A few months ago, I received a package in the mail with a gift for my two-year-old son and a gift for my newborn daughter. We opened the box to find charming children’s books. But these weren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill reads. These were beautifully illustrated and absolutely incredible personalized books—keepsakes marking the birth of my daughter and my son’s “promotion” to big-brother status.
I See Me!, was launched in 2000 by Maia Haag. With her graphic designer husband by her side, they set out to create personalized books for kids that celebrate a child’s uniqueness and help build his self esteem… And that it does. My now almost three year old, can recognize his name and gets so excited when he sees it in print. I recently chatted with Haag about her company’s mission, her personal goals, and her favorite old and new books from I See Me!. Here’s what she had to say:
What was the initial spark of inspiration to create I See Me!?
I had gone to business school and I knew I really wanted to start a business. I was in a seminar and they had us write our life and career missions. My career mission was to start a business that had something to do with kids. I was looking for a business idea though. My husband is a graphic designer and so I thought it would be great if we could find a printed product in which we could leverage his connection with printers and also hire illustrators. And, so, I was thinking about greeting cards for kids, and then with our first child we had this “aha” moment. We received a package from my cousin—a personalized book about our child. We loved it, but the illustrations weren’t great, and the storyline wasn’t very good. We thought, “We can create a better book than this.” So I had a six-month maternity leave from my job at GM at the time. I would stroll around and come home at night, and would share my ideas. And the concept for “My Very Own Name” stuck. It’s still our top-selling book so that’s how it started.
Fast forward fifteen years, what’s your day-to-day like now?
I’m the President of I See Me. So my role is to oversee all the operations. I do occasionally write books along the way, but it’s sporadic. My role is to define our strategy for growth and make sure we have the resources to to grow and the right processes to grow. We’re always brainstorming on new books and new product ideas to help create an even better user experience. We’re a fully staffed team at this point.
What’s your favorite book in the collection?
I really like “Who Loves Me?” because it includes the name of various people who love the child. It’s a wonderful way of making a child feel very special. They’re hearing the names of people, but it’s also a way to keep the names of relatives fresh in a child's mind.
What is new or on the docket that you’re excited about?
Chronicle is now our sister company. And that design and editorial team is producing some personalized books to sell on our web site. We have just introduced “I Wish You More,” which is a New York Times bestseller. They also produced a personalized version of it for us to sell on our site—so that’s a beautiful book that just launched. We’re introducing a new book to the “My Very Own” series: “My Very Own Truck,” which is coming out in August.
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In July, we have “Peek a Who?” Chronicle has sold this one for years. It’s a board book –and we’ve created a personalized version selling in July. You see the child’s name throughout on all the illustrations. At the end on the last page you see the child’s photo. That will be cute for babies.
And then in October “My Sing Along” book features nursery rhymes with the child’s name, and the book comes with personalized music so it’ll be a personalized CD and MP3 download. It’s beautifully recorded. We’ve recorded it with 1,800 names. We hired a producer in LA who works with a vocalist. She literally sang all the songs and then she had to sing 1800 different names multiple times. And the producer mixed it to incorporate the names.
In November. “My Twelve Days of Christmas” will be another one through Chronicle. We’ve taken that song and updated it. Instead of “Maids a leaping,” it’s been updated with things kids recognize like bears and bicycles. And, of course, the child’s name is included throughout. It’s really cute and as the story progresses it gets to be mayhem of bears and cats and rabbits under the tree—it's a party under the tree.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your career so far?
Hearing the feedback from children and parents has been the most rewarding. We hear all the time that kids bring their books to school for story time—they’re so proud. I’ve seen it with my own kids but also with other children. It gets them so excited to read and to want to share a book with their friends. It’s just as exciting as receiving a toy, and that’s heartwarming to me. They keep forever, and it’s a keepsake. We get notes all the time from parents saying that they were teary-eyed when their baby was born [and they were given a book] because it has the child’s name in it. Seeing it in print is emotional.
This is not a sponsored post. We were given samples for review. All opinions are our own.