Any time you feel stuck, simply switch gears. Take on a challenge from a different side of the business or get out of the office entirely. You’ll come back to your original challenge with renewed vigor and a different perspective.
Alex Frankel Schorr is a multi-award-winning researcher and innovator. Her most recent research, over the past year, has involved a global meta-analysis of ways in which to instill empathy in children and she’s committed to infusing these learnings into every product produced at Rainbow Zebra Co.
Rainbow Zebra Co. creates empathy-based kids books, toys and games revolving around the core theme of kindness. The sole focus is to promote the most important trait – compassion – among the most important generation – our children – and to do so in a way that is full of wit, whimsy, and wonder. Rainbow Zebra has been hailed as “creating a movement for families and kids on empathy”.
The company’s first product, a children’s book titled “From Neigh to Zebra”, was developed in collaboration with experts from Disney and Scholastic and has received acclaimed reviews from editors, educators, and kids alike. The picture book is a sweet, funny, and colorful tale about a horse that falls in love with a zebra. Dr. Alexandra Carter, a registered child psychologist writes “The brilliance of this work is that it teaches weighty concepts, such as an acceptance and an appreciation for difference, in such a kid-friendly way”. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to a charity that promotes safe spaces for all kids, regardless of gender expression, in K-12 education.
Where did the idea for Rainbow Zebra Co. come from?
During the summer of 2018, I learned that my grandmother started a publishing company in Israel in the fifties. Yep, you read that right. My GrandMOTHER. Started a company. In the FIFTIES, of all decades for a woman to start a company. I was incredibly inspired by her story.
At the same time, my son, a spunky 3-year old at the time, was bent on wearing skirts and dresses to preschool and facing some bullying because of that decision. “You look funny!!!” and “Dresses are for girls!” echoed in the hallways as I dropped him off… I was driven to build a kinder future for his benefit.
Societal constructs of gender (and race and disability and…) are incredibly limiting, and I wanted to rewrite the rules of what was considered “normal” or “good”. I wanted to write a different story. A kinder one. A more accepting one. A more diverse one.
So, I left the corporate world, resurrected my grandmother’s publishing company and began creating empathy-based children’s books.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I love every bit of the creative process and could write for hours without noticing the time. When I was little and my mom would ask me if I finished my homework, my typical response was “No… but I wrote three poems!”.
Now that our first book is fully done, however, I need to shift my focus to logistics (printing, shipping, and distribution) and marketing (PR, advertising, social media, etc.). I’m definitely learning where my strengths and weaknesses lie! While I love writing, I can’t write anything promotional for the life of me.
These days, a typical day might be spent entirely on communicating with my logistical vendors (printer, warehouse, etc.), promotional partners (journalists, advertisers, etc.), or publishers interested in acquiring the rights to my work in a different country (we’re in talks with companies in Germany and Japan at the moment).
I don’t feel especially productive, likely because operations and marketing are not my strong suits. I will say that large swaths of uninterrupted time are helpful, although those can be hard to come by, especially for moms…
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ah, that’s the fun part! Collaboration is key. Nobody can do everything on their own. I put together a team of incredible veterans in the space. My lead editor was at Disney for ten years and then Scholastic for ten years. My illustrator and layout designer jointly worked on all the Lonely Planet Kids travel guides. Everyone I worked with was extremely professional.
Having a team in place helps with productivity as well. Not only could we get more done with more people, but I would feel compelled to reply to people in a timely manner so as not to slow them down. Now I’m trying to assemble a team to help with marketing as well…
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’ll give you two!
A) The social good trend. Although, I believe empathy will always be in style!
B) The entrepreneurial trend. The barriers to start a company have never been so low in the history of entrepreneurship. We have an unprecedented ability to re-invent almost any industry. That’s incredibly exciting!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m not the picture of productivity, by any means! One strategy that has helped me, however, is to switch gears between different aspects of the business. When I can’t handle marketing or operations, I start to write another verse. When I’m at an impasse creatively, I shift my focus to strategy…
What advice would you give your younger self?
To speak up more. To have the courage to put my creative works out into the world. To balk societal norms in favor of what feels true and authentic in my heart and soul. It’s cliched and it’s unbelievably SCARY but it’s so worth it!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The lack of empathy, societally, for moms (a role so closely tied to martyrdom) in this day and age. I’d love to be able to contribute to solving for this problem in the near future.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Question the status quo.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Crowdfunding on Kickstarter was extremely helpful. This strategy allowed me to test the market and develop a proof of concept, to raise the money for my print run through pre-orders, and to gauge the quantity of books I should even print.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My printer hit me with delay after delay after delay. It was extremely frustrating as I have hundreds of people waiting for their orders. I communicated openly and honestly and apologetically with my backers, I paid extra for air (vs. sea) shipping, and I offered to sign every book, as an added bonus, in order to alleviate some of the sting of the delay.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Love letters to moms. A free e-mail subscription service that allows moms to sign up to receive notes of appreciation (“you’re crushing it!”) at a frequency of their choosing (daily, weekly, monthly…). These can become personalized as you track people’s behavior online (e.g. if she googles “how to cure a cough in a toddler”, an algorithm can generate “I hope your little one feels better soon!”). To monetize this, you can drop in paid ads for products you know they’re looking for [a honey-based cough medicine that’s safe even for the littlest of kids (who aren’t supposed to use traditional cough medicine)] with a link to buy the product on Amazon and have it delivered ASAP. If I make it big, reach out to me, and I will help fund this!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Freestyle Love Supreme on Broadway! Consuming creativity makes me feel alive and helps me hone my own craft. Now I can’t stop rapping! Which is extra hilarious given that I don’t look like the typical rapper and I’m rapping about toddlers!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Excel. I use it to run all my numbers. I even created a model to help me determine the number of books to print, given my Kickstarter pre-orders, estimates of future sales, and the diminishing per book cost as your order number increases.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Well, other than my own book (From Neigh to Zebra) of course, I recommend Marie Forleo’s Everything is Figureoutable. This New York Times best-seller will inspire and motivate you to take on any challenge.
What is your favorite quote?
There is a crack in everything… That’s how the light gets in – Leonard Cohen
- Question societal norms. Question the status quo. Re-write the rules. Re-invent the industry. Do what’s most authentically true to you in your heart and soul.
- The importance of people. Collaborate early and often. Conduct market testing, via crowdfunding or other means, to gauge interest in your products, and communicate with your audience regularly.
- Any time you feel stuck, simply switch gears. Take on a challenge from a different side of the business or get out of the office entirely. You’ll come back to your original challenge with renewed vigor and a different perspective. Everything is “figureoutable” so hang in there!
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.