I first met Amy Bean in a coffee shop in Dallas. As I listened to her tell her story, I was amazed by her heart and the choice she made to start Tiny Bee Gift Co. She has a master in Public Policy from Harvard. She’s brilliant and qualified to lead any organization of her choosing. But instead, she chose this. She’s choosing, every day, to do work that matters. To live the stories of her heart.
I couldn’t be happier to introduce you to Amy!
It’s hard for many heart-centered female entrepreneurs to step up to be the face of our companies. We want all the attention to go the cause, to the people we seek to serve. When really, what they’re looking for is someone who will say, I’m the one who cares enough to do this. It’s not easy, but I’m not giving up. They want to know we’re for real.
What’s that journey been like for you?
This was a huge surprise for me. I completely expected to tell the stories of many people…but never thought that would include mine! I knew I’d be telling the stories of customers and kids, but was shocked at how people were immediately interested in my story and why what I was doing was important to me. Once you get past that, it becomes easier to make yourself part of the story. The best thing about being a social entrepreneur is that it isn’t actually about us at all, it is all about our cause, and we are just a part of that story!
Would you tell us a little about your personal story?
I live in Dallas with my three boys (ages 7, 7, 3) and my wonderful husband.
I was born and raised in Dallas and received a B.S. from the University of Texas and a Master of Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.
While at the Kennedy School I was first exposed to social enterprise − the idea of using commercial strategies to tackle social problems. That was before Tom’s and Warby Parker made social enterprise a more household concept! I was immediately smitten with the idea. Among my favorite work experiences since then, I enjoyed working on a microfinance initiative with an amazing social entrepreneur in rural India and at a women’s business training center in Boston, MA. Most recently I worked as Executive Director of a Dallas-based nonprofit, starting and supporting all-girls, college-preparatory public schools for low income students.
In our spare time we love to be outdoors. We will take any excuse to hike or bike with the family. We also love travel. When it was just my husband, Brandon, and I, we would use any time off to travel – India, Ecuador, Italy, Dubai….These days, with three young kids in tow, it has been much, much less far flung, but still a pleasure!
What were you doing before you started Tiny Bee Gift Co.?
Most recently I worked as Executive Director of a Dallas-based nonprofit, starting and supporting all-girls, college-preparatory public schools for low income students. It was amazing work providing a college-prep, all-girls experience for low income students, most of who would go on to be first-generation college attendees!
Tell us about the moment you knew for sure you had to do something.
Over the years of raising my boys, I always felt guilty at the amount of money spent on children’s gifts. I was amazed at how the toys piled up in our house. Even though we tried to be intentional about purchases, between holidays, birthdays and other special occasions, the toys just piled up. I wished there was a way to not only give a simple, special gift to the honoree, but also to give an equal gift to other children that might need it a bit more.
How did you decide on the specific products you have now?
As I thought about gifts for children, I knew that there is no better gift than a book. With even one book, you are helping to encourage literacy and a lifelong love of reading. I also thought kids could really connect with the idea that they were receiving a book, and that children in a library somewhere were also receiving a book.
Lastly, through my work with public schools, I was amazed that there are libraries in our country with nearly empty bookshelves. That was astonishing to me. How can a child be inspired to a lifelong love of reading if there is nothing on the shelves to inspire them?
Lo and behold the idea for Tiny Bee Gift Co. was born. For each purchase of a book, a second book of equal value is given to a school library in need.
How did you get started?
The ideas were percolating for a while, then at some point, I really sat down and got serious about the model. I was attempting to do a lot – personalize and wrap a book to give and gift a second book to a school in need – at a very low price point. It took some serious effort to make sure that the model worked.
What was it like for you in the beginning? Did you office from home? Quit your day job?
I have a space in my house set up for Tiny Bee. It has been wonderful to work from the house where I can still be very present for my kiddos! I had left my very full time job a few months before, so I had plenty of time to work on the launch.
What keeps you up at night?
Mainly, the ‘juggling’ keeps me up. Trying to raise children and run a business means there are a lot of balls in the air at any one time. I sit up more than a few times at night thinking, ‘DID I DO THIS? DID I DO THAT?’ It has been important to stay very organized. But on the whole, it is a great feeling to know what you are doing is making a difference.
Describe your support system through the evolution of your business.
It has certainly been a collaboration! From the beginning, my husband and sisters were my primary sounding board. My husband was very helpful in working through my business model and making sure I could accomplish what I wanted to through the structure, pricing etc.
I have been AMAZED at the support of many friends and even acquaintances. So many people have sat down and met with me, offered support, and offered me advice and assistance in their relative areas of expertise – marketing, PR, social enterprise and more! It has been truly humbling to see how kind and giving people are.
What keeps you going on the hardest days?
It has been wonderful to watch other people get behind Tiny Bee and help to spread the word. Across the country, there are people who latch on to the idea and start using Tiny Bee for birthdays, holidays, special gifts and more. Each time they give a gift, they are not only doing good, but helping to spread the idea of meaningful gifting. There are people who I don’t even know who selflessly share information about Tiny Bee on instagram, on facebook and with their networks. I love watching people find Tiny Bee and then start to incorporate meaningful giving into their everyday lives.
How has your decision to give your life to this affected your family?
Starting Tiny Bee Gift Co. has been such a joy for our family. It has given us all something philanthropic to incorporate into our everyday lives. My kids are Tiny Bee’s biggest fans! They love taking Tiny Bee gifts to friends’ birthday parties and choosing which books we send off to their cousins. It is a way to give back that they really feel a part of.
They also really grasp the concept – that another book is being given to a school in need because of their meaningful gift. When Tiny Bee receives thank you notes from children at school libraries in need, they are really moved and impacted. We also have a map where they place pins across the country to show where Tiny Bee’s are headed. They loved when a book was sent to a baby in Alaska!
What are you most afraid of?
I certainly worry a lot about making Tiny Bee successful. In our kids’ heightened consumer-driven world, I think that it is very important to teach kids about giving back, meaningful consumption and simplicity. I want to make sure that I am doing everything correctly to make Tiny Bee a success. I have two intended audiences, the kids that are receiving and giving gifts, and the children attending schools in need. I don’t want to let either down!
Along the way, have there been people who didn’t see the vision or believe you could do it?
There are absolutely people that don’t ‘get’ the concept behind Tiny Bee. I’ve had conversations where someone looks at me like, ‘why would I pay more for that book to give one away??’ When that happens, I have to remind myself that Tiny Bee doesn’t have to be for everyone. The good news is that for every one person that doesn’t get it, there are so many more that do. So many parents, aunts, uncles, friends and grandparents say, ‘You know, children’s gift giving has just gotten way out of hand. I was looking for something simple and meaningful to give kiddos. Thank you!’
What brings you the most joy?
I get great joy out of seeing Tiny Bee Gift Co. accomplish its dual goals. First, it is totally heart warming when a child has an ‘ah-ha’ moment because of Tiny Bee. Recently, a group of boys did a Tiny Bee Birthday where Party they asked guests to donate books in lieu of gifts. These three 1st grade boys donated over 100 BOOKS to a school library in need! That night, the mom called me and told me her son kept telling her “he had really changed kids lives today… And that he didn’t need all those extra toys that he would be bored with in a week anyway, but he had really made a difference by donating books.”
It is also impactful when we hear from the schools that received books. An economically disadvantaged library just purchased over 150 books for a library that was virtually empty. The children all wrote thank you notes talking about their new favorite books! It was heart warming when those sweet crayon thank you notes poured out of the envelope
What would you say to a woman who says, “Sure. But you had money, experience, relationships, etc. . . You’re brave. You’re fearless and I’m risk averse, I’m … (fill in the blank).” The woman who is subconsciously letting herself off the hook.
Well it IS important to have an understanding of all of those things that are your own ‘context’. I do believe it is a tremendous luxury that I have a spouse that is employed etc. and it certainly weighed into my decision to start Tiny Bee. I think the important thing is to be diligent and thorough in your research and planning. You should not be ‘afraid’ to take the leap and start something, but you should certainly be realistic.
What are you the most passionate about regarding your business?
Children are never too young to start learning about giving back! Tiny Bee Gift Co. makes gifting and giving back as easy as one click of the button. Tiny Bee gifts promote literacy and teach children about giving back, all while benefitting hundreds of other children at school libraries in need! Buy a book + Give a book. That’s the idea, Gift One. Give One.
On a personal note, I know I’ve been guilty of mindlessly standing in the toy store isle and ‘adding toys’ to the basket just to reach a certain dollar amount I had in mind for a children’s gift. Not anymore! After using Tiny Bee in my own life for six months, I’ve learned that children’s gift giving can be simple + meaningful. My kids are engaged and understand that giving back can be a part of their everyday lives.
Thank you for sharing your story with us Amy!
You can show Amy your appreciation and support for everything she is doing by gifting one of her books today! I know I’m personally going to stock my children’s gift closet with gifts that give back from Tiny Bee Gift Co.