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Female Founders: Beth Dessen Duffy Of ‘Christmas Tree of Kindness’ On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

I celebrate the changes that are already underway and believe that continued education about these successful women is essential. Your series of articles highlighting female founders helps a lot. Yes, young women need to learn about and from other successful women. Similarly, all young people need to read articles about and from female founders too. In this way, everyone will develop expectations that the “sky is the limit” for female founders and as well as all founders.

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

Beth Dessen Duffy graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Education from Cornell University. Beth began her career educating homeowners about how to save on their electric bills and transitioned to become involved in research, lobbying and public affairs in PA. Beth is the CEO of Christmas Tree of Kindness and is sharing their family Christmas tradition in an app to help individuals, families and groups practice kindness, create joyful memories and a kinder world.

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?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Education from Cornell University. I began my career at Florida Power and Light Company educating homeowners about how to save money on their electric bills. I transitioned and became involved with research with the PA House Consumer Affairs Committee, lobbying and eventually the Director of Public Affairs at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Was very thankful to marry my university sweetheart Dan at the age of 36 and welcome our greatest gifts, our children Eddie and Rachel. When our children were young, we wanted an enjoyable and memorable way to focus on kindness and giving as well as receiving during the Christmas Season. To accomplish this, we taped a construction paper Christmas tree to our kitchen cabinet and added a paper ornament after one of us completed a kind act. We had a lot of fun working together to make sure that our tree had plenty of ornaments for our Christmas celebration.

We shared this activity over the years with many children and adults who loved both the activity and message of spreading kindness. We all experienced how much joy it brought to everyone…and wondered “if we should” and “how we could” share it with others.

Sixteen years went by and my family and I decided that we either share this activity with others or stop talking about it. We decided to go for it! The Christmas Tree of Kindness app is the culmination of our efforts. We are sharing our family Christmas tradition in an app to help individuals, families and groups practice kindness, create joyful memories and a kinder world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think the most interesting story is that as an entrepreneur and CEO, I must also be the CEOF. This means I am the

“Chief Educator and Opportunity Finder.”

As Chief Educator, I am constantly educating others about the wonderful benefits of this app by appearing in podcasts, radio shows, magazine articles, classroom visits, educational conferences, TV interviews, FB, IG and Twitter.

As Chief Opportunity Finder, I learned that this activity was enjoyed for many different reasons. Interest groups identified so far include: those celebrating Advent, those looking for an alternative to Elf on the Shelf, Christmas enthusiasts, anti-bullying groups, kindness groups, grandparents, parents, teachers, children and children at heart. We were also very pleased that friends and family separated last year by Covid could connect in spirit and decorate trees with kind acts using this app during the Holiday Season. I am constantly looking for different ways to share news of this app with each of these different but equally important groups.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

What I learned was funny in an “ironic” way. When I started out as an entrepreneur, I did not think that my background education and work experience would help when creating and promoting the app. Well, I can laugh a little to myself now because at it turns out all those experiences helped! I found that being a good listener, an eager learner, good communicator, organized, flexible and team player were all still essential. When I started my career, I did have some of these traits but as you might expect, experience and practice over the years certainly helped improve them all.

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?

I must give a brief shout out to three people for the reasons you mentioned. First to my husband Dan. He is the founder and President of a company called Mid-Range. He is an amazing person for many reasons. When it comes to the app specifically, let me just say that he hears about it and helps with it ALL OF THE TIME. He believes in the concept and the potential of this app as much as I do. We are on a special wavelength and I am so thankful for him.

Next, I must mention my very kind parents. My father, Dr Edgar Lee Dessen, M.D. was a Radiologist and founder of the community development organization called CAN-DO. Above his desk was a framed quote from Quaker Missionary Etienne de Grellet that read: I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” This quote had a big impact on him, me and many others in our family.

Last but not least, I would like to give a shout out to my mother, Sonia Wise Dessen. She shared a lot of wonderful pieces of advice over the years and probably one of her best was “Never regret a kindness.” (See Mom, I was listening!)

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. 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 celebrate the changes that are already underway and believe that continued education about these successful women is essential. Your series of articles highlighting female founders helps a lot. Yes, young women need to learn about and from other successful women. Similarly, all young people need to read articles about and from female founders too. In this way, everyone will develop expectations that the “sky is the limit” for female founders and as well as all founders.

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?

Change can start in each of our homes. We learned that as a family with two children, we had a tremendous opportunity to practice sharing and discussing our views. We did not always agree. However, we created and practiced an atmosphere of mutual respect. Specifically, it did not matter if you were our son, daughter, young, old, experienced, inexperienced, educated on a topic or uneducated on a topic, etc. Each opinion was counted and valued and everyone had the right to be heard. We thought this was a good start to better embrace and respect the role of women leaders and all leaders.

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?

Women have a different way of looking at the world and many books have been written about this topic. For example, Jean Kilbourne has discussed how women lead teams focusing on cooperation in contrast to men who emphasize competition. For these aforementioned reasons, when I look for reasons to hope for a better tomorrow, empowering more women decision makers and founders is critical!

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

One myth is that I am always having “fun” because I am working on promoting an app that I enjoy and believe it is very worthwhile. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being a founder is tough work and you must be tenacious. Good think I am tough and tenacious!

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 and that is perfectly fine. Differences make the world go around and I hope we get back to Vive La Différence on this and many other topics. In addition, I think founders need an inner compass that tell them they are up for the task…in other words…they have to believe they “CAN DO” it.

Ok super. 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.)

  1. “The most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence” is something Actor Daniel Radcliffe once said. I don’t think I would put myself in the category of “most creative” but during this process I have certainly felt all these emotions. Glad to learn that he felt them too…and that helps me to feel that this is OK and to keep going!
  2. “I am still learning” are the famous last words of Michelangelo on his deathbed. It amazes and humbles me how much I am learning every day. Initially I thought this was a weakness. However, realizing that I will be constantly learning is actually a strength and a secret is…I enjoy it! It is reassuring that even “The Man of the Renaissance” was still learning at 88.
  3. “Enjoy the journey and the destination.” This wonderful thought reminds me that during the journey to our goals there are many successes to recognize and celebrate with joy! In other words, be sure to take time to stop and “smell the daisies” during the process as well as when goals are achieved.
  4. “It is hard to beat a person that never gives up,” is a quote from Babe Ruth. He held records for both strike outs and homeruns that remained unbroken for many years. Ruth is considered by many to be the greatest ballplayer of all time. Now, when I am having a bad day, I remember this quote, chuckle to myself and keep going!
  5. “Dream big and don’t be afraid to tell everybody about it.” This quote by Regis Philbin is included in one of Katie Couric’s books. Regis said that he always wanted to be a broadcaster but thought it sounded ridiculous if he mentioned it to anyone or even admitted it to himself. He explained that he wasted some valuable years and encourages everyone not to do the same. This advice really resonated with me because I had the same problem! I thought about this advice and can now say we are promoting the Christmas Tree of Kindness app because one of us can make our world kinder…. and by practicing kindness together with this app we all can make a tremendous impact. As one interviewer said to me, “So a mom from Aurora, ON thinks she can make the world a kinder place?” At the time I was speechless. Now if I am asked that same question again, I will respond with a resounding, “Yes!!!”

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

Yes. From the beginning, success for us is practicing our family Christmas tradition and sharing it with others. In our journey to get to this point many children, adults, teachers, old and new friends and business associates are enjoying the Christmas Tree of Kindness app. We are all making our world kinder and better…one kind act and one ornament at a time.

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.

We are encouraging everyone to take the Merry #Christmastreeofkindness Challenge!!! Download the free app (Christmas Kindness) or $.99 app (Christmas Tree of Kindness) from the Apple App store. Decorate a virtual or printed tree with 10 ornaments. Each ornament is added after completing a kind act. Post a screenshot of your completed tree and tag us on FB, IG and Twitter. Our efforts can “snowball” and yes, we can create a kinder world together by December 25!

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.

Maria Shriver @mariashriver @thesundaypaper #Ivebeenthinking

I follow Maria Shriver on social media and admire her thoughts, experiences, accomplishments in the past, present and future. Maria shines brightly with her kindness…and hope she will share the news of the Christmas Tree of Kindness app to help others do the same!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this!

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