Wandy Yeap Hoh, MeeGenius!, Woman Entrepreneur
I met with an investor for breakfast a while back and she told me about Wandy. Her daughter loves MeeGenius books and she happens to sit on the MeeGenius board. I was intrigued that Wandy launched MeeGenius because she saw that her kids wanted to play with any device within their grasp. Why not figure out how to disrupt the childrens book market with the concept of ebooks? Filling a void in a womans life is many times the foundation of launching a business and that of course was just the beginning.
Wandy grew up in Hong Kong and left when she was 9 years old. Her father had a long history of working with the British Government as he was an entrepreneur. When Hong Kong was returned to China, he felt it was time to leave. He was working on more than a handful of businesses at that time. The family moved to Cherry Hill, NJ just outside of Philadelphia. Five years after landing in NJ, her father passed away.
Her mother was also an entrepreneur who began opening a clothing store at age 20. Her Mom knew she had to build new a business in order to support the family and was prepared to do it. At 14 she brought Wandy into NYC to attend a business meeting to make sure she got her points across in English. She had gone to a large printing company to convince them to create a line of wedding invitations in Chinese. Even when Wandy went to college out west her mother was amazed at what the yellow pages had done for the Chinese community out west and brought the concept to the east coast building a Chinese yellow pages for the tri-state area. A real entrepreneur.
Wandy graduated from high school and went to UCLA for college. She continued to read and write Chinese, Mandarin and Chaung-Chinese all through college. She graduated in three years at 20 years old taking a job at Arthur Andersen as an economic financial consultant. When she had just turned 21 she was put on her first project; the Orange county bankruptcy. It was the first municipality to go bankrupt in CA. As Wandy said, what was amazing is that the financial controller actually thought he did nothing wrong and that he had this magical equation that would result in amazing returns. The first thing Wandy's group did (that was led by James Mercer) was sue every investment bank involved in the downfall of Orange country. She started doing financial analyses to prove the case of what the banks did wrong which came down to toxic short term debt on long term securities. She stayed for three years on this project and left when she got into Columbia Business school.
Wandy graduated from Columbia Business school in 1998. She went to work for DLJ as an investment banking generalist. A week after she started she found out that DLJ was sold to Credit Suisse. She had interned there the summer before so she felt lucky that she was in the private equity side that survived. A new business was being launched inside the merchant banking division which was a private equity fund focused on liquidity to LP interests. She was employee number 2 in in launching this division and stayed through three fundraisings. They went from zero to five billion under management in 5 years. She decided to leave in 2005.
Wandy left for a few reasons. The marketplace was getting crowded, she started to take an interest in a different investing direction and she had a young child at home. She wanted to figure out something that she was passionate about where she would not have to travel as much. Bottom line, she wanted to start her own business.
In 2008 ebooks started to go through the roof. People began to think about what was going to happen to print. Would the same thing happen to publishing world that happened to music? Wandy began to spend time on line looking for interesting and educational books for her now two children. She found nothing but mindless games. She wanted to expose her kids to content through devices where she felt like they were learning and having fun at the same time. We all know that kids can not read until they reach a certain age and reading to your kids is key but you can't do that 24/7. How do you entertain your kids through learning in those down times. That is the premise of MeeGenius.
She founded MeeGenius in 2009. The first year was mostly about research and development. Originally they build the platform on flash and when she found out that the iPad was coming they had to make some serious decisions. Wandy scrapped everything she had built and rebuilt it on HTML5 so they could be an app in the store when iPad launched. It was a bold move but paid off. They were featured several times in the Apple app store giving Mee Genius a first advantage.
Fast forward there are over 1000 books in their catalog and 500 you can buy. Their books sell from $1.99 to $5.99 but you have to sell a lot of books to really build a business. They continue to think about several models. Branded content is not interested in subscription models but she feels for this market that has to happen.
There are two prongs to this market. One is that once publishers see that you have a committed marketplace they become interested but all of their content is proprietary. In essence the content is owned by the author so the process it tedious. The other is that MeeGenius is acting as a publisher for authors. The process is short compared to the old school publishing houses which can take up to 18-24 months just to get a book out the door and there are literally 4000 submissions for every single book that gets published.
Wandy says that MeeGenius is building a new publishing house. There is a social piece, a discovery piece and a branded piece. She is able to track what people are reading and push new content to them. They are beginning to move into chapter books for their readers as the kids grow with them. They want to amass a community to share their books with from teacher recommendations to their students to book clubs. On line they can be more user specific and social which is why they are the number one downloaded app for children's books.
Wandy has been growing MeeGenius as social media started to take off with the iPad and you can download their books on your phone and Android. Being able to publish new authors content right on their site is an important piece for becoming a go-to place for parents and children to read and educate through books and games. Smart woman building a smart marketplace.