I wish someone had told me how important a pre-launch is before an actual product or service is launched. It’s very important to fill a need for your target audience and to let them know it’s coming before it is actually here. My company created the first children’s picture book to teach all seven continents and one of the earliest picture books to have a Latina girl as the main character. Amy’s Travels was recently turned in a musical by the Latin Ballet of Virginia. We developed Tackle Reading, which is the first national educational initiative supported by the NFL. Finally, we have developed TRICK, the first literacy application to simulate the one-on-one instruction between teacher and student.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Starke. Kathryn is a national urban literacy consultant, former inner-city elementary school teacher, author, and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, a global literacy educational publishing company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kathryn! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
My father is an entrepreneur, and my mother is an early childhood educator. As the oldest of three girls, my parents raised us to be creative, independent, hard-working self-starters and encouraged us to be whatever we wanted to when we grew up. When I was not a student in school, I was playing school with my imaginary students in the evenings, on the weekends, and all summer. I spent my free time as a child making lesson plans, reading, dancing, singing, playing the piano, writing stories, or designing clothes for my pretend fashion business. By the time I was eleven-years-old, I started my business teaching five and six-year-old children how to read and play the piano. I created a flyer that I distributed around my neighborhood and received my first paying clients. I knew I was destined to become an elementary school teacher.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
When I was a classroom teacher in an inner-city elementary school, I was always writing stories, songs, poems, and raps to teach content to my students. When it was time for me to teach the continents to my second graders, all I could find were nonfiction books about each one. Therefore, I wrote Amy’s Travels based on the true story of my college suitemate who lived on five of the seven continents. I knew this story was different and could really be valuable in elementary school classrooms, so I sent the manuscript away to a local publisher. He loved the story but didn’t publish children’s books back in 2005. My dad told me to start a business, so I founded Creative Minds Publications to write, publish, market, and distribute my very first book.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Whenever I have an idea in my head, I instantly develop a step by step process to bring each idea into fruition. I first learned about the power of hard work and rejection when I was in third grade. These two components are inevitable in business in every industry. Therefore, I only focus on developing ideas that will help and support my target audience. I work every single day until my idea is in existence.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Financial security is the one thing that prevents people from turning their hobby into a career. I would encourage anyone to pilot their hobby or pastime in a capacity that best serves their ideal customer. For me, I scheduled classroom visits to read Amy’s Travels. I tell people to read anything and everything you can find as it pertains to your business, hobby, or industry. Be ready to work long hours and do whatever it takes to turn your hobby into a way to make a living.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I believe if you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s time to do something new. In my position, I travel around the country to work with new elementary schools and teachers each school year. I am always writing a new book, working with new authors, or creating new partnerships to make a bigger impact in urban literacy education. I have had the opportunity to work with organizations and companies including the NFL, Car Max Foundation, and Chicken Soup for the Soul to make a difference in reading education. There is always a new organization, new children, or new teachers to support, which keeps my work fresh and enjoyable.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love the flexibility and freedom to choose my own clients and partners. A downside of running your own business is the worry about finances so you are always working to build relationships and gain more educational clients. I continue to share my story and connect with more schools and organizations that would most benefit from my work as an urban literacy consultant.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
While I thought as a consultant, I would have more down time, I have found that my job is actually very similar to when I was an elementary school teacher because work is never done when the bell rings. I maintain constant communication with my schools and partners outside of school hours. Another thing that I have implemented in my business is that every keynote speech, presentation, professional development opportunity, lecture, or webinar is uniquely personalized for the school or client. This requires time but makes a big difference in getting results.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
I understand that the stability of “real” job can be very appealing, especially when it comes to a schedule and finances. It would be easy for me to say I’m going to go be an elementary school reading specialist again. Then, I remind myself how I am able to help so many more students, teachers, and schools through my company in my current position.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have had the most wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow authors and thought leaders within a variety of industries. One interesting story that happened was when I was honored as an urban literacy consultant in an educational event in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I was recognized right before the introduction of the keynote speaker for the evening, actor, author, and literacy advocate Henry Winkler. It is such a pleasure to be able to connect with well-respected individuals dedicated to education.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My first children’s book was printed in China over fifteen years ago. 1500 books arrived on time and in perfect condition to my home. After the copies of Amy’s Travels arrived, I received an email from an interested customer asking if she should buy the book from my website or a Chinese website. I had no idea what she was talking about until I googled the title myself. Sure enough, an illustrated page of my book with the text in Chinese characters was featured on a Chinese website. I learned that printers in China always make extra copies for them to sell themselves. While it was entertaining to see my children’s book was already international, I printed every other book since then in America.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Students and teachers continue to inspire me to grow into a great leader. My role as an urban literacy consultant is to motivate and support children of age all ages and teachers of all levels of experience. They make me want to be my absolute best so they can be successful themselves.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
There is so much work to do in urban literacy education. Whenever I can give a child the gift of reading, I know that I am helping them become successful, life-long learners. I have recently created a literacy application to teach the world to read, which would certainly help in making our world an even better place.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish someone had told me how powerful social media could be in sharing your story and reaching your target audience. Facebook was the only social media platform in existence when I started my business, and I was so disinterested in becoming online “friends” with people. I can say now that I have developed some incredible relationships with fellow educators through Twitter.
- I wish someone told me the power of a partnership. In order to make the largest impact, I have been able to partner with companies and organizations including Read to Them, the NFL, the University of Chicago, and Chicken Soup for the Soul to make a difference in literacy and urban education. I look forward to connecting with more companies and organizations committed to making a difference in literacy education.
- I wish someone told me how to fund-raise and gain sponsorship. Sports teams obtain sponsorship easily, which is not the case in public education. So many schools want to work with us and may not have a budget to support their literacy consulting needs. I would love to obtain sponsorship that would allow Creative Minds Publications, LLC to work with every school and teacher that requests support in reading education.
- I wish someone had told me how important a pre-launch is before an actual product or service is launched. It’s very important to fill a need for your target audience and to let them know it’s coming before it is actually here. My company created the first children’s picture book to teach all seven continents and one of the earliest picture books to have a Latina girl as the main character. Amy’s Travels was recently turned in a musical by the Latin Ballet of Virginia. We developed Tackle Reading, which is the first national educational initiative supported by the NFL. Finally, we have developed TRICK, the first literacy application to simulate the one-on-one instruction between teacher and student.
- I wish someone had told me the power of storytelling. As an author and publisher, I love writing and publishing books that teach life lessons through story. Telling your own life or business story can feel challenging. However, when you develop relationships with writers and storytellers in the media, you learn how to ask and answer questions that
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We are kicking off the 4th annual Tackle Reading day March 2, 2020. This is an annual philanthropic day promoting literacy with a passion for football supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni. To celebrate national reading month, NFL athletes, teams, and coaches visit their local elementary schools to read to K-5 children. We also have high school football teams visiting their local elementary schools for the same purpose. They use their own personal stories and football themed books to get children excited about reading. Each year, we continue to grow by adding a larger NFL presence and increasing the number of elementary schools and football teams on board coast to coast.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Reach for the moon. Even if you fall short, you’ll land among the stars.” Some people may consider me a dreamer or an idealist, but I believe anything you visualize in your mind can be created into existence. I imagine the best possibilities and know that if it’s not always 100% achievable, something even better for my business is in the works.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have a private meal with tech entrepreneurs and visionaries including Steve Case and Jeff Bezos to discuss collaboration on how to teach the world to read. I would also want to talk with Roger Goodell and Jay Z on how we can expand the Tackle Reading program in the fourth annual year to continue to make an impact in education and to inspire change in communities.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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