Business View Magazine profiles start-up success WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS as part of our Executive View series on Entrepreneurial spirit
Launched in 2014 by actress, producer, director Meredith Scott Lynn (CEO), WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS (WBB) began with one offering; an after-school program for elementary grade level students, and the materials to accompany that program. “Although,” Lynn admits, “I didn’t have the products printed and ready to go. I had the structured program, and digitally printed samples of the products, thinking we’d just go to our first education conference, learn what we could, and share what we had. Our program makes children’s book authors of kids of all ages. It’s literacy-building at its best, but it’s new, and I was told it would take at least a year before anyone would buy it. I figured I would just attend and exhibit, see if anybody liked it, and go from there.”
Well, everyone liked it. In May 2014, Lynn did a giant print run of all the materials necessary for anyone to facilitate the program with elementary students. She met the “army of angels” who provide opportunities and support to kids in after school programs nationwide, and fell in love with out-of-school-time providers and organizations. She saw the need for quality programming that could supplement the school day through disguised learning that was fun and engaging.
Within a year, WRiTE BRAiN offered after-school programs for all grade levels (K-12), while robust narrative and creative writing curricula was being developed for in-school classrooms that aligned with standards, and could be used as core or supplemental. After only three years, WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS programs are being implemented with students in 42 states. Retail versions of the educational products are sold online in WRiTE BRAiN’s store, and some are available at Barnes & Noble and in 150 stores across the country.
The core products are richly illustrated, textless books with lines on the pages, waiting for any writer’s content. Not a toy, but a unique educational tool to ignite the imagination; enable children to write children’s books; publish beautiful hardcover copies through the WBB website; and build a personal library of self-authored books. At the heart of the company is a vision to help boost the self-esteem and academic confidence of young people, who need to identify themselves as more than their score. Research has proven that standardized test scores don’t always reflect a student’s capabilities and brilliance.
Lynn explains, “Our wordless workbooks comprise fantastic illustrations – since art is a “universal language,” the stories the artworks inspire can be written in any language. It is my vision to have young people all over the world authoring original stories, and taking ownership of their voices through the narratives they create. There are many ways to engage with our high-quality materials; so many possibilities for connecting young people cross-culturally.
WBB has school programs across the U. S. from Orange County, California to Olympia, Washington to Miami, Boston, North Dakota, even the Bahamas. Currently, 36 artists (many, graduates of the Academy of Art University, San Francisco), have illustrated the WBB library of book templates. Lynn says, “We also partnered with the YMCA USA and created artwork that speaks to the Y’s healthy eating, physical activity (HEPA) standards. Kids are having fun writing original short stories based on pictures that reflect concepts and practices of healthy living.”
One hundred percent of marketing is done at education conferences. As a start-up, WBB is not highly funded, but Creative Director Faith Miller works magic with every product design, every flyer, every piece of collateral… because the conceit of the whole product line and program is that color and images trigger imagination in ways that blank pages cannot.
An exciting and inviting exhibit booth steals the show at education conferences. Lynn says, “When you step into our WRiTE BRAiN WORLD, you are immersed in color and art; images that aren’t categorized with any written content. Educators see what we are, what we provide, which problems our programs solve, and how it will serve their student population. Come to our booth at a conference, and leave with samples and a comprehensive understanding of all things WBB.”
WRiTE BRAiN is based in Los Angeles with a small but mighty team of four salaried and three hourly employees, some consultants, and many vendors. Several different businesses have made the products, though a single company prints the on-demand books that kids author and submit for printing/publishing on the website. Total revenue generated over the last three years (with no sales team) is $2.4 million – sales solely generated after attendance at education conferences nationwide.
A percentage of all sales goes to WRiTE BRAiN GiVES, the WBB philanthropic initiative. Its mission is to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for underserved and disadvantaged youth by providing them with programs that elevate their self-esteem and build vital 21st-century skills. Jeff Kinney, renowned author of Diary of A Wimpy Kid, saw the impressive effect the WBB program had on his own son in the 4th grade, and has jumped on board to support WBG’s efforts by writing a special note to the new author of every WRiTE BRAiN BOOK, which is included in each educational package and Author’s Kit.
Lynn is super passionate about her business. “I work seven days a week. This is a critical growth time with so many decisions to be made, huge partnerships in the works. Every entrepreneur will say the single hardest thing to do is hire people. No one is ever going to care as much as I do. The people who have been here since the beginning have stock options – I want them all in. The goal is to eventually have every employee in the pool.”
Lynn’s philosophy is simple: If you are an equity owner of this company in a top management position, it’s “what can I do until it gets done, then what more can I do that I haven’t thought of doing yet?” At the same time, let’s have work/life balance, but if you’re proud of a 40-hour work week, this probably isn’t the place for you.”
Soon, young authors will be able to publish their books in whatever language they wrote them in. Lynn predicts, “Five years from now, I see WRiTE BRAiN being a household name because kids at every grade level will be talking about it when they come home from school. I see our books in every library, hospital, foreign language school, doctor’s waiting room, and Starbucks. We’ll have events with authors from all over the world sharing their experience of being published. The exit strategy is to be acquired by a bigger entity that can take this company into international markets; one that has the resources to grow the company as big as it can and should be.”
Of course, Meredith Scott Lynn wants to remain deeply involved. After all, the whole concept was her ‘brain’ child. “I am a passionate and educated spokesperson for WBB. It lives in every cell of my being. I know every image on every page of every book. I wrote or co-developed every lesson plan in every curriculum guide. I spoke directly with the artist that drew that dog, that tree, that character…I’m not the type to make it happen, give it up, and walk away to do something else.
“My mom is our proof reader and editor. My sister is a graduate of UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and works in Corporate Social Responsibility. I wish she wanted to be my COO, but she has an important job at Facebook. I didn’t go to business school, or even college, but I’m a true visionary. Sometimes I have great instincts, and sometimes I’m smart enough to trust them. I’ve made so many decisions I wish I hadn’t.
“Like every entrepreneur, I’ve learned a lot the hard way and want a do-over. One of my many shortcomings is that I don’t know how to create hierarchal boundaries. Ours is such an intimate group at WRiTE BRAiN and the work is so meaningful. We get an email, or see a picture on social media, or read a letter sent to us about a child who has autism and couldn’t write two words together until he wrote his WRiTE BRAiN BOOK. We laugh and cry all day.”
Summer STEAM Programs
Teachers love the all-inclusiveness of the WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS program. One educator shares, “It allows students from all backgrounds and ability levels the chance to feel successful. They are actively involved through a rigorous, standard-aligned program in the art of authoring a children’s book, and they don’t even know how much they’re learning. Different components, such as the story mat and story card activities, allow students to share their work in a safe environment, receive feedback, and improve their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.
“I have a student named Jose who primarily speaks Spanish. This program has worked wonders for him! His oral storytelling and vocabulary has come such a long way… the look of joy on his face when he receives feedback from peers is proof that this child is not only learning academically, he is learning what it’s like to feel successful in a foreign language.
Attention educators: Looking for SUMMER STEAM? New WRiTE BRAiN Summer program packages are customized to fit any budget and time frame. Summer fun at its literacy-building best!
AT A GLANCE
Who: WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS / WRiTE BRAiN WORLD
What: Company offering innovative educational programs for kids of all ages, who become children’s book authors
Where: Office in Los, Angeles, CA