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Female Founders: Amy Norman of Little Passports On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be clear about your own definition of success. Today’s media and culture are very focused on unicorns in a few sectors such as tech and healthcare but there are success models outside of this bubble.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Norman.

Amy Norman is the founder and CEO of Little Passports, a series of award-winning and one-of-a-kind activity kits designed to awaken kids’ curiosity about geography, culture, science and art. Founded in 2009, Little Passports now has five subscription kits and a line of complementary standalone toys, games and activities kits.

Amy’s sense of adventure began at an early age as she frequently moved between the US and England with her family, and was exposed to various cultures and traditions. In addition to studying Spanish and International Studies at The Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, Amy’s countless travel experiences throughout her life further ignited her passion for learning about the world, and sharing that excitement of knowledge with young children. Drawing on this background, Amy designed Little Passports to give children the opportunity to see the world in a new way, via hands-on activities, exciting games, and stories that draw from science, nature, and global experiences.

Amy is a well-versed leader with over 20 years of experience in general management, strategy, and finance from leadership roles at McKinsey and eBay. She is a member of the Small and Medium Business Council at Facebook, was recognized as an Ernst and Young Winning Woman, was a finalist for Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2019, and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Looking back on the years since starting Little Passports, I often reflect on the fact that I didn’t cultivate enough strong mentor relationships early on. I have since been able to foster close relationships with numerous mentors, but I wonder if I could have avoided some of my early pitfalls had I had more insights.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been many people along the way but Aaron Miller is one who immediately comes to mind. Aaron and I met when we were classmates at Wharton/The Lauder Institute. We met again at a class reunion and Aaron encouraged me to raise money from our classmates. Aaron’s first role with Little Passports was as an investor and informal mentor to me. I found his advice so valuable that I invited him to join our board three years ago. Aaron is a phenomenal mentor and counsel to me across a multitude of strategic and leadership issues.

According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think it comes down to pattern recognition. While the landscape is changing, the majority of funding is still done by men and given to companies founded by men. That presents an intimidating picture for women seeking to start their own business. In the same way that young girls look for role models, female founders look for inspiration from women who have done it before. My sense is that when those stories are too few and far between, some potential female founders get discouraged. I think there is still unconscious bias by investors in that they are also accustomed to seeing male entrepreneurs. This is definitely changing, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

We need to provide better child care options for women and better family and medical leave to take care of loved ones. Too many women still have to choose between having a career and taking care of their children. A disheartening number of women dropped out of the workforce due to childcare issues during the pandemic and we have a lot of work to do here.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I’ve found being a female entrepreneur to be a fulfilling and truly impactful career path. It’s thrilling to work on something that you feel so passionately about and to go home every night being able to measure the impact of your individual efforts. I don’t think that’s always the case in large organizations.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I’m not sure it’s a myth, but I have met many really smart women along the way who have been afraid that they may not be able to juggle the time demands of a startup with their family’s needs. They get trapped in a false dichotomy believing that if you are a parent you can’t start a company. It’s true that being a founder requires a tremendous amount of dedication and commitment but it also provides an invaluable level of flexibility over your own schedule.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Not everyone is cut out to be a founder. Two traits I think are absolutely necessary to becoming a successful founder are self motivation and absolute faith in yourself. There are a lot of naysayers in the early years before you prove out your concept and it’s important to be able to dispassionately cut through that noise.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

It’s going to take longer than you think! With almost 13 years of Little Passports under my belt, it took a ton of time, hard work, and determination to build our brand into what it is today. Becoming a profitable brand does not happen overnight so I’d say #1: patience and self motivation are key.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Without a doubt, my husband has been a huge rock for me in recent years. He has always believed in my potential and provided emotional support but also, literally, the physical support I needed during the pandemic. I can’t count the number of days he has brought me a healthy lunch while I’m stuck in back-to-back meetings or cooked a healthy dinner for our family while I kept working.

Have a back up plan… or two. It’s been a huge learning lesson for me to have the ability to foresee potential points of failure or roadblocks within this business. I have become very skilled at having Plan A, B and C lined up.

Be clear about your own definition of success. Today’s media and culture are very focused on unicorns in a few sectors such as tech and healthcare but there are success models outside of this bubble.

You will need more cash than you think. Understanding a path to profitability will give you a lot of freedom and we focused on that early in our journey.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The mission of Little Passports is to inspire children to discover the wonders of the world we share. My aspiration is that we help make the world a better place by sharing knowledge about the world and planting the seeds of curiosity that inspire the next generation of leaders.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe that if we hold a curious mindset when we meet people from different cultures and who hold different beliefs than us, that can build a more peaceful world. I go to work every day inspired by the knowledge that every package we deliver opens a child’s mind to the wider world around them.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet Melinda Gates. She is focused on advancing equality for women and families and has the resources to deliver on her mission.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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