A watercooler moment with… Ben Cook

A watercooler moment with Ben Cook, co-founder of Clever Tykes, the publisher of enterprise storybooks for children

A watercooler moment with… Ben Cook

In a nutshell, what does Clever Tykes do?

Clever Tykes inspires enterprising behaviour and attitudes through storybooks featuring positive entrepreneurial role models. The books are ideal for children aged six to nine and are used in personal, social and health education (PSH) lessons in primary schools.

Where did the idea for Clever Tykes come from?

My co-founder and I discovered evidence showing someone is more likely to start their own business if they have an entrepreneurial parent. From this evidence, it seems that genetics has its role to play but it’s mainly down to the fact a child grows up with a role model. It makes sense – children can only aspire to what they know exists. We realised kids had great role models in traditional jobs like Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder but that businesspeople were always portrayed negatively; Mr Burns from the Simpsons, Ebenezer Scrooge from a Christmas Carol and Lord Business from the Lego Movie. Things have to change!

When did you start up?

We had the initial idea in September 2012 after my co-founder Jodie found out that 11 of the 12 Start Up Loans ambassadors (all very successful young entrepreneurs) had a parent who started their own business. By September 2013, we had the first edition of the first book, Walk-it Willow, in print. We immediately began selling both ebooks (on Amazon) and physical books (from our website) and secured our first sponsorship deal in early 2014.

How has it gone so far?

We’ve had some great successes to date and the awareness of the brand and what we do has grown rapidly over the last six months. We were included in Lord Young’s government report, Enterprise for All, as a recommendation for primary schools. We’ve also just secured two major high-street stores as stockists for the series, which is a great step forward.

What has been the biggest challenge so far? 

As an entrepreneur brought up in a fast-paced technology-driven society, as well as being a director of a social media company, finding myself in the middle of two very institutionalised sectors (publishing and education) has been trying at times. You’re always trying to push the boundaries and blaze new trails but sometimes there are things you have to work around.

How would you say you differentiate yourself from the competition?

In terms of them being storybooks inspiring enterprise, we don’t really face direct competition. Of course, in reality, we’re competing with every other children’s book ever written so we really have to show how much benefit there is to children by reading our books. ‘Edutainment’ has an important role to play in children’s development, especially in enterprise, so it’s all about conveying our key messages and educating our audience.

What has been the best decision you have made to-date?

To self-publish the series. If you’re entrepreneurial and understand marketing, publishers have few advantages, plus this way we have more flexibility and control. It’s been a steep learning curve to ensure that the books are high quality and we’re set up to distribute the books but it’s been well worth it. We also hired a company to find us stockists, who have been fantastic.

Where do you see the business in 12 months’ time?

We’ve got more school roll-outs planned with sponsors lined up, which will help us reach more children with the messages of the books. We’ll also have more stockists providing Clever Tykes a high-street presence and improved awareness amongst our audience.

If you had one piece of advice for entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Continuously ask questions of yourself and your business and answer objectively at all times. It’s really easy to say ‘this is good’, ‘this will happen’ or ‘this means this’ but can you prove it? It is fact or opinion? It’s not that opinions and feelings aren’t important, but first, you have to get real. 


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