I’m Ashley Kenny, Founder and CEO of Heirloom and I’d like to share with you how my brother and I created the company with the hopes of helping our Grandmother and other families stay connected. Hope our story will inspire new and aspiring entrepreneurs!
For The Love of Grandma
At the start of the pandemic, my brother and I noticed our 92-year-old Grandma was left behind, unable to experience the joy many of us get from sharing family videos. Like many other older adults who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, our Grandma had been sheltering in Detroit in her 540-square-foot apartment with little contact with the outside world.
She has no cell phone, computer, or Wi-Fi, and her only real stimulation came when she had food and books delivered outside her apartment door. She seemed lonely and sad, and this truly broke our hearts. We needed a way to stay connected to her and a way to send videos of her three great-grandsons.
My one-year-old son was just learning to walk and our Grandma’s two other great-grandsons were exploring the world of preschool.
As experts in software engineering and video production, my brother and I joined forces, and Heirloom was born.
When Talents Join Forces
As a documentary filmmaker, I spent nine years producing films for National Geographic, then three years at Al Jazeera America overseeing their documentary series department, and most recently I was the Head of Production for The Atlantic. My brother, Zack Bloom, has a background in computer science and tech start-ups. He has launched and sold a tech business and he’s great at building tools that solve problems.
Together we directed our frustration of not being able to send videos to our Grandma into creating a solution. I found a small video screen I had on hand and uploaded eight short videos of my sons and nephew laughing. It included moments from their birthdays, first time riding in red wagons, and walking.
Similar to a photobook, but with video instead, I quickly sent the completed product via snail mail to our Grandma. Two days later, I received a phone call from her. She was overjoyed to receive this thin, greeting-card-size video book device. “I can’t tell you what it means to me to see our babies,” she said. “Thank you so much for thinking of me. This means the world to me.”
Zack and I quickly realized we could scale the idea nationwide to help others navigate the pandemic and enjoy memories that capture life’s most important moments. We chose our name, Heirloom, to evoke the combined sense of our treasured past and our love of family.
Heirloom was launched in Washington, DC on February 2, 2021. We knew pretty quickly that we didn’t have the expertise for all the necessary facets of this product-based business. We interviewed and networked with potential vendors and support services, ending up with a team of part-time contractors – designers, engineers, and marketing and PR experts.
Heirloom allows people to send custom video-playing books to those they love. Customers visit our website to upload up to 20 minutes of their videos and select from one of our 12 fun video book covers. Heirloom ships a video-playing book to the gift recipient’s doorstep loaded with their videos. Each video book is rechargeable so they can be cherished for a lifetime. Heirloom video books retail for $49 to $69 (free shipping) and arrive in 5 business days.
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New Products Bring New Challenges
The biggest challenge we’ve faced is related to product education and messaging. We’ve learned we cannot simply promote a newer, better, or even cheaper version of what our customers already purchase. Virtually no one has ever purchased a video book, let alone expects one to exist.
Our message focuses on need rather than improvement. We’re working hard to educate people that our product exists using marketing and PR efforts. The more education we can do, the better. We’ve seen this effort well demonstrated when Heirloom was recently featured on the TODAY Show and Good Morning America.
The host provides the viewer with a real-time experience of holding an Heirloom video book and opening the cover. Everyone is surprised when the book contains a video screen that instantly begins to play their video.
Those Humbling Surprises
Our most humbling surprise has been the vast variety of interest and use of our product. We first envisioned Heirloom as a readily available tool for connecting isolated, non-techy seniors with their loving families.
Much to our surprise, we’ve received orders from such grateful users as couples proposing or announcing their new baby’s arrival, families celebrating milestone birthdays, teens sharing competitions, friends honoring the life of their newest retiree, and many more.
On multiple occasions, we have been honored to create memorials for lives cherished. Each of these creations is unique, personal to our customers and their recipients. Heirloom’s contribution is the tool with which they can hold, preserve and share the best of life’s moments.