Parents are beginning to realize that phones and iPads for children under 6 years old are not always the best idea. We are pleased to see parents looking for screen-free alternatives to teach and interact with their children.
Christy Cook is the CEO and founder of Teach My, award winning learning kits and sets for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners. Recognizing that parents are their child’s first and most important teacher, Christy scoured educational supply stores to find products to educate her toddler. After creating her own coordinated teaching tools and sitting down for 20 minutes a day, her son was reading by age 3. Realising there was a gap in the market and recognising the desire of parents to give their children a head start, Christy created the award winning, Teach My Toddler Learning Kit.
After receiving WEConnect Women Business Enterprise of the Year award, having products appear on The View and landing contracts with Amazon, Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Staples, Christy has gone on to create an entire line of successful, screen-free learning products designed for children 6 months to 6 years. Christy did her undergraduate studies at Queen’s University in Canada and graduated from Boston University with a Master’s degree in Communication.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Recognizing that parents are their child’s first and most important teacher, I scoured educational supply stores to find products to educate my toddler. After creating my own coordinated teaching tools and sitting down for 20 minutes a day, my son was reading by age 3. Realizing there was a gap in the market and recognizing the desire of parents to give their children a head start, I created the award winning product line of Teach My Learning Kits and Sets.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day is broken into two parts. Morning starts at 8am after school drop-off. I do all of my daily tasks, check and answer emails, put out any fires, post on social media and stay on top of customer service issues. I save my afternoons for big projects. I continue to dip in and out of my emails throughout the day but I like to dedicate afternoons to big picture items like new products, presentations, interview preparation and potential new sales channels.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My business partner and I sit down for coffee in a clutter-free zone and do a lot of blue sky thinking. We take a nugget of an idea and build on it, layer upon layer. We do a lot of competitive research and brainstorming. We draw basic designs and then send them to our product designer. He brings our visions to life and the files go to China to be prototyped.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The digital backlash! Parents are beginning to realize that phones and iPads for children under 6 years old are not always the best idea. We are pleased to see parents looking for screen-free alternatives to teach and interact with their children.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very good at picking myself up and dusting myself off! Over my 10 years as an entrepreneur, I have learned how to successfully rationalize failure and turn it into a positive. In business, I am a fairly optimistic person. This has helped in my relentless pursuit of bigger and better sales channels and contracts.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that I do have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. My dad was a ‘company man’. I grew up expecting to work for corporations. I am pleased that I found the self-confidence to build something from the bottom up!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There is no such thing as a favorite food! I believe food is linked to a time, a place, memories and the emotions felt when a food is eaten. Favorite foods are changeable. People can call something their favorite food but it is unlikely it will remain a favorite for a lifetime!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I work hard to know my numbers! It does not come naturally but I have learned over the years to think about the return on investment at every turn. I always mentor women business owners to get comfortable with their numbers and not to blindly agree to advertising and marketing deals unless the opportunity generates obvious ROI.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Early on in the retail game, I realized that it was much simpler to sell to large corporations then small specialty stores. Processing a purchase order takes the same amount of time and focus for both entities, so why not focus on getting large purchase orders from big companies. This strategy has been successful and explains why our top customers are Amazon, Walmart, Target, Staples, Bed Bath & Beyond etc.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Never mix politics with business! In 2009, at our first toy tradeshow in New York City, we displayed a banner stand of President Obama with one of his quotes about the importance of early childhood education. Being from Canada, we did not comprehend the size of the divide between USA political parties. Needless to say, we took the Obama banner stand down after one day and our booth foot traffic increased dramatically!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Somebody should create a healthy food line that is specifically designed for the movie theatre. Saturated fat laden popcorn, cheese whiz nachos and supersized boxes of candy just don’t cut it. There should be a line of food that is fun, flavorful and works in a movie theatre setting! Please someone, run with this one!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Every time I work with a social media influencer, I think money well spent! Mom bloggers have been instrumental in helping to grow my business. They can be as reasonable as $50 or as much as $500 depending on the number of followers and fans. It is important to be discerning when working with influencers, do your research but the gains and exposure for a small business can be phenomenal.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I love Hootsuite for scheduling tweets. There is a lot of negative chatter about scheduling tweets but for busy entrepreneurs, it is the best way to stay top of mind and be out in front of potential customers. Even one sale a day generated from a scheduled tweet makes it a worthwhile proposition!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Although my favorite small business book was published a few years ago, I still find it very relevant and useful. I constantly refer back to concepts discussed in Launch: How To Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond The Competition by Michael A. Stelzner. I especially like Stelzner’s views on relationship building, customer service and building a business around fulfilling the needs of others. I am also a big fan of Michael Stelzner’s Social Media Marketing blog. In a crowded space, his social media topics are always relevant and his readers always share insightful comments and tips.
What is your favorite quote?
“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” from German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Whenever I am in the midst of ‘putting out a fire’, I remind myself of this quote. I know every issue, failure and problem that I face in business will make me stronger and more prepared for the next one.
- Break your day into two parts. Use the morning for routine tasks and the afternoon for big picture projects.
- NEVER mix politics with business!
- Spend your next $100 on a social media influencer. Mom bloggers and product reviewers are affordable and can offer big exposure for a small business.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.