Startup Spotlight: UAE-Based Hekayati Is Introducing More Diversity In Children's Stories With Its Personalized Books Platform "Hekayati aims to solve the challenge of disengagement from traditional storytelling methods that are stereotypical."
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This article is part of an ongoing series covering startups that have been a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program.
For those of us who've grown up reading books, there would've undoubtedly been moments in our childhood where we imagined ourselves to be the main characters of a story. But what if there was a way for children to be the star of their own personalized stories? Well, that is exactly what UAE-based personalized children's content platform Hekayati has set out to do. "At Hekayati, we are on a mission to revolutionize children's literature by transforming each story into a magical adventure, uniquely designed for every young reader," says Asif Mugloo, founder and CEO of Hekayati. "By making each child the hero of their own story, we build their morale, and boost their confidence. In a world dominated by generic content, we recognized a gap in the market for personalized narratives that resonate with a child's individuality."
Launched in 2021, the Hekayati platform's services work in the following order: a parent or guardian can pick out a story their child likes on the site, and then submit information about the child's name, gender, and also choose an online avatar. The book is then developed, and it can then be reviewed by the adult, following which it can be ordered and delivered to the provided address.
All of these efforts, as per Mugloo, have been a conscious effort to move away from stereotypical narratives within literature meant for children. "Hekayati aims to solve the challenge of disengagement from traditional storytelling methods that are stereotypical," Mugloo says. "Our inspiration stems from the belief that every child deserves a story that reflects their dreams, interests, and aspirations. From forging impactful partnerships to guiding our creative endeavors, my focus is on ensuring that Hekayati continues to be a beacon of innovation in the realm of personalized children's stories."
Now, take a moment to consider the implications of such personalized children's stories during a time when, as per a 2020 Annual Literacy Survey conducted by the UK-based National Literacy Trust, one in three youngsters aged 9-18 said they didn't see themselves in what they read. The same survey noted that this statistic is higher for younger kids, as well as children from ethnic minority backgrounds and lower income homes. As such, what Hekayati aims to achieve through "integrating a child's name and likeness into captivating narratives" is a chance to allow greater diversity and inclusion in the stories children read today.
"The unique selling proposition of Hekayati lies in our ability to personalize stories as every child is unique," Mugloo adds. "Unlike generic children's books, our personalized storybooks are tailored to feature a child as the main character, creating a highly engaging and relatable experience. Our personalized storybooks are crafted with a human touch, ensuring that the emotional and personal aspects of storytelling are not lost in the digital realm. Moreover, our regional expert authors, illustrators, editors, etc. still make sure what we craft is not lost on our regional values and culture."
So far, Hekayati has launched its personalized storybook offerings in the UAE, and it has slowly been expanding into Saudi Arabia and other parts of the GCC. While the sale of these books result in a major part of its revenue model, the startup has also managed to clinch some productive partnerships along the way. "We constantly explore collaborative opportunities with strategic partners, such as football clubs and educational institutions, to expand our reach and impact," Mugloo explains. "For example, we achieved a significant milestone through collaborations with esteemed partners like Expo 2020 Dubai and Al Ain Football Club. We've also secured initial angel investment as funding, which has allowed us to establish our brand presence and commence operations effectively. The journey of Hekayati in Dubai has been equally challenging and rewarding."
As of now, despite continued growth, Mugloo believes there is still much more that his startup needs to work towards. And one direct reflection of that attitude lies in his answer to being asked why he chose the MBRIF Innovation Accelerator Program. "I think it has been the other way round," he says. "We are quite pleased to be selected in the latest cohort. This gives us validation that what we are working towards is something that resonates with experts in the region. We wanted to get into the MBRIF program, as it has a reputation of identifying scalable business and leading innovation initiatives in the region."
And as per Mugloo, the program's dedication towards supporting startups has been congruent with Hekayati's own vision for growth and development. "The comprehensive support, ranging from strategic guidance to access to funding and market insights, makes MBRIF an ideal partner in our journey," Mugloo adds. "Additionally, the program's commitment to fostering innovation and collaboration perfectly complements our goals, making it a strategic choice for advancing Hekayati in the dynamic landscape of Dubai."
So, where does Mugloo hope for his startup to reach from this point forth? "Looking ahead, we envision substantial growth and market expansion, as we continue to forge partnerships and explore innovative avenues within the personalized children's content space," he declares. "I believe the unique blend of personalized storytelling and strategic collaborations positions Hekayati for sustained success and positive impact in the long term."