In the Business of Storytelling

Illustration of Mike Vaggalis and two children holding books
Startup promotes early literacy

In the Business
of Storytelling

Sometimes a person has to decide whether to follow their head or their heart into the future. When Mike Vaggalis ’13 came to Miami University in 2009, he found a way to do both. “I studied literature because I’d always loved stories growing up. They’ve always been really, really important to me,” he explained. For balance, he also studied finance.

After graduating with a finance degree and English Literature minor, Vaggalis got a job in Allstate’s leadership development program. In the following years, he got an MBA at Northwestern University, moved from Chicago to Raleigh, and took a marketing position at Burt’s Bees. But Vaggalis said he also started getting an urge to do something else.

“I learned that much of the work I enjoy doing is very entrepreneurial in nature. I started thinking, ‘Yeah, I would love to start my own business,’” he recalled. “I just found myself constantly going through my head, ‘What are different ideas that could be viable?’”

An Idea Comes to Life

And then another question occurred to Vaggalis. Do children today like books as much as he did when he was young? “I looked at the kids in my life and I realized that most of them weren’t interested in reading. Instead, I saw so many kids becoming addicted to all sorts of technology and screens,” he said.

At this point, his entrepreneurial mindset kicked in. Could he pass along his love of reading to a new generation? “What if we created children’s books where we started the illustration process with a picture of a child, and then turned that picture into a cartoon that matches the illustration so that any child can see themselves as the champion of their story?,” he asked.

After researching the children’s book market, Vaggalis left his job at Burt’s Bees. Along with business partner Erin Burchik, he founded Keepsake Tales. They dedicated their startup to an ideal: make every child reader see his or her one-of-a- kind self through the medium of storytelling. Together, they created their first book for customers to personalize, and feedback poured in — parents, gift-givers, and kids loved it.

“Our favorite moment since launching was watching videos that parents sent us, watching their kids flipping the pages of their Keepsake Tale, pointing to pictures of themselves in the story,” Vaggalis said. “It’s at this moment that we realized that those kids were actively selecting a Keepsake Tale over an iPad. Mission accomplished!”

Miami Connections Last a Lifetime

Needing consulting help for his new business, Mike Vaggalis turned to Mark Lacker in Miami’s John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship. Over the course of a semester, students in Lacker’s Startup Entrepreneurship class delivered actionable marketing and customer research recommendations.

“I’ve worked with classes from some of the best programs in the country and had some really great experiences, but this was the best student experience that I’ve had, hands down,” said Vaggalis.

Mark Lacker teaching a class