LFC: Introduce yourself to the #LFCommunity through a quote that has impacted your work ethic throughout your life.
Mara Lecocq: “Don’t compete with others. Always compete with yourself.”
My dad would always tell me this when I was a kid. I’ve always been competitive, as far as my memory can go back. But I hate the word “competitive”; it sounds like you want to put others down. For me it was more like, “How can I become a better me?” Winning has always been personal, and I have never felt jealousy towards others. On the contrary, I actually truly enjoy friends’ successes because I’ve always found it inspiring and a way to better myself. I don’t even know the common feeling of “losing”. For me, it means “Well, I’ll do better next time, and in the meantime, that winner totally deserved it! Thank you for raising the bar!”
LFC: What an amazing mindset to have. Tell us a bit about your background and how that led you to come up with the idea for Secret Code.
ML: There were a few things that led to the development of Secret Code.
I wanted to help solve a problem I was facing in the front row: diversity in technology and leadership. I always noticed I was one of the only women in leadership meetings, and HR would be like, “We want to hire women but we can’t find them!” And I was like, DUH, you don’t suddenly become an empowered tech leader when you’re 30! It has to start young!
Also, 80% of the jobs in the next decade will require technology skills. These are high paying jobs that change the world. Girls really need to get in there.
I also knew of a study that showed that stereotypes started young (between ages 5 and 7) and they impacted children’s interests, and later, their aspirations. Girls need empowering role models they can relate to.
One day, I was looking for a birthday gift for a little girl and I went to a children’s bookstore. No brainer, right? Well I was really appalled by the lack of options. It was always princess stories or girls frolicking in forests. And whenever there was a cool empowering children’s book, it was like always blond/redhead girls. I was like, a) why are children’s books so lame, b) why aren’t there any kids books about technology, and c) why can’t little Asian girls and black girls have the best-selling awesome adventure books??
So I came up with a personalized children’s book that stars YOUR girl as a tech hero in a role that challenges stereotypes.
LFC: Thank you for switching up the children's book game! On the Secret Code website, it says “Let her see what she can be.” At LFC, we believe it is so important to start teaching girls at a young age that there is no limit to what they can be when they grow up. In fact, we read some terrifying statistics that showed while young women make up more than half of AP test takers, young men outnumber us 4 to 1 when it comes to the Computer Science AP exam. What messages do you hope to spread through the creation and distribution of Secret Code?
ML: That girls can be tech geniuses and be cool and feminine. My goal is to normalize that so it's something they can dream about like kids dream of being pirates and astronauts. Something aspirational and fun. The problem that steers girls away from STEM is that they find it nerdy and un-relatable. And also that girls are brainwashed to focus on beauty and perfection. When you want everything to be perfect, it's hard to stick around in STEM fields because these fields demand resilience and making mistakes is part of the journey. Secret Code shows a girl who has drive, is a problem-solver, and also admits her mistakes like a true leader.
LFC: This is more than just a book that addresses the idea that girls can be whatever they want to be, though. This is a book that also delves into the misrepresentation of people of color in children’s literature. Children being able to see accurate representations of themselves in the world is really crucial for teaching and inspiring them. If you could share a message with your younger self, what would you say?
ML: What makes you different is what makes you special. No one remembers normal. Hold on to your particularities; they make you shine.
LFC: We couldn't agree with you more. So, you are the latest recipient of the Girlboss Foundation grant – congratulations!! Can you talk our readers through what it’s like to build out an idea and then translate that into a business plan, a marketing plan, a budget, etc.?
ML: First, you need to understand what drives the world, and second, you need to solve one of its problems. I think a lot of people have ideas like “I want to create a fashion brand!” and it’s like… there’s a zillion fashion brands out there. It’s 2016, people are feeling more and more insecure about their mindless spendings and polluting the earth with more junk. It has to be more than just a fashion brand. Like, maybe it’s a brand that’s elevating under-privileged communities by teaching them how to do well-crafted goods. Maybe it's a brand of ethical hyper-stylish office wear. You need to be solving a problem that a lot of people are facing and care about. There are SO MANY PROBLEMS on this planet: your idea is sitting right in front of you!
To that point, I think the best ideas come from personal frustrations. Because you’re right there living it. You know the ins and outs of that problem and you’re the best to solve it.
To build this deck, if you work in advertising, this is easy-peezy. We are idea-selling deck machines for big brands. This was my structure for #Girlboss. Not saying this is a winning structure for #Girlboss though (I think you can and should be creative), but this is a classic advertising pitch deck.
1. Start with a snappy/provocative title that grabs people’s attention (but is not “click-baity” either. Something where you’re like “Hmmm, sounds interesting”)
2. Add a nice personal note (real human beings with feelings are reading this)
3. The problem (a mix of insights on our society and what they need: it’s also the strategy)
4. The target audience (the best ideas are NOT for everyone. It needs to be a bit niche so it can gather people who are passionate about it, and unique to get PR interested as well)
5. The opportunity (why would that target audience be interested in this)
6. The idea (it has to sound like a headline or hold in a tweet!)
7. The execution (how it works - Go in the details here)
8. The timeline
9. The budget
10. The team (why would they trust you–show your personal story and how awesome you are)
One thing to note: every slide needs to fight for its life! Don't make it too long. Less is more.
LFC: Well, you heard it here LFCommunity. If you weren't sure how to build a deck before, Mara has you covered! Managing a side project with a full time career is often a big struggle for people. At LFC, we try and encourage our community to not put passions on the backburner, but instead, actually try and find a way to make both work. You’re a digital advertising creative director – how do you make both career journeys work?
ML: This is concrete advice. Taking the plunge sounds scary. My version is, to get in the water, take the pool staircase one step at a time.
1. Take a sabbatical.
If you’re like, “I want to be a concert pianist”, you’ll never start playing the piano. You have to start with something small and achievable. A foretaste. Many companies have sabbatical policies just waiting to be uncovered. No one talks about it because they don’t want to encourage it. But if you bring it up, they will say yes–especially if you’re appreciated as an employee. Then during these 2 months, plan out your project. First take a week off to decompress and do stupid things. This is probably your last week of free spirits for a while. Then the 2nd week, build a plan. Start taking online classes. Check out YouTube or Skillshare for a better experience (that's where I learned to make a children's book). Talk to people who are close to what you want to do. Gather information. Be productive.
2. Come back to work.
Chances are, you’ll feel refreshed and you’ll love your job again. You just needed a break. You realized that maybe you should just take a sabbatical every 2-3 years and you’ll be good. That’s totally possible.
OR, this is where you realize you actually really hate your job. And then you’ll be ready to leave with confidence and conviction.
3. Line up some freelance work.
You still need to pay the bills right? Work part time. Work on stuff that won’t suck out your energy. A healthy place where you can do a good job from 9 to 5. Avoid overly ambitious sweatshops with “really cool opportunities”. That’s other words for having no life. It's cool if you have nothing else going on, but now you need to focus on your business.
4. See where it goes.
Your business needs more time? Reduce the freelance hours. Needs less time? Bring up the freelance hours. This is the phase I’m at right now :)
LFC: So, as someone who is doing a little bit of everything right now, how do you define success for yourself?
ML: For me, success is being at peace with myself. If I’m sitting reading a book drinking tea and not feeling like “I have urgent shit to do”, that is for me the ultimate success. One day…! :)
LFC: In your interview with Girlboss you said that part of the reason you love Girlboss Radio is because these women are “such a reflection of the modern world's needs.” You completely fit that description as well! What can we expect to see from you in the future?
ML: I think I’ll be ending up in education. I think we end up being a reflection or a reaction to our families. My uncle was from a very uptight high social class family of lawyers and bankers, and became a blacksmith covered in coal dust. I think a lot of families are like that: you either become it, or do the opposite. My direct family were teachers, nurses and artisans. I know I'll end up caring for people and their education in a creative way.
LFC: You're already on that path thanks to your awesome new book! And finally, let’s end it on an #LFCommunity favorite! What does being an #entrefemmeur mean to you?
ML: An entrefemmeur is someone whose blood boils when faced with complacency.