) so I won't repeat myself but last night we finally had a chance to go watch the movie and all I'll say is go watch it!

It was sharp and funny, and totally made me think about Marshall McLuhan's famous quote, "The medium is the message." This film definitely represents that statement. And after watching, I  did feel the pull to travel east (we live in LA which I don't think I've mentioned before) to find a Sheetz store so I could be a proud owner of the Greatest Movie Ever Sold collectors cups. Genius!  — Yun

Watch the film trailer below:
 
And the next generation business model for publishers?

As publishers ourselves who are moving into the digital age — having just gone through the experience of building our first app, (and now learning how to sell and market that app) — we are of course closely examining all the various paths that our business can develop into, especially given that the old way of publishing and selling books is clearly in the throes of revolution. It was only a matter of time that this industry was going to experience a seismic shift in ways that the music and entertainment industries felt in the last decade or so.

This TED talk is given by former Apple software developer Mike Matas, who helped write the user interface for the iPhone and iPad. He is now working with Push Pop Press to develop a new interface for electronic books, including software that publishers could use in future to develop their own material. In this video Mike demos the full-length interactive book for the iPad -- with clever, swipeable video and graphics and some very cool data visualizations to play with. — Kevin

 
The other day at dinner we had a conversation with Yun's brother and his wife, who is a teacher in a Catholic school in Canada. We were debating the issue of whether the teacher workforce and retention rate would improve with better overall teacher support and increased yearly salaries. Since we started working in educational publishing, Yun and I have felt that higher salaries for teachers would not only attract a larger, more varied set of qualified candidates, but more competitive pay would also reduce teacher turnover, allowing for greater continuity in classrooms across North America. Coincidentally, we just read this New York Times Op-Ed by Dave Eggers and Ninvive Clements Calegari (published April 30, 2011) who share our same thoughts on this very subject, including some compelling research that shows how other countries approach teacher pay. — Kevin

Click Here To Read NYT Article — The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

 
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Since our Letter Buddies AlphaBooks app (for Apple iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch) launched in March 2011, we have really thrown ourselves into the world of social media with a gusto that our formerly reluctant “not-exactly-genX-nor-genY” selves had yet to fully embrace beyond the occasional browsing on facebook and reading of a few blogs. I must say it’s been a really interesting learning curve from a business and marketing perspective how to fully leverage our work in this manner — especially given that marketing in the school publishing business is a completely different (and in many ways antiquated) beast.