Melissa Foley combined her interest in sociology and business to help create change through startups and nonprofit organizations for more than 10 years. After having children, she decided to try something new, motivated by her desire to fill the massive gap in media that shares positive messages to girls.
So, Melissa Foley decided to write the Hopscotch Girls books. The book “I Am Confident, Brave & Beautiful: A Coloring Book for Girls” soon became a bestseller on Amazon, selling more than 225,000 copies in the United States. After this success, more Hopscotch Girls books came out, including “Science! STEM Sticker Adventure” and “Outdoor Sports Sticker Adventure.”
Currently, Melissa Foley is developing more coloring and activity books, as well as journals and other books under the Hopscotch Girls brand. Aside from publishing books, Hopscotch Girls is also a social enterprise that uses “media to empower girls.”
At Hopscotch Girls, Melissa Foley develops content that helps give only the best for girls. With Hopscotch Girls books, girls can still enjoy themselves while also feeling empowered. They will see “positive role models” whose intelligence and good health should entice young girls to follow their examples. They can also learn more creatively, which will “inspire conversations and bring families together.”
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Melissa Foley: I’m originally from a tiny town in Northern California where my parents operated a local motel and bar. Inspired by their entrepreneurial spirit, I knew I wanted to own my own business someday.
I studied sociology as an undergrad — always very passionate about social change — and business and marketing in grad school. After that I managed digital marketing programs for brands like Old Navy and Kaiser Permanente, then took my digital skills to the nonprofit/social enterprise space, working with Al Gore’s nonprofit after he won the Nobel prize, helping with an advocacy campaign led by Jaimie Oliver, and more. My work in this sector ended up being incredibly helpful to my career as an entrepreneur — that’s where I learned how to use digital tools to do big things on a shoestring budget. I was mentoring nonprofit organizations when the idea for Hopscotch Girls first came to me.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Melissa Foley: My “Aha Moment” happened on my daughter’s third birthday. She was still so tiny, and I was completely shocked when nearly every birthday gift she received had a princess theme. She even received a princess book with a pledge at the end for girls to sign saying they promise to “never, ever complain”. I was horrified. I couldn’t fathom why our family members thought princesses were what a three-year-old needs most. So, I asked them. They told me that they bought the princess stuff because that was what was available.
I started doing some research and realized that they were right. That’s when the lightbulb went off. I decided that I could make a difference for girls by creating products that are actually good for girls. And that’s the focus of Hopscotch Girls — we make books that feature positive female role models, encourage girls to be their true multifaceted selves, and use creativity and fun to inspire important conversations with family members.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Melissa Foley: The beginning was so hard! When the idea for the business first came to me, I had a 3 year-old and a 1 year-old. The whole experience was crazy — I literally wrote my first business plan on my phone while nursing. I still had a full-time job working with nonprofits. So, when it came time to actually form the business, create products, etc., I was exhausted and had almost no time to do it. I would work on the business before everyone else got up, usually starting around 4 or 5am.
Sales were slow at first and I definitely thought about giving up. But I wanted more for my daughter and her peers, and my husband encouraged me to stick with it.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Melissa Foley: This is a very exciting time for Hopscotch Girls. Target recently approached us about selling one of our books in their stores. In March 2021 our first book, I am Confident, Brave and Beautiful: A Coloring Book for Girls, will be available in 1700 Target locations nationwide. What a dream come true! That book has sold over 425,000 copies in the US and is being translated into four languages. We’ve had a ton of enthusiasm and support from parents, grandparents and caregivers for our newest coloring book and sticker books too.
I once heard someone from Eventbrite say that the harder they worked, the luckier they got. That’s just how I feel — I keep going, even when things get hard. Some really great opportunities have come from sticking with it.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Melissa Foley: When I first started the business, I ran Hopscotch Girls from my home and stored all of our books in my garage. I live on a hill and my garage is set down below street-level. One day a truck showed up with 15,000 books on pallets, in the rain, with no warning at all. My driveway was too steep for the delivery truck and I had no forklift or way to get the books down to the garage on my own. My husband rushed home and I grabbed every tarp we had, a pop-up tent and some traffic cones from a neighbor. We processed and shipped 12,000 books that day, on the street. The neighbors thought we were nuts, but we got it done. That experience taught me that if you work hard and think creatively, you can find your way out of most jams.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Melissa Foley: The tools available to entrepreneurs today are so powerful that even a tiny company run by one person can have an online presence that rivals that of huge companies. Three of my favorite tools are SquareSpace, Canva and Shutterstock. SquareSpace makes building a website so easy — anyone can do it, with absolutely no coding skills whatsoever. They provide beautiful website templates that are easy to use and can do all kinds of stuff–present galleries of products and images, sell products, collect information through forms, etc.
I also love Canva. I used to waste time trying to peck my way through designing ads with Adobe Photoshop or Gimp, but they never looked good enough. Canva’s templates make it so you don’t have to start from scratch and design everything yourself. Their Pro plan is very reasonable and lets you plug in your brand colors, fonts, etc, which I’ve found to be a big time saver. I really like Shutterstock too. When you see amazing ads and websites, most of the time the amazing part is from high-quality, beautiful photos. It’s not always practical for entrepreneurs to do regular photo shoots with a professional photographer, models and all of that. Shutterstock’s got a really nice collection of images, but isn’t as pricey as some other stock photo sites.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Melissa Foley: I’ve had success focusing on my product images and description. There’s opportunity there to convey some of the brand personality and values I mentioned earlier. I like to use lifestyle images to show what the customer experience is like and help potential customers get a feel for how girls react to our products. Depending on your brand personality, you can do a lot with the description too. Word choice and tone can go a long way for communicating a brand — especially if it’s fun, playful or silly.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Melissa Foley: One of the best ways to build your business’s reputation is by taking the customer experience seriously and creating brand champions. Entrepreneurs can create champions by going beyond creating a solid product and creating an experience that will surprise and delight customers. This might mean paying special attention to packaging, including a heartfelt note with an order, or engaging warmly with folks on social media. For Hopscotch Girls, we focus on conveying warmth and respect to our customers at every level — we take girls and their caregivers seriously, while being positive and lighthearted. We do this with every interaction — in our marketing emails, digital ads, social posts and conversations, responses to customer issues — everywhere.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You’ve got to get started.
When you’re getting ready to launch a business, planning is important. But it can hold you back if you get so bogged down with it that you never actually make it to launch. One great way to accelerate the launch of your business is by deploying a pilot project. I always recommend coming up with a scaled down version of your business that you can use to test the concept and gauge the market, and focus on launching that over the next one to three months. I created our test project, “I Am Confident, Brave & Beautiful: A Coloring Book for Girls” while I was still working full-time. Flash forward three years and it’s an Amazon bestseller with five stars and over 11,000 ratings. The success of that initial product made everything we’ve done since possible.
- Make your startup look big.
There are so many amazing tools available online today that even the tiniest startup can look polished and professional. Use tools like Shopify and Squarespace to build a professional looking website that will make customers comfortable, and tools like Canva and Shutterstock to fill it with beautiful imagery. The Hopscotch Girls website is built on Squarespace. Many of our ads are made with Canva and we use Shutterstock images frequently on our blog.
- Create champions, not customers.
Customers are great, but champions buy your products and tell their friends about them. Go beyond creating a solid product and do your best to create an experience that will surprise and delight your customers. This might mean spending special attention to packaging, including a heartfelt note with an order, or engaging warmly with folks on social media.
- Always provide value.
Typically potential customers have to see your brand several times before they make a purchase. But marketers shouldn’t worry about being too repetitive or connecting with customers too often as long as they always provide value to the customer. This means putting yourself in the shoes of the customer and thinking about what they really want and finding a way to give it to them. We take this to heart with the Hopscotch Girls email list and Facebook page in particular.
- Focus on momentum.
In the digital marketplace, the algorithm is king (especially on Amazon!). Most algorithms are designed to recognize trends and send more traffic to hot products. So plan marketing and PR campaigns to create bursts of momentum and see your sales snowball. For Hopscotch Girls we have some advertising running pretty much all the time, but layer on multi-channel campaigns periodically to give things a boost — especially if sales start slipping or we notice some natural momentum we can expand on.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Melissa Foley: You can find Hopscotch Girls online, and on Instagram and Facebook. For easy ways to empower girls, fun activity ideas, alerts about new Hopscotch Girls products, and musings from me, join our email list.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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