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Meet Leila Ismailova of Stardust AR in Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leila Ismailova.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Leila. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Digital books, audiobooks and tablets are becoming “the way of the future.” Yet, can a tablet substitute a book? The feeling of cracking open a new book, the smell of turning the pages, and that beautiful feeling of accomplishment when we reach the back cover – these sensory feelings become imprinted within us from an early age. The cover of the books we read as children bring us an electrifying feeling of nostalgia as adults. Is this something we must part with, in favor of better technology? Out with the old, in with the new? While teaching at Sunday School, I witnessed a child reading his book on his iPad while chasing pokemon on his iPhone, and I saw an opportunity.

The ability to merge the past and the future and awaken hardcover with digital technology could be revolutionary for early readers. Taking beautiful animations and having them leap off the 2D page and come to life in 3D could help improve reading and literacy rates. With the only way to continue this living cartoon, being to turn the page and continue reading. This concept is not entirely new as other companies have tried to reinterpret classics like Moby Dick and infuse them with the magic of AR. Though the idea of seeing a massive whale leap off the page to show scale sounds exciting, the book was not written with AR in mind. Instead of aiming for clever gimmicks, Stardust will create books with AR in mind.

It feels like every previous stage of my life led me to create Stardust AR. Being a TV host and mastering the art of public speaking, getting my Master’s Degree at USC and building a network of influential people who help me create today, hosting a book club which forced me to read more and look at books from different perspectives, create and run a non-profit for orphan girls in Belarus – all of it and much more one day manifested my love to reading, creating, and my desire to help kids.

Has it been a smooth road?
Is there a single entrepreneur on planet Earth who would say that starting/running a company was a smooth road? I bet, there is no single one.

It wasn’t, and it isn’t a smooth road for me.

The best stage was the inspiration. When I just came up with the idea of AR books and shared it with my friends and professors, the world seemed my oyster. Everyone loved it and encouraged me to “go for it.”

Since then, there were six months of procrastination and fear to start the company. There was a pretty painful realization that if I don’t start now, I would never do it. And if I miss this opportunity, the chances are high that in 10-15 years, I will have a bitter feeling about losing the greatest opportunity in my life.

And since I started working, it’s been a story of constant learning, taking risks, and taking responsibility for myself and my team.

It is a lot to take in. Frankly, it is 1000 times harder than hosting TV shows, because back then, the team was taking care of me, now this is my job.

I am bootstrapping the project at this stage and thinking about raising a small round. I am using my savings, and it is scary since I live alone in a foreign country and support my mom. Of course, I had to quit my job to clear time for Stardust.

It is a drastic change, and it feels like a lot. But it also gives a feeling of overcoming fear, of respecting the idea that came to me, of investing all the energy and resources that I have in it.

When I see the faces of kids who use AR in our book for the first time, I am the happiest person in the world. Their emotions are priceless.

Running a company takes a lot of energy and courage. I live a pretty risky life. I’ve made a lot of drastic changes and never looked back. But I feel like starting Stardust AR has been the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

And I hope soon I will thank myself for giving this AR book idea a chance.

Please tell us about Stardust AR.
Stardust is a publishing house that combines something from the past that cannot be left behind, and something from the future. The company fears that treasures like beautifully animated, hardcover children’s books will be lost on future generations. Therefore, Stardust recognizes the impact technology has on our kids today by incorporating the use of Augmented Reality (AR) technology with children’s books. Children that engage in active reading, which is a vital habit for intellectual development, also receive the added benefit of engaging with AR technology at an early age. By using smartphones, books can become as interactive as possible. When readers point a phone with an open Stardust app at the book, they can watch a video, interact with the characters, and listen to the audio. Thus, AR technology motivates readers to flip pages and finish the book.

Although partnering with publishers is one of the verticals in our business model, we are currently focusing on publishing and selling our own AR compatible books. Technology engages children and makes reading more exciting, helping Stardust AR achieve its ultimate goal of preventing the continually decreasing desire of children to read books. Now also happens to be an ideal time to enter the fast-growing AR market, as it is expected to experience a huge spurt of growth over the next few years.

First and foremost, I am proud of my team – a group of talented and crazy (in the best way possible) people who loved the idea of Stardust enough to dedicate to it their time and energy.

I am also proud of our vision – we want to create amazing content. A new generation of kids is very different. They were born into an era of technology. Hence, old stories do not appeal to them. Kids need new stories. We are inspired by companies like Lukas Films and Netflix that put all their energy into creating unique and valuable content. I think this is the vision for the company that wants to grow and have a long prosperous life, and most importantly, bring value to the world.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think LA is a perfect city for a tech startup.

I feel empowered by the community. My school (USC), my office (I work from NeueHouse), my friends who started their companies encourage me, support me, and prove that it is possible.

Los Angeles is filled with outstanding people who built themselves, hence, they appreciate their success and are willing to share their experience.

LA is not the city of inherited wealth, it is mostly the city of self-made people who can relate to my story.

Most of the biggest book publishers are located on the East Coast. But it doesn’t matter, because in the globalized world I can set up a meeting online and if needed travel.

Another thing that I genuinely appreciate about LA is that this city welcomes immigrants. I am an immigrant in the first generation. I know so little about American culture. And yet, Americans are open and do their best to make me feel like I am home.

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Image Credit:

Weezy Dai @weezydai

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