First as friends, colleagues, and then housemates, both Lulu Cheng & Lacey Benard came from an extensive background of teaching and public education. After countless years as educators, they put their career on hold as they got married, entered motherhood, and eventually settled down one hour apart from one another in Southern California. Being apart as mothers only amplified the presence they had in each other’s’ lives as they endlessly discuss their kids’ favorite toys (of the moment), compare teachable moments, and share their joint disappointment of the lack of engaging bilingual books in the market. That was the lightbulb moment to launch Bitty Bao, a collection of culturally relevant Chinese bilingual books with charming characters for all types of families, no matter the level of familiarity with the language. Bitty Bao books use a combination of engaging pictures for the younger readers, pinyin for non-native speakers, and traditional characters with zhuyin for native speakers or speakers learning to read Chinese. In September 2020, they launched their first three books, “Counting with Dim Sum”, “Everyday Heroes”, and “The Colors of Snow Ice” which was greeted with an overwhelming demand. Get to know more about Lulu & Lacey, how they maintain their cool, and what they are most grateful for this year.
1. What inspired you to start Bitty Bao?
Lulu: I always wanted to teach my kids especially my daughter that strong women can accomplish anything. The idea came to me to write books when I thought about what I really enjoyed doing with my own children—reading Chinese books and sharing my language, culture, and heritage with them. And I thought what better way to teach and facilitate their cultural identity and understanding than to write my own books for them to learn and experience the Asian culture. And so I launched Bitty Bao.
I know we all have our own unique backgrounds and cultures. And today, more than ever, we need to embrace not only what makes us the same but also what makes us different. I strongly believe that a great way to strive for that understanding is through books while our kids are still young.
2. What has been the proudest moment since you both started Bitty Bao?
The overwhelming response from our readers and families who have emailed and messaged us on social media to tell us how inspired they are from our own stories – making them believe, they can reach their dreams and goals as well.
3. How has Covid-19 impacted your business? What are some of the changes you had to make in the wake of the pandemic?
Since our business started during Covid-19, we launched online sales with our website. Originally, we had wanted to participate in school assemblies and book fairs; however, with school closures, that idea has been put on hold. We are more focused on our social media and online presence.
4. What is something that most people don’t know about you?
Lacey: During my first pregnancy my husband and I completed a whole house renovation from my designs and research. During my second pregnancy, Bitty Bao was born. I guess I really like completing big projects while pregnant!
Lulu: I love almost all sports and outdoor activities – but, especially badminton and skiing!
5. What advice would you give to women who hope to start their own business?
Lulu: Don’t be afraid to ask the people around you for advice and help, and all questions are valid. Sometimes what you think is small and unimportant to ask, or too embarrassed to ask, but the truth is many people have the same struggles. Seize the moment, roll with the momentum and go for it!
Lacey: There’s not one “right” way to go about doing things – finding work around, creative resources, or your own way to do things is totally okay - you just have to trust your gut. Also, being genuine with people that you interact with through business takes you far (especially when building a solid social media following).
6. What are some of the personal challenges you faced this year and what have you found to help maintain a healthy mental balance?
Lulu: From the beginning of Covid, education for my children was what worried and consumed me the most. I felt anxious when it was time for zoom class. Over the summer, my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our children for the following academic year, 2020-2021. What use to be a thought turned reality! This new role I took on has been a blessing where we have been able to take some control back into our life – setting our own schedule (minimizing morning rush, and being allowed to sleep in!), having the flexibility of going out (while wearing our masks) and enjoying more of what we want and like to do. We have really enjoyed this time together - slowing down life, focusing on our own individual family unit, minimizing extracurricular activities. We have focused more on what we can and what we have instead of what we cannot – and it has helped us all maintain a healthy mental balance.
Lacey: Family support has been key for me this year. My husband and I became pregnant with our second child when Bitty Bao started out. I also have a toddler. So finding time to work on the creative aspect of Bitty Bao often comes at nighttime after my daughter is asleep or on days that my husband is home and can take her for walks. I did struggle with stopping myself from becoming all consumed with my responsibilities for Bitty Bao, and recently began seeking a better life balance. I try to unplug from work when my husband is home at night and prioritize spending time with him. I try to only work while he is away if I can (he is a firefighter, so he’s gone often).
7. What is next for Bitty Bao?
We have a set of three more books in the works for round 2 – anticipated release: January 2021!
8. How do you come up with the topics for your books?
For our last round of books, we posted the question to our Instagram followers and got some great feedback for our newest set of books. It’s important to us that our books have a basic vocabulary element (ex: numbers, colors, community worker names, etc.) while also highlighting elements from Chinese culture (ex: fruits, vegetables, drinks, etc.)
9. Given all that has transpired this year, what is the one thing you are most grateful for?
Lulu: My husband, for many reasons, but one that really stands out is his cooking! Since covid, he has taken on the role of preparing most of our dinners and what a blessing and stress-reliever it has been.
Lacey: I am grateful for the opportunity to slow down and really appreciate spending time with my daughter while she transitioned from an infant to a toddler. It has been such a wonderful (and tiring) experience to be with her 24/7, but to have the privilege of seeing every new learning, skill, and character trait as it develops. With covid, it has allowed us to cut back substantially on our outside “noise” and responsibilities and simply enjoy each other’s company in ways we didn’t usually have time for before.
10. Do you have any special plans for this holiday season?
Lulu: Since we are back in our home this holiday (and not last year), we hope to decorate the home extra special this year for the kids, and also because 2020 has been quite a roller coaster year.
Lacey: We will spend Thanksgiving at my husband’s fire station with our fire family as he is on shift. And our second bitty babe is due right after Christmas, so we’ll be expanding our family to four around that time!