Julie Clark On Building A $23 Million In Revenue Company that Disney Turned Into $300 Million in 2 Years
Manage episode 260081364 series 2661367
Former school teacher, Julie Clark hit the jackpot when she created enriching entertainment videos for her kids, in her basement. It turned out, other babies loved it too. Within five years, what was a fun side project grew into a $23 Million dollar generating business which had only five employees, that Disney acquired for $25 Million. Within a few years of selling to Disney, the company was producing close to $300 Million, which was an incredible validation of the value Julie created but during that period, the incredible highs were soon met with a devasting low. She was diagnosed for a second time with cancer, though this time Stage 4. The mother of two entered into the battle of her life and focused all her energy in recovery and healing. And won. She is back at it again, with WeeSchool which aims to guide parents on how to enable your child’s growth with simple everyday practices you can do in the home. Her inspiring story will give you hope and guidance on how to push through anything in your life.
In this episode you will learn about:
- Building companies
- The power of the mind
About Julie Clark:
Julie Clark disrupted the child entertainment industry by creating high-quality audio and video productions for very young children, with a focus on exposure to the arts. This basement start-up grew to $25M in sales in 5 years, then to $300M in sales after its sale to Disney. Not bad for a full-time mom and former teacher.
Currently, Julie is focusing on making smart parenting simple with WeeSchool which provides information to new moms and dads about the parenting journey and how to help babies and toddlers thrive. The program contains a complete curriculum for new parents, delivered by app. Content includes milestone info & tracking, daily activities, videos, e-books, music and word cards.
Before launching Baby Einstein, Julie Clark was a school teacher.
Connect with Julie Clark:
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Tanya: Literally, you could be the poster child or poster adult for this show.
Julie Clark: I don’t know about that.
Tanya: Your life journey, if I think of one word for you, it really is unmessable. You literally take opportunities as they come at you and you transform them into something that is a gift to the world which we’re going to get into in a second. Julie, I’m just curious; what kind of child were you?
Julie Clark: I’m an only child. I was a very quiet child, very introverted, and quite shy. I was really lucky to have wonderful parents that traveled with me a lot though which was excellent and exposed me to a lot of different cultures which was really great. My father’s from Germany; my mom is from Italy. That was really nice. I had that opportunity. I also grew up in a very practical, somewhat blue-collar household.
This is a really funny little story that yesterday somebody handed me a thank you note that they’d written for me. They had a stamp on it and they hadn’t popped it in the mail yet, so they just handed it to me. She’s like, “Oh here; here’s the thank you note. I didn’t mail it yet, but I’ll just give it to you.” I said, “You know what the great thing actually is; I’m going to actually save this stamp because that’s who I am. I’m going to use this stamp since you didn’t use.” It’s just funny. That was really the practicality of the household that I grew up in.
I have parents who did not themselves go to college but choose to really make that something that was important to them to give to their own child. I would say I grew up a pretty quiet kid, but with a focus and understanding that was an expectation of me that I pursue something that I was passionate about. It was pretty exciting because I had parents who supported my love for the arts, particularly my love for writing and literature. It was nice to have that.
I would say that’s not always the case for a lot of people where you may say, oh well, I’m an English major. People say, really, what are you going to do with that? My mom and dad were terrific. They always believed in me and suggested that I take that passion that I had for things again like the arts and try to pursue it in a way that not only inspired me but might inspire others to also appreciate the same things.
The idea was great. I ended up pursuing a career in education. That was terrific. Initially became a teacher of high school, middle school English and art; really loved that.
Tanya: That’s interesting because today we actually went to tour some – in the morning, some schools for our kids. We’re at that point now. My kids three, but I have to start thinking about a year ahead. We’re in New York City.
Julie Clark: Of course.
Tanya: It gets a little crazy. I was just speaking with one of the teachers today. She was a second-grade teacher. I said, “What are some of the challenges that you face today in teaching these second graders?” She said, “Honestly, it’s not so much the challenge of teaching the kids but rather retaining their attention because of the influence of technology and they’re so used to be entertained all the time that it really takes something to get them focused and attentive, and on point.”
Julie Clark: Absolutely, not just the kids but the parents. No offense to any parents out there; I’m a parent myself, but we live in such a world that’s so busy now and so chaotic. Like you say, the opportunity to be entertained 24/7 has gotten a little bit ridiculous particularly I think for our children who – yesterday, I happened to be with a friend who has a four-month-old. I spent a couple of hours with this baby babysitting. I was reflecting on what it’s like to be a tiny little kid today because it’s so different than it was even when my own children were little.
My kids are now 21 and 24. The world was such a different place 21 years ago. I agree; I think the challenges for teachers are much greater than they ever have been before. In some ways, when I reflect on the success that I had with Baby Einstein 20 years ago, I’m not so sure that I would have enjoyed the same success today with all of the kinds of entertainment and types of entertainment and opportunities for entertainment that exist. It is a different world for sure.
Tanya: Yeah, well the timing plays a huge part in one’s success; no doubt about that. Even today, I have three daughters, we know pretty much all of the segments of Baby Einstein. We religiously look at them.
Julie Clark: Thank you.
Tanya: Somehow as a parent, I feel less guilty having them watch Baby Einstein as opposed to something else. There’s that; it makes me feel better. How did you segue between – from your teaching path to the entrepreneurial world?
Julie Clark: Sure; I left classroom teaching when I became pregnant with my first child. I really had a desire to stay home with my kids and do the full-time mom thing. I found as many of us do inherent challenges in that. If you’re a professional and are very used to, and particularly maybe in a way being an only child, particularly being very used to being independent, and doing what you want to do.
Suddenly, you have this constant demand on you 24/7 from somebody that you love more than you’ve loved anyone in your whole life, and yet, this challenge of what do I do? How do I make this a great opportunity for her? How do I survive it myself? I feel like it was really wonderful for me because I had this opportunity to do both.
At the time that I decided to stay home and was with my daughter, I began to be very interested in early childhood development because I was living in that world. While my previous education had been to teach those who were in secondary and middle school, I suddenly became very interested again because I was a mom of a baby. I thought, okay, what do I do to help my daughter have all the best opportunities and all the right kinds of exposure to all the best things? What occurred to me and it still occurs to me today is in some ways very sad and very telling is that as humans, we give birth to these babies and every one of them is an amazing little opportunity. Every baby born can be exposed to and given access to just the very best stuff. Yet, we live in a world where we give them garbage and we give them junk much of the time.
At the time that I started Baby Einstein, which again, was gosh more than 20 years ago now, there was very little by way of entertainment for children. At the time, there was Barney, and there was Tuck Tuck, and that was it. There was Sesame Street as well, but my daughter was really too little for Sesame Street. She was teeny tiny.
I started recognizing that there was this need in the market that I as a parent couldn’t be the only one out there looking for something really terrific. I recognized that I had the passion and the love for something that enabled me to come up with creative ways to teach that to a baby. This idea that I know what my baby likes looking at and I know that I can make that happen for her because I entertain her all day. If I can entertain my own baby, I bet I can entertain others.
Long story longer, sorry about that, I went in my basement, started figuring out, okay, what is it my daughter likes looking at, and started collecting these things on a tabletop, and just started playing around and shot some video, and worked on my home computer to try to edit it together in a way that would be fun for her and exciting for her. I found that her response to it was phenomenal. This beautiful visual content that was a lot like reading a book except it moved and it had sounds. My initial idea and the thing that at the time actually put a trademark on was this idea of a video board book. The idea that I could take all of this imagery that I normally would show to my daughter in a book, and then set that imagery to classical music that I knew was going to stimulate her brain and encourage her to love something that I loved and felt really good about.
Much like you suggested, you felt good giving your child exposure to this. If you were going to pop in the shower and needed to put something on to make your daughter happy, or your daughters happy, you felt pretty good that it was at least classical music. It was at least beautiful imagery and not Sponge Bob for a two-year-old.
Tanya: Oh no, absolutely, 100%. How did you move from doing something fun to entertain your daughter while you pop in the shower – which thank God, every mother needs to shower at some point. How did you move from this is a fun entertaining thing for your child to oh my God, wait a minute, I think that there’s an actual business here?
Julie Clark: What happens I believe to a lot of entrepreneurs is that you come up with an idea, and you really believe in it, and you think about it for a long time. God knows many of us have great ideas that we think about for a long time and don’t do anything with them. I was so driven because I wanted this for myself and my child. I think that’s really the story of so many entrepreneurs that we see a need in the marketplace and we want it for ourselves. We don’t understand why it doesn’t exist.
Then what happens, at least what happened to me is that you begin investing in your idea; not only from a financial position but from a personal position and from a time perspective. You start putting energy into this idea that you have. The more energy that you put into it, and the more thought that you put into it, and then the more money you put into it – and for me, it wasn’t a lot of money in hindsight, but at the time it was certainly a lot of money. To make the very first Baby Einstein video, I spent about $15,000 which was truly half of my salary as I a teacher. At the time, I was making say $30,000 a year as a teacher before leaving to stay home and half of that was invested which was again a ton of money for me at the time in that first Baby Einstein video.
Again, what happens is the more investment you make, the more you care about it. Then that investment becomes again not just financial and not even just a time thing, but in many ways, it becomes almost an ego thing. You start telling people you’re doing it. Now, you really have to stand behind your idea because you don’t want to quit; you don’t want to be a failure. There’s a lot that goes into this entrepreneurial experience I think. It’s certainly something that I learned and that I wasn’t I would say born with. It really is something that came about.
Then as with most entrepreneurs, once you have success at something, you think, oh my gosh; I like this. I can do this again. You do it again, and at least in my case you do it again, and you do it again. Then at some point, you go, what am I doing? Why am I still doing this? Why did I not retire?
Tanya: Yes, entrepreneurship is so unbelievably addicting and even more so than the results, I think for most founders it’s the journey. It’s the problem-solving. It’s the going to market with a product and really building it into a vision and executing on that vision. It’s like a drug.
Julie Clark: Absolutely it is.
Tanya: When I think about Julie Clark, I don’t necessarily think about you and your background as the typical businessperson and entrepreneur which is interesting because you’ve had tremendous success. You are a serial entrepreneur now and have created all types of products that have a – that make a real difference in the world. Even after 20 years post the conception of Baby Einstein which is a testament to the impact of the products that you launch and that you build, the brands.
Julie Clark: Thank you.
Tanya: In looking back on your journey, what do you think has been at the source of your success?
Julie Clark: Oh gosh, I would say this commitment and love for what I do and this belief that I really am making a difference. I feel that even still more than 20 years later, I find myself responding on a weekly basis at least to families who write and say, wow, thank you so much for what you did. Thank you for giving me as a grownup an appreciation for exposure to something like Mozart which was never in my house before, but now which my family listens to. Not that I’ve made this happen, but sometimes, I’ll hear from people that say, oh my gosh, my daughter plays piano. She was totally into it because she listened to Baby Beethoven when she was little. Stuff like that makes you feel great.
I would say the impetus for all of the businesses that I’ve been involved in has been this love for children and this belief again as I said earlier that every child has potential. Every child has an opportunity. We as the parents of those children and caregivers of those children have such a responsibility. It’s harder and harder as we live in a world that’s more and more hectic, with more people being single parents, with more women working or men working, or inability to stay home with your children because maybe it’s too expensive to do so.
I believe that part of my lesson and part of my reason for all of these businesses is to help parents do a good job. I feel like I’ve done a great job with my own kids; doesn’t mean that I’m the greatest parent in the world, but I’ve done a great job with my own kids. I have found that I seem to have a capacity to create things that benefit children and families. That is a really wonderful driver to continue to create these things.
Tanya: I was just going to say every person has a different motivation. It sounds unquestionable that the love that you have for your children but also for children in general and the love that you have for teaching has really been the driver in you building all these incredible products.
Julie Clark: It has; thank you. Yes, for sure.
Tanya: Here you are, you sold Baby Einstein to Disney for $25 million which is unbelievable especially with only a $15,000 investment into the business. That’s a very nice ROI. From what I understand, you were – you stayed on for a few more years and continued to launch various products under Disney through their partnership. Within a few years, were able to turn your – at the time, I believe your $23 million-dollar business into almost something close to $300 million in revenue.
Julie Clark: Yeah, it’s crazy. I honestly have to give Disney credit for that growth. Because first of all, was it remarkable that I was able to grow a company with $25 million from a little tiny startup in my basement? Absolutely. Even more remarkable, I only had five employees when I sold the company. It was teeny tiny. Acronyms like ROI meant nothing to me as an English teacher at the time, so it’s funny. I’m like oh, look how smart I am; now I know what ROI is.
Again, I have to give Disney credit. You know what kind of marketing machine that is. Could they have done it without me? Absolutely not. Could I have made it a $250, $500 million-dollar business without them? Nope, I couldn’t have. I have to give credit where credit is due. I was the initiator of that business and am so proud of that.
Tanya: Yeah, absolutely. No, it sounds like the absolute perfect partnership fit. I’m curious; what was your state of mind as you were building Baby Einstein presale and after-sale?
Julie Clark: You know what’s funny, I recently was commenting to my husband about what a poor job we did of recording our growth in photos, or videos, or even awards won. I just received notification that I received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Michigan State University where I went to school. I was filling out this application – or not application but filling out this questionnaire about previous things in my history as a business person. I literally don’t even have a list of awards that I won which is ridiculous.
I was so busy. I was a full-time mom. I had another baby in the course of creating Baby Einstein and growing it in those five years. I had two little tiny girls and I was still an at-home mom even though I was running this company. It was such a constant moving target. I was constantly creating, constantly thinking, going to tradeshows, breastfeeding my babies, all the things that we do when you’re – you’re a mom; you get it.
Tanya: I get it.
Julie Clark: The most important thing to you remains your children, but at the same time, I had really given birth to another baby. I was nurturing and caring for Baby Einstein at the same time I was caring for my own babies. It was just a flourish of activity all the time for five years. It was so much fun.
Again, I feel like I have been given such an incredible gratitude for what happened to me. Not only again as a parent having two healthy, happy children, but also having created this business. It was just so busy. It was so immediate, and instant, and insanely successful that – it sounds ridiculous when I say that to people, but it really was that way. It was great.
Tanya: How did your state of mind change after the sale?
Julie Clark: Oh, my goodness, I have to say I am not at all obviously unhappy having sold the business. I’m thrilled that I sold the business. It was a great partnership with Disney.
Somebody once said to me, “When you sell Baby Einstein to Disney was it like your baby growing up and going away to college?” I said, “It was more like my baby growing up and getting on a spaceship and going to Mars.” It was so different.
The way that I created product for Baby Einstein was very different from how Disney was doing it. No longer would I go into my basement with my friend Mark who did all my editing, and put a puppet on my hand, and start making a puppet show. It was no longer like that. Now there was suddenly this need to get approvals from corporate. There were several many hundreds of people it seemed like at least involved in decisions that were being made. Those were no longer just my decisions which was hard.
Again, as an independent person and when you’re a teacher as well as when you’re an only child, you spend a lot of time making your own decisions. You run your own classroom or you run your own life. Suddenly, I have given that over to someone else. It was hard. I won’t lie; it was hard. It was great and it was difficult. I had both. I was really on the fence. Sometimes it was tears and sometimes it was laughter, but in the end, all of it was good.
Tanya: Yes, now it’s interesting because a lot of the founders that I speak with that sold their business whether they stay on for a transition period or not, the transition period is always a little bit painful because of what you’re pointing to. It’s you’re not running the show anymore. You now have to adhere to a larger corporations’ guidelines and procedures of how to launch stuff which is like a death to most to most entrepreneurs.
Then an interesting thing happened to a lot of the founders that I know once they exit the business fully. Maybe they remain in an advisory compacity, but once they mostly have their own time for themselves, I don’t know if you went through this, but they experience a loss of self, a loss of identity because they invested a little bit what you were pointing to earlier, so much time and love and money and everything. Their life, their identity becomes this business.
Julie Clark: Yes.
Tanya: To sell it and give it away, or send it to Mars, and then you’re here. You’re like okay, well, my baby’s gone. What do I do? Who am I? What am I good at? There’s a long process that happens there.
Julie Clark: Absolutely; and I think that’s why so many of us as entrepreneurs end up pursuing another career, another idea. For me, yes, that certainly did happen. The first idea that I felt strongly about pursuing, as strongly as I had if not more so than what I did with Baby Einstein was this idea of how do we keep children safe? Not only as a responsibility to expose our children to the right things and give them the right nourishment whether it’s academics nourishment or physical body nourishment. How do we keep our kids safe? This was something that began to occur to be as my own kids got a little bit older and entered elementary school.
I started thinking, okay, well, they’re not with me all the time anymore. How do I give them the information that they need to protect themselves should they ever be any circumstance that was difficult or dangerous? That’s how the idea for my next “company” although it was completely non-profit, The Safe Side started. As I was working a little bit still on Baby Einstein but becoming less and less involved as Disney became more and more involved, I began to think more about this idea of child safety and came up with this idea for The Safe Side which was two videos that I created with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Worked really hard to make something very unique which I think I did and create a curriculum around that idea of child safety.
The Safe Side is a very little video series with some music involved that helps kids understand how to stay safe with people they don’t know, and strangers on the internet, and people they kind of know. Then I was able to make that available to everybody via YouTube, and again, a curriculum available to schools. It was something that I could get very committed to and very much behind as I began to lose my grip on Baby Einstein more and more. As that baby took off and became a Martian, this is who I have here on Earth. Okay, let’s concur and attack something different. Again, for me, that was child safety and this idea that I could do something to really benefit all kids and all families again.
Tanya: Safety for kids is a constant worry for parents and a huge value add. Something that really moved me about your story is the children’s book that you authored called, You Are the Best Medicine. Actually, I’m hoping that I’m not going to start crying now. You went through a really challenging roller coaster ride with your health. You are a two-time cancer survivor, the second time Stage IV breast cancer.
It’s really amazing what you’ve been through. To think that you wrote a book titled, You Are the Best Medicine, a children’s book that is designed to help children understand when somebody that they love has cancer and more importantly how you can – how the children can help them smile is just so touching. Can you talk a little bit about that and how your health and really your whole journey impacted you, and your husband, and your family?
Julie Clark: Absolutely; in the course actually of working on The Safe Side and beginning to depart from Baby Einstein, I was diagnosed with Stage I at the time breast cancer; that was in 2004. I think that it’s interesting because, for me, I was all about attacking this, getting it out of me. Feeling like I had no control was very difficult for me.
That first time around, I said, okay, this is it. I can’t deal with having this disease. This is not a part of my plan. I went in, I had a double mastectomy. I had the surgery that was quite extreme, and came out of that very quickly, and felt good, and stopped thinking about it and moved away from breast cancer and cancer in general as quickly as possible and continue with my journey of my life.
What am I going to do next? How am I going to keep working? How am I going to keep being a great mommy? We took our kids out of school and we started homeschooling. We were traveling around the world. We were having this most amazing life.
In the course of that journey, I think what happened is I didn’t learn the lesson. I didn’t learn the lesson that cancer came to teach me, the [00:28:46] teacher that she may be. I think I just – I said, okay, this is it. I’m just going to move away from it. I’m taking it out and I’m moving away.
What I found, unfortunately, was that 4.5 years later as we were traveling around the world and homeschooling our girls, I received a wake-up call which was guess what? You don’t have Stage I cancer anymore because you couldn’t listen. You didn’t learn any lessons from that, so now, here’s a Stage IV disease. Which as you know and many of your listeners know, there’s – when you are diagnosed Stage IV, you’re considered never curable. Typically, the outcome is not good. Typically, it’s not even longer than a two-year life expectancy.
I was obviously devastated. We had to stop our world tour of educating our kids about everything that existed in the world. Came home and got serious about taking cancer seriously. I had more surgery, and chemotherapy, and a whole bunch of other yucky stuff. I just decided that this was something that I couldn’t let go. This idea that everything that we experience has a lesson to teach us.
Look, I would not say cancer is a gift. I would never say cancer’s a gift because I wouldn’t give it to you, but it’s definitely a teacher. I thought to myself, okay, what has it taught me? One of the things that it taught me was you just keep going. You just do your best. What I recognized was that my own daughters couldn’t be left with this sense of helplessness. They had to understand that they were part of what I was fighting for. They were part of what was keeping me alive and causing me, helping me to fight this disease.
I thought to myself, okay, I need to communicate this to other children; not just my own but to other children in the world. I need to help parents who may not have the ability to communicate that in an effective way to their own kids. Let me do this. I know how to create products for children. I know how to get those products to market. Let me make a product that will help other parents with this situation and in this situation and other children in this situation, and so I wrote a children’s book. It’s called, You Are the Best Medicine that helps parents give their children a way to help them.
Because we all feel as both children and adults, but we all feel the sense of helplessness when someone is given a diagnosis like that. What can I do? To me, that was, you can love me. You can’t give me the medication, but you can climb into bed with me. You can rub my feet, or read me a story, or help me pick out a wig, or a scarf to cover my head, or bring me tea when I’m not feeling well. You can’t catch this from me. This isn’t a disease that you can get from being near me, so cuddle with me and love me. That became again the impetus for creating something new.
Here I am 10 years later having no evidence of disease which is really remarkable and something that I never take for granted. This gift of life makes me feel like I need to keep doing. It actually then became the reason for the company that I’m involved in now which is – look, you can’t just recognize that you have a gift and then stop. If you have a gift that is giving to others, keep giving.
Part of that may be the reason for my healing; I don’t know, but I have to believe that I’m still here for a reason. God knows, I literally was just saying to somebody the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason, let me slap them first because there’s certainly not – that certainly doesn’t always seem to be the case. I do believe that I am here still and there must be a reason for that. I continue to search for that reason and continue to make things that I can help families and children because so far, that’s been the gift that I’ve been able to give back.
Tanya: A tremendous gift. First of all, just for – I connected deeply with You Are the Best Medicine because my twins – so I have three kids: a three-year-old and two 18-months old. They were born prematurely. They were in the hospital for a very long time: one 180 days, the other one 129 days. There were times where I literally could not peel my body off of the bed because we were – it’s just so much going on in our lives at that time.
We didn’t know if my not one, but two children would make it. They went through heart surgeries. One of my daughters didn’t breathe on her own for 210 days and the other one 100 days and had feeding tubes for 300 days. I was an extended journey of constantly having to think about being – well, first of all, surviving. Then one of the things that helped me to survive was my three-year-old.
At the time she was two. I think she knew that something had happened because I went away to the hospital and she saw me there. Then I came back and I took a little bit of time to heal, so I couldn’t pick her up. I had a C-section. I know she noticed something, but I didn’t come home with babies and suddenly I was gone a lot.
Anyways, she was by far my best medicine. Out of everything that I did, she just brought a tremendous amount of relief. The gift that you continued to have through the products that you launch is just so inspiring.
Julie Clark: Thank you and God bless you, man. You have been through the wringer. I honestly having two little kids myself about – well, not quite as close together as yours; close I guess. I can’t even imagine what that was like because the way that you feel about the older child, your older child who doesn’t have any issues going on but she’s constantly trying to figure out what is going on and she’s still a baby really. She’s still only two or 18-months.
It’s pretty crazy. Yeah, it’s a challenge. When you come out of it on the other side and the kind of gratitude that you have is quite enormous. Trying to remember that every day even when you – a rock hits your windshield and you’re like what? Then I think really that is so small; that is so tiny. Thank you, God, for just being a rock on my windshield.
Tanya: Exactly, and just wondering as you were going through all of these health challenges, how were you – who were you being to really lead your family through this, your kid through this, your husband? Because you’re not only dealing with your own concerns, you are navigating your children’s concerns, and your husband’s concerns, and your parents’ concerns. Who were you being in those moments that you were going through that?
Julie Clark: I was being so freaking strong because I couldn’t go to the dark place. I couldn’t allow my kids to go to the dark place even though they did. The reality is the second time that I was diagnosed when it was Stage IV, my oldest daughter was 13. She was obviously aware and now has told me almost 10 years later, she has told me, look, I would look at the stuff on your desk. I would read the reports. I would go online and read about what you had. Even though you didn’t tell us that you could die, I was reading that.
I couldn’t tell my kids that. I couldn’t say, mommy has a disease that can’t be cured. That was just not even in my vocabulary. It’s hardly in my vocabulary now. I find myself just choking up thinking about it now.
Thank God for my husband who is the most optimistic and strong person. We literally never had the conversation. We never sat down and said, okay, so if I die, who’s going to take care of the kids? That never even was part of my vocabulary. I just said, “That’s not me. I’m going to do everything I can. It may not go the way that I want it to go, but I’m not going to think that.”
I’m just going to think about the good ways it can go. I surrounded myself with wonderful people. I have amazing friends. I have a best friend that just was there for me unbelievable. People that I just can’t even tell you how close I am and how much I appreciate them and love them now for how they were for me then.
I was just a strong person. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t face it. Maybe that makes me weak; I couldn’t deal with it. I just said that’s not me. I’m going to do everything I can. I’m going to advocate for myself. I’m going to find my own clinical trials.
I’m not going to read the negative stuff online. Tried to find positive stuff online about Stage IV disease and there’s not a lot out there. I just said, okay, I’m not reading that stuff. I’m only reading the good stories. Don’t tell me about your cousin who died of breast cancer. I don’t want to hear about here. I want to hear about your sister who survived it.
It’s been hard in that I feel to this day on a daily basis a good deal of survivor guilt. I’ve lost a number of friends. I have a number of friends that are currently battling the disease because as many people do, I’m sure your circumstances are the same, I’m sure you know a lot of other women now who are moms of children who have had to stay in the hospital for extended lengths of time. You just start teaching out to other people in your group. Then you feel like, why is it that I got to live and that someone else didn’t? I don’t know the answer to that. It’s crazy. God knows the answer I guess, but I don’t.
There’s a good amount of that I think that goes around which is again, this guilt that you feel. Then you think, okay, how do I not feel the guilt? All I can do is make a difference while I’m here. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. I could walk out in the street and get hit by a car, but right now I’m here. What can I do to make a difference?
Tanya: Yeah, and it sounds like you have intentionally asked yourself that question: how can I use my life to really have a meaningful impact? With your gift and your deep understanding of children and especially young children’s development, you’ve really been able to create several products that just make all the difference.
Julie Clark: Thank you so much.
Tanya: In thinking about your entrepreneurial journey and beating cancer two times, how has those life events influenced your thinking on leadership? What I mean by leadership, it’s who you’re being to be able to create all these businesses and all these products that make a difference and who you’re being to be able to navigate your family through these incredible challenges, so really being a leader?
Julie Clark: That’s a tough one.
Tanya: It’s a tough one. Frankly, Julie, this is why this topic is so fascinating to me because, without a question, there are people that experience life differently than others. Why is it that somebody going through the same situation you are would discuss death, would prepare for that, and eventually end up in that position whereas you did not even want to invest any thought or time into thinking that is an option, but rather, invest all of your energy and all of your thought in how do I heal my body?
It’s a mindset. It’s a different way of thinking that really people have. I’m curious. This is why the questions around your mindset, and your journey, and how has that really guided or trained you to deal with adversity?
Julie Clark: I come from some really strong parents, particularly my mom. My mom is such a badass. I feel like I grew up as an optimist; a realist, but also an optimist, and always believe that you can look, this isn’t unique, the glass half full, glass half empty.
There are two things you can do in your life. You can say, yes or you can say no. You can go for it or you can choose to not go for it. You can choose to lay low. I think good leaders listen, and they see, and they are open to looking at the world a different way which is certainly how I looked at the world when I considered classical music for babies. Nobody had ever thought Shakespeare for baby. It was something most people hated in high school. They obviously never even considered it for a very young child.
I thought okay, well, why not? Why not look outside the box? Why not think outside the box? Why could babies not love classical music? Of course, they could. A good leader would find a way to encourage that.
A good leader would look at a circumstance like cancer and say, I can lead the charge to being a survivor or I can lay low and just let things happen. I can advocate for myself or I can listen to others. Those I think who choose to be an advocate for themselves or who choose to step outside of the box who choose to see life differently and have different expectations of those around them who believe that there are new ways to look at things are the best leaders. I think that was how I had to look at the world from whether it be again exposing children – very young children to really beautiful content that was often considered adult to teaching kids how to stay safe in situations that normally were very scary and finding a way to give kids exposure to that to helping parents and my own children understand how important love is when you’re diagnosed with cancer.
I’m not sure this is a great answer to your question, but I think that great leaders transform opportunities. You see an opportunity and you make something of it. That was certainly again the case for of my life whether it was making business or surviving a disease that was otherwise considered incurable.
Tanya: Yes, no, absolutely. I think part of why I so connected with You Are the Best Medicine, the children’s book you authored is not only is that such a brilliant way to frame or even just communicating with your loved one what’s going on with you or with anybody, with parents that have cancer, but the fact that in your battle, you saw that as a way to make a difference because you were going through that. That was a challenge in your life and you wanted to remove the difficulty in other people’s lives was just mind-blowing. That to me is a huge tell sign and difference between somebody that really leads their own life versus somebody that just lets life happen to them.
Julie Clark: I think that’s true. It’s very healing. You Are the Best Medicine was very healing for me because it was something that I had to say. It has an opened-ended ending which is where I was and really where we all are, but where I was with this Stage IV diagnosis which was I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
The way that the books ends is: and then I will be well, and we will have tomorrow, and the day after that. I don’t say we’re going to have 10 years and I don’t say we’re going to have the rest of our 50 years. I just say we’re going to live today and we’re going to have today. It’s going to be full of love. You’re going to help me with that.
That again was very healing for me and helped me by helping others. I think that we all feel that. You volunteer for something and you just feel great because you just made a difference in somebody’s life. How beautiful is that?
Tanya: Absolutely; yeah, it’s the highest self-expression of human beings is to make a difference.
Julie Clark: Yes, for sure.
Tanya: Do you have any thoughts on or tips on how to raise fully self-expressed leaders?
Julie Clark: Oh, wow; I have to say that I am the mother of two adult – now adult daughters who are just freaking incredible, so I must have done something right. As most of us do, I always put my kids first. I think that I listened to my kids. My kids will tell you, I was the boss of them. I wasn’t one of these just free to be you and me moms.
I think that my kids observed me going through a hardship with both the sale of the company, the building of a company, and then the issues I faced in my health. They witnessed that and they saw somebody really strong. I think kids learn best by example. That’s like no revelatory news. My kids saw me being really strong and saw me being a woman who believed in herself. They are great examples of that.
They both are leaders in their fields. My oldest is graduating from grad school. She already has a fantastic position for her starting in May. My kids have both worked since they were 15. They have a good respect, a solid respect for other cultures and other ways of life, and other people. I think that we’ve given them that by exposing them to parents who are strong, who are strong leaders. Just as your children have seen you endure and continue to endure hardships in your personal life, that is the best example for them to kick ass, and do good work, and make a difference in lives.
My oldest is going into education and game development in education and wants to change the way that people learn through entertainment. That’s pretty cool. I guess all I can say, and again it’s not any great revelatory thing, you just have to be a great example for your kids. Show them that you are strong. Show them that you believe in them and their ideas. Be realistic and be honest to the degree that you can be honest.
I would say that my kids have both told me now that they’re adults, it was really hard for us when you were sick. We were secretly reading these things. We did know that you were really sicker than you told us you were, but we also watched you just pick us up from school every day and whip off that wig when you had no hair and guide us in how to be good human beings by making things that were good for others. I guess that’s it: you’re a great example for your kids. Be a great example for your kids.
Tanya: Yes, actually, as you were speaking, what became very clear to me and you brought back present is be the example that you want your kids to be. Saying something or teaching something has a totally different impact than being it yourself.
Julie Clark: Yes; I have this little quote on my wall in my office that says, “Do what you say, not what you say you will do” driving in this idea that stop just talking about it; do something. You have the right and the ability to make a change and to do something positive; do it. Don’t just say you’ll do it. I think again, our kids witnessed that in our lives. If we do it – they see if mom is laying on the couch all day. They see if mom is out making a difference in the world. It’s just the very best way to guide kids and direct your kids.
Tanya: Yep, nope, absolutely. Julie, can you talk to us a little bit about what you’re working on now with WeeSchool?
Julie Clark: Yeah, absolutely; I’d love to. A few years back, as I was considering what I was going to do next with my skills as a creator of products for families, I recognized that this idea of exposure to great things was as important now as it ever was when my own kids were little. Kids today are exposed to way more than they were 20 years ago with the advent of the technology that we have today, and social media, and smart phones, and everything that we have. There’s such exposure. People are so distracted, parents and children, by all of this technology.
I thought okay, well, parents are staring at their phones a lot of the time; we all are. How can I get them to look at that phone and get some great ideas of how they can put down that phone and start paying attention to their kiddos? I thought, when you come home from the hospital with that new baby, there is not an instruction manual that comes with your child although there ought to be. I basically spent a few years gathering a lot of child development information including milestone information, and research that’s been done by childhood development experts from The Harvard Center, from the developing child to a number of wonderful researchers in the world trying to help us do a good job with our kids. I took a lot of that information and I put it together in an app and a company called WeeSchool.
The idea being that WeeSchool is what comes before preschool and it’s what you do at home. It’s this idea that you are your child’s first and best teacher, that you have this responsibility. Here’s how to make it a little more doable. Let me give you an app called WeeSchool where you can get information on a daily basis that will help you be a better parent, do the right things for your baby, understand where your child is, and how to help your child, how to encourage your child to be a happy, healthy, nutritious child, again whether it’s mental nutrition or physical nutrition. These are our responsibilities.
I was holding a four-month-old baby yesterday and I thought this child is completely helpless. This child could do nothing. I have every opportunity as the parent or caregiver of this child to give them the best. Let me help parents give them the best. WeeSchool again is a culmination of really amazing work from child development experts put together in a way that is little, tiny meal-size bits for parents that help them on a daily basis encourage their child academically, socially to be a whole person and a better person.
There’s beautiful music in the app so that you can listen to great classical music with your baby. There’s bath time music and bedtime music. There are ideas for daily activities that will help your child thrive. There’s ideas for books and toys that will help your child to be developmentally ready for preschool when that time comes. It’s something that I feel really strongly about. I’m really excited about it.
We’re actually working right now. We should be closed in the next I would say two weeks. We’re working with another company in this space to make this even bigger and even better than it currently is. Existing right now is this WeeSchool app that is free to all parents. It’s just remarkable.
I would say check it out online, weeschool.com. Wee, by the way, has two e’s in it. It’s wee like teeny tiny. WeeSchool is something that I’m passionate about, I believe in, and I hope will help parents do a really terrific job with their own kids.
Tanya: That’s amazing, Julie. I’m certainly going to check it out. I have two 18-month olds, so that’s going to be really amazing. It’s interesting because they had so many issues with their health. They were in the hospital for a long time. They were born prematurely. There was a concern for their developmental progress. There was a concern to really give them everything that they needed to catch up to just their standard age group developmentally.
I’ve had the incredible luck of working with a number of different physical therapists, and occupation therapists, and special instructions. I realize that there’s so much that goes into early child development that I was not even aware of with my first child that I wish I would have known about WeeSchool then because now my interactions with my children is really an opportunity for me to help them grow. This is with my twins and now with my daughter, but before, that was not on my radar. That was not the context in which I approached my children.
I think that’s going to be a tremendous value add to parents. You’re right; I left the hospital with my firstborn, and I looked around and I thought, are you guys going to let me leave with this child? What if I kill it? This is horrible. Shouldn’t I take a test or something?
Julie Clark: Exactly; oh my gosh, you’re so right. No, that’s so true. The thing is here you are, an educated person. You had your children on purpose. This wasn’t a mistake. You’ve got everything going for you; and yet, you weren’t aware. Nobody gave you this lesson or taught you to be a teacher. Being a teacher is hard. If you don’t approach life as an educator, if you didn’t study education, or it’s just not in you, it’s not unusual that you wouldn’t know how to do this.
Yet, I think that it’s sad because so many people just think, oh, they’ll be fine. The first three years, they’re just – they’re babies. They’ll be fine. It’s so amazing to me because of course what we know in early childhood development is how much that brain is growing in those first three years. It’s exuberant. It’s unbelievable.
The amount that a child’s brain grows in the first three years versus spending time with them versus not spending time with them; encouraging them versus not encouraging them. They don’t come about language naturally. They will learn to speak at some point if there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. They will learn to speak, but will they learn all the words they should know? Will they learn how to read? Will they have the skills necessary to be successful in life?
If you don’t encourage them from the get-go, no. I would argue no, they won’t. They need encouragement. They need this kind of love. I’m really happy that you’ll be checking it out.
Yes, of course, when you have kids whether they have developmental delays or not for whatever reason, every one of them has amazing potential. Again, WeeSchool is just about trying to encourage parents to recognize that and understand that it’s not hard. It’s not rocket science. It’s a baby and you can do this. We just try to make it easier for you.
Tanya: That’s amazing. I have no doubt that you’re making a huge difference through WeeSchool. I can’t wait to use it. If people want to get in touch, how can they reach you?
Julie Clark: Probably the best way is to just go to weeschool.com I would say. You can reach me through the website. There’s an email there that would probably be the best.
Tanya: Awesome; well, Julie, thank you so much for candidly sharing your life and your journey. It is so unbelievably inspiring. Just keep making a difference.
Julie Clark: Thank you, Tanya; you as well. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for the interview. I really appreciate it.