Meet Penny Bauder an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. Founder of Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and sustainable STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) activities, she has won multiple awards for being the best kids subscription box and also the Entrepreneur's "Build Like a Woman" contest.
Who is Penny Bauder? define yourself
Hi, I’m Penny, an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. I live in a house on a hill in the suburbs of San Diego with my husband and two kids. I can often be found with paint under my fingernails scribbling madly in a notebook, working in our urban farm, or teaching the neighborhood kids how to make a volcano with baking soda and vinegar. Motivated by a passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 I founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and sustainable STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide that have influenced a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability.
How were you as a kid?
I spent most of my childhood building forts in the woods next to my house, and this contributed to a lifelong love of the natural world. In college I was drawn to the natural sciences, and I eventually received a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. I went on to work as an environmental scientist (specializing in climate science and invasive species) and park ranger, working in wild areas all over the United States, and finally settling down in Alaska for 10 years.
"The most important ingredient in my recipe for success is to take action. Stop talking and planning, and take action. Don’t talk about what needs to get done – get out there and start doing it! "
You received a B.A. in Environmental Management at Western Michigan University and an M.S. in Environmental Science at Alaska Pacific University, why did you decide to study that?
Growing up, I’ve always held a deep appreciation for nature. As a teen, I gravitated towards taking environmental action for issues and systemic injustices that pervade globally. Our world today faces serious environmental challenges—global warming, pollution, climate change, and species extinction, to name a few. These challenges will require significant adjustments in the way we work, play, live and govern. Studying environmental science and becoming educated across disciplines such as clean energy, biology, economics, and anthropology seemed to be the best way that I could arm myself with the knowledge to truly make a difference in the world.
You were a senior planner in Alaska Department of Natural Resources and director for Alaska Conservation Solutions, in general terms, can you tell us more about your work experience?
As a senior planner with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources I worked in tandem with federal, state, municipal, non-profit, and other agencies and organizations to complete environmental planning projects around the state. I designed and authored several comprehensive management plans for recreation areas and scenic byways in Alaska. All of these required public input and cooperation and I created many regional citizen advisory teams and managed lively public processes as a result. As director of Alaska Conservation Solutions, I worked exclusively on the issue of climate change in Alaska. Climate change is already affecting wild and inhabited parts of Alaska, plant and animal species, and whole ecosystems, with direct and indirect impacts on Alaskans. It is already affecting recreational opportunities, subsistence practices, public health, economic security, and safety. My work entailed educating policymakers and residents on climate-related impacts and the need to change current laws, policies, and individual practices.
My work experience also included time spent as the education director of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA). AYEA is a program of Alaska Center Education Fund that inspires and trains rural and urban youth leaders to impact environmental issues by providing leadership skills training and supporting youth-led community action projects and campaigns. Here I provided training and event coordination assistance for AYEA teens, conducted youth/member outreach through site visits and school presentations and built and sustained partnerships with community organizations to strengthen youth programs in Alaska.
How did you jump from being an environmental scientist to founding your company Green Kid Crafts in 2010?
When I had my first child, like many new mothers, I re-evaluated my career and my goals for the future. I decided that I was most passionate about fostering environmental leaders. My work with the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action was so fulfilling and taught me that I loved working with kids and inspiring them to take action on environmental issues and that I was good at it! It was with this passion in mind that I decided to launch Green Kid Crafts. What better way to engage kids than by sending them educational and engaging STEM and STEAM kits in the mail each month? Not only do kids love getting mail but we design our products in a way that the entire family can get involved in and in this way Green Kid Crafts has been able to influence over 1 million kids worldwide to take a leadership role in sustainability.
As an environmentalist scientist, I immediately saw a need for a convenient solution that would allow families to spend quality time together enjoying screen-free, nature-based STEM and STEAM kits that fostered a child’s creativity and confidence. I knew the importance of making safer materials more accessible and was passionate about building an award-winning green company to inspire the next generation of creative leaders that could serve as a model for environmental sustainability and corporate citizenship. We are carbon neutral and we offset 100% of the carbon dioxide generated by our business. We minimize packaging and printing and use recycled materials. Our kits are bundled in special bags that are made of 100% recycled materials. We plant a tree for each online order and at least 1% of sales are donated to environmental organizations through our membership in 1% for the Planet.
"Recognizing small victories can boost your morale, give validation you are on the right path and provide the motivation to keep going, reveling in the small wins will bring more joy into your life and business and in the end, increase productivity"
Green Kid Crafts is the leading award-winning monthly subscription kit for kids and you’ve won multiple awards for being the best kids subscription box. Green Kid Crafts has shipped over 1 million packages worldwide that deliver a new STEAM learning experiments each month that encourages creativity, literacy, and environmental education through thematic kits designed by educators and scientists to foster a generation of environmental leaders. Science, geography, math, art, technology, and engineering are woven into each themed kit, all made with carbon-neutral, sustainable materials. You were the winner of the Entrepreneur's "Build Like a Woman" contest, What´s the recipe for your success?
The most important ingredient in my recipe for success is to take action. Stop talking and planning, and take action. Don’t talk about what needs to get done – get out there and start doing it! While it is true that effective planning is important, too much planning can also lead to paralysis. So, go ahead and publish your website, start a podcast and launch your new product. You can start gathering data and tweak things as you go along. I also love to share my favorite quote with the woman business leaders I mentor. Maya Angelou once said that “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” It’s so important that we like what we do. If we like what we do then liking ourselves follows and we feel more self-fulfillment and joy. The latter part of this quote - “liking how you do it” is what keeps me in check. If I’m not acting with integrity and taking the high road in my business decisions, I won’t like how I manage my company. This quote reminds me of keeping Green Kid Crafts aligned with the values by which it was founded: to strive for sustainability and positive change by fostering the next generation of environmental stewards, engaging kids with nature in creative ways, and giving back in any way we can.
In your opinion, what are the reason girls don´t want to study careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics)? What we should do as a society to change that fact?
I think the reasons that girls shy away from STEM careers and fields range from peer pressure to a lack of role models and support from parents as well as teachers, to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world. We as a society can change this by providing teachers with more engaging and relatable STEM curriculum and especially by including more hands-on projects, the kinds of activities that have proven to help retain girls’ interest in STEM over the long haul. While STEM programs get a ton of attention and accolades (and rightfully so!), STEAM programs are just as important. Many people are familiar with the popular educational initiative of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but lately many parents, educators, and school administrators are favoring a new term: STEAM.
"Don’t try to be a supermom. My biggest challenge has been juggling parenting and entrepreneurship. I’ve had to let go of some old ideas about motherhood, and now I’m happy being a “good enough mother instead of a perfect one"
The phrase retains the original STEM subjects as tenets but includes an A which stands for Arts. The shift addresses the focus on hands-on and creative skills to boost engagement by making learning more fun and accessible. To get girls involved in STEM we need to teach STEAM. We also need to increase the number of STEM mentors and role models – including parents – to help build young girls’ confidence that they can succeed in STEM. Girls who are encouraged by their parents are twice as likely to stay in STEM! With more exposure to positive role models, young girls could find women that they can relate to and aspire to be.
It’s also important to celebrate the stories of women who are in STEM right now, today. There are some amazing female STEM role models doing amazing work such as Cynthia Breazeal, a modern-day computer science pioneer, and trailblazer in the area of social interaction with artificial intelligence. And then there is Dr. Ellen Stofan is Chief Scientist at NASA. Closing the gender gap in STEM fields requires a coordinated effort of artists, activists, educators, parents, and of course industry leaders. With more transparency and more social support, we can galvanize the next generation of girls to not just dream about a career in STEM, but to become the role models themselves!
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
My best days are those that include routine and self-care. My morning routine includes a trail run in nature, meditation, and journaling. After this, I spend time on my CEO duties with Green Kid Crafts: designing new monthly science and art kits, managing my team, and marketing and PR tasks. I also work as a mentor and business consultant to woman start-up founders so I often spend time on the phone or at coffee shops with the woman I’m mentoring. My nightly routine includes a sit-down dinner with my family, one-on-one time with each of my kids, painting, and reading. I also make sure that I spend quality time with friends. Practicing self-care wasn’t learned overnight and it takes discipline to make my physical, emotional, and mental needs a priority.
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Starting a company is hard, growing and running one is harder. Doing this day in and day out can be draining. Most people celebrate the big wins but I encourage people to celebrate the small wins, too. In the past, after experiencing big wins such as hitting our revenue and subscriber goals, I would never take the time to celebrate. Instead, I just moved on to the next task. Now I know that celebrating success motivates and inspires our team and that taking time to reflect and recharge leads to more success. Recognizing small victories can boost your morale, give validation you are on the right path and provide the motivation to keep going. So, rejoice over your first customer or transaction, figuring out a new technique, or learning how to use a new software program. Reveling in the small wins will bring more joy into your life and business and in the end, increase productivity.
"Girls should learn to become comfortable with failure. If you decide to be an entrepreneur, you are more likely to fail than you are to succeed. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs failed multiple times before they experienced their first win!"
What do you love most about your job as a CEO? & what is the most difficult part?
I love that, as CEO, I get to be involved in almost every aspect of my company, and at the same time, I also manage our big picture goals. Building out a company is a rewarding process, and I love seeing our growth and plans for the future. I love that I get to map out the trajectory of the company and look ahead to tomorrow's successes.
The most difficult part for me is that, of course, being a CEO is stressful! With a never-ending to-do list, I have to be always on and I'm never able to completely check out.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?
Your business should serve your life, not the other way around. The second-year after starting my company, I knew that something had to give during a 60-hour work-week a few short months after giving birth to my second child. I decided then that I was going to work a 25-hour work-week even though I had no idea how to make it happen; I wanted to like my life in addition to liking my work. I learned to be very disciplined about my schedule and to delegate and now I have more balance in my life.
Don’t try to be a supermom. My biggest challenge has been juggling parenting and entrepreneurship. I’ve had to let go of some old ideas about motherhood, and now I’m happy being a “good enough” mother instead of a perfect one. At one point I was the “room mom” of both my kids’ classrooms, their volunteer art teacher, and the coach for my daughter’s volleyball team. I’ve since learned I have to say “no” to most of the volunteer requests that come my way. Be okay with imperfection. I learned early on that perfection is unattainable. Now, I’m intentional about not being a perfectionist. You can waste a lot of time trying to make everything perfect when “good enough” will work just fine.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else does?
Be okay with being uncomfortable. I’m a true introvert, although most people don’t believe it since I’m very social and not shy. But most of the things I do, from speaking at conferences, to mentoring other woman founders, to traveling internationally, to leading team meetings, make me very uncomfortable. But I do them anyway because I believe that being uncomfortable is a requirement for growth.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We have a very strong affiliate program that boasts thousands of influencers. We’ve nurtured this program since we launched and it’s been very effective at spreading the word about Green Kid Crafts. But first and foremost, we have an amazing product that kids love and which makes life easier for parents. We’ve always put product development first and marketing second. Our content marketing strategy is a key to our success and it has provided exceptional value to our business; it's tied to our Pinterest page, which boasts over two million followers. We regularly post DIY science experiments, art projects, and thought the leadership on our company blog, which receives hundreds of thousands of visits a month. For us, it’s worked to build trust, improve our brand awareness, generate leads and cultivate customer loyalty.
"I think the reasons that girls shy away from STEM careers and fields range from peer pressure, to a lack of role models and support from parents as well as teachers, to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world"
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend my free time creatively and love to paint and write short stories. I’m not very good at either but I get so much joy out of both and that is the point!
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, you are married with two kids. So according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I find the concept of balance unachievable and it can set a woman up for failure. Instead of balance, we should seek work-life harmony, where career, family, and play blend together. For me, it is about integrating these three aspects, which all form part of who I am. I practice work-life harmony by making deliberate choices about what I want in life, on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. Instead of letting life happen, I am conscious of how I spend my time. I have a road map of what is important to me and I commit to following that path. I also have a strong support network that I depend upon in good times and bad and keeps me centered.
Everybody has had dark moments in their lives, what have you done to get out of that phase?
As far back as I can remember, I always loved being outdoors. Being in nature reminds me of the beauty of life and instantly puts me in a place of gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find walking by the beach and hearing the sound of waves to be instantly calming and soothing. Spending time in nature gives me this sense that there is something greater than myself, that everything works in tandem with everything else. That everything (good and bad) happens for some greater reason. For me, it is one of the most reassuring things.
What are your plans for the future?
In the next month, we will be releasing many new STEM and STEAM kits, including many new multi-box packs. Green Kid Crafts' themes generally fall within four categories: Ecosystem Science, Environmental Activism, Wildlife Science, and Earth Science. The next six months will see Green Kid Crafts building out our international program and shipping to more countries. My passions include environmental and youth advocacy, STEAM education, and international connections so it makes sense that Green Kid Crafts’ STEM and STEAM kids become available around the world! We are working on a new program that will connect kids all over the world to learn from each other, help the environment, and develop the skills to make the world a better place. Through online and offline opportunities, kids around the world will be connected through monthly STEM and STEAM activities linked to international conservation projects. In this age of global divide, I believe that art and science are the most powerful unifying force we have at our disposal, and I want to do what I can to put these skills in the hands of the world’s youth.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? if yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
It’s my opinion that entrepreneurship has no glass ceiling. Women make great entrepreneurs, with skills that not only set us apart from men but also contribute to successful enterprises. For example, some research shows that women are better at evaluating risks and display greater ambition to become serial entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have to be great leaders and I think that leadership is less about position and more about innovation, creativity, collaboration, connection, and relationships – all things that women embody.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an an entrepreneur like you?
First, I want all young girls to DREAM BIG! Girls can tend to underestimate their own potential and fail to dream big enough. Everything starts with intention and if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. Also, girls should learn to become comfortable with failure. If you decide to be an entrepreneur, you are more likely to fail than you are to succeed. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs failed multiple times before they experienced their first win! Some lost it all and struggled for years before becoming an “overnight success” so I encourage all young girls wanting to be entrepreneurs to not be afraid of failure.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
The woman I admire most today is Greta Thunberg, teenage Swedish climate activist, who epitomizes what leadership, courage and sacrifice looks like. Greta Thunberg becomes an inspiration to millions of people for a multitude of reasons. But what I personally love about her is the way she highlights that moment between thinking and putting herself into action. I also appreciate her reliance on scientific evidence, her unique and direct form of communicating and simplifying complex issues and the way she models a low-carbon lifestyle. She’s doing truly important work, and it’s also super fun to watch her scold world leaders.
Name: Penny Bauder
Company: Green Kid Crafts