In Conversation with Allison Schlanger of songs for seeds
Describe your business in a few words?
songs for seeds is a music class for children 6 months to 6 years old that teaches early education (shapes, colors, numbers, animals) through great tunes and super fun interactive activities. Parents tell us that songs for seeds is the most fun they have in 45 minutes with their kids all week…which we could not possibly love more.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
We both loved our careers. I worked at MTV for over a decade and Alison was at UNICEF. Neither of us had any plans to leave our jobs…and then we both had twins and we immediately felt the pull to find the proverbial work/life balance. We quickly realized we could not have the flexibility or control to be with our children as much as we wanted/needed without owning our days and working for ourselves.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Our kids inspired us to make the leap. They were so stinkin’ cute and needed us…and we needed to be with them. That, and the fact that we started songs for seeds (and it’s indoor play space parent company – apple seeds) with our husbands, Craig and Bobby. Having four professionals come together, from four very different fields, gave us the confidence that we could jump in, as a team, to a world that was new to all of us individually. The last part was gut instinct. We saw a need in our own families, and in our own community, for an indoor play space and classes that not only taught learning through play, but created a space for families to form bonds and find their village to help raise their children.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No. Ha! Three out of the four of us worked for very large corporations/organizations…UNICEF (Alison) MTV (Allison) and Goldman Sachs (Craig). Only one of us had experience at a start-up (Bobby). That said, we all were at a point in our careers, and lives, where we realized that we needed to take a leap of faith and start our own business to afford us the type of lifestyle we were all craving. Looking back, we realize we all have key entrepreneurial characteristics in common. We are all risk takers. We are all highly motivated and hard workers. We all had a shared vision and were willing to give blood, sweat, tears and more to achieve it. We are all decisive but are quick to pivot and kept moving forward in moments when we had a swing and a miss. We also all love to laugh (and possibly have a glass of wine) at the end of a hard day.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we first opened, we were entirely grass roots – guerrilla marketing style. The four of us were apple seeds/songs for seeds’ exact demographic…two families with young kids. It was 2007 so social media was nothing like it is today. We took our flyers, business cell phone, notebooks and smiles to our local playgrounds, preschool open houses, supermarkets, exercise classes and cocktail hours. We hosted focus groups at our homes and never stopped talking about apple seeds and songs for seeds. It worked. We were all in the same new parent world as our clients. Our friends came to apples seeds and songs for seeds and our clients became our friends. A community was formed.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
In life – our kids. In regard to business – creating a music class that is enjoyed by families across the country. Parents send us videos of kids singing songs for seeds tunes and of them performing their favorite parts of the class at home (with developmental milestones, like counting for the first time) – that is everything.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I am always more curious about what the applicant has done outside of work. Where have they lived, traveled, volunteered…what do they do in their off hours? I want to know the type of person they are and what lights them up. It helps us connect first and then we look down at their resume. I find that you can skip over many of the typical interview questions based on the details you get from the stories they tell about their life experiences.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
apple seeds was a play space in NYC that had hundreds of families come through our doors every day to play and be together. songs for seeds was our most popular class at apple seeds that we franchised across the country over the past 8 years. During the first few months of the pandemic, we made the hard decision to close our brick-and-mortar business, apple seeds. We quickly pivoted and transitioned our songs for seeds music classes online for families that did not have the option to go to class in person because of COVID. Some of our franchise owners continued to offer songs for seeds classes outside throughout the past 10 months. Hundreds of families have joined our online community and come to class multiple times a week to sing, dance, “travel” to a different region of the world, throw scarves in the air & blow bubbles. The smiles on the kids’ faces as they help us find the missing number and watching parents dance like crazy in their living rooms with their children has made us realize that we all need to have fun and let loose a bit – even during these times. songs for seeds online classes have been the absolute silver lining of the past 9 months.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
That’s a great question. For the first time we don’t have a “5 year plan”. Our songs for seeds franchise owners will make individual decisions about their businesses as the world comes back together again. songs for seeds online classes have been a huge success in every way that is important right now. They have given families an incredibly joyful and educational break in the day where they are letting loose but also bonding with their children and watching their kids do incredible things, possibly for the first time. We have a community of families that see each other multiple times a week at a time where that is rare and needed. The online classes have given our teachers work and the kids have given them so much happiness and positive feedback. We have used the digital offering as a bridge to get us through this pandemic but we would love to find an outlet for this content in the future so that it can reach families that don’t have early education music classes in their areas or don’t have the ability to get to access them.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
I have everything I need. I may want to do other things in life (which is healthy and keep us striving and evolving) but I have everything I need.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
When we first opened apple seeds and songs for seeds we said yes to every meeting and opportunity that presented itself to us. We traveled down many exciting roads that took up a lot of time and energy (and money) but did not always produce the results or partnerships we were hoping for. We learned that not only is it ok to say no, it is actually better for a focused business, as well as the bottom line (and your sanity), to learn to say no thank you.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
People have lost loved ones, lost their homes, lost jobs…so much in such a short amount of time. This world is in the middle of a deeply painful and much overdue racial reckoning. Our political system is unbelievably fractured. I find it has been easier than ever for me to find gratitude in my own life when such heavy issues are plaguing our world.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Very much. In fact, I have learned that I need a bit of balance every day for me to feel settled. I need to have time with my family (it won’t be the perfect amount or the perfect quality every day but I need to be with them), I need to get my work done (I will never make it through my whole to do list in one day but I need to move my business forward or complete necessary tasks), and I need to fit in exercise (it may not be my most intense workout but I need to dedicate some time to move) to feel full in all areas. I realize that approach is not for everyone. Other people use a bigger window than day-to-day to find their balance. My tip is to schedule everything you need. If I just hope it all just fits in, I find most days will get away from me and I will feel frustrated when one of the buckets is empty.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Alison and I go on a “mystery trip” together every year. We pack for 3-4 days for all different weather conditions…a bathing suit, hat and gloves, yoga pants and sneakers, a “fancy” shirt to go out at night…and head to the airport. When we arrive we go straight to the departures screen and decide where we want to go. Then we purchase tickets, board the plane (laugh) and land in a region of the world we never expected to be in only hours earlier!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Make a list – everything you want to do that day and long term (doesn’t matter how mundane or lofty)
- Prioritize the list – things for today go first but so do the things that pull at your heart the most
- Don’t forget to look at the list in the AM and throughout the day – even the stuff at the bottom…
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It’s a word that we associate with this amazing community of women business owners that we recently met during the pandemic. Every person that has come into our world through Entreprenista this year is not only a powerhouse in her own right, but of the highest character. So being an Entreprenista is a huge compliment that puts us in very good company.
We invite all Entreprenistas to take a break in their day… Grab your children and join us in songs for seeds! Use the code Entreprenista for a free week of classes.