Q&A with Ouraan Founders: Amina Akram and Andy Paradise
Take us back to the very beginning: what was the first, initial ‘lightbulb moment’ that sparked the idea for Ouraan?
Amina: Ouraan was founded by working parents with a strong desire to develop a product that would foster meaningful daily connections with their children. And along the way there were many lightbulb moments that helped provide real solutions for parents and children. For instance, an unforgettable moment is when, reading a bestseller out aloud with my son (then 12), I came across a derogatory term that I was totally unprepared to explain to him. Instead of using that as a teaching moment, I got flustered and shut the book to handle the subject later. That was the moment we came up with a feature—now known as the Page-Gauge—essentially a discussion kit parents receive every month.
We aren’t just a company founded by parents for parents. Ouraan was created for our children—for them to connect, bond, and find joy within their homes and outside with their peers in a safe and fun environment. We saw a desperate need for a safe platform where children could connect to express their opinions and share their experiences without being the target of advertisements and other predators.
From there, how did the product develop?
Amina: From thereon, we first launched our physical product that redefines the relationship that a modern tech-savvy kid has with books while enabling parents to effortlessly engage in the literary content we send—not to just keep a pulse on what their children are engaging with, but to engage alongside them and have deeper, relationship-building conversations about those stories and how they relate to the world.
Andy: And we are now launching Syloverse, a continuation of our mission at Ouraan to provide a secure platform for young readers to discuss, debate and delight in their commonalities, while also learning through conversation and camaraderie about different cultures, contexts and points of view.
How does your product “redefine” a child’s relationship with books?
Amina: Just like us grown-ups, children voluntarily do over and over only that which brings them pleasure. Keeping this principle in mind, we had a very child-centric approach during product development and posed questions to ourselves: “how do we engage and connect with a child from the moment they open a box?” “how to keep them motivated?” “how to bring in reluctant readers?”
Andy: Similarly, with Syloverse, we wanted to provide a channel through which young readers could take their individual reading to an active and engaging experience—express their opinions and learn about other perspectives—leading to a more tolerant and empathetic young individuals.
How is Ouraan different from other monthly book club subscriptions?
Amina: Like traditional book clubs, Ouraan provides and nurtures an environment where diverse individuals come together to share their love of reading and storytelling. Unlike traditional book clubs, we do the back-end work for our members: sourcing materials; facilitating discussions and providing resources to enable deeper discussions; and connecting a global community using technology.
What are the core values that are still at the center of Ouraan to this day?
Amina: At the center of everything is this idea of strengthening connections. Connections—between parents and their children, children and their peers, and even children and global cultures they haven’t yet experienced. Fundamentally, these connections are always at the center of our lives: helping us achieve our goals, shaping us as people and teaching us often unexpected lessons about the world we share.
Andy: Relationships are born and nurtured by connections, conversations, and shared experiences. Everything we do at Ouraan is aimed and bringing people together and creating better relationships—with each other, with new ideas, and with stories from around the world. We believe this is the only way to create empathy in this world – a world that seems very divided presently.
What are the benefits of parents reading with (as opposed to TO) their children?
Amina: The parent-child connection is a unique bond that, when nurtured, leads to stronger family units and more resilient children with developed social, physical, mental and emotional health. Ouraan aims to bring parents and children together and create better relationships through reading—with each other, with ideas, and with stories and cultures around the world.
There isn’t a shortage of content in the world—but there is a shortage of time and, more than that, quality time spent with the people most important to us.
Ouraan carefully curates its book selections. What does that process of curating literature look like, and what are the ‘must have’ qualities Ouraan looks for?
Amina: It takes massive amounts of time, energy and expertise for parents to not only find the content that their children will love, but to become familiar enough with these stories to include them as a foundational part of their parent-child conversations, connections and relationships.
Through Ouraan, we’ve tried to become reliable parent partners—essentially, as long as our parent-members are able to make the time, we’ve done the homework to ensure the time spent together brings teaching opportunities leading to memorable moments and more meaningful conversations.
Each month, our expert panel—which includes book specialists, parents, academics and even children—select choices from among hundreds of titles that resonate with each age group of our members. Then, the Ouraan team reads every single book selected and discusses it with other experts to ensure the quality and messages are age-appropriate, academically sound and generate deeper interest.
Deliberate curation is very important to us. We don’t pick books based on celebrity partnership or book buzz. Ouraan chooses stories and themes that best-serve both parent-child and child-peer relationship-building. Parental guides, conversation resources and guided activities accompany each month’s shipment to help families connect on deeper levels and build stronger bonds.
We know it’s not practical to expect parents to read everything their child reads—so we’ve made it easier for them to engage their child in conversation about the ideas, themes and stories they’re exploring by additionally providing Page Gauge, a monthly resource and conversational guide included with each shipment.
What’s in store for the future of Ouraan?
Andy: The Syloverse app is currently in beta testing and will be launched widely for all of Ouraan’s members during the upcoming back-to-school season.
Nurturing connections has always been at the center of all things Ouraan. We’re deeply excited to be launching Syloverse and, with it, to be playing a small part in building new, global communities of future leaders that can learn from one another’s differences, rejoice over what we all have in common and foster lifelong friendships, empathy and fundamental skills.