Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. Motivated by a deep passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 Penny founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and eco-friendly STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide. Penny has over 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, strategy, and finance.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I grew up in meager circumstances “out in the country” in a tiny town in Michigan, where I was the first of my extended family to ever graduate with a college degree. I’ve always found solace in nature. In college, I was drawn to the natural sciences and I eventually received a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. I worked as an environmental scientist with the National Park Service, working all over the western states. In 2008, I had my first child and like many new mothers, I re-evaluated my career. Motivated by a deep passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, I launched Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with monthly educational STEAM activities.
What inspired you to start your business?
I started my company, Green Kid Crafts, for many reasons. I wanted to help solve the “creativity crisis” facing our nation’s youth; I wanted to foster future environmental advocates; I wanted to help families spend quality, unplugged time together, learning about themselves and the world around them. As an environmentalist scientist, I immediately saw a need for a convenient solution that would allow families to spend quality time together enjoying screen-free, nature-based STEAM activities that fostered a child’s creativity and confidence. I knew the importance of making safer materials more accessible and was passionate about building a company to inspire the next generation of creative leaders that could serve as a model for environmental sustainability and corporate citizenship.
Where is your business based?
I started Green Kid Crafts out of my garage in Anchorage, Alaska in 2010. In 2012, I moved to the suburbs of San Diego, CA and it’s been flourishing in Southern California ever since.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
As an environmentalist scientist, I immediately saw a need for a convenient solution that would allow families to spend quality time together enjoying screen-free STEAM activities that fostered a child’s creativity and confidence while helping to raise the nation’s next generation of creative leaders. And like other parents, I wanted to make the most out of the limited time I had to spend with my kids, not scramble for ideas and spend hours researching and shopping for product supplies. I knew the importance of making safer materials more accessible and was passionate about building a company to inspire the next generation of creative leaders that could serve as a model for environmental sustainability and corporate citizenship. So, I started putting together craft kits for myself and my friends, and soon enough word spread and I found herself immersed in the concept full time.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
We have a very strong affiliate program that boasts thousands of influencers. We’ve nurtured this program since we launched and it’s been very effective at spreading the word about Green Kid Crafts. But first and foremost, we have an amazing product that kids love and which makes life easier for parents. We’ve always put product development first and marketing second.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge is juggling parenting and entrepreneurship, which can be very tricky. I knew that something had to give during a 60-hour work-week a few short months after giving birth to my second child. I knew there had to be another way to live with myself, be the mother I wanted to be, and also run a successful company. Since then, I’ve been able to keep to a 25-hour work-week by following some simple guidelines:
· I’m very disciplined and schedule out my work time in 15-minute increments. I do not work or look at my business email when I’m not working.
· I’m intentional about not being a perfectionist. You can waste a lot of time trying to make everything perfect when “good enough” will work just fine.
· I work from home and video conference and teleconference. I schedule in-person meetings only when necessary
· I delegate and hire support people and ask for help from my advisors, employees, family, and friends all the time.
How do you stay focused?
My main tool for staying focus is to practice self-care. Science shows that people that look after themselves and practice self-care are more productive and have better cognitive ability. My morning routine includes a morning trail run in nature, meditation, and journaling. My nightly routine includes painting and reading. I also make sure that I spend quality time with friends and family. Practicing self-care wasn’t learned overnight, though, and it’s a constant struggle to make my physical, emotional, and mental needs a priority. Self-care is a skill though, and by definition, a skill is something that can be improved!
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Here at Green Kid Crafts, we take the concept of sustainability seriously and we are the only kid's activity subscription box that focuses on this niche. As a values-driven company, Green Kid Crafts strives for sustainability and takes a step beyond to try and create positive change. This commitment to being a socially responsible, green company is at the heart of Green Kid Crafts and a part of every aspect of our work and this differentiates us from our competitors.
We are carbon neutral and we offset 100% of the carbon dioxide generated by our business. We minimize packaging and printing and use recycled materials. Our kits are bundled in special bags that are made of 100% recycled materials. And we integrate sustainability into our box themes as much as possible. Green Kid Crafts also gives back. We plant a tree for each online order and at least 1% of sales are donated to environmental organizations through our membership in 1% for the Planet. Our desire to benefit people and the planet is at the very core of our business, from our mission to the way that it is translated into action. Our mission to foster the next generation of creative leaders by engaging kids with the planet in positive, hands-on, creative ways has exposed hundreds of thousands of kids to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Our content marketing strategy has provided exceptional value to our business and it’s tied to our Pinterest page, which boasts over two million followers. We regularly post DIY science experiments, art projects, and thought leadership on our company blog, which receives hundreds of thousands of visits a month. For us, it’s worked to build trust, improve our brand awareness, generate leads and cultivate customer loyalty.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Be easy on yourself. Love yourself. Tell yourself that you are doing the best possible job that you can be doing. Celebrate your successes, both big and small. Take quarterly vacations so that you are able to re-energize. Take them by yourself, with family, and with your friends. Take them without your phone.
What’s your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
My favorite podcast is “How I Built This with Guy Raz.” It’s entertaining, accessible, and I love learning about the inner workings of businesses both big and small. As far as books go, I’m a huge reader and average a few books a week so it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite as it changes every time! Right now, I’m reading Melinda Gates The Moment of Lift and I love her message about lifting up women everywhere; her narrative leaves me feeling very empowered. One of my favorite business blogs is Entrepreneur. I receive the posts via Feedly and read them there. I find the content useful for my own learning, especially the marketing, PR and digital media ideas. My favorite app is probably Slack; it’s been a great way to organize my team’s conversations into separate private or public channels.
What’s your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
My favorite business tool is probably Google Analytics. It’s something that we use daily. It’s allowed us to get a deeper understanding of our customers and it provides the tools that we need to analyze our business data in one place. It helps us to make smart, informed decisions about Green Kid Crafts by helping us identify trends and patterns, problem areas and successes, and potential next steps.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Maxine Clark, fellow retailer and Chief Executive Officer at Build-A-Bear Workshop, is one female entrepreneur that I admire. I can relate to her story of leaving her career to start her own business and am so inspired by how she’s taken the child’s shopping experience to the next level.
What is your beauty routine? What are some of your favorite products?
I live in Southern California so my most used product is sunscreen! As for beauty products, I’ll always choose natural, non-toxic, clean beauty products above all else.
How do you balance work and life?
I try to practice balance by making deliberate choices about what I want in life, on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. Instead of just letting life happen, I am intentional about how I spend my time. I have a road map of what is important to me and then I commit to following the path. I also have a very strong support network I depend upon in good times and bad and this keeps me centered.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
As far back as I can remember, I always loved being outdoors. Being in nature reminds me of the beauty of life and instantly puts me in a place of gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find walking by the beach and hearing the sound of waves to be instantly calming and soothing. Spending time in nature gives me this sense that there is something greater than myself, that everything works in tandem with everything else. That everything (good and bad) happens for some greater reason. For me, it is one of the most reassuring things.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
My passions include environmental and youth advocacy, STEAM education, and international connections. I’m combining these passions into a new program that is part new product line, part project for world change. It will touch the lives of tens of thousands of youth across the globe.
Tentatively called “Kids Saving Critters,” the purpose of this project is to connect kids all over the world to learn from each other, help wildlife, and develop the skills to make the world a better place. Through online and offline opportunities, kids around the world will be connected through monthly STEAM activities linked to international conservation projects.
In 2018 we partnered with two international schools in Costa Rica and South Africa. We facilitated relationships between them and local wildlife parks and centers and sponsored wildlife field trips and internships. We’re using this model to develop connections in other countries and to further develop the product line component. In this age of global divide, I believe that art and science are the most powerful unifying force we have at our disposal, and I want to do what I can to put these skills in the hands of the world’s youth.
How can our readers connect with you?