When Jelani Memory wrote “A Kids Book About Racism” for his children, he had no idea they would have so much to say about the subject. It was as if he had opened the floodgates of communication, offering his kids a safe space to share their thoughts and ask hard questions. Not long after, they asked him if he would write a book about divorce, and then another about anxiety, and others about body image and bullying.
But it wasn’t just the kids giving positive feedback — parents were asking for books, too. Memory told Mission.org that he would have coffee with his friends to show them his new project and they would ask to borrow the books he had created. They told him prior to his stories that they didn’t know how to open these tough conversations with their kids. His books made the conversations easier, and this blew him away.
“After that happens once or twice, you’re sort of like, ‘Okay, cool.’ And then five times, 10 times, 20 times, it’s sort of like, okay, I could be making money right now if I just had more copies of these books.”
It didn’t take long for Memory to realize that he had uncovered the potential for a brand new business. He left his job as chief product officer at Circle Media, Inc. to pursue his project full-time. Under Memory’s leadership as founder and CEO, A Kids Company has produced over 70 books, hours of video content, and 10 kid-centered podcasts featuring hosts from all walks of life.
Most recently, the company published its first parenting book, “100 Diverse Voices on Parenthood,” featuring 100 chapters contributed by parents representing different races, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds. “lf it takes a village to raise a child, then this book is that village for new parents,” Memory said.
Over the past three years, the organization has evolved from its humble beginnings as a book company into a growing media empire. According to Memory, A Kids Co. is still devoted to authentic storytelling, but it now also focuses on the future of kids’ media. This growth has given Memory the opportunity to flex his entrepreneurial muscles and do what he does best: Fundraising.
A Grown-up Kids’ Company
At Circle Media, Inc., Memory contributed to raising more than $30 million to develop technology designed to help families monitor kids’ screen time. He spearheaded successful partnerships with goliath corporations such as Disney, Netgear, and T-Mobile. Using the skills he honed in these fundraising efforts, Memory secured investors for A Kids Co. and focused on marketing and branding while expanding the company’s reach into new multimedia platforms. Ultimately, Memory raised $7 million to support the move to podcasts, apps, and videos.
The company’s Series A fundraising round was led by Pendulum Opportunities, Backstage Capital, and Emerson Collective, which are known for their support of underrepresented founders. Their efforts brought investors who are committed to Memory’s cause, with 93% of funding coming from people of color. As a Black businessman himself, Memory takes pride in bringing support and awareness to minority-owned companies.
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When asked for his advice on choosing the right investors for his company, Memory was resolute that an investor should be just as passionate as he is about the mission of the company. He also believes that an organization’s business model shouldn’t call for taking on more capital than necessary, as opposed to the blitz-scale startups of Silicon Valley. He extols the virtues of following the traditional business model where a company sells a product for more than it costs to produce it.
In the same vein, Memory quickly found that expanding the company’s reach also required expanding its human capital. In 2021, A Kids Co. started the year with 10 employees and finished with 25. During that time, Apple recognized the company’s flagship podcast as one of its top shows of the year, signaling this growth is likely to continue.
Empowering Kids of the Future
Amidst all his success, Memory hasn’t lost sight of the company’s philosophy, which is rooted in the lived experience of kids dealing with complex topics. “Everyone’s an expert on something, and in fact, everyone is definitely an expert on their own story,” he says. “So we anchor into the personal story in a way that very few kids’ books do. They are all deeply personal. It’s a kid’s book, not the kid’s book. And that’s an important distinction when you’re talking about experience related to a huge topic.”
The initial funding round only validated for Memory what he already knew: Kids deserve more than just entertainment from a media company – they deserve to be heard.
In the age of social media, kids today are living a much different experience than most adults remember from their own childhoods. Dominated by technology, today’s brave new world puts kids in the crosshairs of sensitive, complex issues that even adults struggle to navigate. Given the generous support of his investors, Memory was able to rebrand the company and expand it, with the goal of adding more podcasts and launching an on-demand learning platform for teens.
Philosophy With a Global Reach
The company’s future also includes a television venture with Jim Henson Co., known for the creation of iconic characters such as Kermit and the Muppets. As of July 2022, the project puts Memory and A Kids Co. at the forefront of the show’s creation, with episodes lasting 20 to 30 minutes. It will be produced by Henson CEO Lisa Henson and executive producer Halle Stanford.
Speaking directly to young people in a genuine way and meeting them where they are in their understanding of complex issues is still at the core of A Kids Co. Memory has high hopes for the company’s future. “In five, 10 years from now, my hope is that every classroom, every household where a kid from zero to 18 is present, they have one of our stories that’s being used to hopefully shape, empower, encourage, or inform that kid there.”