Long-distance bedtime stories become a business
The mantra for business startups is “find a need and fill it.” But sometimes an entrepreneur’s recognition that there is a need starts with personal experience.
That’s what happened to Irvine businesswoman Alison Sansone. She wanted to have a good relationship with her nieces, Abby, 7, and Cassie, 4, even though they lived in Chicago.
Sansone had worked in a variety of jobs for companies in the hotel industry before staring her own media design firm in 2007.
Using her computer and a webcam she recorded herself reading bedtime stories that her nieces could watch on the family computer. Sansone figured others might want to do the same. Many parents travel, and many grandparents live long distances from their grandchildren.
That’s when Sansone came up with the idea for Be There Bedtime Stories, one of the finalists in the 2011 Irvine Entrepreneur Forum sponsored by the Irvine Chamber of Commerce in February.
To use the service, a person needs a computer with a webcam and Internet access. They go to the Be There Bedtime Stories website, select a book and follow the instructions to record themselves reading the book. A link is emailed to the favorite child.
Originally, Sansone’s business model was to place recording kiosks in stores like Costco and Target. Customers could create DVDs that they could mail to their favorite children. However, technological advances made Be There Bedtime Stories even easier. Services such as Skype and Ivideochat have become so widespread that Sansone changed her concept to allow people to record their stories at their home computer.
The site has more than 200 children’s e-books from six publishers and a recording starts at $9.99.
“Technology has changed my plans,” she said. “I thought they’d play the DVD in the car. Now they watch it directly on the Internet. Now iPad is changing that plan too.”
Grandparents love the experience. New Jersey resident Theresa and Anthony Padovano have recorded stories for their grandchildren Mia and Luke who live in China.
“Thank you for all the creativity involved in putting this together,” Theresa Padovano wrote to Sansone. “Our grandchildren are so far away, but this will help us to connect in a small way.”
Sansone was looking for outside investors to build her business more quickly. So she presented her concept to the Pasadena Angels, a group of professional investors in early-stage companies. One member in that audience was Don Kasle, who is a member of the Irvine-based Tech Coast Angels and an adviser with Tri Tech Small Business Development Center.
Unlike most of the nation’s small business development centers that are financed by states and the U.S. Print Article: Long-distance bedtime stories become a business Small Business Administration, Tri Tech specializes in fast-growth firms that have the potential to grow large. Its services are free to those accepted into the program.
“I loved the idea, loved the business model,” said Kasle, who is a grandfather. “I went into the website and played with the technology online. It was user friendly and no one was doing exactly what she was doing.
“Alison has the entrepreneur spirit,” Kasle added. “Be There Bedtime Stories is a full-time pursuit for her. She wants to build up the company.”
While Be There Bedtime Stories lacks proprietary intellectual property that would keep competitors at bay, Sansone has come up with multiple ways to use the site’s technology and some good partnerships.
For example, she’s working with schools to incorporate summer reading programs in which children do the reading instead of the parents or grandparents.
One of the partnerships is with Blue Star Families to give active-duty military men and women access to the site’s e-books. The project helps military moms and dads who are serving overseas to stay in touch with their children even from half-way around the world.
“We’re giving free stories to Blue Star Families (a military support organization), and we’ve donated a supply of web cams to them to give to families here so the kids can read stories for their soldier parent to watch,” Sansone said.
The Be There Bedtime Stories website accepts donations from people who want to support the program.
One military mom, Becky Long, said, “My kids could not believe Daddy was reading with them. My husband said it was easy to do, but he had to wait until he got into port to go to an internet cafe. When the kids get lonely, this video/storybook will come in handy.”
Sansone said, “Soldiers are moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles first. They are also our friends and neighbors. A webcam recorded bedtime story can connect them with their family in a powerful way, boosting their morale by letting them take off their helmet and put on their family hat for a while.”