As a new mom in Miami, Ana Guzman knew she wanted to raise her child bilingual. But she couldn’t find the interactive books she wanted, with buttons her daughter could press to play nursery rhymes or other soundtracks. She vented to her entrepreneur dad, who quipped: Why don’t you do it yourself?
Meet the co-founder of Binibi, a startup for dual-language education aptly named for bilingual niños (kids). Binibi is launching with a collection of four Spanish-English sound books for babies and toddlers, all designed in El Salvador, where both Guzman and co-founder Luciana Yarhi grew up. It’s targeting young Hispanic moms in the United States, reaching out to them on Instagram and other social media.
Response so far has been good, Guzman says. On Oct. 19, the startup began a Kickstarter campaign to fund printing and other expenses. The effort topped its initial goal of $10,000 in just five hours, with many pre-orders for books coming from Binibi’s social-media followers, says the 35-year-old Brickell resident.
How can a mom with a child under two bring an entrepreneurial vision to life? Guzman says it’s keythat both she and her co-founder have supportive families, strong professional experience, help with childcare, and above all, a passion for their project.
“One piece of advice that people give entrepreneurs is to pay attention to what’s around you, and we did,” she says. “We’re both kind of obsessed about how we can make our children bilingual.”
Guzman says Binibi’s four initial books aim to make bilingual learning fun and easy for children up to five years old “with little hands.” The books have colorful pictures, buttons to press for sound, text in Spanish and English, and rounded edges on sturdy, board pages. Each focuses on farm animals, beach sounds or Latin American nursery rhymes such as “Los Pollitos Dicen,” songs Guzman calls “a must” for her daughter Sofia, now 22-months-old, and for Yarhi’s son Alejandro, now 20-months-old.
To prepare the launch, the co-founders asked lots of questions to their Instagram followers, some with surprising answers. For example, they asked why folks are raising their children bilingual, figuring parents would say they wanted to broaden their kids’ future opportunities for work, residency or travel. Instead, “people responded with something about their culture and heritage,” like wanting their children to connect with grandma or feel Dominican or part of their family’s homeland, Guzman said.
“That personal link between culture and language, it’s been incredibly eye-opening and important to understand.”
Guzman and Yarhi started Binibi from their respective homes during coronavirus: Guzman in Miami and Yarhi in El Salvador, each raising a baby. The two women were neighbors as kids in El Salvador and attended American School there, becoming bilingual themselves. Each headed to the US for university: Guzman to Georgetown undergrad and Columbia for her MBA and Yarhi to UPenn undergrad and NYU for her MBA. And they worked in the US first: Guzman in tech and Yarhi in luxury packaging.
Still, neither business school nor experience in a big company can fully prepare you for life as a founder, Guzman concedes. “I think the biggest challenge is … just believing in yourself enough to just keep going, because it’s really lonely when you’re starting out.” It takes strength to deal with the inevitable setbacks, like the illustrator who didn’t work out or account rep who changed jobs after you’d finally built a relationship, she says. “Figuring it all out, building a new brand, it’s really challenging.”
Being a founder – and not an employee – also means you “do everything,” says Guzman. “I’ve never been in a position before where if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. I have a whole new respect for people who start a business,” she says, drawing parallels with 24/7 motherhood. “It’s exciting to be building a company, but it can be overwhelming at times, especially with toddlers running around.”
Binibi is printing its collection in China and plans to start distribution next year, with each book set to retail for $19.99 each. The co-founders aim to develop support materials and activities to complement the books. Longer term, they project a broader portfolio of bilingual products including sound books for tots and digital offerings, not only in English and Spanish but also in other dual-language combos.
Growth will mean hiring consultants or staff in such fields as early-childhood education and retail marketing “to bring on the expertise we don’t have,” says Guzman. But for now, she and Yarhi are focusing on the Kickstarter campaign and gathering feedback from consumers: “There’s a big appetite from parents to have bilingual resources they can trust.”