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In my job I absolutely adore being able to meet and chat to other small business owners:
nothing makes me feel more energised and excited about the work I’m doing than to see my own enthusiasm for what I do mirrored in others. But when I meet a woman, like Charlie Patteson, who not only runs a small business with all the enthusiasm and joy de vivre I feel myself but also does good for the world with it, too: well, that just feels rather special!
Charlie runs the educational box company Lucky Gecko and is so very passionate about encouraging children to learn in a way that’s interesting for them. A former personal tutor, she’s thrown her years of teaching knowledge into her business, the result of which being an amazing range of learning tools to help kids (and adults, too!) have fun when learning.
Elfie has tried a couple of Lucky Gecko’s boxes over the last six months and can vouch for how brilliant they are: jam packed with games, puzzles and treats, it feels like Christmas for her when one drops through the letterbox.
Having recently branched out from the subscription model to new mini-packs as well (the cool themes are Sleuths – love this, Ornithology and Kids Rule), Charlie sat down with me to talk about her journey with her Educational business.
What was the trigger that led to you starting Lucky Gecko? Have you always wanted to launch your own business?
Lucky Gecko started out as a tuition company which I founded when I was 23. As a way of getting experience before starting teacher training, I took any job I could find which related to teaching and looking after children, one of which was private tuition. I found a real passion for the job, decided to make it my career and Lucky Gecko was born.
I had a fearlessness and naivety which allowed me to bypass any doubts that the business would be a success
I think my youth was a real asset at this point: I had a fearlessness and naivety which allowed me to bypass any doubts that the business would be a success! Being young and relatively unencumbered, I could also devote every waking hour to the business (and having only recently graduated, I was pretty comfortable living on baked beans if necessary!).
After more than 10 wonderful years, and many hundreds of students, I had a child of my own. With a heavy heart I realised that the hours I was required to work were totally at odds with being a mum. It just wasn’t feasible for me to work evenings, weekends and school holidays any more, so the business had to evolve to fit my new lifestyle. The Lucky Gecko Discovery boxes make use of every scrap of my tuition experience, as well as my passion for building kids’ confidence, getting them reading and encouraging them to think differently. Only now I can work around my family and reach a far wider audience of children.
To be honest, the thought of getting a ‘regular’ job instead of adapting the business never really occurred to me. I think there’s a lot of truth in the idea that once you’ve worked for yourself, you can never go back!
I imagine it takes a lot of knowledge as well as passion to launch an education brand. How did you even go about coming up with the idea and taking it to product development?
In my job as a tutor I came across so many wonderful students, in every conceivable academic situation. Some were really struggling, most were just lacking confidence, some needed to be challenged or inspired and others simply needed a mentor. Every single one of them taught me something and I credit all of them with getting me to where I am today. Their needs and experiences have informed my understanding of what will inspire children to reach their potential and have confidence in their own abilities.
Tutoring also allowed me the opportunity to be really creative in my approach to teaching and tailor the work to the needs of each individual student.
All of that experience has been poured into the boxes and I draw on it every day. I’m extremely passionate about getting kids to embrace their own unique talents and skills, giving them the confidence to be curious and trust in their own abilities. I wanted to develop a product which wasn’t just educational, but truly inspirational, showing children that learning is something which happens all the time and helping them to join the dots between what they learn at school and the world around them.
Our education system is so focussed on results and statistics that it’s easy to lose sight of the individual and the wonderful nuances and talents they each have. If I can remind children (and their parents) that their creativity and individuality is an invaluable asset, I’ll be a happy lady!
You can’t help but be inspired by all these women making a life which works for them whilst sending such great products and services out into the wild.
What does a typical day look like for you?
So far, most of my time has been spent developing the products themselves and doing all I can to make sure they are of the highest possible quality. I usually spend some time each day creating content for the booklets and parent packs and sourcing books and items for the various themes.
As the business grows, and I have a catalogue of ‘finished’ boxes, I am finding that I am starting to spend more time on promotion. This is something which has never come naturally to me I’ve never been one to ‘blow my own trumpet’ but I’m enjoying the feeling of challenging myself, and seeing the results which follow.
Finally, there is the inevitable deluge of administrative tasks which will be familiar to every sole trader, and which never seem to diminish no matter how much time I spend on them!
Who else inspires you in the world of business?
Oh goodness, SO many people! I am in a permanent state of awe at a whole raft of small business owners who seem to be so effortless in their achievements (although I know full well that they’re probably paddling furiously beneath the surface!).
I am lucky enough to be friends with the wonderful owner of The Secret Crafthouse, and I have huge admiration for her. She seems able to do things with total ease and confidence which fill me with dread and terror! She’s the one I try to channel if I need to find my mojo! In general though, I think this is a brilliant time to be a woman in business.
I follow a multitude of bloggers and small business owners and the creativity and passion which they exude is infectious. You can’t help but be inspired by all these women making a life which works for them whilst sending such great products and services out into the wild.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
No matter how convinced you are of your own product or service, remember that you are too close to be objective. It can be so hard to take criticism and advice about something which you’re passionate about, but find some people you really trust and get them to be honest with you. Whether you take their advice or not is ultimately up to you, and totally your prerogative, but don’t let your pride stand in the way of hearing the hard truths. In the end, people who care about you will only want to help you be successful.
It’s like having another child! I thought I would struggle to be committed to a business after having my daughter, but actually it’s more important to me than ever.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in the process of starting Lucky Gecko?
How much I miss it when I’m not working! It’s like having another child! I thought I would struggle to be committed to a business after having my daughter, but actually it’s more important to me than ever. I really believe that it makes me a better parent. I love that I’m setting a strong example for her, but I also find I thrive on having a challenge which is all my own.
I recently had to take some time out of the business due to some exceptional family circumstances and I found it incredibly frustrating. I’m delighted to be back with a vengeance!
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
I love being able to dedicate myself completely to things I truly believe in. I don’t have to compromise and can take the time to make sure I am proud of the business I’m building and the products I send out. It’s an incredibly liberating feeling.
And the least favourite?
I am a born worrier so it can be tough not having people to share the load and the responsibility. If I’m not careful, I can waste huge amounts of time second guessing myself and worrying that the work isn’t good enough. I’m trying to get better at asking for help where I can and using the wonderful network of other small business owners. Sometimes you just need a coffee and a chat with someone else who ‘gets it’!
What’s next in 2018 for Lucky Gecko?
I’ve just launched a range of minipacks which will allow people to sample the Lucky Gecko products at a lower cost and without the commitment to a subscription. I’m also working on some more one-off holiday boxes to keep the kids busy when they’re off school. We trialled one last summer and it was a real success, so I’m excited to get some more out there.
Beyond that, there are many options I’d like to explore. It’s a lovely problem to have, but I’m never short of ideas I’d like to try. I have to force myself to be sensible and take one challenge at a time!
Huge thanks to Charlie for speaking to MTT! Use the code ‘ALICE’ at checkout for 10% off a box.