When Maia Haag told her boss at General Mills that she was leaving to start a personalized children’s book company, he told her to call him when she wanted her job back. “That just made me want to prove him wrong,” Haag says. That’s just what she did. Her Minneapolis-based company, I See Me! is now the largest publisher of personalized books in the U.S. With more than 50 titles and many other personalized products, I See Me! has sold millions of books for kids as well as pets, dads, and grandparents. Haag walks us through how she set herself up for success, from taking time to write the business plan to working for other Internet startups to learn what to do, and what not to do.
Launched in 2000, I See Me! found its audience without the aid of social media. Haag reflects on her earliest days in e-commerce and how direct-to-consumer retail has evolved—for better or worse. In addition to e-commerce, I See Me! sells through retailers and has strategic partnerships with Shutterfly and other brands.
In 2014, Haag sold I See Me! to Chronicle Books, but she has stayed on as president. She talks about going from founder to president and having to answer to stakeholders. She talks about working with her husband Allan, a graphic designer whose firm designed I See Me! products, and why they decided he should leave the business. Plus, how she’s learned to let her leadership team handle the day-to-day operations. “Letting go has made it so much more enjoyable,” she says.
After our conversation with Haag, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business professor David Deeds who offers advice and insight to entrepreneurs. “Learning on other people’s money is always a good thing for an entrepreneur,” Deeds says. “Businesses don’t die from bad ideas as often as they die from lack of cash."
Editor-in-Chief of TCB
I See Me! Co-Founder and President