Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
Hi! I'm Samantha Razook, the founder and CEO of Curious Jane.
What does Curious Jane do? In a nutshell, we run project-based summer camps and workshops and publish a maker magazine for girls ages 6 to 11.
In working with girls, our goal is to build confidence through making things. All of our projects revolve around science + engineering + design. We create a fun and engaging on-ramp to making, creating, inventing and experimenting!
What is our core business? The heart of our business is our content.
We are a small team of four women, based out of a sunny workspace in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Here, we create, capture and catalog the content that we use to serve our business channels (camps and magazine) as well as to collaborate with like-minded organizations. For example, we created online DIY videos with Amy Poehler’s SmartGirls, published two project books with Sterling Publishing, contributed to Parents Magazine, and trained local non-profits on bringing our programs to their communities. Curious Jane reaches thousands of girls and employs over a hundred young women seasonally.
Curious Jane is now at its ten-year mark, and my focus is on growing the business – through relationships, partnership opportunities, and collaborations. My goal is to increase profitability while spreading and diversifying our impact. Over the past year, we have put in a lot of work to reorient Curious Jane from being a camp company to an educational content company – using our content to support our offerings as well as the offerings of other organizations. We are poised for this now, and I'm turning back outward to continue scaling our business.
I have two teen daughters (they are why I started Curious Jane!) and particularly enjoy that age group. I see them as my next step in mentorship and would like to build offerings for that demographic stemming from what I currently do at Curious Jane. Over the next few years, in addition to growing Curious Jane, I would like to hone my own expertise in topics specific to the teen girls and female entrepreneurs. I'm excited about writing, speaking, presenting and creating a thought leadership practice around these audiences.
Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?
I’m quite new to Ellevate so I am just starting to connect to the community. However, the very fact of my “newness” has already created a favorite Ellevate memory – as I have felt so warmly received by this amazing community! Through the first events I have attended (including an opportunity to hear Sally speak on an amazing panel on the topic of “Defining Success for Yourself”!) as well as the personal and helpful email reach-outs I’ve received – the Ellevate Network has already established itself as a group of women I admire, and a community that I’m thrilled to be a part of. Brava!
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
I’m in the business of education and girls, programming and publishing – but above all of that, I’m in the business of running a business. Curious Jane started at $0 and grew to over $1M in 5 years. We added a new product line 5 years in, and have experienced all types of trial and error, edit and tweak. We learn! What does it take for me to be successful in the business of entrepreneurship? A high tolerance for risk and uncertainty. A good ability to work with all types of people and engage their individual skills within a collaborative group. Confidence. Comfort with hearing “no.” Extroversion, authenticity, and enthusiasm.
We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?
When most get a glimpse of my backstory, they ask “You studied Industrial Design, but your business has nothing to do with that – how did that happen?” I have always been passionate about design. I earned my undergraduate degree from Yale in Graphic Design and, after working a bit, pursued my graduate degree in Industrial Design at Pratt. I entered my Master’s program at the age of 24, with one young daughter, and a second one soon to come. At that point, I was working, parenting and studying. After completing my Masters, I continued my work on various design projects, mostly on a freelance project-basis.
In 2008, the economy took a nose-dive. I was scrambling and needed something for my young daughters to do while I worked. I launched Curious Jane with zero funding and a complete absence of any type of business plan. It’s easy to take a big leap when you have a fire under you.
Curious Jane began very simply as a day camp. I rented some classroom spaces, pulled together a group of about ten girls, and hired a couple excellent instructors to lead them in all sorts of projects. We had classes like Toy Design, Why Buildings Stand Up, and Animal Nature. I drove the camp van each morning and picked up the project supplies at the end of each day.
As it also turns out, my education and work in Industrial Design completely informs how I grow a business. It’s the lens through which I learned best. It also meant that I spent eight years in an educational environment in which project critique and peer feedback were the primary mode of learning, with the goal of improving our work with each iteration. I need to underscore that – project critique and peer feedback were the primary mode of learning. This is invaluable no matter what you do. It has certainly been key to my ability to grow a business with confidence and excitement, even in the valleys (of which there are plenty).
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Hands-down, the most rewarding part of my job is the people I have the honor of working with and employing. Curious Jane self-selects for an applicant pool of amazing, smart, talented, diverse young women. We onboard about a hundred young women each spring to run our summer programs, and I get a high from interview season! These young women come in with all sorts of backgrounds, experiences and personalities. And they want to give that to Curious Jane. It’s amazing! It also places us in the position of offering first-time job experience to a lot of high school and young college students, and that is incredibly rewarding as well. It’s a privilege to be able to guide and mentor young women through that process.
What legacy do you hope to leave through your work?
An ever-expanding community of confident, inquisitive girls.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
It keeps me on my toes! And I need a challenge. I am much more contented in life when I have something to wrestle with. Other great fits? I get to create something for young girls that *I* would have loved as a girl, and that I wanted for my own girls. So it’s deeply personal in that way. It’s a casual and flexible work environment (by design) -- I need that. It’s filled with smart people who challenge and support each other. It keeps me learning and connecting and looking for new avenues of growth. I’m good at it.
What is your morning ritual?
What would you say your personal superpower is?
My personal superpower is speed and nimbleness. I can tackle a tick-list, sort out a problem, spin multiple plates at a rapid pace. My processing power is strong, and I rev high.
Is work-life balance a problem for you? What is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
When you have a hundred plates to spin, it’s best to focus on one item at a time. I have frantically tried to juggle everything at once but found better balance in dis-integrating my personal and business lives. When I’ve been over-integrated, the whole ride goes haywire as I’m overwhelmed trying to handle everything at once.
I’ve grown my business from $0 to over $1M in sales, while raising children, supporting family through health crises, navigating a divorce, and creating new relationships. I’m proud of my family, friendships and my company but I’ve felt trapped in chaos so I set my mind on making a shift. It was difficult to change my patterns, but by following these five steps, I learned to re-orient how I approach responsibilities which has allowed me to be happier and more productive:
Identify your optimal level of “busy” and your most productive time of day. Stack up key tasks at that time and spread out the others on your calendar. Mind the transitions in your day and take breaks in between intensive tasks to recharge. If you’re drowning, write down the top 5 things you need to complete, and tackle one by one. Rely on others in your family or at work. Pass off tasks that can afford a hiccup. Eat well. Sleep well. Dedicate 15 minutes/day for fitness.
What advice would you offer future leading ladies wishing to break into your industry?
Be willing to try – in a completely active, advice-seeking, outward-facing, failure-owning, pound-the-pavement way. When people come to me, to pick my brain about a project they’ve been considering for months or years, I always say the same thing: just do it. It’s okay to start small and imperfect. In fact, it’s the best way to start. The reason to do something the first time is not to nail it, it’s to know what to do the next time. Bigger and better, and often in a way you never envisioned.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
Know your business. Be authentic. It’s what people respond to the most.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Founder and CEO
Curious Jane Camp & Magazine
Hi! I'm the the founder and CEO of Curious Jane, an educational content company for girls ages 6 to 11 – with projects and curriculum revolving around science + engineering + design. I started Curious Jane in 2009 as a summer camp for my girls – and all girls – to be creative and inventive in a high-energy space. In 2014 we launched Curious Jane Magazine to share our content more widely. Today, Curious Jane runs... Continue Reading
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