Erika Brodnock is the founder of Karisma Kidz, a company that empowers children through play by providing products and services that enhance their happiness, confidence and creativity.
What drove you to start your own business?
My background as a leading parenting coach, specialising in child confidence and happiness and the fact I’m also a mum to five children was the best preparation for creating something that helps children to identify and manage their moods.
After the birth of my fifth child I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. At the point I was told I would need to take medication everyday for the rest of my life. My children were hugely affected by my illness and their behaviour deteriorated. The more I saw the effect my illness was having on them, the more determined I became to conquer it, so I embarked on a journey of self discovery.
I trained in a variety of non-traditional disciplines that help people overcome emotional disorders. I used these techniques to manage my own moods and emotions and to reconnect with my children. Upon teaching the tools and techniques to my own children and seeing their behaviour and results at school improve, I realised I could turn my experience into something worthwhile, that would help others, and it was then that I came up with the concept of Karisma Kidz.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
I’d spent 14 years in Education and Performance Improvement. I was a parenting support officer for the London Borough of Lambeth, a trainer for Families and Schools Together (F.A.S.T.) and then a parenting coach. I trained in a variety of disciplines including Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Matrix Re-Imprinting, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), HeartMath Breathing Techniques, Silva Mind Training and Psych K. I’ve applied all of the key principles from my learning to the Karisma Kidz concept.
Tell us about the business planning stage (for example: did you write a business plan? did you contact any business support agencies?)?
As a result of wanting to address the effects of my illness on my children, I began to research what help and support was available to children who fell below the threshold for support from services such as CAMHS or Social Services.
I knew that children learned best through play and sought the advice of teachers, clinical psychologists, social workers and family therapists – professionals who went on to become part of the Karisma Kidz family!
I looked for toys and games that enabled children to learn, to identify and manage their emotions. There was nothing on the market and so I knew that I had an opportunity to launch a viable business proposition.
My children came up with a name for the products and have been heavily involved in the development of the toys and games throughout. Karisma Kidz was chosen because the characters are fun, charismatic and eye catching!
We then took to the streets, asking 800 parents what they thought of the products we had conceptualised. An overwhelming 98.25% of the parents we asked thought the dolls were a fantastic idea, with 100% of their children loving the characters we showed them. This has been one of the most fulfilling parts of the journey so far.
Following the development of a business plan, prototypes were developed for the dolls. Our next challenge was to introduce the Karisma Kidz concept to schools as I wanted to roll out a programme that enabled teachers to integrate techniques that help children manage emotional issues into their lesson planning.
The challenge was that many schools have limited funds although they’re fully behind our initiative. However we partnered with takeTen and ran a bespoke programme in several schools. 633 children were asked how they felt about using the technology in the Karisma Kidz toys and games and 90% agreed that the programme helped them to stay calm when stressed or upset
We approached Buttle UK (formerly the Buttle Trust) and The Royal National Children’s Foundation, and now donate 10% of our profits which goes towards helping children living in extremely difficult circumstances.
As well as winning a string of awards and accolades, we’ve recently been accepted onto the Wayra UnLtd accelerator programme and commenced with the development of the Karisma Kidz online game and app.
The game centres around a ‘Karisma Kid’ avatar, and ‘BloomaBear’ pet who help children understand and manage their moods. Through online and offline activities, children are encouraged to play their way to emotional literacy and develop tools and techniques that will nurture their mental health and promote resilience throughout their lives! The online game and app was launched on the Kurio on 21st November.
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
Our vision is to become the leader in the field of Social and Emotional Learning Technology and Toys for children! We estimate reaching 4 million global customers over the next 5 years, which is only a 10th of what games like Moshi Monsters has achieved.
We have built and will continue to build strong strategic partnerships over the coming 3 – 5 years as we provide a scalable opportunity with alignment into the mainstream tech and toy industries. We have already secured licensing deals, have Telefonica on our board with access to their 300 million customers and seek to move into publishing, music and television as the brand grows.
Our platform will be preloaded onto 1.8 million children’s tablets in time for the launch on 21 November and we’ve tailored the deal so that we are also featured in a televised advert.
My motivation comes from the recognition and support of others and our experienced mentors.
What are you working on at the moment and can you describe your typical working day?
I’m continuing to develop the Karisma Kidz platform and the schools programme. I’m also meeting with other investors and interested parties. My typical day at work involves an array of different business meetings, lots of phone calls and train travel from here, there and everywhere!
How do you work on making your business grow?
The support of our shareholders and other parties as well as my own efforts push the business forward. Partnering with key investors is a must and managing your finances has to be priority number one!
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
I am able to structure my days around my children for the most part. I also have the autonomy to instantly change things based on the feedback of my customers, thereby being more responsive to them.
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
I’m so passionate about my business and this means that switching off is almost impossible. I work long hours as deadlines have to be met. Thankfully I work well under pressure and there are so many opportunities to develop the Karisma Kidz concept. I address this challenge by taking time out to relax. A ten minute yoga stretching session on a daily basis makes all the difference to your physical and emotional well-being.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
There are many I admire, I have huge amounts of respect for self made pioneers that elevate themselves from humble beginnings and make a success of their venture.
Cashflow is King by Robert Kiyosaki
What are the 3 books, websites or resources (professional or personal) that you would recommend to other business owners?
1. The E-myth by Michael Gerber
2. Good to Great by Jim Collins
3. For Londoners that have a startup The London Open Coffee Weekly meetup group on meetup.com. The emails that go back and forth on the list a quite simply a must have for startup owners.
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
I’m very much into meditation and personal development so I love to relax and unwind with either some meditation or a hypnotherapy session.
Erika was a finalist in the 2013 PRECIOUS Awards