…Create a safe and clean world where children can be children. A world where they have the ability to explore, play, and be creative. Many children around the world are forced to spend their days working in terrible conditions, scavenge for food, and live in unimaginable environments. What a world it would be if all children were given the chance to just be little and explore a clean, safe world.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Vivian and Nicola Schmied — identical twins who founded the luxury children’s toy company, peter and pipa, Inc. Born in Austria, they grew up going on all sorts of adventures together — always imagining and creating. They hope to inspire children everywhere to play and imagine like they did growing up. Today their lives are taking them on a brand new adventure as each is anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first own little adventurer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
We have always loved to interact with children and see their little minds at work. It was during our February break of our first year in business school that we noticed our nieces and nephews were spending more and more time on tablets, phones, and watching TV and less time just playing, like we did growing up. Once we recognized this pattern in our own family, we saw it everywhere.
Both having a biology degree, it was second nature for us to start to wonder whether this lifestyle change impacts children’s lives. We started looking for research and very quickly found studies that confirmed that the significant increase in screen time can negatively impact a child’s development. Even more compelling to us were the studies that found a significant positive correlation between imaginative play and the development of countless lifelong skills including leadership, creative thinking, problem solving, and decision-making.
We started thinking of different ways in which we could foster imaginative play and bring children back to the simple art of playing. No TVs, phones or tablets. Just kids, being kids — going on adventures, being creative, and exploring their world. That’s how the idea for peter and pipa came to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we first started telling people about our idea for peter and pipa there were a lot of naysayers and people telling us that it “would never work.” Had we listened to them, we would not be here today doing what we love and feel so passionately about. Never underestimate yourself and listen to your intuition. Nothing trumps hardwork and a tenacious passion to make your vision a reality.
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?
When we first started peter and pipa, we thought we could cut and sew all of our products ourselves. Several hours into our first “sewing session”, we finished the first prototype. It was at this point we realized that we needed to stick with what we do best designing products, writing stories, and running the company. One product every 8 hours didn’t seem like a very efficient use of time. 🙂
Everyone cannot possibly be good at everything. It’s important to know your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses. Delegating work and recognizing strengths in others is crucial to running any successful business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have specifically focused on creating products that encourage children to use their imaginations and be creative without the use of technology– whether it be tablets, phones or televisions. Unlike most stories you read, our stories have no ending. They all end right at the climax of the story. This is where we believe the magic happens. We leave it up to the readers to transform into characters, using the special rhyme and our organic masks and toys, and come up with a unique way to solve the problem the protagonists face. The options are endless and the children can think of different ways to act out the endings everytime they read the story.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are constantly trying to further develop our idea and come up with new ways, stories, and products that will engage with children and promote creative thinking. We wholeheartedly believe that our products will help shape the leaders, problem solvers and decision makers of tomorrow.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Make sure all of our team members feel appreciated and recognized for the work they do. Treating your team with respect will translate into respect for you and your company and will make the team want to work that much harder to make the company a success.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Delegation is critical. You can not do it all by yourself. Assigning specific work to each employee’s strengths and then giving them the freedom to take ownership and complete it, will empower them and make your business more successful as a whole.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Our grandparents — they taught us the hard work, passion, and perseverance that is required to start a business. They started a company after the war with nothing and grew it to be the international corporation it is today. Having them to look up to and emulate has always given us that extra bit of motivation and drive to make it happen — no matter what obstacles we are faced with.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our products give children the opportunity to use their imaginations and develop their creativity. We believe that all children should have the possibility to play and explore the world to help them grow into full rounded individuals. We hope that each of our products promotes just that.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.
1. Be passionate. — Starting a business requires many long, strenuous days. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing it is easy to give up. There were many times, especially toward the beginning, when it seemed like hours of work yielded little results. Our passion for kids and creating something for them that would better their lives kept us going.
2. Do the right thing. — Often times the easy road is not necessarily the right road. Stand by your values and principles. When we started this company we set out to make products in the United States out of solely organic materials and books and packaging out of recycled materials. Although these factors have proven to be quite challenging and costly, it is imperative to us that our consumers are proud and excited to bring our products into their home.
3. Listen, listen, listen. — It’s so important to listen to the people working with you and your consumers…even if they are only 5 years old. 🙂 We have gotten invaluable advice and suggestions from children. Don’t ever underestimate the power of listening.
4. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn. — Making mistakes is inevitable — We sure made our fair share. However they have also led to the most valuable lessons. Mistakes are opportunities to grow and become better.
5. Nothing beats hard work. — Many factors can help you start your business and make it successful but nothing beats putting in hard work and energy. And lots of it!
You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
Create a safe and clean world where children can be children. A world where they have the ability to explore, play, and be creative. Many children around the world are forced to spend their days working in terrible conditions, scavenge for food, and live in unimaginable environments. What a world it would be if all children were given the chance to just be little and explore a clean, safe world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams. ― Oprah Winfrey
We have always dreamt of starting a business together that would positively impact people’s lives. While starting peter and pipa, Inc. was incredibly exciting, it was also very daunting. We knew however we had to take the leap and go on this adventure together.
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 🙂
We would love to meet Reese Witherspoon. She has been a long time champion of literacy and a book lover herself. We’d love to be able to learn how her love of books began, how reading and thinking creatively has impacted her life, and how she believes reading and imaginative play can impact children’s development.