Last week, I was curious to learn more about the Spotlight Girls and decided to visit one of its summer camps in Oakland, California. Girls were beaming in class. They improvised a play together, took photographs in dark rooms, and sang songs from Congo. With her daughter as one of the students in camp, Lynn looked overwhelmed with joy as girls collaborated to create music and plays empowering one another. It's clear Lynn dreams of her daughter living in a world full of girls behind cameras and creating film and music about women protagonists who don't fit into the current "girl" stereotype.
During our conversation, Lynn told us more about how Spotlight Girls got started, her upcoming franchising plans, their biggest challenge and how you can help them. Click the video below to meet Lynn in person!
What IS Spotlight Girls?
Lynn Johnson: Spotlight Girls is a multimedia platform and summer camp where we inspire, activate and educate girls to take center stage.
How did Spotlight Girls get started? Can you tell us about the journey?
Lynn Johnson: Sure. 11 years ago, my wife and co-founder and I, Allison Kenny, we started doing summer camps for kids. Girls and boys actually, where we used theater and other art forms to teach social emotional skills. And in 2008 one of our summer camps only girls signed up for it and we were like, "Okay let's go with this." And we decided to make the theme that summer all about exploring the magic and power of being a girl and it wound up being our most successful program by far. It was the most lucrative, it was the closest and dearest to our hearts and a few years later, we completely rebranded and got rid of all other programs that we were doing. We decided to focus 100% on supporting the social emotional health of girls and their leadership development and so we became Spotlight Girls.
What kind of students enroll in your program and how much does it cost?
Lynn Johnson: We have three different locations, two in Oakland and one in Berkeley, California. We'll see about 400 girls this summer and so the way that the summer camp works is that parents pay roughly $700 for a two week program to send their girls to camp this summer. Because of that we see a lot of different types of girls in the San Francisco Bay area, but it's primarily middle to upper income folks who want to send their children to a program that's focused on having an intensive arts experience and also building their skills development. So that's the type of customers that we tend to see here at Spotlight Girls.
And do you have programs outside of the summer time? What happens during off season?
Lynn Johnson: Yes, we do have programs outside of summer time. Summer time is our main bread and butter. It's where most of our revenue comes from, but we are also moving into the after school program space. We did that years ago, not as successfully, but we have a new formula now that we're bringing back. So last school year we worked with a few different schools, and we're kind of coming up now to doing after schools Go Girls! clubs. In the summer time, it's a two week intensive program, where they work together over the course of two weeks to create either a play, or a film. And the after school clubs will allow girls to really get the chance to practice some of our social emotional skills, bring them back into their real lives, and come back next week. We also do a winter break camp during the Christmas time holiday and then we're looking at other different programming as well.
What are some of your expansion plans? Do you plan to stay in the Bay Area?
Lynn Johnson: We are working to franchise our summer camps throughout the country. Right now we just created our franchise entity and we're in the process of doing the legal forms and to set ourselves up as a franchise; it's called Go Girls! Franchising Incorporated. We're probably a month and a half right now away from that being set up as a franchise org and so then the plan is to be able to outreach to other creative, women entrepreneurs who have declared themselves girl advocates and want to find ways to support girls in their community at the same time make some money. As we get the forms and all the legal stuff out of the way we're also now simultaneously working on the marketing plan to get connected to other women throughout the country.
Have there been any interests so far?
Lynn Johnson: There have, throughout the years, been people who are like, "I want to do this where I am." In fact just today, I got a email from somebody who lives in Italy who is like, "I'm interested in talking to you about how we might bring what you're doing here to Italy." Which of course is outside of the country, but I'll talk to my lawyer about how that's gonna happen. But we've actually had a conversation with someone in Italy, a conversation with somebody in South America. There is international interest, but it's not where my focus is right now as a business person.
And we've had talks with people in Southern California, in New York, but we never quite had the entity, we never had anything to sell them, so now we get to go back to those people and say, "Here we are, we're ready to sell a franchise." One thing I also want to say is that just recently, we were at the BlogHer conference, which is the largest convening of women content creators in the country and we got an opportunity to stand up in front of roughly 2,000 participants at that conference who are from all over the country and they have a contest there called The Pitch. The Pitch is sponsored by SheKnows Media, which is the owner of the BlogHer conference and it's all about empowering women entrepreneurs and they compete by pitching their company in front of all these people at the conference.
And I won that pitch competition and so through that, I got a $50,000 marketing and PR package from SheKnows Media and I was able to talk about what we're doing to content creators and entrepreneurs all over the country. Through that, there's been a lot of people who are reaching out and wondering how they can be involved, so that's another area that we're accessing.
Can you tell us more about your plans as a multimedia company?
Lynn Johnson: Yeah, this is the area that I'm really excited about. We have two different camps. We have our younger girls camp, where the girls are creating original plays, and then we have a camp called Go Girls! productions, which is for fifth and sixth graders. In that, the girls are creating original films and they're learning about media literacy and learning about how they can take up space in a media sense. As we know, women are highly under represented in media and entertainment industry, especially behind the camera, so it's really important to empower girls to feel the freedom and the creativity to tell their stories in the world. So as an organization, we employ so many amazing talented artists and teaching artists. It's important for us to also create media that puts girls in the spotlight, in the center and is telling stories that aren't told.
It's been so difficult for us over the years to find videos and songs and primarily videos and songs we can show the girls we feel good about that aren't about a girl in love with a boy or a girl showing off her body or are age appropriate and empowering. We figure if we can't find it, we gotta make it ourselves. We've produced actually three original songs with these amazing musicians, the Alphabet Rockers, and they are committed to creating really empowering social justice based children's music and so they've written three original songs for us. We have another artist who's created an original song for us, our Go Girls! theme-song, so we're looking to bring those songs more into the market place as well as on our YouTube channel, where we have one original show right now called the Go to Go Girl, which is an advice show for teen girls that stars one of our amazing teaching artists, Hannah Hammond-Hagman. So we're continuing to build in that direction and so both creating shows and songs for the public, but we also of course use them all as teaching tools inside of our program. That's our multimedia growth area.
What's been the biggest challenge at Spotlight Girls in the last year?
Lynn Johnson: One is really growing all of our internal structures. We've been working with consultants around our org chart and how to grow based on what we've done before, because as a startup, we've just kind of scrapped it together. Now we're growing with intention and we've always prided ourselves in our strong company culture. We have a good starting point, but now it's like how to create the systems that bring that culture to life and that allow for better communication. We're kind of a virtual company, we don't really have one office, where everyone comes every day, so it's been really challenging to figure out okay like, how do we make it so that this person that's been doing 800 jobs now does the job that really is suited to her and how do we create those systems, those structures. I kind of love that stuff, but it's been very challenging, we're still in the thick of that.
The other challenge really is just on revenue generation. We've set some big goals that have been a little bit too big and we haven't quite made those goals and our camp numbers are really great this year, but it's not quite enough to get where we need to go. We are building in different directions with summer camp, the franchising, the other programs and the media and so it's like trying to figure out the best revenue streams for those areas and the best way to bring the money in fast. So those are the two areas that we're really working on, it's sales and then internal operations.
What can investors do for you? How can they help?
Lynn Johnson: We are having an event coming up right away on July 21st and it is to celebrate all of the amazing things that have happened in our business over the last year. So we really want investors to come out and see the performances. If they can't come on Friday July 21st to see the performances, there's a couple more opportunities, but come and see what this is about, because you don't quite know about what we're doing here until you come and see these beautiful amazing girls and what they're up to. We want investors to come and see it and feel what we're doing and then come to this party afterwards in Berkeley that we're having.
I'm really open actually to feedback and thoughts about what we might do. Especially in this area of sales. It's really nice to have people to bounce things off of and I notice people don't want their investors too far into their business and I'm not saying come on and pull up a chair next to my desk, but it's been really helpful. I have engaged a lot of my investors in conversations. That's how I think and how I process ideas, so if anyone wants to have a conversation with me, definitely reach out to me. I'd love to get your input on our revenue strategy.
We're in the planning phase right now, we go on a regular fiscal year, January to December, but we do a lot of planning on a school year schedule, because of the nature of camp so we are about to enter into this very strong planning phase that starts now and culminates at the end of September.
I would love investors to subscribe to our YouTube channel. We also sell merchandise in our store; check it out and tell folks that if you're looking for empowering T-Shirts for girls and women. Let people know that we're out there and that we have media and merchandise to sell.
And any message to investors?
Lynn Johnson: When I won the pitch competition at BlogHer, the three other entrepreneurs who I beat were all apps and tech based companies and I was so surprised and elated that this business is all about people to people connection. We have multimedia, but we're not really a tech company at all. We are a people based company and sometimes it feels like tech companies get all of the attention and the investments.
So I just felt reinforced in what we're doing by winning this competition and I feel that way by the people who invest in us.
I feel like people who are investing in our business believe like we do that, "Yes, I love technology, I love apps and all that kind of stuff and I love that stuff to make our lives better, but we know that what makes our lives better are the human connections." We're about to enter a new investment round and so there are people who I just wanna continue to connect people who wanna invest their money in this kind of thing.
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