HeyWow! hopes to crack the children's book market with new personalisation software

HeyWow! hopes to crack the children's book market with new personalisation software

The personalised kids' books trend keeps on trucking - and the duo behind this Scottish startup thinks their 'doing' books, featuring real children's faces, give it an edge.

The pitch

HeyWow! is a personalised publishing company aimed at the premium children’s market. The company creates design-led, personalised picture books for kids featuring their face and name on every page, thanks to an online “character builder” that allows customers to upload their child's photo and customise their look by choosing from a selection of hairstyles and clothing. 

"We’ve channelled our passion into creating “doing” books rather than narrative storylines like other personalised book publishers," says founder Lorna Freytag. "We create seek and find, mix and match, colouring, doodling, thought-provoking, idea-sparking books all designed to appeal to a child’s natural sense of curiosity and self-discovery. 

"It was important to us too that our books were diverse and inclusive - which is why our new Fairytale Quest characters are not your usual representations. We want everyone to feel welcome within the pages!"

The team

HeyWow is founded by husband-and-wife team Lorna and Daniel Freytag, who are based in the highlands of Scotland.

Lorna is a published children's picture book illustrator and photographer. Originally from Edinburgh, she worked for many years as a children's fashion photographer in London, NewYork and Sydney, shooting for the likes of Harrods, Harpers Bazaar and Collezioni magazine but her real passion has always been illustration and children’s books.

Daniel is a brand and design professional with over 18 years experience working internationally with clients large and small. He is partner and creative director of award winning branding and design studio Freytag Anderson. He is also a creative and social entrepreneur, founding online print store Made by Folk. Daniel regularly contributes to creative journals and leading industry publications.

The pair met whilst studying at Grays School of Art in Aberdeen before living and working abroad for ten years in Dubai, New York, Sydney and London. They returned to Scotland to start a family, and it was after having their two children that the seed for HeyWow began to grow.

What's the gap in the market?

The Freytags believe that the realism and diversity of their books will make them stand out in a crowded field.

"There are many personalised books on the market the best of which cleverly inserts a childs name and either drops in a photo on top of an illustration or offers a limited choice of avatars to represent the child within the book," they say. "We wanted to be able to use a childs real face and to be able to customise it in a stylised way so that it would blend perfectly into the illustrations (and not be branded by Disney or Peppa Pig!)

"So we decided to create a premium quality book that featured a real child, in a stylish way, that was customisable, fun to do (so a great user journey), diverse, non-gender specific and easily translatable across cultures. We also wanted to be able to include more than one child in our books. There was nothing else out there that ticked all those boxes."

Success so far?

After a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2017, the pair soft-launched a test product:  a single, print-on-demand book called In the City., which was a seek ad find book where children searched for themselves within 12 busy city scenes.

"At that point our main book compilation process was manual which meant Lorna “cutting out” kids faces and inserting them into each book," they admit. "This was a first step to be able to get the product to market quickly and was a relatively time consuming process so we knew very early on that we needed to find an automated solution (and some funding) to allow us any sort of scalability. But it did allow us to really refine and re-think our processes and artwork."

This year, with a Business Innovation grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and funding from Publishing Scotland, the Freytags developed a bespoke software system that automates the process. They officially launched the streamlined HeyWow! in October 2018 with two new personalised books - The Fairytale Quest and the upcoming Where on Earth?- and a collection of alphabet wall prints.

"In the 8 weeks that we’ve been live we’ve sold hundreds of books, been getting great feedback from customers and have had orders from all over the world! And that’s with minimal marketing that hasn’t properly kicked in yet," they report.

Biggest challenges?

Automating the personalisation system and user journey has been the greatest sticking point.

"We always planned to use photo-appearance in our books in one way or another, as a point of difference from our competitors, and to totally include and engage the child but we realised early on the technical challenges of this. We spent a long time looking for the right software developers to help us solve this problem and automate our system in a way that still kept it simple and fun for the customer.

"We finally found the brilliant team at Bad Dinosaur in Edinburgh’s Codebase who developed a self-contained, custom built software system for the creation of our personalised book products. This allowed us to fully automate our whole book production process, cut down our production time and costs and allow us to scale our product range.  Furthermore by fully owning the IP to this innovative new system makes us a truly independent entity providing the freedom to grow the business, collaborate or licence the software."

Ultimate ambition

"To create an iconic, global, personalised children’s brand known for its innovation, creativity and bold products. And to be able to do what we love most- make nice books that kids enjoy!"

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Continuously strive to innovate, streamline and think outside the box. And always be on the lookout for new ways to engage with your customers. Bring them along on the journey."