Hera Li Curio
Hera Li, founder of Curio. (Credit: Courtesy of Curio)

Hera Li is a Singaporean immigrant and a mother of two – and both experiences play significant roles in shaping her priorities. Li’s family, like many immigrant households in the U.S., is bilingual. Yet despite the obvious need, she was shocked to discover how difficult it was to find books in Mandarin for her children – even while living in New York City. Li found herself increasingly drawn away from her successful tech career, and toward work that would allow her to do something positive for the world, and for her children – for example, by providing multilingual reading opportunities to families. In 2023, Li launched Curio, a subscription book club which sends out Spanish, Chinese and French children’s works that cater to bilingual children. Since launching, Curio has grown quickly, garnered press coverage, and acquired a loyal following of dual-language households. 

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

How is your business different from others in your industry?

We offer books in three languages that cover the majority of bilingual homes in the U.S.: Spanish, Chinese and French. They’re curated from their countries of origin, to ensure that we are getting the absolute best books available in those countries. And, while Curio is for families that are already bilingual – we are not a language learning program – we know that many families have a parent or guardian that may not speak the language fluently. So, we include accompanying educational materials that help caregivers bring the words on the page to life.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

We are a bootstrapped company that launched in early 2023, and we have seen a tremendous amount of growth organically in less than a year. We’re doubling our revenue every quarter, and to date, we have over 800 subscribers – with hundreds of new ones coming on board every month. Plus, we’ve received coverage from several well-known digital outlets – WIRED, Forbes Vetted, SheKnows, and PCMag have all recommended Curio in various product guides.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Delving into four vast children’s book areas — Spanish, French, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese children’s books — while keeping our team lean has been quite the balancing act. To tackle that, we’ve crafted a 3-step strategy for each market: Using market data to guide our curation decisions, forming partnerships with independent presses who share our values, and soliciting feedback from our customers to further refine our offerings.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that affected your business decisions? 

Becoming a mother shifted my priorities and changed what I found meaningful in work. I realized my passion for working, in and of itself, remained. But I craved more autonomy, ownership and impact – wanting to make a difference and leave behind a better world for my children became my driving force.  

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

Talk to as many people as possible — fellow founders, investors, etc. — during the initial stages. Engage with as many individuals as you can, absorbing the insights that come from seeking out diverse perspectives. But at the same time, approach these conversations with a discerning eye, since not everyone knows your product or market as well as you do. 

Additionally, try to sell something early – the most effective way to validate your ideas is by taking the leap.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

Reading biographies. These books remind me that the path to success is rarely straightforward – that it’s filled with twists and turns. And, there are moments of frustration in building a company where it feels like growth is stagnant. In these scenarios, what sustains me is reflecting on the lessons learned and insights gained along the way.

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?

“Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys.

Who is your most important role model?

I’m constantly amazed by the everyday superheroes I’ve encountered on my journey of building Curio. Coming from a male-dominated tech industry where I was one of the few female engineering leaders, transitioning to Curio – a direct-to-consumer brand – has introduced me to countless remarkable women in similar roles. They juggle their identities as mothers and immigrants while wholeheartedly embracing the mission of Curio. These people, and their dedication and resilience, inspire me daily. ◼

Instagram: @becuriokids
Facebook: @becuriokids
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