Entrepreneurial alumni couple balances love and work

Oct. 1, 2013, 2:46 a.m.

When Veronika Heckova ‘07 moved into her room in the four-class dorm Okada in 2003, she never expected that the person living next door, Albert Wu ‘04, would one day become her life and business partner.

Heckova and her husband Wu now work full time in developing and marketing Lexigrams, a visual learning tool geared toward making English words easier to memorize through illustrated cards.

Courtesy of Veronika Wu.
Courtesy of Veronika Wu.

“We worked together in going through the entire process of making [Lexigrams] a physical thing,” Heckova said. “[Wu] has just been an incredible partner throughout the whole process.”

Moving from Slovakia to New Zealand at the age of 11, Heckova has always had a fondness for drawing. The idea of designing Lexigrams first struck her while preparing for the GRE.

“I am a visual learner and I want to create something for other visual learners,” Heckova said. “At first they were just little doodles, little illustrations. Later I showed them to my friends, and they were like, ‘This is really cool.’”

With the encouragement and support of Wu and her friends, Heckova started working on 20 illustrations in a style that was very different from what it is now, and named the project Words Without Words.

“Albert saw them and said, ‘This is really awesome and you should work on them and make them into little illustrations,’” Heckova said. “It was one of the first creative projects we worked on [together].”

Dan Tran ‘06, Wu’s roommate his senior year, recalled Heckova’s interest in vocabulary from their days on campus.

“She really likes words and she was just doing a bunch of these illustrative lexigrams,” Tran said.

Despite their initial success among peers, Heckova and Wu did not continue pursuing the idea until two and a half years ago when Bulgarian blogger Maria Popova found out about the project online and wrote a post on it when the product name was still Words Without Words.

“I decided…that I was going to work on this full time,” Heckova said. “That’s what you see today, this full-on evolution of the project, 100 illustrations.”

While working on a business project with one’s life partner can sound romantic, sometimes it can also make it difficult to define the boundary between work and life.

“For our living room, we don’t have a TV—we just have two desks next to each other,” Heckova said.

“Whatever conflict you have, it’s not just our work conflict, it’s our whole life conflict,” she added.

Nevertheless, Heckova was confident that she and Wu could handle both their personal lives and work.

“Whatever difficulty we had, it’s all offset by the fact that we are extremely honest with each other,” she said. “Sometimes in a work situation, maybe you can’t be as honest and are trying to be a little political to prevent getting people mad.”

Currently the couple is working on targeting a wider audience, not only vocabulary learners. Among the customers are students studying for the GRE and SAT as well as people who love learning English or the arts.

Tran, who has bought four sets of Lexigrams, found the product suitable for not only exam preparations, but also for becoming a better communicator.

Heckova and Wu are polishing the product by soliciting feedback from existing customers.

“One big feedback we receive right now is that people want to have a pronunciation of the words on the Web page,” Heckova said. “I think for people who are using it for studying as opposed to enjoying it in their own time, they would also like to see it as a mobile app.”

For couples interested in starting a business together, Heckova offered her advice.

“Start a small project and see how it goes and whether you enjoy it,” she said.

Contact Helin Gao at [email protected].

A previous version of this article said Veronika Heckova moved to New Zealand at the age of 7 and listed the original name of Lexigrams as Word-Without-Word. The Daily regrets these errors. 

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