This month we asked entrepreneurs from the Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana to share with us why they wanted to START SOMETHING of their own.
Interview with co-founder Annie Graham of Learning with Meaning
Tell us what motivated you to want to start your own business.
Our goal with Learning With Meaning is to create educational resources that can help as many children as possible. I am a mom of six and I have seen first hand how a “one size fits all” approach to education has not really worked well for any of my kids. My partner Brandon was a first grade teacher with an understanding of how children really learn, which he wanted to share with the world. One day last fall, we started talking about the possibilities that come from having iPads in the classroom. I asked Brandon if he wanted to teach more children and be more creative than he ever had before. He was excited at that prospect and Learning With Meaning was born. Of course, everyone wants to be able to make a living doing what they love, but I think we want more than that. We want to make a difference for the countless number of students who are unhappy and anxious in school.
Who are your biggest influencers? Were your parents entrepreneurial?
For me, that’s an easy question to answer. My dad has been the CEO of his own business for over 30 years. My mom was a teacher and raised us to value education. As a child, I watched my parents volunteer for various organizations, giving back to the community whenever they could. It is the combination of their entrepreneurial spirit and their desire to contribute to the greater good that created balance and happiness in their lives. Brandon's mother has owned her own business for the last 35 years. She also taught art classes to children. His father has always loved what he does and instilled that value in Brandon. Our business is not about making millions, it’s about making a lasting difference in the world.
Share with us the biggest lesson you've learned so far.
Our biggest lesson so far is that an app needs to be marketed, just like any other product. We had this idea that if we could get our apps into the app store, our job would be over and we would (finally) get to sit back and collect a paycheck. There are over 1 million apps in the iTunes app store and the hard work of getting noticed has just begun.
We have also learned that marketing new ideas requires teaching adults and not just children. Many parents and teachers forget how abstract math can be to young children. Our apps help children to understand how math works in a way that's different from traditional routine practice apps and classroom learning. We want children to play with math and enjoy it while understand the symbolic nature of equations. We're proud that we offer apps that promote understanding, learning and entertainment.
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment (brag away!)
It’s really rewarding just to know that thousands of kids are benefitting from our iPhone and iPad apps. Make 10 +Quests, Make 20 +Quests and iGetMath: Addition are helping young children to really understand how addition works and laying the foundation for them to be more successful in school. I have witnessed the amazing benefits of learning that occurs when kids are having fun and being successful. We aim to give children a strong foundation in math skills and building that learning in success, not fear of failure. It makes me smile to think that we have probably helped many children to feel better about math and about school. Brandon has taught hundreds of children in the classroom and now he's happier than ever teaching thousands more children worldwide.
Some say that starting a business is like having a baby. What does that mean to you?
Yes–it’s difficult, stressful, and wonderful all at the same time (that’s also how I would describe the first year of life for my children). You really have to believe in your company’s mission because there are many days when your willpower is the ONLY thing that keeps you going. You also have to be willing to try new things, admit when they don’t work out, and move on with a new plan. In our first year, we’ve had moments where we were tearfully proud of our accomplishments and moments when we’ve thrown our hands up because of epic failures. As our business grows up, there will probably be fewer extremes, more sitting at a desk and maybe a little time for a lunch break.
Learning With Meaning is an educational app developer out of Missoula, MT. Right now, partners Annie Graham and Brandon Kendall work from home, with hopes of moving into an office in the near future. Annie is a graduate student in the University of Montana department of Curriculum and Instruction. Brandon is a former first grade teacher at Sussex and Missoula Community School.
After our first year in business, we have three math apps and two National Parks trivia apps in the iTunes app store. We went to Blackstone Launchpad for help with marketing and left with some valuable information on how to move forward. It was a great resource for us. It’s helpful to know that there’s a place to go when we need answers, or when we just need help talking our ideas through.