Today on World Book Day, we’re toasting the success of literary entrepreneurs, the husband and wife duo of Jodie and Ben Cook.
Since launching her social media marketing company, JC Social Media, in 2011, Jodie has written five books on digital marketing. But there’s more.
While growing the firm to a staff of 15 and a 500-strong client base, Jodie noted the various ways different people set up their businesses. Along with Ben, they were inspired to launch Clever Tykes, a series of storybooks featuring positive, entrepreneurial role models for children.
Currently, at three books, the series includes the tale of Code-it Cody, a boy who learns to programme his own computer game. Through Cody’s experiences, young readers get to see the business spirit in action, and gain a fun insight into a skill that is becoming increasingly important across many industries.
At the start of 2017, Clever Tykes books, resources and a digital enterprise portal were delivered to all 23,000 primary schools in the UK. An Arabic publisher has also been secured, enabling the books to be translated and distributed across the Arabic-speaking world.
Jodie and Ben rounded off 2017 with the Midlands and national ‘Entrepreneurs’ Champion’ award at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards. And following that success, Jodie will be assessing the business adventures penned by applicants as part of the Awards judging panel in 2018.
We caught up with Jodie to find out more of the backstory to Clever Tykes, and to hear what the next chapter holds for this pioneering educational series.
What sparked the idea for Clever Tykes?
The idea to create storybooks to inspire entrepreneurship came after a meeting with a group of other young entrepreneurs. After running my social media marketing agency for just over a year, I was chosen to be an ambassador for the launch of the StartUp Loans company where I met another eleven young business people. We were all examples of people who had set up our businesses with less than £1,000. There were some very successful young people in the room, which happened to be James Caan’s office in Mayfair.
It turned out that all but one of us had a parent that had started a business so it was clear that having a role model in the family played a role in their success. After discussing it with my husband Ben, we decided to do some more research and found some good evidence to support the role of family influence and even fictional role models in determining career paths.
We tried to find great examples of entrepreneurs or business people in stories for children but there are very few. There are great role models for traditional jobs like Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder and children often have a reasonable understanding of what police officers, doctors and nurses do, for example. However, businesspeople are often portrayed negatively - think of Mr Burns from The Simpsons, Harry Wormwood (Matilda), Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) and Lord Business from The Lego Movie! We decided we could do something different, and Clever Tykes was created!
What was your favourite book as a child, and why?
It has to be the Famous Five books! I loved reading about their adventures and I know they had an impact on my mindset as a child, as did Mr Galliano’s Circus, which was another story by Enid Blyton. I read all of Jacqueline Wilson’s stories in my early teens and enjoyed the feisty role models she created.
Children form ideas about jobs and their future when they’re very young. It’s the same principle as introducing sport to children at a young age; it’s far easier to grasp new concepts during our formative years. Someone may have gone through sixteen years of formal education before even considering that entrepreneurship could be an option for them. We think that’s too late!
I don’t think that entrepreneurship needs to be seen as the alternative, high-risk option to a typical office job and career. The Clever Tykes stories provide some insight into alternative routes whilst developing enterprising behaviour in 6-to-9-year-olds.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt since launching Clever Tykes?
Creating the Clever Tykes series put us on a seriously tough learning curve! Coming from the fast-paced world of social media, we found we were entering very slow-moving sectors. We were entering the industries of publishing, education, public policy and banking in order to find sponsorship, develop products and reach schools and parents.
Fairly soon we realised that there was less competition when we were insanely ambitious. At first, we tried to find small, regional sponsorship deals, whereby a company would sponsor 5-10 schools with storybooks and teaching resources for enterprise education and their PSHE lessons. While this went well, we worked out that reaching the whole of the UK would take ages. We then focused our attention on finding a single sponsor to gift Clever Tykes storybooks and resources into all 23,500 schools in the UK.
It has also given us amazing PR, feedback and confidence to secure sponsorship partnerships in more countries around the world, so I’m now a huge advocate of thinking big and being insanely ambitious.
Seeing our storybooks on the shelves of Harrods and Selfridges was a surreal moment. Apart from that, it has to be the positive feedback from kids, parents and teachers about the stories. It’s wonderful to have created characters that children now read about and believe in, and who are creating positive changes in their behaviour. My favourite testimonial we have received comes from a mummy blogger and her daughter Eva:
“Personally, I think these books are fantastic. Eva’s attitude has changed since reading them. She has started putting a lot more effort into everything. Challenges no longer end in tears since Eva read the Clever Tykes books. Eva is stopping to think of ways she can solve problems rather than getting upset and feeling defeated. Definitely a sign the books have helped instil positive enterprising behaviour.”
What are the future plans for Clever Tykes?
We want to play a role in breaking the cycle of generational unemployment, be a force for social mobility and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. We are working on developing enterprising young people who see solutions instead of problems and who will work out how something can be done rather than giving up.
To achieve that we want to have our books taught in schools and read in homes all over the world. We’re currently in discussions with companies in the USA and Australia about rollouts there. There are 95,000 elementary schools in the USA… watch this space!You can find the series on Amazon here.