In her own words…..
What opportunity or gap did you see that inspired this business?
At the age of 19, I started my first company which specialised in graphic design and website development. This was quite unique at the time. If you think back to 1999, most businesses, especially in rural locations didn’t even have the internet, let alone a website. The main mode of instantaneous communication was fax machine. Luckily for me, being 19, I didn’t overthink these minor issues and the company ended up being a success.
Ten years later, I merged with my now business partner, Ben Hood’s agency and we became a full creative agency also offering television commercials. Our company is called Hello Friday and we work with organisations across Australia who are predominately associated with primary industries or education such as the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia.
In July 2012, I was lying on my bed one afternoon with my eldest son, George, who was two, stretching out my massive preggo belly - which was full of twin boys. I was trying to find some fun farming apps or books for George to keep him entertained when his new brothers arrived. He was obsessed with the farm and any opportunity that he had to go with my farming husband, Justin, or to look at magazines with trucks, harvesters or tractors, he’d jump at it.
All that I could find was American or English stories that used different terminology - such as barn instead of shed - or field instead of paddock - and there also wasn’t one character who was telling sequential stories about life on the land.
At this same time, our local economy was slowing due to the global financial crisis and Ben and I had been actively thinking of new ways to bring in additional revenue to sustain our business.
And I thought, wow, there could be an opportunity here. So after speaking with Ben, we decided to create our own farming character in-house utilising our creative and marketing skills.
I’d always wanted to try my hand at writing a children’s book and Ben was getting in to his illustrations at the time so we decided to write and illustrate a story to potentially inspire lots of little farming kids across the country - and if we created it as an interactive story app we could then use the app in our folio to try and gain future app clients for our creative agency.
It wasn’t long into researching the first story ideas, that I came across the statistics with regards to lack of food education with children in Australia and it was then that I thought, not only does George need to be inspirational, he needs to be educational.
George the Farmer is a colourful children’s character whose main aim is to educate children about farming practices along with how food and fibre is produced. This is done through fun picture books, toys, music, performance, interactive story apps, videos and free curriculum-aligned teacher’s guides.
Biggest challenge making it a reality?
Developing the app was a lot more challenging than we thought it would be. From making sure the code was glitch-free to rendering out assets for every different size iPhone and iPad screen it has definitely been time consuming. Another challenge has also been the waiting time from submitting our app for approval or even just submitting for different updates. But I think the main challenge with app development is the fact consumers don’t value digital products. Although we’ve achieved success with being regularly featured in the top books category on the iTunes store due to downloads or being listed in the top educational apps in the technologies section for Australia and New Zealand, consumer’s still balk when an app costs any more than 99c. We retail our physical books which are printed in Australia for $17 each. Our app includes two interactive stories, three songs and two mini games for $4.50. Less than a cup of coffee. It’s cheap! And especially so for the cost of production. I’m not quite sure how we can change consumer perception on the value of digital products, but it’s something that needs to be worked upon.
Most satisfying moment so far?
It would definitely be during our performances when we’re watching the kids faces light up when they see George and when they dance around with us to songs like ‘We Love Beef’, ‘Harvest Hop’ and ‘P-O-T-A-T-O’. You can tell that they’re really connecting and enjoying learning. Last year we had a teacher from a small Victorian school use one of our free curriculum-aligned guides in her classroom. A young pupil to date had only written six sentences for the whole four months of the current school year. After learning about George and Ruby, she was so inspired that she wrote six pages of text — and it was all on planting a wheat crop! That was really amazing! We love receiving feedback like that from parents, teachers and the kids themselves.
What’s your favourite tip/app/hack that you use to keep on track?
Trello is a great online management tool to collaborate with others. It’s really handy for Ben and I to use across our creative agency, Hello Friday, as well as George the Farmer, especially as we both work from different locations.
If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be?
Kayla Itsines. For those of you who don’t know her she’s a really young fitness guru from Adelaide. I think she’s pretty inspirational as she’s very dedicated to her body, health and brand. I’ve been feeling out of my fitness/health groove for awhile, so I think if I were Kayla for a day, it might help me get back on track. Either that or it would kill me!
How do you switch off when you go home?
I work from a purpose built home-based office so I do find myself in the office at night after the kids are in bed. But I really do enjoy what I do so I’m fine with that. If I don’t feel like going in there, I love to have a glass of wine on the couch and kick back with a bit of Netflix! Socially, I love food and cooking so generally if I’m in relax mode, I’m hanging out with friends and family enjoying lots of delicious food and wine.
Best business advice anyone has ever given you?
Have a go. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve really wanted to reach out to someone and ask for advice about what we’re doing or help from someone and a mentor said to me, ‘Why don’t you just ask them? What do you have to lose?’. And it’s true. The worst thing that can happen is that they say they’re not interested. It’s not the end of the world. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask. You move on or… you get persistent!
What’s your goal for the next 12 months?
We want to keep broadening George the Farmer’s reach. We know that kids love him and Ruby when they meet them. We just need to give them the opportunity to connect. We’ve just started workshopping getting George and family on to television screens in a more permanent way in Australia - and abroad. My dream is for kids across the globe, when they think of food, they immediately associate this with agriculture. And through George and Ruby, Australia will then be known as the number one destination for beautiful, clean, green and safe produce.