Emma Drew and her husband Olly started making animated nursery rhymes to entertain their young son. But they soon began to be watched by many other parents across the world. Today, their business, MyVoxSongs, incorporates a hugely popular YouTube channel and a website.
What have been your key milestones and how have you celebrated them?
The biggest is that MyVoxSongs has become a high-profile YouTube partner. It’s something that we’ve celebrated along the way, because as YouTube has grown so have we. We set up in 2009, when YouTube was still relatively young. We realised that our business was going well when we hit 100 million hits. We thought: ‘Wow. That’s pretty good.’ We’re now nearing 200 million hits and I know YouTube has used us as an internal case study, as an example of a channel that has grown and grown. It’s great to know that it has recognised our success.
Another milestone is that we’ve developed an international audience. Over half of our viewers are in the United States, which is brilliant. It’s great to have cracked the U.S. market. We also have lots of viewers in Australia, South Africa and India. We’ve developed a big fan base and the feedback we’ve received from viewers has been quite amazing.
Looking ahead, we would like to become more creative for the slightly older age range of children and produce videos that would educate and entertain them.
Have you had any setbacks along the way and what have you learnt from them?
Working in the digital environment can be quite impersonal. It has created a very level playing field, which allows us to compete with Disney. But it’s not a touchy-feely world: computers do it all. You’re only as good as YouTube’s or Google’s analytics tell you. It’s all down to the algorithm.
As a result, we’re very reliant on YouTube and Google, so when they change their algorithms it can hurt our business. But it’s something over which we have no control. As they’re secret we can’t ever predict or know what those changes will be, so we constantly have to try to stay one step ahead. We go to great lengths to ensure that everything we produce is good and is likely to be popular. We also continually upload new material. We aim to post something new every two weeks, but it’s very demanding to produce new music and animation so regularly, particularly when you have small children.
We have learnt to try to not put too many eggs in one basket, so we’ve developed an app and we also have a DVD. Our website has become a hub for the business and we want to start to offer merchandise and books.
Being reliant on technology can also create problems. If our hard drives crash, we may lose all our work. We’ve lost films and have had to start again from scratch on a couple of occasions. It’s a nightmare, because you’ve suddenly lost your business. As a result, we’ve become very careful about backing up all our work.
Have you taken any risks that you think have really paid off?
When we started MyVoxSongs both Olly and I had other jobs. After having our second child I was considering whether to go back to work, but instead we decided to give up our careers and concentrate on developing the business. So Olly left his good job, which meant that we could concentrate on producing new films while sharing the childcare duties.
We also invested a lot in the business. We put our faith in YouTube, which at that time was still pretty new. We ploughed plenty of money in too, buying music, animation and editing software programs to make our films. At first, it seemed like all of the money that came in was going straight out again.
But all of these decisions have paid off. We now have the time, skills and tools to produce new films every couple of weeks.
Tell us about your work/life balance?
It’s always been the case that our kids come first. So that means that I look after them while Olly’s working, and then, when he’s finished, he takes over and I start work. When we put the kids to bed I would start drawing and work until midnight or 1am. So all our time was taken up either looking after the children or working. We never had nights out. That’s changed a little as they have grown and we’ve gained more skills and experience, so we’re getting faster at producing films. We’ve got back a bit of a social life. But it has been fantastic being able to share the precious moments in their lives while building up our business. It’s funny, but my son sometimes asks: ‘So what job do you do?’ He doesn’t see us as working, because we’re always at home.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
We don’t have any mentors or heroes. Instead, we draw inspiration from our own childhood memories of the TV programmes we watched when we were young: everything from Mr. Men, Sesame Street and Morph through to Monty Python. We like to stick in a few gags; our films have quite a strong element of British slapstick humour. Olly’s musical influences range from rock and funk to gypsy jazz and calypso, so hopefully parents feel they can bear to listen to it more than the jingly baby music that’s so common.