Maia Haag received a personalized book as a baby gift after having her first child, and although she loved the sentiment, she knew she could make the product better. So, Haag founded a publisher of personalized children’s books and gifts, I See Me!, and it has grown to be the largest of its kind in the U.S., with revenues in the millions.
Keep reading to find out how Haag balances being the boss of a million-dollar company with being a wife and mother of three kids ages 11 to 20.
Click here to find out why hiring moms is the key to a successful business.
Q: Every great business idea starts with a spark of inspiration. What was your spark?
When I was on maternity with our first son 20 years ago, my husband and I received a personalized book as a baby gift. We loved the book because it was personalized, but we thought that the illustrations and story were schlocky. My husband, who is a graphic designer, said that he could design a better-looking book, and since I was an English major in college, I said that I thought I could write a better story. We set out to write the highest-quality personalized books on the market.
Q: What is the one thing you wish someone had told you when you started your business?
As much as I love my spouse, I wish that someone had told me that it’s not a great idea to work with your spouse. We worked together for 14 years, and while we made good business partners, it was hard on our marriage.
All businesses have issues to resolve. And all marriages have issues to resolve on the home front. When you add business and personal issues together, we were constantly working through one issue or another. We stopped working together about three years ago. Now when we see each other at the end of the day, we can just enjoy each other’s company.
Q: How has parenting informed the way you run your business?
When we develop new personalized book concepts, I constantly ask myself whether I would want to buy the book for my own child. Over the years, our kids have reviewed our book concepts and illustrations to provide feedback before the books are finalized. I’ll never forget when our oldest son reviewed a new Christmas storybook, and he asked me why the illustration showed presents in the stockings when it was Christmas Eve in the story and Santa hadn’t come yet.
Parenting has also taught me to have an incredible amount of patience and listening skills. Sometimes, our 11-year-old daughter might start to ask me a question, get distracted and then start to ask it three more times before she finishes her sentence. If I can slow myself down enough to wait for her to finish her question, then certainly I can listen carefully to our articulate employees when they are sharing their points of view.
Q: Are you sick and tired of people asking you how you balance being a mom and being a boss?
This question made me laugh out loud! My best answer is I schedule personal things on my calendar that I want to prioritize, such as a kid’s event at school, my own tap dancing class or lunch with a friend, and those “personal meetings” on my calendar are just as important as work meetings. I also try very hard to be present in the moment, so that when I’m at work, I’m at work, and when I’m with my family, I’m with my family.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give another mom who was starting her own business?
Don’t delay. With every passing year in your life, it will get harder to start your own business because you will naturally become more risk adverse. Many people have an idea for a business, but they delay starting it because they aren’t sure that they’ve figured everything out. Start to build momentum for your business by researching your idea, or writing an outline for your business plan. If you can put your toe in the water, before long you’ll be knee-deep in your dream.
Keep reading to discover the surprising costs that come with starting a business.