ImagineMe was born when Ingrid Salloum decided to create a personalised book for her child
Generation Start-up: Mum opens new chapter on kids' entertainment
A mum’s idea to unleash children’s imagination by making them the stars of their own books has garnered backing from a venture building programme called The Nucleus, supported by The UK Lebanon Tech Hub, a joint initiative from the UK government and Lebanon’s central bank.
ImagineMe was born when mum-of-two Ingrid Salloum decided in November 2015 to create a personalised book for her child around his Christmas wish. They worked together on writing the story, coming up with illustrations and adding various other magical touches to it. The idea was latched on to by their friends who started buying it and adapting it for their own children.
The firm, now an online publishing company, takes this simple concept a step further, leveraging the power of technology through a user-friendly platform that enables parents and their children to choose their own stories, tailoring the narrative to their own interests and placing themselves at the heart of the book.
Ms Salloum says she uses her own two children as "a little team of big thinkers" to create stories other children will be interested in and inspired by. Then she adds an educational twist to the story to teach important values of compassion, empathy, inclusiveness and curiosity.
"At ImagineMe, we are on a mission to unleash kids’ imaginations by creating magical, personalised stories to raise confident, caring and curious kids. Our mission is to make children feel special with personalised printed books and gifts that celebrate the uniqueness of each child," she tells The National.
"We started ImagineMe in Lebanon selling locally, now we sell regionally and internationally and we are still based in Lebanon."
To begin the venture Ms Salloum received a grant from iSME Kafalat "to build my MVP [minimal viable product] and it helped me go to market last November". The iSME Programme is a US430 million initiative funded by the government of Lebanon and the World Bank.
I"iSME gave us a grant of $15,000, which helped us build the first MVP platform to go online and sell outside of Lebanon through online payment," Ms Salloum says..
"As part of the Nucleus programme, ]which] aims to turn tech ideas and MVPs into marketable products, we have built a solid and scalable platform to help us serve a global market which will also allow us to provide Arabic personalised books as part of our offering," says Ms Salloum.
The way ImagineMe works is relatively simple. Customers personalise their books online on the firm's website.
"You enter the name, gender, and language of the book and pick a character that looks the closest with the features to your child you have an instant preview of the book for free," Ms Salloum says.
"You write a personal message which we will include at the beginning of the book - we ask for two or three additional pieces of information based on the theme of the book, that could be names of friends, parents, dates of birthdays, where they live, for instance.
"Then customers place their order, specify the address for the delivery and pay.
"After they place their order, we assign the task to a printing company as part of our partners' network with the closest proximity to the delivery address. The printing company prints the book and ships it to the customer,"
Ms Salloum says she has a detailed idea of her commercial strategy going forward.
"We have a clear plan and vision on how and where we want to reach. We have big plans for ImagineMe and we are confident about this plan following our graduation from the Nucleus accelerator programme, now it’s just a matter of execution.
"We are building new features to enhance on the positive experience customers and kids are getting now with our books. We will introduce the Arabic language, expand our library of books and introduce augmented reality," she adds. "We are also going to expand our geographical coverage progressively and our distributional channels to cater for a global market."
All of that will require further funding and Ms Salloum is currently on the lookout for backers. "We will reach out first to angels and angels' networks to raise $100,000 to $150,000 and early stage VCs to raise seed funding," she says.
Ms Salloum says the crucial unique selling point of her product is that each book is actually unique and was an instant hit.
"Each product is personalised and sells individually since it’s customised to a unique child under their name and friends/family names.
"We were able to sell more than 200 books the first two weeks we launched. Currently, we are definitely selling more through individual orders but also in bulk through strategic and affiliate partners."
She is fully confident of her product's popularity and sees a bright future for the firm. "ImagineMe will be the leader in the Middle East market for personalised books but also a global player for the next generation of personalised books," she says.
Her background is in finance and that is why she says she is a "very data driven person. My intuition plays a role in taking decisions however I am a very goal driven person setting clear milestones and targets to guide me through my journey."
"I want to make sure it makes a difference in the life of people by adding value and creating positive experiences to children.
"We create personalised gifts that make children feel special and teach them good values. The local culture like any other culture nowadays value personalised items especially when it comes to gifting people they love, they put more attention and effort to provide something unique.
"At the same time, all kids love storytelling and they dream to become heroes - ImagineMe provides them with unique experiences of storytelling where they are the star of their own stories."
Asked what gets her out of bed each morning, Ms Salloum is forthright: "My two lovely kids and my passion to build something of value to them and to other children."