Tony Fitzpatrick is the creator of Little Footsteps, a children-first approach to education out of New Zealand that seeks to revolutionize learning for kids. In this interview, Fitzpatrick answers some questions about his business model and his need for crowdsourced funding at this time.
Four Questions with Tony Fitzpatrick
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
I have long considered that community-owned businesses are better for the communities they serve than individually owned businesses, and have always thought about ways in which we could divest some of the ownership of our own business into a community situation, whether that was by way of staff buying in or a direct buy in from a community group.
The last five years have been especially difficult for us and we are really wanting to refinance, get rid of some of the debt that has accrued in building our business and focus on providing quality early childhood education which is what we do best. I have tried all sort of ways of trying to attract investors, but with no luck, so I thought maybe I’d try a crowdfunding campaign. I don’t like to ask for money for nothing and wouldn’t feel comfortable just asking people to donate money to me to help me get out of a tight situation which is attributable to a decision I made five years ago to expand our business and serve the growing demand from our community. I felt that the only fair way to do that was by offering a long term societal payback and developed the idea of repaying all contributions with an equal or greater amount of free education for children in need in our community as well as developing a charitable foundation to which we would distribute up to 1/3 of our profits annually, and then the foundation would provide funding for charitable causes in our community and further afield as the fund grew. To grow the fund, no capital would be able to be distributed and only 50% of the annual investment income would be distributed to allow the fund to grow.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
My wife is an early childhood teacher and I have always been involved in community groups, mainly sports clubs, so have always had in interest in making the communities we live in a better place. When the opportunity came up to purchase this business in 2002, we saw it as a great opportunity not just to own our own business but to contribute to the growth of our community by developing a top quality early learning environment. In 2008 we found a former pre-school building and saw that it had potential to be a great learning environment and that it would meet the demand of our clientele, so we set about turning it into a new natural early learning center where kids would enjoy exploring and learning.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
My parents have dedicated their lives over the years to ensuring that their local sports clubs and associations thrive in the belief that children involved in sports will less likely end up in trouble when they are older, so I have always been driven by the same desire to contribute to the future of our community, and get a buzz out of seeing someone you have either taught directly or who has indirectly benefited from your actions succeed, whether it is in their chosen sport, or academic or business aspects of life. Everything we do and achieve is set in motion in the first few years of our lives, if we miss that opportunity to set a kid on the right path, then we don’t get another chance.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
Luckily I am naturally creative, I am an architect by profession, so am driven by a desire to be creative and find solutions for problems all the time.
Sometimes though you do just need to step aside, stop thinking about your problems and the answers will eventually come, sometimes this may take a few hours, other times days, weeks or months, but generally if you have thought about it hard enough to start with then disconnect when you can’t find a solution, it will come to you eventually.
As for rituals, I can’t really think of any rituals (other than hitting the snooze button too many times in the morning after working late into the night...) I do constantly try and remind myself though that if you believe in something hard enough and if what you believe is right and possible, then you will work out a way of making it happen, and that nothing ever happened without someone taking the first step towards it. To that end, I have incorporated the famous Chinese proverb into our branding, "Life’s Journey starts with Little Footsteps..."
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