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Jesse Russo

A and J Books

Jesse Russo

Gabriel Flores  0:00  

recording in progress. Hello, everyone and welcome to the shades of entrepreneurship. This is your host, Mr. Gabriel Flores. Today I am here with the owner of A and J books. Jesse Russo. How are we doing?

A & J Books  0:15  

Hey, I'm great. How are you?

Gabriel Flores  0:17  

I'm excited because we've connected on Instagram. We've been kind of chat and I've been following a lot of what you're doing. I absolutely love your videos, which we're gonna get into in a minute. But first, let's introduce the world to Jesse, give the give the audience a little introduction.

A & J Books  0:33  

I am a mom to a 10 year old boy. I'm happily married. I was in Los Angeles. I left in 2020 and moved to Oceanside, California. And originally I'm a Cali girl. I'm a street valley girl all the way. So I run this business with my sister who is in Portland. And yeah, she's been in Portland. I I feel like eight years now. Maybe she loves living there. It's awesome. Town. We love visiting. Obviously, we take turns going back and forth. And she has a five year old son. So we're boy moms and business partners and sisters.

Gabriel Flores  1:13  

I love it. You know Oceanside, California has a special place in my heart. Because in truth I think that might be where my third that the three year old was conceived in those days weddings, I'm telling

A & J Books  1:28  

the beach makes love happened. Man. It's

Gabriel Flores  1:31  

gorgeous. That whole that whole section California is just unbelievable, honestly. So let's talk about AJ Brooks. What What is it give the audience a little back Brown and kind of tell us how it started.

A & J Books  1:43  

Yeah, so A and J I am Jesse and my sisters Alex. So Alex and Jesse books, we design journals, planners, dot journals, and kids activity books and kids journals. It got birth. Actually, today is our birthday, our one year birthday when kind of launched a birthday. Thank you. We did our first Instagram post on August 1 of last year 2021 I kind of was you know, reading up about self publishing I was I come from the restaurant industry. So completely different self publishing is opposite ends, I knew nothing about it. And I just was learning a lot I I'm I love to learn, I love listening to different things. nutrition and health are also things that my sister and I are very into. So I spent a lot of my pandemic time like just learning about nutrition and kind of like every free webinar I could touch I was on and I just loved absorbing it like a sponge. I also am an avid reader. I love reading. I think reading gives you perspectives. And so I just was talking to my sister and I was like, Hey, I think I'm gonna start self publishing these low content books. And she said, Oh, I would love to be a part of that with you. And I went Sure let's go for it. And like we just like literally, within two weeks started making books like my sister has an amazing design I and very creative. She was struggling you know, this had been a year into the pandemic now. So she was struggling with her Five Year Old At Home of like keeping him busy. The you know, the books that were available for kids at that time, for her were very repetitive. And he seemed bored. They didn't like engage him enough. And we tried to be very sustainable. And so this, this publishing was print to order. And so we really liked that aspect. It wasn't like keeping a big garage full of inventory. It was all being shipped and done for us, we just had to mark it and we had to come up with great designs. And my side my son was being is a little older. And what was harder in the struggle for us doing homeschool was writing, my son did a whole year of cursive writing, which is very interesting because he's the type so much in school. By every day he had to write and he was kind of struggling, he loves to read as well. And he's struggling to get his thoughts onto the paper. And so that's where it was like, these parent needs these voids that needs to be filled. And so we're like, Yeah, let's go for it. And journaling, we lost our dad five years ago. So journaling helped us get through our process of grief. And kind of all the highs and lows of the feelings that you have in the motions that you have. You know, journaling is like a great brain dump or a creative expression. You know, a lot of other countries do dot journaling and like these cool trackers and pages and just kind of use it as a therapy in a sense to to be creative and spend some time just kind of learning about yourself. And so we're like let's, you know, journaling isn't a glorified diary. It can be so many other therapeutic things. And it was a stressful time the last two years that we've been in, so it was like how do we release some of these emotions. So there you go and J books started.

Gabriel Flores  4:58  

That's actually quite incredible. Because I don't think I think people don't really think about self publishing as an option. Really now, you mentioned you're kind of working with a company that it's kind of you basically pay and they'll they'll create the publication for you. How did you kind of find this information? And why books? Why did you decide to go with books?

A & J Books  5:21  

I'm all about passive income. And once you create the work, it stays forever, right? So like books made sense to me, because there will always be a five year old that needs to learn how to work on it's fine motor skills of scissors, and coloring. And adult will always need to journal right. And I'm a I love to plan. I'm a hardcore planner. And I love checking the boxes off the list. So, you know, it was like, oh, nice to put it all together, right? It's like, our planner is a giant calendar. And then in between each month is lined pages. So you can focus on I love tracking my habits looking back on each month and like, Oh, was that a real goal? Like realistic goal to hit? Or was that totally out of the loop? I cannot achieve that in this month. Maybe I should try again. Maybe I did better than I thought I did. Like, wow, okay, I did exercise the amount of times that I wanted to, or something as simple as like drinking enough water in the summertime, right. So I know that we have lots of fancy tools that do that on our phone, too, and apps and whatnot. But I love you know, there's something special about writing and like how it sinks into your brain and how you can actually compute it and learn again about yourself, you know, lots of things come up, and you don't ever really wonder why or where those are seated from I've been working on boundaries. I've been working on so many different things through this pandemic. And journaling just helped a lot. So books were, hey, if this could do that for me, why wouldn't I want to create a business that would also help others? And that would be needed for lifetime? You know?

Gabriel Flores  6:48  

Yeah, you know, you mentioned to the books are very active and engaging for the kids you mentioned, you know, teaching them how to cut with scissors, I actually have one of the books for my child very, very useful. Why was it kind of important? And you know, how do you guys come up with these ideas to, you know, really create an activity book, right? It really is very much an activity book, it seems like,

A & J Books  7:09  

yeah, we we do it as a family, we keep our kids engaged, right? We practice test pages. We think of general topics, like we don't ever want to just be that company that's making a unicorn book because unicorns are popular, right? Like, we want to make sure that we're kind of encompassing all the special parts about this world that we live in. So the themes come from camping, our next book is launching, actually this month, and it's an honor of our birthday. And it's a birthday book, because we all have a birthday, right? And so what are the fun things that you do at a birthday party? Oh, you build the balloons, you hit a pin yada like you think of those fun memories that you have. And you put that into drawings into a book. So the all the drawings, everything we it's ours, all of our original content.

Gabriel Flores  7:57  

So you guys, all original content, you guys are self publishing. How do you market this? How do you get it out to the masses?

A & J Books  8:05  

Great question as business owners, we don't know, we just we just wait. I would say that was that's probably one of our hardest things at the moment. You know, it's like, you have all these ideas. And it's as a business owner, you can't just execute the ideas and create great images and books, you have to learn how to be a content creator, and all these different platforms, we have access to these great platforms, right? Like for business, and marketing wise. Pinterest is fantastic. Because it's search engine optimizing, right? And it's like actually going to tie in, we originally weren't going to make a website and we decided, oh, okay, I guess we're making a website and like, how you choose to funnel traffic, and then we have this beautiful website, but how do people know that it exists? You know, so you're learning constantly on the go. And you're being okay with like, it's great when you get a win and you have a result, but then you have to also be okay with like, well, I didn't know this a year ago, I didn't know this six months ago. So I have to be okay. And like, learn to not be super hard on myself, but keep progressing every single day in the right direction. So we mark it, we use Instagram, honestly. And we've had some hard moments with our mental health and like questioning like, is our design not good? Is it us? Is it? How do you even learn? It's just learning a different beast really? is the best way to put it? Because it changes right like so. Instagram changes all the time. Pinterest is having a giant change actually today. So like all these platforms, yes, you have access to them, which maybe businesses didn't have access to on this level 10 years ago, so it's a tool and you gotta be patient. You got to be willing to just take the time take classes, read about it good old YouTube university like thank goodness other people put stuff on YouTube because as they're going through it, it's kind of like your podcasts and how you're creating relationships with people. And you get to share that because a lot of people want to be entrepreneurs, but you need to have a little bit of guidance and mentorship and help and kind of along the way, you know,

Gabriel Flores  10:15  

I completely agree, you know, to your point, YouTube University, thank you, the professor's for YouTube, this podcast would not have this podcast is brought to you by YouTube University. It's, it's amazing. And to your point to the amount of information you can find in the book, ladies and gentlemen, I just gotta tell you folks listening, anything you can possibly learn about in life is actually written in a book right now. In fact, when we learn more things in life, we also write them in books, and we get those published, and they come out and sign, you know, research novel, and a lot of different variations of publications. And so reading really does do quite a bit. Now. Now, with that said, you're going through this process, you're reading books, you're taking YouTube University, you're trying to learn how to market. What was hard about starting this blog, you're mentioning you guys like your big learning process? What was those learning moments for you?

A & J Books  11:13  

Um, there's so many, I mean, you look back at a month and go, Wow, that really worked. Right? And I think any business you have to do this, you have to go what worked and what didn't and not be emotionally attached to it, right? Like, because sometimes we're like, man, we really wish that did work, or I like that and you have to go, you know, it that's just not working. And that's like, how do we prioritize? Where is the best use of our time is just me and my sister. The hard part is we have all these ideas. And we're like, oh, yeah, and they're going and they're like, keeping you up at night. And you're like, how do I execute them just being two people who are also moms and trying to live life and have this balance. And it's hard to have a balance, and there's not really a real balance in life, but sometimes your full force, and you can see some great results. And sometimes you don't, and you have to be okay with that. And, you know, we look back now and we're like, wow, in a year, we have, you know, learned so much of like being visual learners and our creative process and what's like, effective and what's not. And as entrepreneurs, we're now starting to publish on another platform. So we're kind of starting all over again. And we're like, Okay, this platform is completely different than the other platform. But it's going to hopefully lilypad us into a wholesale market with other distributions. So that's kind of like our vision for five years, you know, I think entrepreneurs, you have to really think big, and then kind of work backwards a little bit and be willing to like, Nope, that didn't work, this didn't work. And you just keep going,

Gabriel Flores  12:38  

you know, you want to think, as you mentioned, as well, is kind of going back to the education piece, trying to learn more. I think, you know, hopefully folks that are listening, utilize this podcast as an educational opportunity, right, because I think you're learning from a lot of great entrepreneurs. But Jesse for you how important is, you know, going back and just filling in the voids of areas that maybe you're not an expertise in?

A & J Books  13:02  

Oh, constant? And then you kind of question to, who are you learning from? Right? So yes, we have YouTube, but how do we know if their way is a relevant way? Right? Like, I can get a lot of information from authors, but my books are not, you know, I'm not writing a book, I'm not writing a children's book. So like, the way they market a children's book is completely different than what I'm going to be doing as a low content book. So you have to just be willing to, you know, learn like really humble yourself. And I actually think it's great, because as an adult, unless you're in college, you don't get a lot of opportunities to learn. I think, though regular workforce, they don't, they don't so into on that level, it's like always, it's great to have like these kind of learning moments. And I think that you need them as an adult, it's just kind of stimulates your brain another way, and then it helps us be creative at the same time. So education is incredibly important to your entrepreneur process.

Gabriel Flores  13:57  

Yes, I completely agree. In fact, you use this use this phrase a few times. And I just want to I want to hear what your definition of what is a low content book?

A & J Books  14:09  

Oh, great question, basically. So there's no content books, which would be like blank pages, like a blank, kind of like a drawing journal, or lined pages, which is repetition, the same image on the page repeated throughout the book. So if it's 100 pages, it's all lined pages, right. A low content book would be mixed pages, like our kids deserve book is every page has a different activity on it. So like we have coloring we have cutting, we have built you know, our dinosaur book, you can build a two foot dinosaur all of them have builds in them. And we encourage parents to laminate them so the kids can continue to play with them and put Velcro on them or put little those little Brad's on there, you know, and you can kind of like, continue and not just make a bunch of trash and cut it out and you're done with it. It's like no, get out that box that some Something that delivered in make it the background, put your dinosaurs on there, like let your kid create a scene and like do all these fun extra things. And that's what we tried to encourage parents that feel stuck, you know, if you need some time to go cook dinner or just to decompress our books will help keep your kids busy, but learning at the same time.

Gabriel Flores  15:18  

Yeah, and I again, I can attest to this, then the material is very thick, really strong material. So to your point, you know, I didn't think about it, but laminate is really a great idea for reuse. You know, it's really good, strong material. Now, how did your team go about, you know, finding the right vendor to work with to publish to help publish your book.

A & J Books  15:42  

Um, well, we just went with what we knew at the moment, which was accessible and actually free, so, but it's in the process of changing so then you will start paying upload per book that you're uploading, um, you know, we also want to copyright our stuff, because it's original images, and we want to make sure that other people aren't stealing anything. And so that was like a whole new thing, being an entrepreneur that I didn't really have to ever face. Also, you know, moving forward to other books and other designs, like maybe we'll have a two part series. So like, you start, you kind of have to think like, oh, well, this dinosaur is skateboarding on this kid's Journal. Well, how can we take that guy and kind of maybe build a story with him, maybe we will eventually write a kid's book with that little dinosaur, we've actually turned that dinosaur into a sticker, we're in the process of taking our images from our books and kind of turning them into stickers because we thought those were way, like better opportunities to have a business card with as a sticker rather than passing out a business card anymore. And like, making it fun and engaging and having it fun. We we are in six local stores in Portland so we thought how cool would it be to eventually be like, go collect a NJ book stickers from each store like this one has, has a dinosaur and like really gets the kids kind of excited for future books and other images.

Gabriel Flores  17:03  

Oh, I gotta say I'm really at one I'm I'm looking over to my left shoulder right now. And I can see the red dinosaur sticker right now on the skateboard. I got that baby. I got one of a already. I'm halfway there. Now, what would you say has been easy about starting a business? Has there been anything?

A & J Books  17:23  

Um, the easy part is, you know, the relationship with my sister and I, we were not super close prior. We're seven years apart in age. So becoming mothers brought us closer together. But then also being business partners has actually really helped us to, like, you know when to pick your battles, right? Like in certain relationships, you're like, it's easy to say, hey, sure. You want to run with this idea? Run with it, go for it. Like, you know, I think there's a great bond that's happening. Sometimes people are a little, you know, skeptical to be in a business relationship with a family member. And for me, I will say that that's been definitely the easiest part. I asked her to and let's see, she said the easiest part was I don't know. I don't see her part.

Gabriel Flores  18:08  

Yeah, she was part was, you come on the podcast, so she didn't have to? Yeah.

A & J Books  18:15  

Definitely, I am The Networker. I'm the build the relationships and talk to people person. And that's why we make a good team. She's She has a great visual. I've like colors and things that I just don't even compute like. So. Yeah. Yeah. Make a good team.

Gabriel Flores  18:32  

How did you guys decide to finance this venture is a grassroots effort. Did you guys get venture capital? Or just?

A & J Books  18:38  

No, we did it. That good old stimulus money, you just put it to use in a better area than like shopping for clothes, or I don't know weird things. Like, you know, I think once you're an entrepreneur, you're always looking at, like, how to make your dollar kind of stretch, and like what to do with your dollar, you know, and so we ran a few ads. So we've lost money on ads, because we're learning that and we don't really understand it. But, you know, we've been generating money every month, we've, we've sold, you know, like I said, we're in six stores wholesale, we're going to do two, two holiday expos this year, which we've never done. So that will be completely new for us too. And that's actually a lot financial, like it's a huge decision. And when we decided to do this business, it was because we didn't have to go because it was like being shipped and print to order and it was like this convenience factor. And now we're, you know, we're like, well, we're kind of grown to this and like it's going to be Christmas time when we gotta go sell these books on this another level. So I will be in Portland at all the fairs this Christmas.

Gabriel Flores  19:42  

I will make sure to stop by and say hello, I can't wait. That'd be awesome. Now what what continues to motivate you?

A & J Books  19:51  

Um, I think the ideas I think the ideas help you kind of want to kind of keep digging in and learning and kind of stay up till 10 o'clock doing on this extra stuff that you're doing, you know, and reading and learning and finding groups and connecting with other people. It's been really great like to meet people off of Instagram and form these little relationships that we can support each other's causes, like we're completely different businesses, but we can support you. And if it's as simple as leaving a comment or a little heart, I will support a small business owner because you're grinding and you're trying your best, you know, and so I think the ideas keep us super motivated, like, Ooh, what about we have like probably 50 more themes of scissor books that we want to do. And like, then some written books that we would like to tie in also, it's just kind of being that visionary is what keeps you creative. And then when people send you, when you get a message from somebody that is using your book, like, Oh, my six year old has been journaling in their journal, and they love it. And they've really worked through their parents were getting divorced, or these certain stories that kids that you get, and it just warms your heart because you're like, maybe I'll stop posting on Instagram as an entrepreneur, right? You go down in your mind, and you think, Oh, I'm gonna take a break. And then you get this note or this letter from somebody who's super nice and great, and tells you how much their book has helped them. And so then you're like, Yes, I'm ready to wrap it back up. I'm right back in this game. That's all I needed was just that little kind of high five.

Gabriel Flores  21:18  

Man. You know, you said a few things here. One folks at home that are listening. Thanks for thank you so much for going in, like our Instagram photos when we post it. But when you engage with us in the comment section, and you like say some that hits the sauce part for me, personally, I really do enjoy it. So thank you so much for doing that for us. I really do like it. Now, one of the things you kind of also mentioned in regards to the Instagram world was networking, the importance of networking, how important has networking been for your organs, or for your brand?

A & J Books  21:49  

Oh, huge, huge. We've met other moms that are sisters in business, that, you know, influencers not influence. Sirs, have boutique shops also write other books. So it's kind of been funny how we meet these other relationships. And we're like, hey, there sisters to and we're sisters. So of course, we're gonna support them. And like are they're writing great kids books, you know, kids need to read constantly. It's part of their development. And so if somebody wrote a book, you want to support them, if it's aligns with what you're doing in your family.

Gabriel Flores  22:22  

Very, very true. Very true. Now, what about self doubt? Have you ever had a moment of self doubt? As you guys been going through this process?

A & J Books  22:29  

Yes, I would say daily, but I've been an entrepreneur prior to this business, too. And I've, like I said, done a lot of reading. So it's not daily anymore. It's definitely now instead of like, you know, you question, Am I doing the right thing, because there is no validation, there is no idea if hashtags still work on Instagram, or if you're, you know, making the right choice or the size of your photo needs to change or the lighting needs to change or, you know, right now we're, we're buying ISBN for our books and giving them barcodes. But then we're like, oh, well, is that gonna mess up where they're being published on the other platform? So we're constantly there's no one to talk to. There's no one to validate your questions. You just got to be willing to kind of put it out there, especially, you know, building a website from scratch and not really never knowing that stuff. And he's not just making it pretty and visually, it's tying in those SEOs. And then you got to wait, you got to sit patiently. And most of the time entrepreneurs don't have the patience to wait for the 90 day. So we're like 90 days, like, changed by them. So yes, there is always doubt but you just kind of got to, you know, get in what's the what's the reason why you started this business that you're doing whatever it is that you're doing, just remind yourself and that keeps you grounded. That's why it's like pillars, right? You got to have a mission statement or pillars. And you got to like just know your values like why did we create these books? And if something's making us get off path, we just pull it off we go okay, that's it. We're getting right back onto path and we're kind of spiraling let's pull it in. Let's rethink let's take a break if we need to take two days off or whatever and get out in nature like that helps my sister and I really kind of clear the fog or the haze that might be happening in the brain.

Gabriel Flores  24:12  

Nice now as a business owner right now with AJ books what keeps you up at night?

A & J Books  24:20  

How will we get it all done? There's not enough Whoa, there's just not I mean, Christmas is right around the corner and people are already buying stuff to put in their stores because Shippings behind and so that Christmas in July is real. And we're like oh my gosh, we wanted all these things done to be like you know, when you say from Christmas last year, where will you be next year and you're like, Oh man, like how did it's not that you got sidetracked because you've always been grinding and doing something it's just that you got to learn how to prioritize like, is that something I need to do right now? Or can that wait? There will always they will all be important thing. As a business owner, you'll have all these different things that come at you. But what do you need to do right now? And then you conquer it and you do it and then you'll be better. You know,

Gabriel Flores  25:09  

like, where's AJ books gonna be in five years.

A & J Books  25:14  

Oh, man, we're hoping to be traveling with our children in an RV because people are using books. And we get to, like, just be creative. On a whole nother level, we're hoping we're actually designing a canvas tote for our ex holiday expos. You know, kind of making it encompass a whole brand really, like, you know, using that sticker, that same little character and maybe putting him in a book and putting him on a shirt, putting him in a bag, putting on a hat

Gabriel Flores  25:44  

on a movie, I'm seeing movie, let me know if you need a voiceover.

A & J Books  25:51  

So you know, Angel books, we'd love to be in a lot more stores. And we just would love to have more sales, because Parenting is hard to and so that's why our books, we try to be helpful, you know, we want sometimes you just need a break. Yeah. And your kids need, you know, these books. Plus, you know, my son is 10. Now, so I still want him to journal as an adult, you know, you hope you're instilling habits in him to prepare him for adulthood. And that's what you do as a parent, you're trying to just give your kid tools, but teach them and walk them through it at the same time.

Gabriel Flores  26:25  

Yeah. Now, what advice do you have for the listeners?

A & J Books  26:30  

Oh, ask any person you know, don't be scared to ask on social media and reach out to a stranger like, it's, it's going to be fine. Actually, every time we asked, the response was great. So people like yeah, sure will share. For me, we did mental health, a lot of mental health awareness, because that ties in with journaling. And so yeah, we asked people like, hey, it's part of your brand and what you're doing also, do you mind sharing our content, and people would do it. And this month is Self Care Month. And again, it applies to journaling. And so you just feel forming those relationships and, you know, then it's endless to us. Don't be scared to talk about what's in your heart and for your business.

Gabriel Flores  27:10  

I love it. I love it. Now for the listeners at home. Where can they find AJ books? Where's your stores located? Where? How can I get some books?

A & J Books  27:18  

Yes, so in Portland, we are in black Wagon, we are in Holy moly. I'm not gonna remember all of the stores tour in Washington. So it's a little farther, but um, which is zoodles. And we're in hammer and jacks. So some really great stores, sunshine, books, it follow her on Instagram, she goes around the town, reading to kids, she has some of our books that she's fantastic. And we are partnered with the craft shop, she makes homemade krans. And she's shootin and a our AMJ books dot shop is our website. We have a tick tock, we have Pinterest and we have Instagram. They're all different. But I will give you our Instagram, we use social media to give you how to how to journal how to draw, how to do your Planner How to Use your kids books and ideas or even journal prompts for your kids to use. So our Instagram handle is at a underscore and a n d underscore J books. But our website is probably the easiest place to go. Because then you can follow us on every other platform that you choose to that you use, whether you're an Instagram user or tick tock user. So yeah, A and J books dot shop.

Gabriel Flores  28:33  

Perfect. And again, folks, Subscribe to the shades of entrepreneurship newsletter and AMJ information will be on the newsletter for three weeks a week before the episode airs a week, the episode airs and a week after. So again, please subscribe to the shades of entrepreneurship. So your support to these small businesses by engaging with them on their Instagram feeds. But not only that, please feel free to leave a comment we love nice comments. We love nice reviews. Leave the hater ism at home, please. We want we want to feel good about what we're doing. Because it is a lot of work. And I think you know I think a lot entrepreneurs are you know, put a lot of effort in so they they love to hear when their effort is paying off. Just thank you so much for coming on the show. I really do appreciate it.

A & J Books  29:21  

Thank you. I appreciate your time. I thank you for our relationship that we've been forming for to meet in person. Oh, can I also share? Yes, please. We have some free pronounce on we have free PDF. We have like eight pages on our website. So feel free to download those on our website and have some fun with your kids before they go back to school.

Gabriel Flores  29:38  

Yes, and I'm telling you folks, it's really good material try if you're going to print them at home, make sure you get a nice thick board. So when you're getting in the cutout stuff. I really do like to laminate an example. I think that's a really cool idea. But really do it really engages your kid. So again, Jesse, thank you so much for being on the show. I really do appreciate it. I'm excited to see you here in the Christmas time. I'm definitely going to come check Yeah, introducing the fee and get some more books we can never have too many books right?

A & J Books  30:03  

Oh never. Thank you so much for the opportunity

Gabriel Flores  30:06  

of course so everybody listening at home please follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all those social media sites and don't forget to sign the newsletter. Thank you and have a great night. 

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