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Interview With An Entrepreneur

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Autor:   •  December 23, 2010  •  1,646 Words (7 Pages)  •  952 Views

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Although entrepreneurial success is occasionally a result of luck, most would agree that it is achieved through a combination of sound business sense, planning, and spirit. An excellent example of the seamless execution of these elements of entrepreneurial success is PMA member Maia Haag of I See Me! in Wayzata, Minnesota. Here are some highlights of my recent interview with her.

Q: My Very Own Name is certainly an innovative book. What was your inspiration?

A: I was looking for a product with which to start my own business. I wanted something in print because my husband has a graphic design firm and printer contacts. I kept thinking about notecards, but nothing seemed unique. Then I received a personalized children's book as a gift for my son, and the light bulb went off. I loved the book because it was about him, but the illustrations weren't very well done and the story line wasn't very interesting. I thought I could write a book that was more educational, with higher quality illustrations. I was on maternity leave at the time. Each day, as I walked my son in the stroller, I thought of ideas for the book. Each evening, I'd share the ideas with my husband, and this one clicked.

Q: Many books published over the years have used the child's name in one way or the other. What did you do to make sure yours would stand out?

A: I thought of the concept before I had looked at all the personalized books on the market, which was probably a blessing because it allowed me to think more out of the box. Then I ordered every personalized book I could find to confirm that there wasn't another book like mine. I researched the industry as I started writing the business plan.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background?

A: I was an English major in college. I started my career in marketing at General Mills and was lucky enough to have them pay for me to go to Harvard Business School. When I returned, the entrepreneurial bug hit me, so I moved to their new products group. I enjoyed producing new products for General Mills, but really wanted to start a business of my own. After I wrote My Very Own Name during my maternity leave, I didn't know whether the book would be successful; so I took a job doing marketing for an Internet start-up company, and marketed my book on the side. When the Internet company failed, I worked for a second Internet company, which also failed. By this point, my book business was starting to take off, so I began working full-time for it.

Q: What parts of that background do you think contributed most to your success as an independent publisher with I See Me! Inc.?

A: General Mills and business school taught me how to think strategically, and how to put together a business plan. But the failed Internet companies were probably the most helpful in teaching me how to do marketing on a limited budget. They also taught me what not to do, in terms of over-extending the business financially.

Q: What were your personal goals 10 years ago? What are they today?

A: When I was at General Mills, I went to a seminar in which I was asked to write my life's mission. At that time, I said I wanted to start a family, and also start a business that had something to do with children. Now my goal is to balance being a wife, mother, and business owner. I didn't realize then what a juggling act it would be. One thing that's changed is that I used to judge my success according to my place on the corporate ladder. Now I define success by the intrinsic enjoyment I receive from creating products and growing the business.

What attracts me is the act of creating, and seeing that creation being enjoyed by others. I think of my book as a product-something that is "packaged" with a certain look and feel, a selling message, and a target audience-and I like being responsible for every facet of the business. I get to be both creative and analytical.

Q: What did you do to put the pieces together for I See Me! Inc.?

A: First I wrote the book and found an illustrator. Then I went on the Internet to find a company that could bind the book, since each customized copy is bound individually. It turned out that the company that could bind the book could also process the orders. Next I wrote the business plan. And I created a website (it's a Yahoo! Store, which means I could create it without knowing HTML) and started generating local PR to drive traffic to the site.

At the site, I encourage people to earn sales commissions. I give them a unique free shipping code that they can give to their friends. Each time someone orders a book with a person's free shipping code, that person gets a $5 commission.

I also generated traffic to my website through Commission Junction (www.cj.com), which is a meeting ground for websites that have a product/service they want to advertise, and websites that want to earn revenues from advertising. I now have over 4,000 websites that link to mine, and I pay them a 10% commission on books sold. This has been very profitable.

Q: What model did you use for your business plan, or did you create your own?

A: I borrowed business plans from two local companies to get an idea of format. I knew that all good business plans have a 1-2 page Executive Summary; a section on The Market that discusses size in some detail and explains why there's an opportunity for the new product/service; a Product/Service section; a Marketing section about target customers, pricing, marketing plan (dollars and tactics), how to generate repeat customers; and sections on Competition, Operations, and Financials.

Q: You currently employ nine contract people throughout

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