Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in training and education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Melissa Zaher and Gretchen Vikingson, Founder of Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy, located in Atlanta, GA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We're two former secondary life science teachers with a true passion for curriculum design. We collaborate daily to create unique, engaging, and differentiated life science lessons that we know will grab students' attention and get them excited about the natural world. Our products are geared toward secondary science teachers and homeschool parents who want simple-to-implement, easy-on-the-budget resources that save time... who doesn't need more time?
Tell us about yourself
There are two of us, so I'll go first. I'm Melissa Zaher. The call to teaching never really happened for me as it does for others. After graduating college with a Bachelor's degree in biology, I ran the gamut of jobs, ranging from mechanic and artist to accountant and restaurant server. After I left my job in 2005, I began soul-searching for the answer to my employment woes. Most people look for their "dream" job – that elusive place where people actually like to go at 5 a.m. For me, that place was hardly defined. In 2008, I took a student teaching assignment at a middle school in Atlanta. Within minutes of meeting Gretchen, I knew I had not only found an incredible mentor but a lifelong friend. As teachers, we collaborated on a daily basis, bouncing ideas off of one another and creating science lessons that engaged and excited our students. We loved the creative aspect of being teachers! Fast forward to now – we're still doing what we love, and we're excited to share our passion for curriculum design with teachers around the world!
I'm Gretchen Vikingson. For 11 years, I taught life science in Alabama and Georgia and fell in love with the middle school age and curriculum. I was always on the hunt for new ways to engage my students. However, fellow teachers wouldn't share lessons, and there weren't many resources on the Internet – I had to create everything from scratch. Even though I was going to the job alone, I found it very rewarding to be able to develop a curriculum of my very own. In 2008 my teaching went through a big change as a student teacher, Melissa Zaher, entered my classroom. With her fresh perspective, old ideas were revitalized, potential lessons were transformed into inquiry-based activities, and I once again found inspiration and excitement in lesson creation. Together, OUR curriculum truly transformed, and now we are developing life science and biology lessons that are proving to be some of the most engaging and exciting on the market.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Where to begin? Learning how to establish a business with a very little business background is a huge accomplishment. We literally built our business from the ground up, with little guidance other than hard work in researching and asking tons of questions from everyone and anyone who would listen. From the legal aspect of creating our business and incorporating as an LLC, designing and building our own website by learning how to code, creating products and trademarking our brand, and building and launching our first physical product line - it's all been an incredible learning process and journey.
Ultimately, our greatest accomplishment after building our business was stepping outside of our comfort zone to market in a new niche - science teacher conferences - which gave us high visibility to some of the top science supply companies in the nation, many of which now carry our products. Being able to diversify our revenue streams during the pandemic is what kept Getting Nerdy afloat and is now helping to propel us even further in the curriculum design field.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
When all you want to do is a lesson plan and create new products, dealing with the day-to-day operations of a business can be tedious. The hardest thing for us is managing the behind-the-scenes aspect of running a business: accounting and bookkeeping, taxes, processing large orders, and dealing with technical issues are among the many fires we have to put out daily that distract from the part we are most passionate about - designing and perfecting our life science curriculum.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Our number one tip would be to develop a brand that is uniquely your own. One of the best compliments we get is when a potential customer walks up and says, "I love your branding - it's so catchy." Our brand is unapologetic "us" - we're quirky and nerdy and full of laughs, and people can recognize our brand and us from a mile away.
Number two - friendships can be tough at times, and partnerships bring an added layer of "tough" to friendships. It's important to set up ground rules from the beginning with contracts, forming an LLC, creating bank accounts, researching your area business license rules and regulations, etc. One thing we ensure is that everything is 50/50 no matter what, and that has kept disputes about money at bay. If you're not working with a partner, all these things still apply so that you protect yourself and your business ideas from the get-go.
Third, and most important, running your own business should be FUN. If you're not having fun, then you're doing it wrong.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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