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When you were a kid, did you ever think about being an entrepreneur? For the women listening, what about you? Do you remember seeing examples of women in the workplace or starting and running large companies? My guest today realized there was a market for reaching, teaching and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs: young girls. Brian Weisfeld has helped build a number of well known, billion dollar companies like IMAX and Coupons.com. He is also the founder and chief squad officer of The StartUp Squad, an initiative dedicated to helping girls reach their potential and follow their dreams, whatever their passion is. Brian lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and two daughters, and you can find out more information about him at BrianWeisfeld.com and https://www.thestartupsquad.com/
Brian started and co-authored The Startup Squad to inspire girls to start their first businesses and start to think like an entrepreneur, with the thought that girls with an entrepreneurial mindset will be more successful in life, regardless of the path they choose.
Brian grew up on Long Island, and spent four years in Ann Arbor, Michigan for undergrad, and lived and worked in New York City for most of his career, helping entrepreneurs and founders scale their businesses.
In the early 1990s, the was part of a three-person team that bought IMAX when it was just being played in museums for educational purposes. His team realized that people were walking out of those theatres blown away by the experience. They saw beyond museums and thought about what might happen if comic book characters and action-packed movies were shown in IMAX.
About 13 years ago, Brian moved from New York City to Silicon Valley to work at this chief operating officer of Coupons.com. After helping grow and scale that business, he wondered what company he might grow and scale next.
At the time, Brian’s oldest daughter was 8-years-old, and he watched her sell Girl Scout Cookies and charity bake sales with enthusiasm, but no knowledge of how to successfully market and sell a product (something as simple as telling them that the proceeds from the sales would go to charity).
One Sunday morning while reading with his daughters, Brian was troubled by the marketing geared toward girls. It all talked down to girls, instead of lifting them up. In that moment, he decided to create a novel series to encourage girls to interest in entrepreneurship.
Brian spent four years learning how to write and literally bought “Writing Children’s Books for Dummies.” It was four years of a crash course in writing with classes, self-educating, and hiring editors. He was eventually able to sign a three-book deal with Macmillan. The first two books in The Startup Squad series has been released, and the third will be released in May of 2021.
Brian has always been interested in business and how things work. It’s safe to say entrepreneurship has been in his background, too. He was always interested in learning and he was fascinated by the success stories of people who built businesses from nothing.
In undergrad, he studied business and had plans for law school. It was just what everyone did. He realized while it would have been a good education on how to think, it wouldn’t give him the same knowledge that working for lawyers, accountants, and people in business would. After working for some time, he realized he wanted to build a company, which is what led him to the IMAX team.
The first book is about four girls in 6th grade and their class is going on a field trip and needing to raise money for the trip. Each team must run a lemonade stand, and whichever team raises the most money gets special VIP perks on the trip. The girls have to figure out how to work together, and the narrative is light on business, and heavy on the social side, which appeals to girls in that age range.
Each book gives lessons on business in the back of the book. There is a nonfiction section that refers to the story narrative with definitions of business terms and practical startup business tips. The back of each book also features an interview with a real-life girl entrepreneur. There is a contest each summer giving girls the opportunity to possibly be featured.
Brian new he wanted his books to be fiction, even though nonfiction would have been much easier to write! The thinking was never that every girl should grow up to be an entrepreneur, but that girls become comfortable with risk and failure and seeing them as opportunities instead of problems.
Brian knew a girl who picked up a nonfiction book about starting a business already had the “business bug,” but he wanted to do fiction to appeal to a wider audience. He knew a “story first” approach would get through more than a nonfiction educational book.
The Startup Squad is “girl targeted but boy inclusive.” The book is for boys too! It’s just as important for boys to read about girls being entrepreneurs as it is for girls! The reality is there are not as many examples of female entrepreneurs and business is modeled for boys much more that it is for girls.
Brian advises kids who are selling items to benefit a charity to not set a price, but just tell people what charity the proceeds go to, and people often give more than the price of the item the kids are selling.
When seeing what reading materials was available to his daughters made Brian want there to be more of a balance and more empowering material. All he was finding for them was books about princesses and fairy tales.
Fairy tales can be great for imagination but may not have the same impact as stories of women who have endeavored toward their own business goals. Not ever book needs a lesson, but it hit Brian that there was no balance of both options.
Brian notices a lot more by hearing the experiences of his daughters. Something as simple as soccer cleat selections in the store were communicating to his oldest daughter that she can’t have things she likes – like the turquoise cleats because they only come in boy’s shoe sizes.
Brian wanted to see more role models for his girls that show them they can do whatever they want. When a message starts to be repeated over and over again, it becomes ingrained. Brian set out to make sure his daughters and other girls could find the empowering messages too.
The second book in the series features Harriett, one of the four girls from the first book. She’s in a rock band with her brothers and the girls take over merchandising for the band. The lessons focus on negotiation, customer service, pricing, and the differences between revenue and profit. It’s introduced in a tangible, relatable and age-appropriate message vetted by children entrepreneurship experts.
The third book that comes out in May features the story of Didi, who is very artistic and starts creating wedding calligraphy for someone who is getting married. The party planner gets sick, so The Startup Squad comes together to take care of putting the wedding together for the couple. It focuses on girls discovering finding their passions and what they enjoy doing in business.
Find out what Brian would eat if he had to eat the same meal for dinner every night for the rest of his life, what his favorite TV show was growing up,
I am so excited to share The Startup Squad with you! Thank you, Brian, for creating a better balance of resources for empowering and encouraging young girls in entrepreneurship. You can find more about The Startup Squad series HERE and check to see if an independent, local bookstore carries the first book, The Startup Squad, and Face the Music. You can also find the books from Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble, Book A Million, and Bookshop. Be sure to mark your calendars for the release of the third book, Party Problems, on May 4th,2021!
8:26 – “This was going to be different from anything I’ve ever done before. This was going to be harder, I was going to fail, I was taking a lot of risk…I had to get comfortable with failing more than I had in a long time.”
15:15 – “The thinking here is not that every girl should grow up to be an entrepreneur, but that girls who run that first lemonade stand and get comfortable with risk and failure and see opportunities instead of problems, they’re going to be more successful in life if they have that skillset…”
16:10 – The way The Startup series works is that it’s a novel. It’s been described as The Babysitters Club meets Lean In.”
19:50 – “Seeing the world through my daughters’ eyes has really changed the way I view things.”
About Brian Weisfeld:
Brian Weisfeld has helped build a number of well-known billion-dollar companies including IMAX Corporation and Coupons.com. He is the Founder and Chief Squad Officer of The Startup Squad, an initiative dedicated to helping girls reach their potential and follow their dreams, whatever their passions. Brian lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and two daughters. You can check out thestartupsquad.com for more info.
Praise for The Startup Squad
“An inspiring story about entrepreneurial girls.”—Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby-Sitters Club series
“The Startup Squad encourages girls to dream big, work hard, and rely on each other to make good things happen. It teaches them how to succeed—and reminds all of us that girls mean business!”—Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org
“A great read that is fast-paced, fun, and empowering. The Startup Squad comes complete with a treasure trove of tips for starting a business.” —Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
About The Startup Squad:
Girls mean business in Brian Weisfeld and Nicole C. Kear’s Face the Music, the second novel in The Startup Squad series about friendship and entrepreneurship, featuring how-to business tips and a profile of a real-life girl CEO in every book!
Harriet’s brothers’ band, the Radical Skinks, are hoping to enter a local battle of the bands. Winning could get them on a reality TV show! But low funds have left them without the right equipment.
The Startup Squad jumps into action! Harriet, Resa, Didi, and Amelia quickly pull together to sell T-shirts to raise money for the band. It’s a great plan, until everything starts to go wrong. From ruined T-shirts, to musicians with stage fright, and money mishaps, these tasks aren’t easy. The Startup Squad will have to focus on each member’s strengths and act like a team in order to get their business back into the groove.
Thank you to our partners of the show:
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The Lemonade Boutique
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