On a more strategic level, I think entering the American market, while the right long-term decision, proved very difficult for us in the short term. In 1998, we decided that, in order to grow our business, we had to have a presence in the U.S. We therefore needed to raise additional capital, open an office, and hire more employees. Until that point, I was working from home and so was Tessa. We did not have much overhead and controlled our costs very well. The period from 1998 to 2000 was challenging as I had four children in London under six years old and I was on a plane every three weeks overseeing our New York office and often putting out fires rather than moving the business forward. I moved my family to the U.S. in 2001, six weeks before September 11 th. We then saw a few pretty tough years where we needed to reign in, assess what our core values, strengths and weaknesses were as a business and re-focus. We did this successfully and I believe that, with our timely and relevant message, and a lot of years of experience under our belts, we are now really poised to take off.
We have always believed that we could build a “Barefoot” brand rather than just creating our business success around a few key properties, which is more the norm in children’s publishing. Everyone we met along the way thought we were nuts. You can brand authors, artists, and licensed characters, but not publishers. We were the first British publisher with a website and we have always thought “out of the box” perhaps because we were so small and we were able to take a fresh view on publishing children’s books rather than playing by the rules. I think our approach to getting as close as possible to our customers and the children who read our books; to creating communities of like-minded people and to raising awareness about our values and our brand, was the right one to take. The way business is conducted and the way people communicate and make decisions has changed fundamentally over the past five years. And perhaps our radical and pioneering approach is now ready to pay dividends.
On a day-to-day level it has been hard dividing my attention between the creative aspects of my work – product development and marketing strategy – and the important role of business management and financial control. As a company, I feel we have been a bit too inward looking, focusing more on building infrastructure, great products, innovative websites, and creative marketing material, and less on telling people about what we’re doing. Someone recently said that Barefoot was the best-kept secret. My goal now is to make sure that it isn’t!