It began as an online game: Rich Barrett designed and drew 26 black-and-white unusual animals for each letter of the alphabet. Then, as favors for his daughter’s birthday party, he printed them on coated cardstock and bound them together with a metal ring.
Name: Animal Alphabet
Kids: Evan Samantha, 4; Elliot Kate, 2; Miles Alexander, 8 months
Launch date: About 5 months ago
Based in: Charlotte, NC; at his home office, with kids running in and out constantly
Inspiration: A group of other cartoonists and I organized a little project in which we would draw an animal for each letter for the alphabet every Monday. It went on for 26 weeks, and we would post our drawings on Twitter. I hadn’t planned on putting them together, but once I was done, I decided to make them into a little comic book. I had done a lot of comic book work in the past.
From idea to action: This February, my wife and I were planning an animal-themed birthday party for our 4-year-old. When we were brainstorming party favors, my wife suggested putting something together using all the animals I had drawn — in the form of flashcards rather than books. We used a little book ring to bind them together and keep them in one place.
Takeaway value: We got lots of positive feedback from parents because the animals were rather unusual. The kids learned about new animals, like “X for Xenopus,” which is sort of like a frog, and “V for Vicuña,” which is sort of like a llama. And even though the flashcards are on a ring, kids can take them off to use as bookmarks.
Setting the business apart: I have my own business as a graphic designer, but I love to draw. I have a bit of a following, since I post my work online and get good reactions. I use a lot of social networking, from Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr, to get a sense of what’s working and what isn’t. I also sell some through local comic book conventions.
How the kids help: When my eldest daughter was 3, she drew her own versions of the last letters, for the yak and the zebra. I have those saved and scanned into my computer.
Primary clientele: Mostly parents buying for their kids. But I did have an order recently from someone who plans to use them for speech therapy.
Next steps: A cartoonist and I just finished up another alphabet project that features fictional creatures from literature. I may or may not make flashcards, coasters, or postcards from them, too. There’s always a new project to move on to and sell to a different audience.
Advice to entrepreneurial parents: It really comes down to finding something that you love to do. It’s not always going to work out; it’s really hard to sell something original, and it takes a lot of work. In the end, you don’t necessarily sell a whole lot of your product. But if it’s something you love to do, that may not matter. There’s a lot of satisfaction in completing something that you can put out there and sell.