I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Maya Talit, co-founder of BabyTV. Baby TV is an international commercial-free television channel designed especially for toddlers and babies.
Talit first conceptualized BabyTV in 2003 when she was pregnant with her first child. Talit, who had no media background of her own, grew her idea into a successful company. BabyTV is now broadcast globally in 20 languages through 750 affiliates.
We spoke about the inspiration for BabyTV, starting a business while raising three children under the age of four, and her secrets of success.
What inspired BabyTV?
The idea came along because of Baby Einstein. They were really popular and we had a look at them. We felt, first of all, that they were really expensive. And they were really limited in the kind of content that could be offered. We felt like there was more here and we should offer it twenty-four hours a day with one price to pay per month.
How did you get your start?
My husband and dad had a company that was in the media and show business, so they had a lot of contacts around the world. We made a test channel that was really popular and I made a cute board book presentation. We sent it to people around the world who were knowledgeable in the industry and they told us “You have a great idea!
Funding was one of the biggest challenges. We wanted to be an independent company and not go for big funding, so it was a personal investment.
It was a big risk and we had to be creative early on business wise to make it work.
We traveled around Europe pitching the channel, and we had a smart card that could be used to access the channel and make it live immediately. We had some copyright infringement early on, which was a little scary. We had about 40 deals in Europe and Asia when Fox International noticed the network and wanted to get on board. We were able to use their legal and financial infrastructure. They got a majority stake in the business in 2007, and since then, they sell locally. We have a small team, so it helps to have the big infrastructure. The kids TV market space is always backed by big companies, so it was a big deal to get on these cable and satellite operators without these companies.
A lot of the content on BabyTV is original content. What goes into creating BabyTV content? What other factors influence BabyTV programming?
We’ve been creating content for quite a while already so we have our formula down. Ron Isaak, one of our co-founders, worked with a team of writers and they worked with child experts for a long time in the beginning to get the concept right for these age groups–how long are the programs going to be, how many programs in an hour, what are these programs going to contain. We spent a long time with psychologists, motor development experts, cognitive experts, speech therapists. We even have a conductor on board. They spent a lot of time figuring out how to use the screen to create stories that can work for this age group, and then another chunk of time getting feedback from parents and kids through focus groups. We used to have a hotline to give feedback. From day one, we wanted to make sure that what we promised parents, that all content would be the most appropriate for the abilities of their kids and needs, we wanted to deliver on that promise. We weren’t just going to cut down a preschool program. We decided very early on that we were going to create all of our own content. All the revenue went into creating a content library–since 2003. Today when Ron works with producers and writers around the world, he’s looking for diversity. He’s looking for new skills and new angles with animators and also a certain ability to write things for this age group. Our segments are short: 5 minutes on average. But every series requires the same development you’d need for any other show, like character development and story lines.
Today we have one expert per series, based on what kind of series it is, we work with an expert in that field for whatever we are trying to achieve in that show. First, they decide on the learning message because children learn in so many different ways. There’s not just one way to teach, and we want to address all the different kinds of learners. We really need that expert advice. We want parents to be able to participate and find this useful and interesting. How might a parent play with their child later? They scrutinize every little detail and decide on pacing. We also work with curriculum experts. With all the content available on YouTube and they might find one show. We want to be a destination where they cover everything they need in their first years. We had more than one expert to decide what are the first 200 words a child needs.
What advice do you have for women starting their own businesses?
First thing: If you have something you want to do and are passionate about, you should go for it. There’s a lot that goes into it, and a lot that you have to give up on and know that in advance.
Early on, before I had kids, I would have thought I wasn’t going to work when I had kids. My mom didn’t. But the opportunity came up at the same time I got pregnant, and I had to make a decision and it work for me.
In the beginning, I would travel and start feeling guilty about leaving my kid. My husband said: “Decide right now. This is going to be just the beginning. You need to be able to be 100% focused on work when at work or not.” And I took a little bit of time to think about it, but it was definitely a decision that I had to make. I made the decision that I was going to be 100% focused on work when I was at work and 100% focused on the kids when with the kids. Starting your own business, you’re going to give up on things. I have to constantly redefine my list of priorities. There’s no time for fun things beyond work and kids and making sure it all ran smoothly.
Be sure that you’re willing to give the time and effort. It’s quite draining in the early days, it’s kind of around the clock. But it’s very rewarding. After I made the decision to go for it, I never thought twice. At the end of the day, it’s been great for the kids to have been there for the journey. They think it’s great that their mom works and loves her work.
Specifically for women in business, there’s much more openness now. I was 26 when I started, and it was hard because it was male dominated. I felt I had to come very well prepared for questions and seem knowledgeable about business.
If you believe in it, go for it, and be 100% prepared.