LeVar Burton’s long career in the entertainment industry spans a variety of roles: Geordi LaForge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Kunta Kinte from the famed television miniseries “Roots” and longtime host of PBS’ “Reading Rainbow” TV show.
Now the actor-turned-entrepreneur has a business that’s encouraging the next generation of children to read. But he’s using the Web this time instead of TV.
Burton, 58, and business partner Mark Wolfe are the co-founders of RRKidz, which has reincarnated “Reading Rainbow” for today’s computer-oriented kids. The show first launched in 1983 as a children’s television series. It ended in 2009 after earning 26 Emmys, the Peabody Award and more than 200 other broadcast awards.
Burton and Wolfe bought the rights to the show and, in 2012, released a Reading Rainbow iPad app. A Kickstarter campaign begun in May 2014 reached its $1 million goal in just eleven hours. It eventually raised $6.4 million (600% of its original goal) from more than 105,000 backers.
“What that said to me was – you made a difference in my life and I want Reading Rainbow to be there for succeeding generations. … That’s no small thing,” he says in this CNET Magazine article.
“The thing I’ve learned most about being an entrepreneur is to not be afraid to fail. I make 10 mistakes practically before I get out of bed every morning, and I’ve learned much more from my failings than I have from my successes in my life” — LeVar Burton
Clearly, “Reading Rainbow” still has many fans – but that isn’t the only explanation for the strong response to the fundraising campaign. Burton made it personal, offering to record voice mails, chat with backers via Skype, have dinner with them and even have them meet his “Star Trek” co-stars.
Earlier this year, Burton and Wolfe used the Kickstarter funds to launch Skybrary, a digital library with more than 500 interactive books and over 150 video field trips on the Web. They’re also offering the Reading Rainbow app, initially available on Apple’s iPad, for other tablets, set-top boxes and game consoles.
Burton may be a well-known entertainer but that hasn’t shielded him from the same challenges faced by others who start a business.
“The thing I’ve learned most about being an entrepreneur is to not be afraid to fail,” he says in this interview. “I make 10 mistakes practically before I get out of bed every morning, and I’ve learned much more from my failings than I have from my successes in my life.”
For aspiring business owners, he has this advice: “I would encourage anybody who’s contemplating a career as an entrepreneur to remember that it’s not pretty. It’s not for the weak. You really have to have a sense of purpose and determination. You need to be resilient. Life isn’t always fair. It’s gonna knock you down. But it’s those who get up who succeed.”