Palo Alto Weekly

- October 31, 2007

A print-run of one

Palo Alto entrepreneur harnesses connectivity, convergence for her series of personalized children's books

by Allen Clapp

Margo Redfern, the publisher and entrepreneur behind a new book series for children, works out of her Palo Alto garage. It's not where the whimsical stories are written -- that happens in West Virginia -- and it's not where the lush 3-dimensional art is created -- that happens in Vancouver, Canada. Production occurs in India.

In fact, she has never met the majority of the people who bring her books to life. Admittedly, Redfern couldn't have pulled this off 5 years ago. But when she launched her first book, "The Tuesday Mushroom King," earlier this fall, her new company "flattenme" became living proof of the power of an idea in this new era of connectivity and personalization on the Internet.

"It sounds like it would be a leap of faith to work with people you have never actually met, but it doesn't work out that way.

"Given the fact that they are all over the world, it doesn't really make sense to meet face to face," Redfern said.

Her team members do communicate, however, using Skype or Yahoo! instant messaging. And they coordinate their production schedule using Basecamp, an online project-tracking application.

Nevertheless, her home office is incredibly important to her work. It's where the inspiration for her books comes from.

It all started a couple years ago when her husband, Joff, made a personalized book for their daughter, Caity, using some digital photos he had taken of her.

"Just watching her with it was amazing. She took that book everywhere and told everyone about it," Redfern said.

"And I just thought, 'There's something here,' because 99 percent of kids don't have a dad who has the creativity and know-how to make a book like this."

Personalized books are nothing new, but until recently they've been confined to text personalization -- basically a story with blanks to "insert your child's name here." Redfern's idea was to create books in which both the story and the artwork were personalized.

With the upload of a single photograph, anyone can create a visually stunning, one-of-a-kind book at the company's flattenme.com Web site.

"The timing was right," Redfern said. Not only digital-imaging technology, but the ability to do "a print run of one," has made her dream a reality. Not long ago, creating just one copy of a customized full-color book would have been cost prohibitive. Using traditional methods, the graphic design, typesetting, printing and binding would cost thousands of dollars.

It's similar to the "book" feature Apple computer built into its iPhoto program a few years ago, or the "make stuff" feature on photo-sharing site Flickr, which allow one-off, full color books to be designed, printed, bound and mailed for under $50. Flattenme books sell for $32.95.

"The Tuesday Mushroom King" follows two young sprites on a journey through an ancient forest at the edge of the land of Nemroth. They are separated from their kindred when the North Wind sneezes and creates a great ruckus. The sprites encounter a helpful beetle, visit the home of a pack rat, and finally meet the Tuesday Mushroom King.

The result is an immersive experience, rich in color and language.

The 26 color plates in "Mushroom King" each took about 50 hours of work, Redfern said. The depth and texture of the images are a natural accompaniment to the text. Redfern has praise for her collaborators, writer Michael Titus and artist Gale Franey.

"It's just beautiful ... inspired," she said.

The past year and a half have been a flurry of activity for Redfern, who conceived both a business and a fourth child in that time.

But somehow it makes sense for the entrepreneur. She often tests out her ideas on her kids, getting their feedback and listening to their ideas.

"Sometimes the kids get their friends involved. It can be a neighborhood event," she said. "They call us 'Team Redfern.'"

Before settling in Palo Alto in 2000, she worked in marketing and advertising for Nabisco and Polaroid. When the family moved to California, she consulted for Microsoft, eBay and Yahoo!. She and Joff, whom she characterized as "tech-types," now love being based in Palo Alto. "It's a sweet spot to be."

Now she's using her eye for good products to launch new ideas for flattenme. Already available on the Web site is the company's second book, "Here There Be Pirates." And two more are on the way: "My Little Monster" and "The Potty Dance." Redfern says she's also thinking about a pet-based book and an undersea story.

Word is getting out about the young company, and with a big gift season around the corner, Redfern said things are "snowballing."

"With Web-based distribution, this could go almost anywhere," she said, noting the company is currently looking at different partnerships.

An early surprise was discovering the books are a hit with special-needs children.

"We're already reaching a market we hadn't planned on. But I can see why it works. Kids who are hard to reach are really connecting with this. It just draws you in."

Associate Editor Allen Clapp can be e-mailed at aclapp@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Margo Redfern, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2007 at 1:48 pm

You can purchase the flattenme personalized storybooks at www.flattenme.com
Thanks!
Margo Redfern, founder


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