Meet ABI Business You and the Flying Squid
NYFA Arts Business Incubator (ABI) cohort member produces multicultural and customizable storybook apps that let children personalize the hero of their story.
You and the Flying Squid is a family business that’s rooted in innovation. Co-founder Iván Cortázar teamed with his mother Sol Frías to create a series of children’s books inspired by his son and her grandson, Yuri. Fine artist Frías and filmmaker Cortázar saw a need in the children’s book market to use new technologies to overcome the limitations of the printed page and provide families with an interactive, personalized experience that they can relish together. The result? A picture book, app, short animated story, educational game, and educational tool for parents and children to engage and learn from one another. We recently spoke with Cortázar about the business and his experience in NYFA’s Arts Business Incubator Program.
NYFA: How’d the idea for You and the Flying Squid come about?
Iván Cortázar: A long time ago, when I was looking for names for my filmmaking company, my wife came up with the name “Flying Squid” and we thought of a logo of a child holding a squid-shape kite. I loved the idea, but when I thought of the faces of my future clients when they received an invoice from “Flying Squid,” I scratched the idea. At the time I thought they’d think I wasn’t professional.
Many years later, I was driving my mom to John F. Kennedy International Airport. We were stuck in traffic and out of the blue I started having this idea of a series of children’s books where a child goes from island to island in search of adventures with his flying squid friend. My mom is a fine art painter, so I told her about my idea and we’ve been collaborating since then. She is the artist behind the illustrations.
NYFA: Briefly describe the idea behind changing the name of your company from “Yuri and the Flying Squid” to “You and the Flying Squid.”
IC: I started with “Yuri and The Flying Squid” because Yuri is my son and main source of inspiration. Through the ABI program, I came to realize that the main purpose of my series is to allow children from all over the world to create a book where the hero looks like them. Therefore Yuri lost its relevance and even became an obstacle to that goal. By changing it to “You and The Flying Squid” I believe the project becomes much stronger.
I am still addressing the name change, and expect that everything will be re-branded with “You and the Flying Squid” by October.
NYFA: Can you tell us more about how the book, app, short animated story, and educational game compliment each other?
IC: Currently we have an app that contains all of these elements together. The primary interactive element in the book is customizing the hero of the story. Children will read the book like a standard picture book on paper, and won’t get distracted by tapping every where on the screen trying to find what characters can do. In my opinion, and most of the time, this is a distraction that prevents children from focusing on the story and vocabulary-learning.
Thanks to the sound design, music, and animations the picture book becomes a short animated story, and becomes an educational game when children record their own narration. When they hear their voices coming out of the speaker for the first time they always laugh. There’s an additional educational component, a game that’s matched with the theme of the book.
NYFA: How can children and their parents customize their experience with You and the Flying Squid?
IC: Before beginning the book, the child will be able to select the appearance of the hero of the story. They can choose between four different skin colors, nine different hair-styles, and four different hair and eye colors. They can also choose different types of clothes, glasses, and type their name and gender so the whole picture book will reflect their appearance.
The feature to record their own narrations also adds to the personalized experienced. Grandparents or divorced parents can also record narrations and children can revisit the experience later on.
NYFA: What lessons do children come away with from their adventure stories?
IC: We want to add a lot of diverse themes to our stories. Our first four books delve into themes like love for the environment, ethics (sharing, respecting other people’s opinions), and creativity among others.
NYFA: What drew you to ABI? What’s your experience been like so far in the program?
IC: I have always been close to the NYFA community as an artist. In the past, I’ve applied to the artist fellowship program in the video art category, and I’ve attended many workshops held by NYFA. Actually, I remember attending to a very interesting workshop about eBooks, back when I started thinking about creating these customized children’s books.
NYFA’s ABI program was the right next step for me. I am so lucky that I got selected to be part of the program. ABI came exactly at the right time in my career. I had a good prototype of my project but I needed to improve my entrepreneurial skills as an artists. So far the experience has been amazing. The business training we got in two weeks was very helpful; we learn things like customer discovery and The Lean Startup methodology.
Everyone in the cohort is extremely helpful and generous helping each other out. Launching a successful project is really hard and we are all busy with so many things going on in our lives, but I really feel that NYFA and our cohort has built a great community.
NYFA: What’s next for You and the Flying Squid?
IC: Our immediate goal is to finish the next three books so we can launch all of them together. Then first book will become free and our app will transform into a freemium business model. We expect to be ready by October.
After we launch the four books in October, we’re hoping to get some traction on the downloads so we can start approach printing companies to make the customized books as a printing option as well.
Simultaneously, I am working to adapt “You and the Flying Squid” into an animated TV show. I am excited about the potential of the TV series and I believe they will be great.
Please visit our website to learn more about NYFA’s Arts Business Incubator program. Stay tuned for future posts featuring the latest ABI cohort.
– Interview conducted by Amy Aronoff, Communications Officer
Image: Courtesy Iván Cortázar