Turning the lights out is what actually made a bulb turn on for entrepreneur Natalie Rebot. After spending countless nights trying to get her then 2-year-old daughter Chloe interested in books, the Ontario mother took it upon herself to turn children’s books into a multidimensional medium.
In 2016, Rebot had an epiphany that coming up with a gadget to project storybook pages onto the ceiling, accompanied by music and words, would not only reinvent bedtime stories, but likely hold the short attention spans that accompany most kids.
Before bringing her idea to life, Rebot told Moneyish, “I’d use the flashlight on my cell phone and dim the lights, and we’d do shadow play. I’d always be the dog, because [Chloe] always wanted to be the bunny, but you run out of shadow puppet ideas pretty quickly.” Rebot, who holds an undergraduate degree in software development from the University of Western Ontario and an MBA from Pepperdine University, spent seven years working at Google before quitting her job to pursue her role at Moonlite. “Google was probably the best company experience I could’ve had prior to starting my own business. It’s super entrepreneurial and led me where I am today,” said Rebot.
Because Google used to offer a 20% policy where employees were encouraged to work on entrepreneurial projects 20% of the time they were on the job — Rebot had the realization that she enjoyed entrepreneurship and decided to start her own company. Many other companies still encourage their staff to pursue independent creative endeavors: LinkedIn gives their engineers time to work on their own product ideas; Apple allows employees a few weeks to work on side projects; and Microsoft has a space dedicated to employees building their own products using the company’s resources, according to Fast Company.
After telling her husband, who’s also an entrepreneur, about her idea, Rebot says that her personal and professional networks were her best asset, and helped steer her in the right direction. “There was a prototype place near where we live, and I told them about the idea. I wanted to use the flashlight of the phone to project images. I immediately filed for a patent and then tried to raise money to make the business come to life,” said Rebot. In the span of eight months, Rebot’s rapid prototyping enabled her to pitch toy companies and launch on Kickstarter by the end of 2016. “It was around that time that I was lying in bed and it was a full moon, and I said to my husband, “Isn’t the moonlight so pretty right now?” And he said, “Moonlite! That’s it!””
Since officially launching last November at Target and Mastermind stores with just 15 titles, including “Goodnight Moon,” “Uni the Unicorn” and “Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?,” Rebot has plans to release 43 new titles this summer. “The process is very personal. I test every book on my daughter, whether it’s from a publisher or independent author — it’s a personal decision. Content-wise we want to make sure we have stuff for boys and girls,” she said.
In some cases, the selected stories are bestsellers, and other times they’re just tales that Rebot deems cute. But when it comes to imagery, what translates best through the projector? Color. “I was shocked about the Little Golden Books — they’re really old and I was worried about [their imagery] but they turned out really well on film,” said Rebot. And although she says black and white images aren’t the best, parts of Goodnight Moon are in black and white, and they still look great in her format.
At a flat fee of $7.99 per two-inch story reel, and each one packaged like a small book that fits on a bookshelf, Rebot’s sturdy invention pairs with the Moonlite app that provides customizable sound effects, background music and the words that accompany each page. Because customers also need to purchase the Moonlite projector that clips onto a smartphonein order to use the app, Rebot offers two introductory bundles; the Starter Pack, which includes the projector and two story reels, costs $19.99; and the Gift Pack, which includes the projector and five story reels, runs $39.99. And she has no plans to stop there. “We have other content that we’re working on, and by the end of 2019 you’ll see a lot of different extensions from Moonlite. We’ll continue to develop the tech, and we’ll be releasing some new fun features,” said Rebot.
And while there’s no shortage of reading apps and games like Tikatok StorySpark, Bookster and Touchy Books, Moonlite has entered uncharted territory when it comes to making books leap off the page. Most reading tech involves iPads or touchscreens as a way to engage tiny readers — but Moonlite brings another element of magic to the mix.
In just a few short months, she has gone from selling product at two stores, Target and Mastermind, to more than a handful of retailers including Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Learning Express and Scholastic. But her rapid growth comes at a cost. “I have more time with my daughter because of the nature of the business, but the quality of our time together is definitely sacrificed a bit,” said Rebot. She says that she constantly feels the struggle of being a working mom, but hopes to find balance again. “I don’t think I could feel any more fulfilled. When I walk into a store and see Moonlite on the shelf, I’m so excited,” she said.