Founders’ Friday: Jan Burkins, Literacyhead
Hi, Brandon here again. Today’s featured Friday founder is Jan Burkins from Literacyhead. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about her company and what makes it unique from any other company out there. Enjoy.
Founder: Jan Burkins
BC: Tell me a little bit about your company:
JB: We founded Literacyhead three years ago; it uses visual art to teach reading and writing. It is a subscription based website that teachers can use to access incredible visual art that helps kids learn to read and write.
BC: Where did the idea come from?
JB: The idea came from work I did with teachers when I was a literacy coach at Chase Street Elementary School. We did a lot of this kind of teaching. It is time consuming to plan lessons with art; so I began to wonder, “What if this work was done for teachers?”
BC: Why should your target audience use your company and not someone else’s?
JB: I don’t think anybody else is doing what we are doing, at least not in this way. Our competition really is perhaps just programs that teach reading and writing, but the way that we use visual art and connect it to instructional standards is pretty unique and is very different from what anyone else is doing. Our work introduces joy to the classroom by broadening a child’s horizon. We offer a unique way of teaching that exposes students to visual art while also teaching them things like vocabulary words, comprehension strategies, and writing standards.
BC: What have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
JB: We have pictures from inside of children’s books on our website, and for read aloud lessons we include artwork from the book. Figuring out how to negotiate access to those images with publishers was one of our biggest challenges initially. Working with publishers and dealing with copyright laws can be a very tiresome pursuit. Our current challenge is getting the word out, and making sure other people know about the company. We have written all of these lessons and rounded up all of this art, now we want to make sure people hear about it. Currently, we are working on marketing strategies.
BC: What is the most significant thing you have learned as a founder?
JB: Sometimes working harder doesn’t make you more productive. I think what sometimes happens with a lot of startups is that there is so much to do that you completely lose balance and you forget how to do the things that give you perspective and balance you out as a human being. If I have a choice of getting a project done or working in my garden, I will choose to work in my garden. It helps to balance me and it is productive because nine times out of ten, I will come up with a solution to a problem while I am gardening. I find that when I am doing things that aren’t necessarily connected to my work, the work actually turns out better. It’s counter-intuitive, but true.
BC: How would you rate your company’s progress so far?
JB: We’ve built a fabulous website that teacher’s love. There has been a lot of trial and error, but we are really excited about our progress. We are beginning to get more and more feedback from teachers who are using it throughout the United States, and even around the world. I just got an email from a teacher from New Zealand who had forgotten her password and couldn’t get onto the site. She went on and on about how she couldn’t imagine teaching without Literacyhead. That’s in New Zealand; it amazes me that we are helping people around the world.
BC: Where do you see your startup in the next year?
JB: We’ve recently launched a derivative site of Literacyhead. We took one piece of Literacyhead and we restructured it to target parent audiences. In the next year, we see that really taking off. It is a website designed to help parents support their kids as they learn to read. It is called Wordeyes, and we see both companies working intricately together. Literacyhead is geared towards teachers, while Wordeyes is geared towards parents.
BC: Would you ever consider selling your company if the right offer was presented?
JB: Yeah, I think I would. If your question is “consider,” I would consider anything. There are a lot of variables involved. It depends on who the purchaser is, what they are willing to pay, where we are in the process of developing it, and how we feel about letting go of it. So, with that said, yes, I would consider it.
BC: What has been the high point in your journey of building your startup?
JB: I don’t know; every day is a high point. High points come when you resolve something you have been struggling with. In terms of the storyline, the high points of our company was getting a breakthrough with copyright permission, collaborating with Black Box Operations, moving into the Four Athens space, and being a part of Founder’s Circle. Those have all been high points in Literacyhead’s storyline.
BC: What has been the low point in your journey of building your startup?
JB: I can’t think of a low point. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re a startup you can’t think that way, you have to think of it as the next problem that you have to solve. Bjorn from Tune Wolf has a great mentality when it comes to this. He says that you can’t dwell on either the successes or failures; you do what needs to be done. You can’t be vulnerable to the up and downs; you just have to stick with it. A low point isn’t a low point; it is just a normal point of the startup life.
BC: What is the best thing about being the founder of your own company?
JB: The best thing without a doubt is that you are in charge of yourself. You get to decide everyday what your work is about and who you are going to be. You have the opportunity to be true to yourself and act with integrity. You don’t worry about losing your job because someone has asked you to do something that you are not comfortable with. Any decision you make is yours.
BC: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
JB: Spending time with my family; I have four kids. Also I really enjoy riding horses, gardening, and playing the ukulele.
BC: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about your startup?
JB: On Wordeyes.com, there will be a blog launching soon where parents can ask questions about their child’s reading. For parents who have questions about helping their child read, we will be answering those questions on the blog. It will be in a Q&A forum for parents wanting to know more about improving their child’s reading ability.
If you would like to know more about Literacyhead, you visit its website.