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Vanessa Bell Mumbition the Podcast

Mumbition

The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 71: A product that sells itself

Dr Alana Wylie

Founder Eye Heart Science

June 13, 2023
Dr Alana Wylie has created a unicorn. A business that is growing organically without huge amounts of marketing or advertising. So how has she done it? And got kids hooked on science at the same time?
DWEN
This episode is brought to you by DWEN the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network
For more than a decade, DWEN has brought women entrepreneurs together from around the world to help them connect, scale their businesses, and ultimately succeed. Join DWEN today for free access to a global network of women entrepreneurs and valuable resources to grow your business.

Links

Eye Heart Science

DWEN Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network

Ellah Designs

Credits

Produced by - Lucy Kippist

Edited by - Morgan Brown
‍Interviewers -
Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
‍Guest -
Dr Alana Wylie

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Episode 71 Transcript

Carrie (04:56.834)

Dr. Alana, we love sharing women's stories. We also love educating women on pitching with confidence to be articulate about their business. So warmly inviting you to share your Eye Heart Science pitch.

Alana (05:12.651)

Thank you. Thanks for having me. So, well,  Eye Heart Science, we're a science education company and we're a group of science loving nerds that are really passionate about creating fun, engaging science content for children that can be taught by anyone. So we're all about getting kids very familiar and comfortable with learning that failure is part of the problem solving process.

We get to do that every week with our before and after school science clubs.

Carrie (05:44.542)

Oh, wow, amazing. I want to send both my boys there right away. And I love that you're helping,  children, our future get comfortable with the concept of not always things working out and dealing with those failures.

As a founder now or entrepreneur, there's going to be a lot of those experiences that we have to deal with. So the sooner that we can get that, our head around that, the better. So you're clearly passionate about helping children develop their own problem solving mindset, their growth mindset. But can you think back to the earlier days as you created your own business when there are lots of different issues that will arise and share an example of how...

Alana (08:54.235)

So starting back in 2019, it was very paper and pen, if you will. So it was just me. I started running these little science clubs. We had just three small classes running every week. And so the big  problem that we wanted to solve, or I wanted to solve there is how can I take this content that I'm building and running with these three classes and grow it to be a little bit bigger. And so that's been an ongoing goal for the business is how we scale. And I think with each level that we scale, we hit new problems and we trial them, we see if they work. So we left our paper and pen system of taking our registrations manually and then we got a website and we started getting our registrations that way. And then that ended up being like death by Excel spreadsheet. So then we're like, okay, well, how can we, modify the enrollment process so it all pulls nicely. And then we came up with Google Docs and then that's been a real evolution to now we're at this point where we have this amazing registration and attendance platform. And that's just one  example, I guess, of an issue that we've faced with our scale, but how we've just thought okay, is that going to work? Nope. But let's try it. I mean, that's the thing I think for us with problem solving and my background is you have to go and try, collect the data, is that working? Nope, okay, let's try again. Or I guess going out and saying, oh, what have you used? Or here's a similar business that's running, kids clubs or art clubs, what  attendance platform do you use? And then we  would share their learnings and implement them. That's a long story to say that we  went through paper and pen all the way up to now having a really well-oiled machine for that element of the business.

Carrie (10:51.410)

And what I hear is that you don't have to have the perfect solution from the get go. You're always  improving and optimizing and making those little tweaks to whatever challenge you have. And that might be a long challenge that takes a different form as the time goes on. So I love that we actually don't have to have everything perfect from the get go.

Alana (11:18.611)

That's such a good point. I would say that our business has followed that to a T as in we are constantly evolving and I don't think anyone would ever launch a business, with the perfect equation straight up. It's all trial and error. It's all seeing which platform fits. I think my staff are sick of so many software platforms that we've changed through just as we've grown to accommodate that increase in numbers, increase in complexity.

And there's no way you'd go to launch a small business with the infrastructure that you need to run a bigger business. So I think anyone going into business needs to be comfortable with the fact that you'll constantly be upgrading, modifying, trying out new things, seeing how they go.

Lucy Kippist (12:05.182)

It also sounds like your natural curiosity, which I'm guessing is a big part of a science mindset as well, is going to help with that, to look at the constant unfolding and re-evaluating processes because you're comfortable in that space as well, because you're used to experimenting with things. How would you then take that way of thinking to the idea of risk in a business? Because that's something we love to ask our business owning women about.

It's not something that people often talk about. But because you've got an education-based business as well, what  processes have you put in place to protect yourself from risk in that format?

Alana (12:50.147)

Well, it's a great question for someone that works with children and chemicals and science experiments. So we have a few, I guess, and then I would break our risk management up into two  areas like business risk management. So I'm a natural, rule follower. I like to make sure I'm doing the right thing and following everything to a T. So I guess the first thing for us was making sure that working in the education capacity, if we're doing anything with children, making sure that we've had all of the proper checks and things in place. This is actually a common question that I get asked by anyone else coming into work in the same  space that we do, which is working with children. What  process do you have to go through to cover yourself off from those risks? So now we have a good process in place where all of our staff have to be working with children check cleared, which is part of a police check. We then make sure we have all the proper, insurances in place for running a business. And I think for me too, I  went probably on the side of caution and over did my insurance, which I still keep as if I wasn't trying, that was something I didn't want to skimp on whatsoever.

So I got a good insurance broker and had a really detailed conversation about exactly what my business did, how many people were involved, how I worked with them so that I could make sure that I got, the right protection in place for that component of the business. The great thing is engaging schools, they also have their own risk management processes in place, so they're very thorough before they'll let you come on site and do anything at their school, which is a good. Like an added layer of protection for us is they won't let us on unless they've done their due diligence as well. So we can use that in our own processes. And then there's that element of business risk protection. But then I guess for me, which is quite specific to what I do, is making sure that when myself or my staff are going and doing hands-on science with kids, that there is no element of risk in the experiments that we're doing.

So we're pretty tight on the things that we allow our staff to do in our science clubs and the equipment and the materials that we take in. We have a very big risk management plan that we've got in place for if something happens, how do you deal with that. But ideally we want to mitigate the risk in the first place. And then the favourite part for me is designing the experiments. I like to  think that I do it a little bit like the Women's Weekly Cookbook.

Where I do them three times. It's triple tested to make sure. I mean, it still happens. I mean, we work with kids, you tell them to put nothing in their mouth and that's almost like an invitation that they want to put something in their mouth. So, we have good processes in place for that. I think the two biggest things that I tell my staff is number one, obviously have fun with the kids because that's what it's all about, but also create a very safe environment. 

Risk for us is something that's definitely at the forefront of our mind when we're planning everything.

Lucy Kippist (16:08.274)

It definitely sounds like, and listening to you share that, I took my boys to a science show at Wollongong Uni a couple of holidays ago and the woman was showing them how to create fire from bubbles, sorry I'm not scientifically minded at all, but I think the shock on their faces was like, wow, mummy's letting us watch this, I'm just thinking how you mitigate that, I was thinking do not, do not try this at home which obviously she shared as well. But there's also that element, isn't there, with the risk with these things about, yeah, don't do it.

Alana (16:35.984)

Yeah.

Carrie (17:24.234)

Can we just have an extra special shout out to your staff, Alana, because they must have amazing patience. I know that when I tackle science-spec experiments with my kids, I start off really excited. And then as more materials come out and I start thinking, oh, what if it gets into their eye or things like that. It doesn't quite turn into that experience that I thought it was going to be. So shout out to them.

DWEN

Alana (18:59.083)

Yes, I find especially at home science experiments too, I feel like for the parent. 90% of the time is preparation for then a 10% wow at the end, where you're then left with a kitchen of mess that you're cleaning up. But I will share just on the note of risk and one quick little anecdote about our most dangerous experiment to date, which always makes me giggle, because it wasn't a dangerous experiment at all. It was making kaleidoscopes.

And this is just an anecdote of how it is working with children. It had a little piece that was the eyepiece. So a little finger sized hole,that you would put onto the tube to then hold up to look through. We do a risk management plan for all of our experiments. That did not factor in my risk management at all, that children would put their fingers in that hole.

Lucy Kippist (19:53.058)

Oh no.

Alana (19:54.563)

So the first class of the week on a Monday morning, I get a phone call from one of my staff members saying, oh, we have a student with their finger stuck in the eyepiece. And I said, what do you mean stuck? They said, no, it's really stuck. We can't get it out. And I said, oh, OK, all right. Well, do I need to come on site? They said, no, we're going to go to the front office and see if the secretaries can help. We'll call you back in a minute. So they hang up, and I'm sitting there waiting, waiting. Oh, my goodness, what's going to happen?

I'm going to have to call this parent and say your child's gone to the hospital because they have their fingers stuck in the science experiment. I call back and they, and I said, how's it going? What's the status? They said, well, the groundskeeper is coming with his wire cutters. It's like, I don't know if that's making me feel any better. Anyway, I then, I then like, I said, okay, I'll call you back again. I called back. The groundsman had cut it off with wire cutters. The funny thing about this is she was fine. It came off. It's all good.

I then quickly sent a message out to all of my staff to say, guys, we've had an incident this morning and someone got their finger caught in the eyepiece of the kaleidoscope. So, just be really careful with that. Then I got a call that afternoon and it was, before I got a chance to tell them the safety announcement, another kid got their finger caught in the kaleidoscope piece. So then I had to send another message out to my staff saying, okay, do not put the kaleidoscopes out until you've given the safety briefing.

I just thought, that is like the perfect anecdote of working with children and in context of, what do we do to manage risk? Well, I thought I had a pretty good risk management plan. We put it into place. Obviously I've missed that. Then I warned everyone and I didn't give them the step, put them aside. Don't let the kids touch them. It was just, it was a funny week that week.

Lucy Kippist (21:40.360)

Fantastic, just what you needed. Thank you for sharing that. I want to take the conversation just in another direction, still about business development really. You spoke in the introduction there about how you actually started this business after a corporate job, which is a lot like, I think almost 30% of our community share that journey from corporate to their own business. But I'd like to know the role that networking's played in the development or the growth of Eye Heart Science because we know that that's  pivotal to sharing, just even word of mouth. As you shared, you came to your business from a corporate background, which,around 30% of our community also share that trajectory.

But in terms of the development of Eye Heart science, can you share a time where networking has actually played a really important role in the growth of the business?

Alana (23:23.583)

So my background, I did some time in corporate, but prior to that was actually being a scientist in a lab. Then I went out and worked in pharma, which was a really, really great commercial application of, the science and putting that into play and seeing how it works in the real world. But what it doesn't teach you is how to actually start a business. Right. Because I went from.

Being a scientist to then big pharma, which was great, but that's a really, really well-oiled machine. And that's not the same as a startup where you go, okay, well, how do I start up? What do I need to get? Do I need an ABN? Do I need insurance? Like what accounting software do I use? What legal implications do I need to consider? So very early on, I actually met someone, well, actually I didn't meet her. She was an old colleague who I ended up reconnecting with who had just traveled that path. And she's also a mum and she was just someone who I had a meeting with when I said to her, look, I'm thinking about doing this. And it really was  a network thing because I wouldn't have reached out to her otherwise.That was a real serendipitous meeting where she just said, this is what you should do. Her expertise is actually in content.

She said, let me write all your website copy for you. Cause it's just going to be a platform for you to then start off. That olive branch from her, who was also a busy mum who had made this leap from working in pharma world to go and do this thing. That's just one of those things where you go, that was so nice of her. She said to me at the time, just pay it forward.

So anytime I meet anyone that like considers, oh, I'm thinking about doing this, I try and impart all my wisdom because that was really important, like it is a person, you might not feel that comfortable reaching out to them, but you just never know what  information they're going to offer you. I think in the startup phase, for me anyway, just getting to the point of things is you want that practical advice. Okay, well, what website platform did you use? What, how did you get your URL? And she helped me do all of that stuff that just provides you with that little bit of a sturdier springboard to then feel like you can take that leap.

Carrie (25:51.702)

The power of networking. You mentioned paying it forward as well. And that is the loop, right? That you start. I think, especially as business owners, especially as founders, especially as women who are very generous in giving their advice, we need to lean into that. And we need to actually really be part of that whole networking ecosystem, which we certainly love, love having you a part of Mums & Co. Now, expanding onto that amazing network, when you're looking at visibility, it's often a key challenge for all small business owners. What are some of the top methods that you've actually used to generate success in this area?

Alana (26:44.447)

So for us, in a bit of a different position, where from the moment of launching the business was so reliant on me delivering the science classes. So I obviously reached a capacity, right, where I was like, okay, well, I can't do any more until I get staff. So trying to get my name out there wasn't something that I was trying to do because we've been very lucky that from the startup. 

We've had more demand than we can actually cope with. So, which is, I guess, unusual, right, in a startup, because you do really want to get your name out there and let people know who you are. But we've been, working so hard in the back end to work out what that formula is to enable us to scale, that we've kept it very quiet in terms of we haven't had to go down your social media channels, we haven't had to place adverts in things. 

Ours has been very, very much word of mouth. So that's then helpful because then the second that we're ready to then, okay, we've now hired two more staff members so we can now take on six more schools because we've had that very nice word of mouth, we've then got that little repository of schools that we can go to and say, oh, okay, we're ready to take on some more classes, are you ready? 

So that's been very nice for us. So we've been very lucky. However, it's interesting that you say that because it's definitely something that I'll be going through your future podcasts and ones in archive to hear what people answer here because we're about to switch our business model and actually getting our voice out there and having that visibility is going to be really really important to us and something that we haven't faced yet. So I'll be very interested in hearing and networking with people to find out the best way forward for them.

Carrie (28:39.564)

Amazing. I think that is part of networking. You never know when you're going to meet that next customer or someone who actually wants to introduce you to your next customer. Now I know you mentioned before that your staff are loving all the upgrades in tech and data  platforms. I think Lucy had a bit of a smirk there too because we're digital from the get go since 2016 and we have lots of iterations. That's the true startup mode when you might use a free subscription and then you  grow and you might invest a little bit more in  upgrades.

Technology moves at such a fast pace as well. So as your business has adapted and changed, how has technology allowed you to grow? And what's actually got your attention in tech right now?

Alana (29:39.679)

Uh, tech right now, obviously I'll answer that. That's an easy one. That's AI. I mean, that is just like chatGPT is unbelievable. I mean, I don't know how much you guys have used it or dabbled with it, but the fact that you can put data into something and it can analyze it and write back. I think that really resonates with me because of one of the things about Eye Heart science and where I came from. Is at school for myself, for example, I was never good at memorizing and writing down and getting into an exam. I guess that's why I fell into science is because that is all about problem solving on the go and trying this, failing, being resilient, coming back, putting that into play. And computers can help you with that, but they can't go out and actually do it. 

I just feel like the fact that these computers can now spurt out any information to you, it's going to take away from that element of rote learning and needing to memorize things and how, and I guess put more emphasis onto kids needing to go out and be resilient and problem-solve and do things with their hands, get dirty and like make something and see that that's not stable, I need to make it again.

So for me, just personally, a big hotspot in technology at the moment is artificial intelligence and how that's coming along. In terms of our business, you get like the tabs that I'm looking at on my computer here, the number of tabs that I have as my favorites for all the different tech platforms that I use on my computer. I have to say, I look at them and I love them all because they just, we're spoiled for choice now, you can almost just type in this magical Google search of what you want a platform to do for you and you get these options. I think one of the things that I will say about it though, as from our and I'm sure you guys have experienced this too, is you unfortunately have to spend a bit of time sifting through them all and actually signing up for those free trials and doing those 30 days and saying, is this going to work for our business and does this have all of the bells and whistles that I needed to have. Often you can spend a bit of time investing in one, uploading your data into one, trialing it, and it's still not quite right for you. And then you have to move on to the next one. But we found that I think when we do that and we don't settle just for the first one that we've uploaded our data into, and we persist with it, I mean, some of the programs that we use now just, I don't know how we would operate without them.

Lucy Kippist (32:25.341)

Yeah so true I was thinking to myself I'm just looking at my own bunch of tabs open on my laptop as well. It's just incredible isn't it just how much is available to us. Alana you shared a really beautiful example before in regards to the networking question about the power of help and we love talking about that in terms of community here at Mums & Co which is obviously what we are a community for business-owning mothers.

But what would you see as the benefits of joining a community of like-minded women when you're running a business that are experiencing similar challenges to you?

Alana (33:09.399)

Look, I think you get a number of benefits from something like this. It's really on a scale of everything from the absolute practical advice that you get. Just the real, I'm a real like, I just go straight to tactics sometimes. So just that advice on the right platform to use for something, just as we've been talking about tech, they can give you that really great. Look, I've used this one. You don't, you don't know don't need to trial those other five. This one will give you what you want. All the way up to, I mean, the networks of data, right? I'm obviously a scientist, but you're getting to tap into everyone else's experimentation. So we go through and we experiment with things ourselves and we find out what works and what doesn't. And then when you tap into those networks, your access to data just explodes with those women or groups that you're involved with, because instead of it just being one little business that's tried this platform, this model or this strategy, you then have just this wealth of knowledge that has already been tried and tested or they've already gone down that road and the value that you get from that, I mean, you can't beat that, right? Someone else has done it for you and it saves you so much time.

Lucy Kippist (34:23.342)

I was going to say, that time saving, you're so right about the data. Just asking one question, you get 30, 40, 50 different responses. You don't really have to do your own research, which is fantastic. At Mums & Co, we like to talk about the concept of harmony, which is a blending of our ambition and our livelihood and our wellbeing as business earning mothers. I know that you're a mum of three. That's probably something that's also top of mind for you.

But when you're thinking about those concepts, how would you describe the shape of a great life for you? What would that look like?

Alana (35:03.353)

I think for me being from a bit of a science background, I don't know if this is the right answer that you're looking for Lucy, but I'm just going to say, I guess for me, I think that it can't be set in a shape for me. I would be thinking of a bit of a pie chart. That's where my science comes in. And those, you have that pie chart that's then made up of these quadrants and things that you want to dedicate your time to that are important to you. As you would know, running a business, sometimes those, like a certain quadrant, it feels like it's taking up that whole pie chart. And you need to, look back at it and see how you can rebalance it out. I just feel like for me, I guess maybe the answer is I think we're all striving for balance, right? We're all trying to get that perfect shape.

And if I'm being real, I sometimes just think it doesn't exist, right? And that's the chaos that we have to embrace and just say, well, this is it. Let's roll with it. And at the end of the day, would you have it any other way? Probably not. 

Lucy Kippist (36:19.123)

Well said, I think that's a perfect answer, Alana. And actually also, we haven't had a pie chart mentioned yet on the podcast. I actually think it's perfect, because then you can move the percentages as and when they fit. That's a perfect answer. Thank you so much. Yes.

Alana (36:27.699)

Oh, great. Exactly.

Alana (36:34.835)

As you collect more data Lucy,  you're always collecting the data and you can edit it.

Lucy Kippist (36:39.162)

Yes, I am sure this answer is filling Carrie with absolute delight hearing you say that as well. So the final question for you today Alana is in the spirit of women supporting women, do you have, who are the mumbitious? So the women in your life running businesses who are, or working, unapologetically blending their motherhood with their ambition that you'd like to say hello to.

Alana (37:07.919)

I would love to say hello to my beautiful friend Meg, who is probably the most creative person I know. And she is running her business, which is called Ellah Designs. And she has designed this beautiful stainless steel elephant cup for kids. And it's this cup that has an integrated straw. So like those little straws that kids all love that's built into their cup. And

She designed them with her husband. They're absolutely beautiful. She took huge risks getting them manufactured and making sure that they were perfect to the tee. And I don't think I have anything in my house that kids compliment or fight over more when they come over is her elephant cup. So I think she's just awesome. And I want her to keep going with that because I just think they're very cool.

Lucy Kippist (37:56.398)

Beautiful tribute. Thank you so much. Alana, thank you so much for joining us on Mumbition today. And if you'd like to find out more about Dr Alana Wiley and Eye Heart Science, you can find her and it in our Mums & Co membership directory. We hope today's story has inspired you and we would love to help support your own business journey in 2023.