Chris Lin’s Mandy and Pandy Say “Ni Hao Ma?”

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Chris Lin, a 2nd generation Taiwanese American who grew up near Ann Arbor, Michigan, who in recent years created the cartoon characters Mandy and Pandy as a means to teach Mandarin to children.

Since publishing the books, the entrepreneurial endeavor has taken a life of its own as Chinese animation production powerhouse CCTV Animation and North American production company PorchLight Entertainment have entered a co-development agreement to develop and produce a preschool TV series.

We take a moment with creator and company CEO Chris Lin to find out the story behind his motivation for Mandy and Pandy, as well as what’s in store for the future!

H: Hi Chris! Thanks for taking the time to join us today!

C: Hi HoChie, thanks for making the time for me… its been a while since the good ol’ TAF (Taiwanese American Foundation Summer Conference) days together!

H: Indeed it has! As most of the audience for are fellow 2nd generation Taiwanese Americans, I’m sure many are curious about your background. Where did you grow up and what was it like being one of the few Taiwanese Americans in your community?

C: Yes, I was one of a few Asians growing up in Troy, Michigan, so I felt a little left out as a minority. It wasn’t until I made friends at TAF that I felt comfortable with my self identity. There is more diversity now in Troy and Ann Arbor, but I still want Asians to have more of a mainstream presence in America so that Mandy can live without limitations.

H: Tell us more about Mandy. I heard that the inspiration for your character Mandy is actually inspired by your daughter.

C: Mandy is my daughter adopted from China. When I took her to Chinese school, I felt compelled to teach her Chinese as I have been a student for 10 years. I looked all over the place – teachers, Borders, Barnes and Noble – and could not find any appropriate books… So I made them, with the help of Ingrid, my illustrator, Julie, my translator, and Wendy, my investor (and Mom). Mandy is the inspiration behind the stories, and she loves the books!

H: That’s great! Just out of curiosity, what is your educational background?

C: I received an Economics BA and a Marketing MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business… GO BLUE!

H: And where did your career start and what sorts of experiences have you had professionally?

C: My career was on the fast track in automotive marketing, at one point I was the Marketing Director for Ford in China. When the market did not materialize in the late 90s for Ford, I diversified my experience by consulting at Deloitte. My wife, Kristi, and I had adopted Mandy from China, so there was an expectation for me to travel less… I was not keen on a normal 9-5 in a cube job, so I founded Mandy and Pandy.

H: Did you ever think you would be doing a project such as this?

C: I had no idea I would ever be working in this new edutainment field and publishing business.

H: It’s interesting how we sometimes end up doing something we never planned on earlier in our lives. So, how “risky” has it been for you? And what have you learned from this process?

C: All small businesses have risk – financial, personal, and business. I have learned that I have a high propensity for risk and with this project the rewards – personal, financial, societal – will outweigh the costs. If young Taiwanese entrepreneurs are thinking about going into business, they need to consider the costs and know what their limit for risk is. How much pain can you take and when are you willing to quit, if at all.

H: That’s definitely a wise assessment to make. What sorts of trials and tribulations have you encountered along the way?

C: The key business challenge is with personnel – how do you find the right skill set, for the right price, willing to make a commitment to a small start up. The first two years, we went through a lot of people, but as we replace them, we move up in terms of quality, experience, and commitment. Now we have our A-team. The quicker you grow, the more legitimate you become.

H: So, it sounds like there have been some exciting developments over the past year. What can you tell us about?

C: Well, first, we completed the business plan, which takes an exciting concept and monetizes it to assert that you have a winning business equation. Our CFO, John Clarke, has 10 years experience as a CFO. Secondly, we hired a Sales VP, Byron Parnell, with 30 years experience in the book business that knows everyone; he can sell the $%!& out of these books! Ask for Mandy and Pandy Books at local Borders and Barnes and Noble stores among others. And finally, we partnered with Porchlight Entertainment and CCTV (China) to co-develop an animated TV series called SNAP! Let’s Go!. This will teach kids in China English, and kids in other parts of the world Chinese. See our website to see how cool this Chinese Anime artwork is!

H: What are your dreams for this company and where do you hope Mandy and Pandy will go?

C: I would like to achieve our goal of teaching kids Chinese in a fun and easy way by popularizing Chinese among children. If parents can see that learning Chinese is of strategic importance, and kids can have fun learning it and seeing that it is cool! That is my goal. The gravy comes when these kids grow up and want to really learn Chinese. They will build communication with their peers in China, develop cooperation and trust, and foster a friendship between the two countries. My dream… World Peace!

H: What’s your daughter’s response to this whole thing? Is she enjoying how the characters are growing more popular?

C: I presented the books at Mandy’s day care recently. I was a bit nervous because she was not sure that she wanted me to share the books with her classmates. I did anyway… As she saw how interested her classmates were, she began to get enthusiastically supportive and read the books with me. She was proud of her Daddy. As I wrapped up and gave away bookmarks and finger puppets, she came up to me, gave me a hug, and said – “Daddy, I love you!” Her mom keeps her out of the limelight at Borders signing events, etc., but Mandy, on rare occasion, enjoys coming to work to do small Mandy and Pandy art projects with her staff.

H: That’s wonderful! Have you done any marketing for this in Taiwan too? Or in the Taiwanese American community?

C: I have relatives in Taiwan, but none are connected to the book industry. Next year, when we are done with our 12th book and when SNAP goes into production, we will start to sell the rights to Taiwan and other countries. We are starting our marketing into the Taiwanese American community, my original home base, with the request to sign up for Mandy and Pandy FACEBOOK fan group and page. We now have a small marketing team and are ready for new ideas, so please invite your readers to join us and get involved.

H: Will do! We’ll include links at the bottom of our printed interview. So, what advice would you give to Taiwanese American youth or college students out there in our audience?

C: Learn Chinese, and travel to China.

H: Now here’s a very important question: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food?

C: Sho bhah zhan, and oua-zhen at the night market in Taipei.

H: Yum! Love that stuff! So, Chris, thanks again for your time today! I wish you the best of luck promoting Mandy and Pandy, and I look forward to seeing them on American mainstream TV soon!


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