“As you climb your own mountain, help the people you encounter on your way up. When we first started we thought that we could only really be helpful once we hit a certain pinnacle or financial level. The fact of the matter is that you can and should help others no matter where you find yourself on the mountain. As you scale, look around. Who’s in your vicinity? It’s amazing what happens when you ask someone how you can help and genuinely want to see them succeed. Seek to build relationships that are mutually beneficial. A rising tide really does raise all ships.”
I had the pleasure to interview Erin Weidemann, co-founder of Bible Belles, a multi media publishing company dedicated to changing girls’ lives through the female heroes of the Bible, and children’s author of The Adventures of Rooney Cruz book series.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
After seeing a lack of resources in the publishing industry for girls, we decided not only to write a series of books but launch our own media company with the goal of connecting young girls to real heroes. We were discouraged by what was currently offered in the marketplace and decided to take matters into our own hands. We are a small but mighty husband and wife team who quit our jobs, liquidated our savings, and cashed out our retirement accounts to make this happen.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
From Amazon to Apple, CEOs are always talking about how they started their business in their garages. In late 2015 when we launched our company, we were living in an upstairs 800 sq ft condo with a covered parking spot. No garage. We convinced a friend close by to move her car over to make room for our first shipment of books. We’d sneak in through the side door late at night to grab books for the first orders that came in. We think of those early days often and remember fondly how we started our business in someone else’s garage.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
From the beginning, we’ve been committed to quality and doing everything with excellence. We hired a former Disney animator to illustrate our books. When we first got going, we had neither experience nor any credibility. Just raw passion and a tenacity that wouldn’t quit. We were low on cash at the beginning, so we had to beg and plead with our artist for him to take the job. We greased his palms by ordering pizzas and had them sent to his office. Looking back, he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. We weren’t going away.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We just recently finished our first series. Our main focus now is to start building out the brand beyond published resources. We are currently working on jewelry and other ancillary products. Our big picture goal is to get into animation and other forms of content delivery.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Get in the trenches with your employees. Have them see you do work that may seem below you, or even them. Create (don’t just speak about) an atmosphere of ‘whatever it takes.’ When they see you living this out, it eliminates any entitlement and instead creates a team-focused company.
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?
Ron Gabaldon. Formally, Ron runs the print company we use. In reality Ron has served so many other titles: coach, personal salesman, mentor, encourager and, most importantly, friend. In the beginning we were the ‘lowest man on the totem pole’ in regards to how much revenue we brought him. Regardless of this, he treated us like we were his biggest client. At one point we hard up on cash as all of our funds were tied up in inventory. We were a week away from owing one of our contractors a substantial amount of money: a bill that we couldn’t pay. We called him to ask about a couple of deals that he had in the pipeline. Unfortunately he informed us that we wouldn’t be able to close on them in time. Without hesitation and without me asking, he offered to loan us the money to pay our contractor. We are so blessed to have Ron in our lives and on our team. We are a better company because of him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
On a large scale, we continue to leverage our success to amplify our message and strengthen families all over the globe. From partnerships with organizations like World Vision to traveling all over the country to speak to a variety of audiences, we get to see, experience and share our impact with others. On a smaller scale, every time we receive a letter or message from one of our customers detailing how we’ve played a major role in creating important moments and opportunities for kids to learn and grow, we know that the work we are doing matters.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s a marathon, a hike, a swim, and sometimes it’s a lurch out of the quicksand. Do not sprint. Understand that the pace is slow. Do not simply practice self-care. Prioritize it. If you don’t, it can lead to burnout and health issues. Eating healthy, exercising and rest are incredibly important.
2) As you climb your own mountain, help the people you encounter on your way up. When we first started we thought that we could only really be helpful once we hit a certain pinnacle or financial level. The fact of the matter is that you can and should help others no matter where you find yourself on the mountain. As you scale, look around. Who’s in your vicinity? It’s amazing what happens when you ask someone how you can help and genuinely want to see them succeed. Seek to build relationships that are mutually beneficial. A rising tide really does raise all ships.
3) Success takes time. Rarely anyone is an overnight success. It takes years and years of grueling work to create something, especially an international brand. The world is incredibly loud. It doesn’t matter how great your product is; it is hard to compete with all the noise. Be patient.
4) Write thank you notes. Don’t email them. Don’t text them. It might sound dumb, but hardly anyone does it anymore. Handwritten notes are a meaningful way to stand out. All anybody ever gets in their mailbox anymore are bills. Take the time to thank someone if they helped you. People like to help people who appreciate the help they gave.
5) Some people aren’t going to ‘get’ what you’re doing. They might be pessimists. They might be misinformed. They might not need your product or service. They might just not get it. Don’t sweat it. There will be a lot of distracting voices around you, sometimes even in your own head. Stay focused on the task at hand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“If you are sufficient for your task it’s too small.” — John Piper
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Sara Blakely of Spanx. Hands down. We have always been drawn to Sara, not just her success, but the road she took to get there. She’s transparent, an incredibly hard worker, extremely intelligent and highly driven. We would love to take her out to dinner just to say thanks! She is a wonderful example for girls and women everywhere!