Alex Galbinski speaks to Asi Sharabi, one of the co-founders of personalised book company Lost my Name.
The four men behind the personalised book company Lost My Name consider themselves “accidental publishers”, as it was a chance purchase that led to them selling thousands of books and recently being awarded £100,000 on Dragons’ Den.
Three years ago, Asi Sharabi, one of the company’s co-founders, bought his daughter, Thalia, then three-and-a-half, a personalised book but was greatly disappointed by it. He looked around at other personalised offerings and was similarly unimpressed.
Taking up the story, he says: “Personalised books have been around for nearly 40 years, but there hasn’t been any real meaningful innovation. We found one or two other books, but in the majority they change the [name of the] protagonist – so every child will have the same book. Others will change some details – your dad’s name, friend’s name – but it’s still the same book.”
Additionally, he says, they were always a commercial gimmick, never taken seriously by the publishing industry and weren’t creative products from either an artistic or a literary perspective. “Initially, we saw it as a creative opportunity to do something better,” Sharabi, 40, explains, “and we knew that if we cracked it creatively, there would be a commercial opportunity as well.”
The men – Sharabi, who is CEO of the company, Portugal-based Pedro Serapicos (creative director – visuals), David Cadji-Newby (creative director – words) and Tal Oron (operations and technology), or the ‘three dads and an uncle’, as they call themselves – started the company as a pet project in 2012. Having shown the book – entitled either The Little Boy Who Lost His Name or The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name – to people, they received really positive feedback. Lost My Name was softly launched in April last year, with the official launch five months later. The books, aimed at children aged two to six, tell the tale of a child who has lost their name and sets off to track down their name’s missing letters, which are used to form the story.
They initially sold at a rate of 300 to 400 a month, through the founders’ own networks. But, last October, the company had its first breakthrough, selling the books through notonthehigh street.com, which Sharabi describes as its top reseller. “They featured us on their weekend newsletter and, from a range of 300 books a month, we sold 1,500 books over a weekend. It was an ‘oh wow!’ moment.
Then they featured us on the front page and it picked up from there,” says the Harlesden resident. Between November last year and 10 December, the company went on to sell 27,000 copies. “And it took us completely by surprise,” Sharabi recalls. “We were very lucky to be in Metro, The Guardian and The Observer. They called and said they thought the books were great and wanted to feature them, so that was pretty amazing.”
By the beginning of this year, Israeli-born Sharabi – who previously worked in strategy for digital communications and more recently digital innovation – and his co-founders, realised the company could go large. In March, with the company now a start-up, the men raised some capital and left their jobs to work at Lost My Name full-time. So just how does their offering differ from other personalised books? “Your child’s name isn’t in the story, your child’s name is the story,” emphasises the father-of-three. “Every child will get a very different book because they have a different name. “Our second product is probably going to be another physical book,” says the former social psychology PhD student. “We are only going to do one a year, maybe, but we’re going to take it to a completely different level; we are really going to play the technology game.”
At the end of July, Sharabi and Cadji-Newby appeared on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den and came away with £100,000 in return for a record-low five percent stake in the company from millionaire businessman Piers Linney. The company has sold more than 45,000 books and ships to over 90 countries. It’s looking to grow the US market and will soon launch an Americanised version of the book.
It now has a production house in the US, from where it’ll produce and ship the books, and is looking to have a production line in Canada, Australia and mainland Europe. It’s also working on German, French and Spanish versions. Asked the secret to the company’s success, Sharabi says: “At the heart of it is a beautiful product with a level of execution never seen before with personalised books. The best compliment we get is from parents wishing they’d given their children longer names so there would be more pages in the book. Parents also tell us how they were hardly reading bedtime stories as children preferred to play on the iPad, and since they got the Lost My Name book, children ask them to read to them.”
The success of the company, while obviously a positive, proved hair-raising for a while. “We’re on a massive learning curve and we refer to ourselves as ‘accidental publishers,’” admits Sharabi.
“One setback was scaling from 1,500 books in October to nearly 20,000 in November. That was not without pain, mainly for production. November, December and January were beautiful and painful in equal measure,” he laughs. But he adds: “We managed to make everyone happy in the end and have since moved to a much bigger production house and we are hoping to grow more than we did last year.”