Be thankful and show others you are thankful.
Richard A. Lena is a founder of the Brattle Publishing Group (BPG), a curriculum developer, and an instructional designer specializing in print and multimedia learning experiences for diverse audiences. For over 20 years, Richard has worked in publishing conceptualizing, designing, and managing the development of large-scale edof Instructional Technology at Houghton Mifflin Company’s School Division (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and the Senior Director of Curriculum Development at Classwell Learning Group, a Divi sion of Houghton Mifflin Company. Throughout his career, Richard has specialized in designing learning experiences that leverage technology to present difficult concepts in a clear and engaging manner. Richard holds a BA from Suffolk University and a M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Where did the idea for Brattle Publishing come from?
I’ve spent over 20 years in the publishing industry and have met and reported to countless professionals. These people have had an influence on me and my thinking around instructional and entertainment products. These individuals probably taught me one of the most important lessons, not to create something or do something just because “it is the way it is done.” Publishing is an industry steeped in tradition and company legacy. I founded Brattle Publishing Group (BPG) in 2009 to create products that motivate and encourage enthusiastic learning. I was determined not to recreate traditions and practices that no longer reflect today’s children. Therefore, BPG will be an innovative company that forges new and updated traditions.
I became an entrepreneur to bring back a love for learning and literacy that is too often missing from the ways we teach our children – and adults. BPG publishes children’s books and creates interactive, 21st century learning programs.
Our learning programs are comprehensive and can be used at schools, for home schooling, and for individual learning. One such program is our LEAP Into School! It is a research-based, multi-disciplinary program that supports preschool students in the areas of language acquisition, preliteracy, mathematics, science and social studies, fine and gross motor, and social and emotional skill development. The program utilizes everything from visual aids to mobile apps to equip our students with the skills they will need to succeed from an early age. I’m excited to be producing an educational program that goes beyond a one-size-fits-all approach, and considers each individual child in a holistic manner.
Additionally, our children’s books engage readers, while weaving in topics relevant to today’s 21st world. I’m a strong believer in the idea we, as humans, are drawn to stories. Our award-winning books use stories and characters to educate both kids and the adults who read to them about things like critical thinking, communication, diversity, and resiliency. These skills are useful for anyone, from children to CEOs.
I love to learn and want to share that love with others. That is why I founded Brattle Publishing Group.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There hasn’t been a typical day since I founded BPG. I’ve come to learn that is just part of the entrepreneurial experience. I think it is also due to the many areas BPG covers.
We have three distinct divisions: a consulting/content development division, an educational publishing division, and a children’s book publishing division. Each of these divisions is active producing and distributing products. They are also made up of individuals with distinct skill sets. Therefore, a “typical” day involves meetings with content developers, and designers, developers and vendors all working to forward the development of our various product lines. We also spend a period each day reviewing manuscripts and illustrations submitted and received each day.
And before I forget, running a small business requires me to be a fundraiser, spokesman, manager, and even an IT aid (still perfecting that one). To do what I love, and to share that love with others, I wake up every day knowing the only things “typical” will be that nothing is typical. I can, however, count on it being busy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In our children’s book division, we work with authors and illustrators who share BPG’s mission—not only to teach children how to read, but teach children to love reading. These creative and committed individuals work with us to create positive literature and products for children. They also draw inspiration from their own families and experiences. Our author Sam Valentino creates stories for his family and some of these have been turned into award-winning children’s books. Gary Karton, another BPG children’s book author, often draws on his experiences with dyslexia when visiting with kids and schools. He aims to show them that they too can follow and live their dreams.
In our educational publishing and consulting/content development divisions, we work with academics, researchers, and subject matter experts to create early learning products that are research-based and proven to improve children’s instructional outcomes. These individuals and our staff work together to develop and refine products that we are certain will succeed. I also work to ensure products under this division incorporate 21st century tools, such as the mobile app that accompanies our comprehensive LEAP Into School! program.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The increased purchasing power of ‘tweens’ children 9-12 and, subsequently, their development as discerning consumers. Today, children under 12 years old spend approximately $11 billion annually. With the tremendous purchasing power, it is no surprise that these children are also becoming discerning consumers.
Beyond my viewpoint as an entrepreneur, I strongly believe we need to invest this age group in understanding their own power. They will grow up with more technology than any of us ever did. My goal is to make them love learning, harness their abilities, and then unleash them for success as they mature into adults.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My philosophy is to work hard and have fun doing it. This is why I became an entrepreneur. I have a strong work ethic, which results in high productivity. I also tend to hire and work with those who share this work ethic resulting in a fun, but highly productive workplace. Creating a culture like that is well worth the price of the typical entrepreneur’s 80 hour work week.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked in the contract department of a small energy management company in the early 90s. I was hired to support a contract administrator who was not ready to supervise or manage employees. The results were disastrous for both of us and I left after my first anniversary with the company. This position taught me the importance of clear job descriptions, organizational planning, effective management, and project planning with clear task outcomes and guidelines established up front.
Most importantly, it taught me to do what I love and that is sharing my love for learning with others.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Always a difficult question because I do not like to look back. That being said, I would have paid closer attention to what made my various superiors successful and what they could have improved on. I would have liked to have had that entrepreneurial mindset from a younger age to begin building the foundations for my small business. It’s one thing to do what you love. It’s another to do it the right way.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be thankful and show others you are thankful. I think this is something I’m blessed to have through beginning my entrepreneurial journey with more work experience than is typical. I constantly thank my employees, vendors, and authors for their efforts and take the time to listen to them about what project processes and resources worked and also listen and understand those that did not. When people feel appreciated – and they always should – they are productive.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Never stray from your mission. I put everything I had into building Brattle Publishing Group with the mission to create products that motivate and encourage enthusiastic learning. From BPG’s children’s book authors, to our PR people, I only recruit those who love to learn and who will support BPG’s mission. This strategy has helped to keep our product lines focused to support our mission and has resulted in our authors becoming spokespeople for the company and our shared mission.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My mistakes are like those of thousands of other entrepreneurs—management issues, scope creep/budget overruns, careless vendor selections, etc. I think that my mistakes were all valuable lessons. In fact, learning to overcome obstacles has since been woven into both BPG’s children’s books and its educational programs. We will have more entrepreneurs than ever before over the next few decades. Teaching our future innovators to embrace mistakes and overcome them is an essential skill.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Building on the above, I’d love to see a way for entrepreneurs to share their mistakes and how they overcame them. It could be some type of app. Imagine that quickly accessible network! The next generation of entrepreneurs would know what to look out for, and could even receive mentoring from those who have been there.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
Brattle Publishing Group (BPG) is named after Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the company was founded.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use many different software and web services, but Adobe Business Catalyst for our eCommerce solution jumps out at me. Its simplicity around cataloging products, transacting sales, and helping us process those sales make it almost a turn-key solution.
As a publisher, we are also seeing the benefits of social media platforms. You don’t always think of Twitter when you hear educational programming, but it is a great way to connect with others who share a love for learning.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Last Akaway by Gary Karton, or The Silver Rings by Samuel Valentino come to mind. I know these are BPG published children’s books – and award-winning ones – but I would not be a good entrepreneur if I did not mention them.
Outside of those award-winning titles, I’ve found Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces to be impactful both personally and professionally. While it is mostly used for literary analysis, I have come to find that many of its major themes can be applied to important aspects of business: marketing, overcoming obstacles, building long-term plans, and sticking to your mission.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Albert Einstein – he believed “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales” and I could not agree more.
Geoffrey Canada – the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone has brought new impact to the way we educate. He motivates others to learn, and makes education relevant. His leadership and management styles are also inspiring.
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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.