Shabnam Rezaei, founder of Big Bad Boo and Oznoz, first shared her startup experiences for our 1000 Stories Campaign
Shabnam Rezaei was disappointed by the lack of culturally rich educational programming for kids in immigrant families. To help children from different parts of the world stay connected to their roots and teach their American peers about different cultures, she co-founded Big Bad Boo Productions, an animation company with offices in Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles. Their animated series Mixed Nutz, featuring the stories of four boys from Korea, Cuba, India and Iran, aired on PBS and different TV channels around the world.
Reason for starting
We make and distribute cartoons to teach kids about different cultures and languages. I started the company with my partner because there was a real need for good educational programming that was entertaining and focused on culture. Our first movie Babak & Friends-A First Norooz is a 30 minute holiday special about the Persian New Year; 8-year-old Babak feels lost between his Iranian and American identity. Through a magical dream he visits Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire and discovers he can be proud of who he is. We have since made two TV series and are tackling much larger issues through cartoons that are fun and educational. Our distribution channel Oznoz carries hundreds of books, cartoons and games in more than 12 languages, including Sesame Street and Elmo in Chinese, Arabic, French, and more.
How do you define success?
Success for us means reaching a large number of kids and having a real effect on the way they view their own culture and identity. We want to empower children by showing them great role models on tv who are not mainstream, who are from different backgrounds and speak different languages, just like them. This sense of belonging and connection is the most critical thing in raising confident, understanding individuals who care about the well-being of others and will help us create a better society. We have purposefully chosen a medium that is scalable so that we can reach as many children as possible, around the world and have greater impact.
Our biggest success has come from the smallest of places, namely the small little kids who watch our cartoons and then get excited about doing the things that our characters are doing on the big screen. We get the most satisfaction from hearing fan stories about how they want to celebrate the Persian New Year for the first time because of our cartoon Babak & Friends or how they want to read world literature like “1001 Nights” because of our comic books and TV series.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our biggest challenge has always been fundraising to continue our artistic work. The budgets required for animation are extraordinarily high and the financial returns are very low so we have to find funding in areas that either support the arts or are looking at our business as a long term investment that will pay out over time. We also use other fundraising methodologies such as using tax credits for our productions. Our animation studio in Vancouver is a great example of how we were able to partially fund some of our programming by using tax credits. Overall, we think we can find the market or create the market with our own channel at Oznoz which provides video streaming, iPad downloads of our cartoons via the Oznoz iPad app as well as the Oznoz Shop which allows parents to buy bilingual books, music, games and DVDs in Persian, Chinese, French, German, Spanish. Arabic and more.
Who is your most important role model?
I find Steve Jobs to be the model for tenacity and in a business like ours, if you are not tenacious and persistent, you get eaten for lunch. Jobs went through many different phases and learned a lot of lessons through the hard times. I believe the hard times are there for that reason and as long as you can remember your ultimate goal through those times, you are going to be alright.
Watch Shabnam talk about Big Bad Boo’s mission and animated series in a 2010 Forbes Interview.