WARREN Leow is founder of Amazing Fables, a customisable book publishing company which makes children’s books where the name, gender, avatar, and dedication messages can be personalised. The books are also available in 12 different languages including all the major Southeast Asian languages.
So far, Amazing Fables has six titles in its catalogue with four more in the works. Launched in June this year, this Malaysian-based company has publishing channels in the UK, US, Australia and has sold the book in over 15 countries since its inception.
A London School of Economics graduate, Leow has deep roots in the start-up scene in this country, having worked as executive director for the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC), and is the administrator for a Whatsapp Group of 1,000 start-up founders and investors across Southeast Asia.
What’s your aim or motivation for starting Amazing Fables?
I want Amazing Fables to inspire young kids via rich storytelling, vibrant visuals, positive values and interesting facts.
Personalised books are now possible with the combination of content, technology and an online-to-offline supply chain.
This concept occupies a niche which allows parents to cultivate a reading habit among their kids at a young age.
By having a personalised product, the book becomes a visual storytelling aide where parents can conjure up little tales of their own to wow their kids. It becomes an added novelty and experience.
Did you conceptualise the stories yourself?
I do most of the writing but under different pen names. So the stories in Amazing Fables are all original and unique.
It's not difficult to come up with storylines as young children tend to like universal themes such as animals, adventure, discovery and exploration. And I also read a lot when I was growing up.
Are you a book lover yourself?
Yes, I was an avid reader in the past, of both fiction and non-fiction. Nowadays, I follow current affairs via New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times because I come from a finance background. But in the past, I read a lot of fiction from JRR Tolkien to Neil Gaiman to Frank Herbert and those authors shaped my thinking.
What’s the Amazing Fables’ process like?
A user can customise the name, avatar, and gender in a selected story, as well as personalise the dedication message for the intended recipient.
A live preview is generated so that users can see what they’ll be getting before ordering. Once an order is finalised, it is then funnelled to our printing and fulfilment partners worldwide. They then send the books to the buyer within 10 working days.
Do you see a time when even the plot can be personalised?
Yes, it's in the works but it will take a little time! I’d like to introduce more books which talk about love and relationships and our ties to the bigger picture beyond us.
Personalised books is not a unique concept. What makes yours different?
The quality of books and stories is very high. I'm also localising it into 12 different languages including Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese, among others.
You’re well networked in the start-up field and you have seen many different business models. What convinced you this could work?
Four reasons really: Firstly, the content publishing business model is scalable and global from Day 1. Secondly, the value chain can be outsourced without too much capital investment. Thirdly, there’s no need to store inventory and hence requires less working capital. Finally, it’s also relatively Blue Ocean in this part of the world without many competitors.
What was the biggest challenge in setting this up?
It was quite easy to get the content and website up. The primary difficulty was to find technical cofounders who are committed and believe in the vision.
I was lucky enough to chance upon a brother of a good friend who also brought his other friend along. Both graduated from among the top schools in India. They joined me to help with the IT stuff.
What are your main responsibilities in the company?
I run product, strategy, operations, content, funding, planning. Basically, we’re just three people – myself and two IT guys.
Are the rest freelancers?
Yes, we have a team of freelancers – illustrators and editorial people from around the world, including Argentina, Indonesia, Italy, Romania, UK, US and more.
You spoke earlier about the online-to-offline supply chain concept. What do you mean by that?
The books are created by us here in Malaysia but for the overseas market, they’re printed and fulfilled by printing partners around the world including UK, US and Australia. Printing and shipping costs across borders are challenging, but we’re solving this by localising our fulfilment globally so that the costs can be lowered.
Are you doing this full time?
No, I have a day job with a stock image, sound and motion company where I work as vice president in charge of partnerships, business development and new product lines.
I have learnt a lot from my day job which allows me to apply many lessons into Amazing Fables. Besides that, the network that I built during my previous careers has been very helpful as well to get certain things done.
What are your biggest challenges now?
Marketing! The cost of marketing is quite high nowadays on Google and Facebook. Hence, it’s an ongoing exercise and challenge to build up the brand.
How much of your market is global?
Amazing Fables was built to be global from Day 1 with the intention to serve multiple markets with different languages. Since our launch in June, we’ve shipped our books to the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Japan.
What’s the next step?
Currently, I am 100 per cent bootstrapped. There isn't a real need to look for external funding now as our cash burn is very modest. I’m trying to build a sustainable start-up which can rely on its own business to fund itself. But my longer term goal is to raise funding from strategic investors who can help bring Amazing Fables to the next level.