Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kottura Innovations: Pushing Creativity to New Heights

An Interview with Owners Angel and Ken Paulino

Please tell us about yourself and your family.

Ken and I were born and raised on Guam. Ken was an Army brat so he left the island at a young age. Straight out of high school as an Academy of Our Lady of Guam graduate, I went to college in New York city at Pace University then later transferred to Cal State University Monterey Bay, to study communications and pre-law. Shortly after I met Ken in college, we got married and in 2010 we returned home to raise our three sons Noah, Kyle and our newest member to the family, our son Inapu.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

At first, we just wanted to create our own stories as a spin-off of CHamoru legends to be able to expand the storytelling experience with our kids. Our boys have such big imaginations, and seeing the way they interact with games, pop-up books, and traditional books was what inspired us to meld our skills together. By using the traditional and creative mechanics of storytelling combined with tech tools, gamification, and multimedia elements, we’re able to create a holistic experience. We wanted to create something for everyone to enjoy based on different types of learning styles. Some of us are visual learners, auditory learners, hands-on, and imaginative thinkers. Kottura was created as a means for us to push the boundaries of creativity to use the technology available to us in practical ways to help us enhance our imaginative experiences. 

From casual mobile games, to augmented reality, and interactive e-books, we want people to be able to access these tools instantly and anywhere in the world. We saw this as an opportunity to connect with families and give them the option to be able to take a little piece of home with them to share wherever they go. One of our main goals is to also eventually get these materials into our schools to offer teachers additional options to keep students engaged.

What experience do you have in this type of business?

My background is in creative storytelling, story/character development, graphic design, creative strategy and marketing. Ken’s background is in programming, mobile/web development, motion graphics, 3D modeling, digital strategy and theater. So it’s a natural fit for the two of us to come together to develop a product that compliments both of our strengths. In college, Ken and I worked in the media team for the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security Program where we developed multi-media learning modules for instructors to use for students studying abroad. My background in communications afforded me to take many creative storytelling classes and we both had our own radio shows for the OtterBay radio.

In 2014, we ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for the development of “Outsmarting Manet: How the Maidens Saved Guam.” This was a test for us to bring our idea to the community to gather feedback and was the determining factor if our model could be sustainable. We’ve experienced some bumps along the way finding suppliers and printers, but with the help and support of our family, friends, mentors, and those we’ve met along the way, we’re slowly getting the hang of things.

In the past five years, Ken and I have spent countless hours taking online courses and tutorials, listening to podcasts, networking with experienced professionals, and really taking the time to educate ourselves and staying up to date with the latest tech tools and trends. We do a lot of research on new products and programs to help us generate ideas to improve our products and create an immersive user experience. The dynamic between the two of us is synergistic. When we’re on, we’re on. We take time to listen to each other, think things through, and prototype which allows us to build upon each other’s ideas. It is the secret sauce to many of our projects and how we’ve made it this far. I’d like to think we bring the best out of one another. So when people get one of us, they really get both of us.

What was the start-up process like? How did you fund your business?

We’re still in start-up phase. We knew before launching our product line, we had to create at least 3-4 projects worth of content to continue to release products in a timely manner. Our goal is to build a brand that is fun and engaging. To keep up with demand and constantly stay fresh in our customers minds, we need to be prepared to release products consistently. Right now we’ve reached a point where we have an ideal amount of content in our pipeline to be able to push new products. By giving ourselves a head start with content, we have some flexibility to create new products and it enables us to continue to work on new projects under no pressure.

Ken and I have funded the business through a variety of ways: self-funding, crowdfunding, project grants, and reinvestment of the revenue from the services side of the business into our products. We received grant funding from CAHA for the development of one of our projects, “Hayi Mas Metgot: The Tale of Malaguana & Gadao” which debuted during FestPac. Just recently we received a grant from the GUMA program which now provides the company with much needed inventory, equipment and software, and copyright/trademark registration work.

Through the help of Denise Mendiola from the SBDC, we were able to identify our core areas for capital, growth and expansion. Rather than try to fund the business in its entirety, Denise helped us to develop a phased-approach to build up the company as we go. Denise provided sound advice for us as a business mentor and friend, keeping us focused on making the business sustainable and maintaining a healthy balance of business and family life. Denise is a great mentor for us and she continues to nurture us in so many ways whether through new business development opportunities, and community partnerships. She keeps us on our toes and we appreciate her commitment to seeing us through success.

In this industry, people want to buy products that are well developed from a trusted source. Ken and I are working closely with community partners like the University of Guam to create innovative programs for the community so everyone can be able to get some hands on training with game development, game design and story development. The tech industry continues to move its way toward mobile with high-emphasis on user experience.

     What were some of the biggest challenges/experienced you experienced in the start-up process?

The technology we use in our model was before it’s time here on Guam. Augmented reality has been around for years.  Before it became a trend, big companies like Pepsi had used it in some of their marketing campaigns. It was quite an uphill battle for us explaining the technology and how it worked without having something similar to compare it to. Now, almost 3 years later from when we first introduced it, Pokemon Go! comes along and now everyone understands it’s application and how it works. Sometimes it takes a large company to make something hip/popular for other people to understand it. We had to get really creative with how we explained how the products worked. Once viewers got the idea when they tried it out for themselves, they were amazed.
Also, some people could not see the integration of technology into the product at first. Some thought we would have high pricing strategies because of the technology we fused into the products. As part of our strategy to keep our costs at a manageable level, we do all of the creative services from app design to development, to motion graphics and animation, in-house.

What is your most memorable triumph in your start-up process?

This continues to change for us as we grow and get momentum for the company. Today, our biggest triumph is getting fully funded with the GUMA grant. We worked very hard to be able to make all the classes, not miss any deadlines, all the while being pregnant in my third trimester and making every soccer game for our boys. Ken can tell you that even an hour before delivery of our son, I was hacking away making sure our business plan was sound, our numbers were on point, and that our model was something that people could easily understand and envision. Within two weeks of giving birth, we were back in GUMA class again, newborn in tow and all.

What are your short-term and long-term plans for your business?

For the short-term, we are currently working with GUMA to get our products in at the Guam Museum gift shop. If everything works out, we also want to be able to have an interactive exhibit for kids in the Guam Museum. As we continue to build and create more content, we are also looking to build out our creative team and open our own retail location hopefully in the next 3-4 years. This place will be a great destination hub for families to be able to try out our products, experience interactive story hour with their kids, and see firsthand the creative process that goes into these cool projects.

What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?

Building a company does not happen overnight. It’s not a roll of chance or luck that yields great success. It’s a matter of making time to put in the work. Thankfully, here at home we have access to amazing resources such as business training, grant opportunities, and access to a powerful network of intelligent and experienced experts who are always willing to lend an ear. This is why there’s no other place we’d rather be to start a business. Our community brings a unique level of care, support, camaraderie, and the willingness to provide any help to all local businesses.