Startup Spotlight: MeMeTales helps kids catch the reading bug

Maya Bisineer

MeMeTales has a simple mission. Make reading fun for kids. The company’s mobile app for the iPhone allows kids to accumulate points each time they read a book, earning stickers or unlocking games as they consume more books. Designed for kids up to the age of seven, the free app also allows parents to publish books specifically for their own children.

MeMeTales has been well received since its debut last month, with Apple recently featuring it in the “New and Noteworthy” education section of the App Store.

Founder and CEO Maya Bisineer chatted with GeekWire about the challenges she has faced as an entrepreneur and why she’d love to help Jeff Bezos design a Kindle just for kids.

An active member of the Seattle startup community, Bisineer plans to move to the San Francisco Bay Area later this summer in part to be closer to the startup action in Silicon Valley. MeMeTales will maintain an office in Seattle, and Bisineer said that she’ll actively commute between the two tech hotbeds.

Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: “We have an iPhone reader app where kids can choose from a variety of books, have fun reading, get points and stickers and unlock book related games. We make reading ‘the funnest thing ever.’”

Inspiration hit me when: “I moved to Seattle a couple years back. I took some time off to write children’s stories. Very soon, I realized that there are so many people inspired to write except it takes them years and years to “get published” in traditional ways and truly share their work with children around the world. That was when I knew that we needed to build something that makes it super easy for any creative person to “publish” and share their work with just anyone.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap with small angel money to support our present launch. Because it is really a waste of time to try to raise money without an MVP or traction. We figured it is a better use of our time to just focus on building an awesome product. Now that we have a great product, thousands of registrations in just two weeks and we are signing on publishers, we will be going on the road to raise money this year.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We kind of stumbled upon our secret, in a way. We have so much fun and our focus is solid. It is not a secret but, any technologist would know that it is super hard to do. We work closely with our customers, kill features ruthlessly and will NOT go after the latest and greatest tech innovations just for the sake of it. When you innovate with the bounds of a strong mission, magic happens!

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “The biggest move we have made is to put our egos aside and take feedback from everyone at every single point. “Egos aside, mission first” has rocked our world with some great customers and advisors. Personally, the smartest thing I have done is participate in Startup Weekend. It has been the best way to get to know some rock star start-up folk while learning something new every single time.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We have made so many mistakes. The biggest one was when we spent two months last summer exploring a partnership that was not meant to be. I learned quickly that customer development is the only job of a founder. Most good partnerships happen effortlessly once that is taken care of.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner:  “I am most inspired by Gates for his work through the foundation. I get a sense that he would come closest to understanding our goal of making reading fun and accessible across the world. But then, my selfish choice would be Bezos cause we really give him a head-start on building Kindle-for-kids.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “When Bezos discovers us and has his aha moment.”

Rivals should fear us because: “We are truly focused on making a difference.”

We are truly unique because: “Of the value we are providing to the publishers who work with us. And we turn reading into a game. And we do it all without making a big fuss about it.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “People thinking we are a blog, we are a marketing company and we have no idea what we are doing. Although I play blind to gender related biases, I am pretty sure some if it has to do with the fact that people just do not expect a woman to lead a tech company. I mostly get over that by just focusing on my job of being the best founder I can be. A big part of being an entrepreneur, man or woman, is earning that credibility, finding our cheerleaders and mentors.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Just start already. Start building something. Just do it. Build. Test. Build. It is a lot more fun than just thinking about it. And don’t ever get your ego mixed up in it.”

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area statup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to tips@geekwire.com. Past profiles can be found here.

  • http://www.thinkspace.com Kristin Eide

    I’m excited to see Maya and MeMeTales on GeekWire! Watching MeMeTales grow has been so fun and inspiring. Congrats!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=795427627 Anonymous

      Thank you Kristin – for this and the voice over in some of our books!! Thinkspace has been such a great community and space for me. Am grateful I got lucky to spend a few months with ya’ll :)

  • Kristy

    How about an Android App?  Looks great!

  • Anonymous

    Great show Maya! wish you good luck with this one and many others you would have.

  • http://www.carolschiller.com Carol

    My kids love Memetales! Way to go Maya!

  • Anonymous

    Totally awesome. Anything that deals with early childhood education cannot be over emphasized. Reading is a totally amazing way to “catch them young”. Way to go, Maya –good work. You should also check out Pocket Tales, which I covered here: http://bit.ly/juTtAD

  • http://twitter.com/bcrimmins Bob Crimmins

    Keep up the awesome work, Maya! 

    +1 for the Android version… I have two potential users in the house… but zero iPhones.  ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=795427627 Anonymous

      Android app is coming soon – now that we rolling really well on the iphone side!

  • http://twitter.com/ShaunaCausey Shauna Causey

    Well deserved. Great work with the app, Maya! 

  • http://www.danshapiro.com/blog Dan Shapiro

    Maya is AWESOME – one of the great entrepreneurs to come out of Seattle founder’s institute.  I’m excited to see your product grow!