This article was written by Kelly Hoey via Inc. It can be viewed in its original form here.
Stories Matter: Beyond a purple female panda as the lead character, Pan the Fearless Beribolt is not like most kids’ stories. It was created by serial entrepreneur, Suzanne Xie, an immigrant from China who spent the first years of her life searching for her parents. She found them at age four, when they could finally afford to bring her to America.
Suzanne Xie sits at the dream intersection of creativity and technology. Suzanne is the founder of Hullabalu, a children’s media company reinventing storytelling. Hullabalu launched in 2013, and created “The Adventures of Pan,” the only original, episodic, interactive story series made especially for iPad. The newest book in the Pan Adventure Series (Book 5 The Shadow Stone) continues the perilous adventure for Pan, Chase and Locke as they must find a way to break out of prison, prevent an ancient evil from coming back to power, and locate Pan’s parents, all while avoiding the watchful eye of the villainous General Garin….
But let’s not get head of where our hero entrepreneur’s story began. Art is more than imitating life in each installment of Hullabalu’s “The Adventures of Pan”–and our digital hero’s journey is very much the startup founder’s life. Pan, the lead character is after all, Suzanne.
I know Suzanne having met her in the summer of 2012 when she pitched me the original idea for Hullabalu (more offline characters less immersive tech). It was Suzanne’s story, vision and experience as a startup founder which caught my eye (and angel investment). Suzanne’s personal story is very much the American Dream (immigrant, serial founder and a female founder) infuses each episode of Pan. More importantly for the storyline, it is the driving force behind Hullabalu’s big storytelling vision. Suzanne was born in 1984 in China (Jiangxi Province). When she was just over a year old, her parents immigrated to the United States. Suzanne remained behind in China with her grandparents who raised her until she was almost 5 years-old–the age when her parents could finally afford to bring her to America to live with them. The incredible sacrifices her parents made to create a better life for her is part of Suzanne’s entrepreneur DNA. She frequently reflects on their bravery, sacrifice, and incredible work ethic as she builds Hullabalu (her third startup) and carefully crafts each storyline. Every episode of Pan’s epic adventures distills the core values of leading with integrity into a fantastical and enriching story that aims to guide kids toward a high-achieving life path.
“Pan isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes, sometimes really silly ones, and learns from them. All the trouble Pan causes make her a stronger character in the end. Stories and parables have been used for centuries to entertain and educate kids and adults alike, and Pan is here to remind us that learning is a life-long process best experienced through trial and error, and action.”–Suzanne Xie
Redefining The Hero Of The Hero’s Journey
Every generation has been defined by a new medium. Every new medium has been defined by a storyteller. Today’s medium is mobile and Suzanne is determined not only to be that next leader on tablet–but she’s determined to have a strong female character at the center of the story. Pan is the only female heroine on tablet leading a team of both male and female characters. When developing the Pan series, Suzanne only found sparse examples of female heroines in stories for children, and those heroines were girls leading girls (Powerpuff Girls, My Little Pony) or lone female heroines (Dora, Olivia, etc.). Why couldn’t a girl (who happens to be a purple panda) lead an adventure through a magical world, plus cross cultural lines to make friends with warrior bunnies and find her inner courage along the way?
Suzanne further infuses each storyline with timeless lessons (courage, perseverance, and integrity) drawn from leadership institutions she admires, such as Harvard Business School, Boy & Girl Scouts and the U.S. Army.
Stories Powered by Technology…and Touch
Great storytelling may set you apart, but great technology gets you ahead. Suzanne and her team at Hullabalu are not just focused on the storyline: they are creating an entirely new genre of immersive, responsive media for a digital-first generation born into a world of tablets versus Saturday morning cartoons. Suzanne firmly believes it is the future of stories.
“We started Hullabalu to create the most engaging and enriching stories in the world. It was important to us to have strong heroes that kids could learn from, as stories shape children from an early age. With this in mind, we set out to create an entirely new genre of immersive, responsive media for a generation born into a digital world. The burgeoning medium of interactive stories is important. It’s the first step to inspiring kids to explore the world around them and learn about themselves along the way.”–Suzanne Xie
So Hullabalu is at its core, a technology company. The startup’s ability to create engaging stories depends as equally on its own proprietary technology as it does on the imagination behind Pan’s animated world. Suzanne and her team have built an animation infrastructure called Pegasus, which lets them build each new story in a fraction of the time it would take traditional animation studios (Disney himself would swoon). Layered on top of Pegasus is a data engine that makes Hullabalu’s content more engaging over time.
Developing Leadership is a Life-long Process
Suzanne learned at a young age the meaning of the American dream. Now with her third startup venture, she’s on a quest to translate those leadership values into each mobile adventure she creates. While achievement for Pan is a necessity for survival, Suzanne’s goal is for each story to inspire kids to reach for success and to do so with integrity.
Will a purple panda change the world? Suzanne hopes so. Pan is imperfect and courageous. She’s a flawed, growing leader who is intent on self-improvement and determined to succeed (spoiler alert: Pan’s challenges make her a stronger character). Throughout Pan’s journey, Suzanne and her creative team remind us that learning is a life-long process best experienced through trial and error, and interactive technology. As Pan’s popularity grows globally (Hullabalu’s first stories in the iTunes store have hit #1 in books in 38 countries including the United States, China, India and Saudi Arabia, and all those downloads equate to children all over the world have spending over 70 years engaging with Pan and her adventures), Suzanne and her team at Hullabalu teach the startup community another very valuable lesson: female founders can be successful startup leaders too.