At my first Startup Weekend event, I distinctly remember Brooke Martin standing up to pitch her startup idea. Brooke was probably the most memorable pitch, but not because she was 12 at the time: she spoke with confidence and certainty in her concept, a skill that many experienced entrepreneurs still find challenging. Now, about two years later, her startup – iCPooch – has been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times. Her company has raised over $30K from their Kickstarter campaign and “several hundred thousand more from angel funds,” her father says. Brooke also took second place at a National Science Competition. We caught up with Brooke in an interview – see what she has to say below about being a new entrepreneur and launching her company.
My name is Brooke Martin, I’m a 14-year-old freshman at North Central High School in Spokane, WA. When I was 12 years old, I was working on an 8th grade independent project for school on entrepreneurship. I heard about an event called Startup Weekend Spokane, an entrepreneurial extravaganza where people pitch ideas for products or businesses and develop them over a 54-hour period, and I was very excited. I wanted to participate, so I had to come up with an idea. I know that necessity is the mother of invention, so I started brainstorming everyday problems and possible solutions. When we first adopted my golden retriever, Kayla, she suffered from awful separation anxiety, which is a common issue in canines. When my family was at work and school, Kayla would become very upset, depressed, and even destructive. I wanted a way to connect with her while we were gone to relieve her anxiety. I got to thinking about different methods of communication, and video chat came to mind. I enjoy video chatting with my friends and family, so I thought, “Why not your dog? And why not give them a treat while you’re at it?” The basis of iCPooch was born, and I pitched the idea at Startup Weekend. My idea received the most number of votes, so I was fortunate enough to work with a team of developers and designers to flush out the product concept. After the event, I started constructing prototypes in my garage with my dad, and then sought the advice and support of a variety of professionals in my community. And now, a year and a half later, iCPooch is ready to go to market.
When did you first self-identify as an entrepreneur?
I have always been an entrepreneur at heart! Whether it was running lemonade stands to earn money for a good cause or organizing fundraisers for my school, business has intrigued me since a very young age. My parents tell me I first showed signs of my determination and fearlessness selling Girl Scout cookies outside the grocery store at age four. I also love learning and creating new things. I definitely get my entrepreneurial spirit from my dad. He is a visionary and has taught me tenacity, and he has given me courage to push beyond what is expected and strive for what is possible.
Share a bit about your company and some of the highs and lows associated with your entrepreneurial journey.
About a year into the creation of iCPooch, with many of our initial startup challenges behind us, we launched our first crowd-funding effort in the form of a Kickstarter campaign. The key to a successful crowd-funding effort is to set your fundraising goal high enough to satisfy your immediate needs for capital, but at low enough levels that they are attainable – because it’s an all-in or all-out proposition. If you don’t raise funds to meet or exceed your stated target, your project sees none of the money. Buoyed by the incredible support around me, I strategically, and somewhat arrogantly, set my goal and the campaign was off and running. The initial response was amazing. In a matter of hours, we were well on the board with pledges rapidly accumulating… and within days, iCPooch was being featured in the national press on such amazing venues as Geekwire, Yahoo, and the NBC Nightly News. And just as it seemed there would be no stopping us, our Kickstarter campaign completely plateaued! By the end of the campaign, we’d raised a respectable amount of funding, but only 30% of our target goal. And that’s where my real education began – at the painful juncture between the highest highs and the lowest lows – where I was forced to dig in, refocus on my dream, and begin again. I realized I still had a viable product, an incredible team of support, and an awesome opportunity to succeed. As I moved into refining the project, and as my determination grew along with my humility, I learned the value of perseverance in entrepreneurship. I was fortunate that not too much later I received a sizable amount of investment capital and the ball kept rolling forward. In February of this year I decided to launch another Kickstarter campaign to incorporate some of the lessons I learned in my first attempt. We more clearly focused the message of our video, lowered our financial goal, and leveraged social media more effectively. This time around the climb towards success was consistent and after 28 days we reached 150% of our goal. For me I think the most exciting part of my journey so far was attending Global Pet Expo in Orlando in March. We had a chance to share iCPooch with pet product buyers and distributors from around the world. The positive response we received was totally amazing. I can’t wait until I’ll be able to walk into a store and see iCPooch on the shelf!
What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in entrepreneurship?
I think one of our biggest challenges as a society is our lack of focus on STEM education opportunities in general, and especially for girls. I am fortunate to have the amazing opportunity to attend a ground-breaking public high school that has a state of the art Science and Technology program, but I’m the only girl from my middle school who chose to attend. I think we need to embrace and promote that the STEM programs are “cool,” and that academic success is as well. At my school, we have the opportunity to “letter” in academics, and I think more schools need to embrace the power of that message, especially for girls.
Growing up, or now, did you have one particular mentor that inspired you or helped you get to where you are today?
I have to say that my parents are my biggest inspiration. Not only is my mom extremely smart, but she always gives all of her effort into everything that she does. She puts others ahead of herself and is the best leader that I know. She is so supportive and is always there for me. She challenges what I think I know to help expand my knowledge and broaden my perspective. She is a very strong, successful, wise, kind, and beautiful inside and out, and I strive to be just like her every day. And, again, I inherited my entrepreneurial spirit from my dad. For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched him bring amazing things to fruition, things that others would only dream of. He models for me the rare entrepreneurial qualities of fierce determination and a work ethic that centers on “sweat equity.” He’s taught me to roll up my sleeves and jump in, and not to sit in the background waiting for something to happen.
What are you reading now – or what have you read previously – that inspired you, that you’d like to tell others about?
I really love to read and find inspiration from lots of different genres. I’m currently reading a mix of books, ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird which really frames for me a deeper appreciation of human decency in the face of evil, to the Divergent triology, which features a strong female protagonist. The book that inspired me most as an entrepreneur would have to be The Automatic Millionaire, which is a terrific introduction to financial success from an early age. My parents required that I read it and pass a test on it as a condition to having my first debit card and it definitely has taught me money management principles needed to be a success in business.
If you could offer one piece of advice to other emerging entrepreneurs, what would it be?
I would encourage other girls and aspiring female entrepreneurs to find their passion! Figure out what you really love to do or what really interests you. Once you have, there’s nothing holding you back. Do everything you can to improve your skill or advance your understanding. Hard work can do amazing things that may sometimes seem impossible. Sure you’ll face obstacles, but the best successes come from failures. As cliché as it sounds, follow your dreams, but more importantly, make them happen!
Check out Brooke’s Kickstarter video here:
This year and moving forward, UP is dedicated to finding and sharing more stories of talented female founders, entrepreneurs, and leaders as part of our Startup Women initiative. If you know an inspiring female entrepreneur, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can tell her story.