I’m so excited to introduce and start this new series I’ve been thinking about for a long time now: Women Rule. It will be a series of interviews featuring inspiring women who are all working incredibly hard, and impressively making a difference in the world.
Amy O’Shea is the founder of Bright Books, a company that donates a solar light to those in need for every pair of journals purchased. Here she shares with us a little bit about who she is, what she does, and how she got started…
Tell us a little about you and your background.
I am a Southern Cal girl with a heart for cheesy quotes, shiny objects, my Dalmatian pups, and give-back businesses. I currently live in Washington, D.C. where I work as a consultant for the government by day, and small-business founder by night. I also have a bit of Midwest engrained in me; I went to Purdue for undergrad and then Indiana University for my master degrees in Public Affairs and Environmental Science. I have been in D.C. for about 4 years now and am fortunate enough to get back to the OC to see my family and friends pretty frequently. I miss the beach more than I can tell you, but I love my swamp. I think Leslie Knoppe and I are twins separated at birth, and I believe my 1.5-year-old nephew is my spirt animal. I think that covers everything important!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I always start the day with 2 espresso shots and reading the Skimm on my phone in my pjs. After that, it’s up in the air. My new year’s resolution for the last several years has been to establish a better routine- because I have read lots of articles proclaiming the benefits of habit and routine. I am not a creature of habit- so this is so hard for me! I’m easily distracted and love new projects, so I am always on the move.
I can tell you that my average week usually consists of day job + Bright Books, attending an event somewhere in the city, yoga/running/biking, Instagram (really should have given this up for lent) and hanging out with my boyfriend and my friends. I travel a good bit for work and for fun on weekends too!
What is it that lights a fire in your soul and fills you up?
Honestly, Bright Books! It encompasses so many things I am passionate about- the environment, health, development, traveling and creativity. I am an analyst by day, so planning photoshoots and designing webpages is so far outside my normal scope of work, that it is really fun for me. I am also really fulfilled by helping others, which is the mission behind Bright Books. I am lucky enough to have grown up in a household where we went on service trips and volunteered often, and that has engendered in me a sense of joy that I don’t think you can get from anything else. Plus, once we get more established, I will go check on our donations sites which will be awesome.
What inspired you to start Bright Books?
I started Bright Books out of a strong desire to fight energy poverty for the nearly 1.2 billion people who currently lack access to basic electricity. After college, I volunteered at a school in rural Uganda through the Arlington Academy of Hope. In my few months living in Bumwalukani, I quickly learned that some basic necessities, like electricity, are sparse. Without lighting, normal tasks like homework and reading after dark are difficult and actually dangerous. Rough terrain and poor roads make installing power lines nearly impossible in some areas. In the absence of an electric grid, people use kerosene or paraffin lamps to see at night. The problem is- these lamps emit toxic fumes and are very expensive.
After encountering the severity of the problems associated with lack of electricity, I thought to myself, “Why can’t we just skip traditional power grids and develop renewable energy in smaller systems that can be installed in rural areas?” Lots of others have pondered this question too, and there is a growing movement to increase energy access. Off-grid, renewable energy makes so much in rural areas (where many of the 1.2 billion without electricity live) given the lack of infrastructure and the urgent need for power and light. Solar panels make great off-grid systems because unlike coal or other traditional forms of electricity, you don’t need to build a huge plant to generate electricity. Plus, from a climate perspective, we need all the low-carbon energy solutions we can get right now.
So why don’t all homes in the developing world have solar lights at home? One answer is money. The upfront cost of a solar light compared to a paraffin lamp is prohibitive.
So, I brainstormed ideas on how to generate funds to support clean energy access. I have always loved journaling, and wanted to get involved in the give-back retail movement—so Bright Books was born. For every pair of journals we sell, we donate one solar light to a child without adequate access to electricity. Personal solar lights are just the beginning- I have big plans to help fund larger renewable energy projects for those in need and I am excited to see what we can do.
What has been the most challenging part of starting Bright Books?
Right now, managing my time. Since I am only doing Bright Books on nights and weekends while trying to have a normal-ish social life, the time commitment has been the biggest sacrifice.
Long term- setting expectations with people involved in Bright Books. More than once, I encountered situations where people were not able to deliver as promised. Sometimes things happen, and you have to get over it. Sometimes things happen and you can’t accept the outcome- so you have to fight for what you want/need/what was promised. As a California girl, sometimes I find this line fuzzy- probably for fear of sounding demanding or unreasonable. I am quickly learning there is not much time for this in the business world.
But for every tough spot I have encountered, a new door has almost always opened. I am constantly amazed at how generous people can be with their time and advice. I am so grateful to my mentors who have consulted with me and helped me make all the big decisions along the way.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting your own business? Did you always want to be an entrprenuer?
I love getting to create something tangible. On both the giving and the retail side of the business- I get to see and touch these cool things- solar lights and unique journals. Bright Books have a few design elements that are unlike anything else on the market, like the animated page icons, so it is always fun to tell people about them.
The most satisfying day of Bright Books- December 1st- the launch party! A ton of my family and friends came out on a cold and rainy night to celebrate the launch of our crowdfunding campaign at this new distillery in my neighborhood. We went on distillery tours, premiered the campaign video, heard from some guest speakers, and showed everyone the journal prototypes. Everyone had a great time; lots of warm fuzzy feelings! I was very humbled to have so many people support my vision. It was a very special day for me.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs out there who are just getting started?
To start, I would suggest socializing your idea in your daily conversations and also on social media. Seek feedback from people you admire in the industry. Identify your competition, and ask yourself why your product/service adds a unique value to your consumers. Talk to your family, your friends, and your harsh critics. Critical feedback is important to help you identify places where you need to further develop your idea.
Next, write down a plan and stick to it! I think focus is by far the most important thing in a start-up. There are an infinite number of directions to move- but you only have time for one (maybe two if you goof up the first one!)
Lastly, have fun with it! Be your own boss.
Is there anything better than giving a gift that gives back? Double win! I have so much love for companies that are paying it forward and trying to make this world a better place! Amy has graciously offered This Saturday Morning readers a 10% off discount when you use code “BB+SAT”at checkout. Head over to Bright Books to grab one soon to arrive in time for Mother’s Day!
Thank you so much, Amy!