Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Grace O'Hara, Co-Founder of Small Fires, located in Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We're a social enterprise that makes stories and games that help kids learn about the many different cultures and languages of our world. Our aim is to create delightful and eco-friendly products that spark curiosity and celebrate diversity. At the moment, our customers are parents, caregivers, family, and friends of little people who are passionate about making sure they're exposed to a range of views and are able to interact with anyone, no matter where they come from. We also have a strong community of teachers who love using our products to make safe and inclusive classrooms!
Tell us about yourself
Small Fires was co-founded by Paty Galán and myself, and we both had very different reasons for getting started. Born in Mexico, Paty fell in love with a Kenyan soul while studying in Australia, and all her plans changed completely. When she and her husband became parents for the first time, they knew they wanted to share their rich cultures with their kids. They also knew language was a very important part of this, as they wanted their kids to be close to their families in Mexico and Kenya. So, their journey as a multilingual family started.
For years, Paty made learning materials while also looking around for resources to help her in this journey. Her children had often expressed how easier it is to understand something when she explained it than when their teachers did at school. This encouraged her to create games and toys to learn other languages, and it grew into a business.
For myself, on the other hand, in 2015, I had the privilege of travelling to different corners of the world to learn how different impact-driven organisations worked. When I arrived back home in Aotearoa (New Zealand), my friends and family eagerly asked me, “so, what was it like in all of these places?” To which I could only reply: “totally the same as here.”
I realised while travelling that the books, movies, and TV that I had consumed growing up had done little to prepare me to understand different cultures and places. When I dug deeper into the world of publishing specifically, I saw where my problem had started. There was an alarming lack of diversity within picture books: with less than 25% in 2018 featuring a character that wasn’t white or wasn’t an animal.
With my sister's first baby soon on the way, I set my heart on trying to help bring new stories to life that would help the next generation grow up with a better understanding of all the ways there are to live, play and be around the world.
In 2020, I helped to publish a story written by my Kenyan friend and change-making extraordinaire, Lillian Shirayar Mang'ong'o, and the first iteration of Small Fires was born! In early 2021, I put a call out for a Co-Founder in the Small Fires journey - and when Paty expressed interest, it felt like a perfect fit. Since then, we’ve been putting our minds together, complementing each other’s skills and creativity, and supporting each other in growing a sustainable business by making products that inspire, delight, and do good!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Launching our first book through crowdfunding was a huge moment for us. It proved to us that people wanted, like us, to learn more about the world around us and that stories are a special channel for creating cultural change.
Children’s books are a beautiful way to bring things back to basics. As adults, we can get lost in nuances and complexity. Putting something in writing that is designed for a child to understand can make big things less scary and messy things quite clear. I’ve loved seeing more and more stories emerge that tackle everything from the climate emergency to body positivity, consent, and human rights. In my unbiased opinion, children’s books are a truly overlooked channel for social change. They offer a unique opportunity to shape the next generation early while talking to parents, carers, and educators at the same time!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I think, particularly as an impact-driven business, there is a lot of great advice out there for for-profit businesses and not-for-profits, but for social enterprises, which are a newer kind of hybrid business, it can be really challenging to get the balance right. Paty and myself were both drawn into Small Fires because of our shared purpose (making learning about other cultures and languages easier and more accessible), which means that we often think about impact over income. It's a learning curve, and it's great to see more and more purpose-driven businesses emerging - together, we can learn how to thrive, do good work and create sustainable business models along the way.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Start small, talk to your customer as early as you can, and don't be afraid to change your idea based on feedback! The sooner you can find out if there's a good market fit (or not!), the better it will be for your business. Oh, and if you can infuse purpose into your business - do it. Not only because the world needs more businesses with impact embedded into them but also because it makes it so much easier to get out of bed and keep going on tough days. Purpose is powerful!
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.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.