Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Money Makers: 5 Tips for Female Tech Founders Seeking Venture Capitalist Funding

By Karla Friede, CEO Nvoicepay.com

Earlier this month, my co-founders and I raised our sixth round of venture capital funding for Nvoicepay.
People ask me all the time, “Has it been hard to raise money as a woman?” It certainly wasn’t easy, but since I’ve never raised money as a man, I don’t know if that would be different. This is my only experience, and of all the venture capitalists who passed on the early funding rounds, no one ever said, “We’re not going to invest in your company because you’re a woman.” In fact, I found that if they didn’t like something about our business model, they usually didn’t say anything. They were vague, polite, and just never called us back.
However, we do know that only about nine percent of entrepreneurs in venture capital backed technology startups are women. Those numbers tell us it’s tougher for women-led technology companies to raise money from venture capitalists—or any investor—than it is for men. Is overt sexism at play here? I think it’s something deeper and more systemic than that.
I’ve never heard a sexist comment during the time I’ve spent fundraising, so I don’t feel there is blatant, overt bias. What I do think is that women raising money for technology companies face obstacles that men don’t. Once you recognize them, there are five strategies you can use to overcome them. I’m sharing my experience here in the hope it will help some of you on the fundraising trail.

Ingrained bias

First, there is ingrained, inherent bias in society, both on the part of men and women. We all use pre-formed expectations as a shortcut to make our lives easier. In fundraising, we see evidence that women are more successful when they’re raising money for businesses that society thinks women should know about, such as cosmetics, fashion, or other products women use. There’s already an expectation that they’re knowledgeable in these areas, so they don’t have to work as hard to prove it.
Second, we all know that people are just naturally more comfortable with people who look like us, and speak like us, because we don’t have to work as hard to figure out what kind of people they are, and how best to communicate with them.

The button down crew

The clearest example of this for me was when I was a consultant at The Ascent Group. We were working on a business strategy for a software company in California, and I’ll never forget my first meeting at the company. The first three men that I met were all between 5’6” and 5’7”. They were each wearing Levi 501s, brightly colored button-down shirts, and Sperry topsiders. I thought, huh, that’s kind of strange.
The fourth man I met was the CEO, and guess what? He was 5’6”, and wore Levi 501s, a bright pink button-down, long-sleeve shirt, and Sperry topsiders. It was a very visual reflection of the idea that from the top down, people are just more comfortable working with people like themselves, and more likely to gravitate toward those people.
I think this is true of both men and women. People who seem similar on the surface automatically have a greater comfort level with each other, and that’s a shortcut to building relationships and trust.
Since only about seven percent of venture partners are women, most of the people you’ll be pitching to are men, regardless of what kind of company you’re raising money for. So, the “lookalike” shortcut for the most part isn’t available.

Positive communication

Another obstacle, and one that women have more control over, is the way we communicate. I’ve noticed that women, myself included, will often say something like, “I believe we’re going to expand our channel and grow 25 percent next year.”
Men typically say, “We are going to expand our channel and grow 25 percent next year.”
These statements may or may not be factual, but the way the woman is communicating is not as commanding and forceful, and therefore less appealing to investors who are looking for confident, take charge leaders. Knowing what you’re up against, here are my five tips for women tech founders to increase their chances of success when they’re out there raising money:

1. Target firms with female partners.
Venture firms that have a track record of investing in women-led businesses, or even better, have an investing partner (not an associate) who is a woman, are probably more likely to invest in women-led businesses. Target those firms—if you can find them in your market. Even if you don’t pitch to the woman partner, the men at these firms are probably more comfortable working alongside women and their expectations for women’s roles are likely different.
2. Target firms in your market.
Do not waste your time with investors outside of, or even adjacent to your target market. If you’re speaking to investors who don’t know your market, you have to educate them, convince them there’s an opportunity, and gain their confidence to invest in a woman founder. That’s asking them to make too many leaps.
Early in my fundraising days, I talked to firms that invested at the edges of consumer payments, which are very different than B2B payments. After I finished my pitch, one of them said, “I don’t really understand why this market opportunity exists.” At that point, I knew I was in the wrong room, with the wrong people.
My success was much higher with people who really understood the market dynamics and the opportunity in B2B payments. They were the ones that were really excited about what we were doing. The opportunity overcame any gender bias. So, go speak to people who really know your target market. They’re already going to understand most of what you’re saying and that may get them past the fact that you don’t look like they do.
3. Show results.
Pre-dot-com bust, you could go in with a great looking slide deck and a hip company name, and walk out with a million dollars in early-stage funding. Those days are long gone. If you want to convince somebody that you have a good idea and you are capable of building a business around it, the most compelling thing you can do is show results from customers who’ve used your product and can speak about it favorably.
Get your product to market, and get some customer traction. That may mean bootstrapping from your own savings, or getting money from friends, family, or angel investors. You must have something that will allow you to get some customer results before you’re sitting in front of a venture capitalist. Market traction and customer results counter gender bias.
4. Authenticity
Some people believe that you have to fake it until you make it, and I believe that’s absolutely false. Anybody who’s been around more than a few years can see through that. Instead of faking something, focus on the results you do have. If you’re asked about weaknesses, be honest, but positive. Answer the question, but redirect it to the strengths of your business. Never make anything up. It’s a losing strategy.
5. Bring your business to life. 
To bridge the communication divide between women CEOs and venture capitalists, find a way to show the emotional appeal of your product. It’s one thing to use customer results or a customer quote as part of a slide deck. But if you put a customer in front of them, or vice versa, and can capture the customer’s emotional response and enthusiasm for your product, it’s much more powerful.
If you can’t get potential investors together with a live customer, use video. I once heard Jennifer Fleiss, the co-founder of designer dress rental service Rent the Runway, speak at a Harvard Business School event. She was pitching to audiences of male venture capitalists, and could not get them to understand the importance of the perfect dress.
She assembled a focus group, delivered dresses to them and filmed their reactions opening the boxes and trying on the dresses. Then it was no longer a man talking about the product, or a woman talking about the product. It was a customer talking about it, and that’s more powerful than an entrepreneur of any gender pitching and saying something investors have already heard 100 times. Granted, this was a pitch for a product many venture capitalists would expect from a woman CEO, but this strategy can be used effectively for almost any product.
Get out and pitch!
These are lessons I learned knocking on doors and getting turned down many times. During those times I took heart in knowing that Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, was turned down 217 times before finally securing funding.
Now, after years of pitching, and most importantly, years of achieving really good customer results, we’ve earned the right to choose our investors. That’s a satisfying place to be, but realize no matter what you look like, in the beginning you’re going to get turned down a lot. That’s just part of the process for men and for women, because venture capitalists are not looking for reasons to invest. They’re looking for reasons not to invest.
No one has ever come out and said, I’m not investing because you’re woman, and they’ve never said the opposite either. I have no way of knowing what part gender has played in my successes or failures, but I do know that in the end I succeeded and you can too. In this process, we can control the way we communicate, and we can control who we approach. We can control getting customer results, we can control the way we present those results and we can control how we handle rejection.
What we can’t control is subconscious bias. We can adjust for it, but the real long term solution is we need more women to get out there, raise funds, and become investors themselves. I hope in another five years, I’m looking at your plan!

Laguna Blue Towels

I recently had the chance to interview the creators of Laguna Blue Towels. Laguna Blue towels are new antibacterial towels that are 99.8%* effective in preventing the spread of germs and diseases, including life threatening MRSA. Mom’s love Laguna Blue because they are soft, economical, eco-friendly and help keep their family healthy. 
  • In 2004, a contaminated gym towel left one of Laguna Blue’s founders, Kenny Perry, fighting for his life. The towel was infected with MRSA, and in a matter of days, doctors were considering amputating his left leg. Fortunately, Kenny survived and made a full recovery, and he was inspired to create a line of towels that help prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, like MRSA. 
  • Additionally, Laguna Blue offers incredible energy savings. Your washer and dryer use the most energy out of any household appliances. Laguna Blue towels need less water and less energy-- saving the environment while saving you money. The towels also have a unique knit that absorbs liquid faster, yet dries twice as quickly as cotton towels. 
  • Laguna Blue towels are available at retailers, including online at Walmart and Amazon.  They cost $34.56 for a set of two bath towels, $19.40 for a set of four hand towels, and $21.85 for six washcloths.

  • Why were Laguna Blue towels created?
    The story of Laguna Blue (LB) came to life when the co-owner of the company, Kenny Perry, contracted life-threatening MRSA simply from a gym towel. Together with Bert Rubinsky, they researched and developed our unique towel (Laguna Blue) resistant to this harmful bacteria. The owners have over 30+ years experience in the textile rental/industrial laundry business. Through hands on testing and a drive to be leaders in their industry they continually found ways to become more innovative and efficient to be competitive and meet the needs of their customers. One of the company leaders became infected with MRSA and almost lost his life. It was determined he contracted MRSA from a cotton towel at the gym. After this event they reached out with their knowledge and understanding of fabrics to explore ways to help better protect people from infection. Through massive amounts of research and development  the owners teamed up with a technology company and an epidemiologist to go beyond fabrics. We found to break the chain of  infection spread throughout the community and hospital system we needed an approach that combined both technology and textiles. This led us on a path to define what were the unknowns and how can we help to better document correct behavior in breaking the chain of infection. One of the products developed through this was our microfiber toweling. We saw an opportunity in the retail market going beyond healthcare, to bring this product into the home. This led to the design of our Laguna Blue retail products that we launched in 2016 and continue to develop and expand today.
  • What sets them apart from traditional towels?
    What sets Laguna Blue apart is its ability to contain harmful bacteria, including life threatening MRSA (99.8% based on laboratory test with MRSA).  They dry 50% faster than cotton towels, making them less apt to harbor mold and mildew.  Traditional towels harbor all sorts of bacteria, and since most don’t wash their towels daily, this can help spread disease. In addition, LB towels are also non-linting (lint can be toxic), providing consumers with a safer towel for use. It’s lighter than cotton yet holds more water. The fabric is composed of microfibers (thinner than a human hair) which use van der Waals forces to attract fine dirt, sweat, and water. LB is considered by our consumers as the “smarter towel.”
  • How do they help keep protect the environment?
    Water conservation affects us all.  40 out of 50 states have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next ten years. LB towels use 50% less water, hold 7x their weight in water, use less energy and dry quickly.  Considering the washer and dryer use the most energy of any household appliance, Laguna Blue not only saves the environment, but saves consumers money.

Healthy Habits: Preparing for Pregnancy

For the millions of women thinking about or trying to have a baby as the New Year gets underway, there’s an important checklist to focus on for preconception health.
It’s especially important for those considering becoming pregnant to know that each year in the U.S. thousands of infants are born with neural tube defects (NTDs) like spina bifida and anencephaly. Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which parts of a baby's brain and skull do not form correctly. Babies born with anencephaly cannot survive. Spina bifida is a serious birth defect in which a baby's spine does not develop correctly and can result in severe physical disabilities.[1] The CDC estimates that consuming folic acid can help reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and anencephaly by 50%.[2]
Checklist for preconception health includes:
·         Take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid
·         Discuss your health history and medical conditions with your doctor
·         Stop smoking and drinking alcohol
·         Avoid contact with toxic substances or materials that could cause an infection at work or home
January 8th through the 14th has been designated as Folic Acid Awareness Week to emphasize the importance of folic acid for preconception health. I had a chance to post this interview with women’s health specialist Lisa Masterson, MD, to discuss everything women should know about the role of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects, including risk factors, how to minimize side effects and optimize absorption. She also outlines the checklist women need when preparing for pregnancy.
A former co-host on The Doctors, Dr. Masterson is a national expert in the areas of obstetrics, gynecology, infertility, adolescent gynecology and family planning.
Interview is courtesy:  Duchesnay USA.





[1] Center for Disease Control. Folic acid benefits. 2016. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/features/folicacidbenefits/
[2] Center for Disease Control. Recommendations for the use of folic acid to reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. MMWR 1992; 41(no. RR-14): 2-3. 2. IOM (Institute of Medicine). Available at  https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00019479.htm

Thrifty Thinking: Identity Theft Tips for Tax Season

Consumer awareness of identity theft and tax-related fraud has grown, along with increased concerns over becoming a victim. Experian has great insights on how consumers can protect themselves this tax season.

Actions consumers can take to protect themselves:
·       File early to lessen the window of opportunity for a criminal to file first.
·       Thoroughly research any paid preparer or tax-preparation software. Scammers set up fake websites and software downloads solely designed to trick consumers into providing their personal information.
·       When filing electronically, ensure that the computer used is on a secured network, and is protected with the most up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software. Do not use public Wi-Fi.
·       Ask potential tax preparers to explain how they file and what steps they take to protect their customers’ information.
·       Don’t respond to any emails or text messages from anyone who says they’re with the IRS, as the organization contacts individuals via mail and phone only. Note they usually contact you by mail first. No IRS representative ever will ask for immediate payment via phone.
·       Residents of Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia can choose to get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), which is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent the misuse of their Social Security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns.  For more information visit https://www.irs.gov/individuals/get-an-identity-protection-pin
·       Read the IRS guide to identity theft at https://www.irs.gov/uac/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft and the news for updates on the latest scams so you can be aware in case you are targeted.  You can visit www.experian.com/education for more information about identity theft.
·       If you have been a victim, check your credit report for any additional fraudulent activity.  You can check your Experian credit report for free at www.freecreditreport.com.
 

Book Nook: Phoenix Rising

I recently had the chance to review PHOENIX RISING by Bryony Pearce. This book is a somewhat modernized take on the theme of swashbuckling pirate books. Toby has always sailed on the Phoenix with his father, salvaging junk while staying clear of authorities. Ayla has always sailed on the Banshee, taught that the Phoenix must be destroyed. Toby is tired of his life at sea, and Ayla just might have the key.

I liked this book for the fact that it can show kids that sometimes enemies can become allies, that friends can be found in unlikely places. It has an appropriate level of conflict and suspense to keep the story moving along, and an ending that will make middle grade and young adult readers happy..

Monday, January 16, 2017

Healthy Habits: What to Look for on Nutrition Labels


Source: Fix.com Blog

Amazing Apps: 5 Apps to Boost Learning

Losing weight or getting in shape is the most common New Year’s Resolution.

But for parents of school-age kids, being more engaged in your child’s learning is among the most common resolutions. And even if that’s not one of your actual New Year’s Resolutions, finding ways to improve the academic success of your kids when they’re not in the classroom is all the rage – and surprisingly easy and affordable.

Here are five apps to give a boost to 2017 that offer great learn, play and explore opportunities for your kiddies:

Tynker is a creative computing platform where millions of kids have learned to program and built games, apps and more. Tynker offers self-paced online courses for children to learn coding at home, as well as an engaging programming curriculum for schools. The Tynker games and challenges are fun and rewarding for all ages and all skill levels and great way to introduce kids to coding and problem solving concepts.

All ages. Plans, games and courses start at $6/mo with free options. Sign up is free.

Epic! provides an unlimited selection of eBooks that can be instantly discovered, read and shared with friends. Personalized for each individual reader, Epic! is the only place to access thousands of high-quality, curated children's books without the need to purchase or download them one by one. Beautifully designed for mobile and featuring fun, game-like elements, Epic! provides kids with a personal library they can take anywhere. In a world of unlimited screen time, Epic! is a smart alternative to games and videos.  

All ages. Unlimited reading - $4.99 a month.

A great way for younger ones to learn to count. The fun program includes vibrant colors and stunning visuals on the display and is more than enough to keep kids engaged. Players can feed the caterpillars by counting and capturing bugs in correct number sequences to earn rewards such as butterflies. Contains more than 45 levels.

Ages 4 to 5. $1.99.

A multi-award winning app that takes a ground-breaking look into the human body with highly accurate, visual and accessible information. Designed for everyone, the app has enough detail to satisfy the demanding student and has features for the casual browser. Includes more than 270 specially-designed full color and zoomable high resolution images and 12 systems of the body.

Ages 12+. $6.99.

All of the decision-making, problem-solving and role-playing fun of the original game you may have enjoyed – but well updated. Features eight skill-based mini-games including two challenges using the Accelerometer: hunt, fish, telegraph, etc. Random events (disease, bandits, hitchhikers, etc.) increase the challenge. Select your party members, purchase supplies and choose your departure date.

Ages 10+. $4.99.

Movie Minute: Cents

CENTS tells the story of a young Latina girl learning to embrace her own brilliance, while navigating the rough and tumble world of middle school. Sammy, a math whiz, tries to befriend the cool kids with a plan for the school penny drive. It's a good story and includes excellent depictions of relationships between girls and also between mothers and daughters.

The screenplay was a 2012 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting semifinalist, and was writer and director Christopher Boone's way of trying to understand his own daughter's experiences navigating a world very different from when he was in school himself.

The film is available on VOD, and is a good family-friendly film for older kids and adolescents for helping open up a dialogue with children about relationships they're experiencing.


Cents - Official Trailer from Christopher Boone on Vimeo.

Thrifty Thinking: Tips from the National Endowment for Financial Education

Losing weight and quitting cigarettes may make way at the top of resolution lists this year. An annual survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) finds more than two thirds (68 percent) of U.S. adults will make a financial New Year’s resolution for 2017, a sign that the majority of Americans remain focused on their financial health as much as their physical health. But regretfully the survey also finds that one in three (31 percent) rate the current quality of their financial life as worse than they expect it to be. The survey was conducted online in December 2016 by Harris Poll on behalf of NEFE, among more than 2,000 U.S. adults.

“We have to stop looking at unexpected events as not if they will happen, but when they will happen. Everyone should have an emergency savings and it should be used for its intended purpose,” says Paul Golden, spokesperson for NEFE. “Ideally you want to build up to the benchmark of six to nine months of your annual salary in savings, but for many this amount seems unrealistic. Start with a small, achievable goal like $500 dollars, then set the bar higher.”

As with any resolution, unrealistic and unreasonable goals are soon forgotten before January comes to an end. With financial resolutions, a buddy can help. A past NEFE study found 85 percent believe having someone who understands their financial goals and can assist in holding them accountable would be helpful.

“Your financial buddy can be anyone: a spouse, a trusted friend, a family member or a co-worker, and it doesn’t have to be someone with whom you share all of your financial information,” says Golden. “The greatest characteristics of a financial buddy will be someone who shares the same values and vision and someone who can bring perspective to the financial highs and lows that you experience.”

4 Tips for Financial Success in 2017:
1) Get debt under control. Take a hard look at what you owe. If there’s a clear warning sign of too much debt, take action. Set a goal to reduce your debt load next year by 5 to 10 percent. That might mean reducing impulse shopping. Six in 10 people admit they purchase on impulse and 80 percent of those regret purchases afterwards. When you face temptation, walk away for at least 30 minutes and see if you still want it and it’s a good idea.
2) Start saving now and do so often. We don’t yet know what an alternative to the health care system would look like. But what’s certain is that costs continue to climb, premiums are more expensive and copays are rising. Assume medical emergencies are not a question of if they will happen, but when. Emergency savings can offset unexpected costs. Common advice tells us we should have six to nine months of income set aside. Again, set a goal—start with as little as $500. Of course more is better, but by starting small you gain a sense of security, a sense of goal achievement, and you reduce stress. And we know the rules of retirement have changed. Review your long-term savings and ensure they are appropriate and on target.
3) Shop for better services. Where can you come up with $500 for an emergency fund? Make a game out of shopping providers to find the best value in the services you use. How long has it been since you shopped your insurance policies? Any chance you can save money on your cell phone plan, internet or utilities? Go to your current providers and ask “what’s the best deal?” Also, be sure to understand your policy and services so that you are comparing apples to apples.
4) Understand what’s behind your financial decisions. Ever wonder why you feel good about spending money on vacations, but avoid saving for retirement? Why you buy new golf clubs, but procrastinate when it comes to giving your kids an allowance? The answer may lie in your unique LifeValues and how they influence your financial decision making. Take the LifeValues Quiz.
For help with setting goals and getting finances in order in 2017, visit www.smartaboutmoney.org for resources, tips and self-directed courses.

Survey Methodology
The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education from December 16-20, 2016, among 2,088 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. Data were weighted using propensity score weighting to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to be online. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, contact pdg@nefe.org.
 
About the National Endowment for Financial Education
NEFE is an independent nonprofit organization committed to educating Americans about personal finance and empowering them to make positive and sound decisions to reach financial goals. For more information, visit www.nefe.org.

Parenting Pointers: New Experiences

I recently had a chance to interview Kevin and Jesse Howard, collaborators on the book Kookabuk Shares His Shovel, about new experiences and positive outlooks.

1.      What was the inspiration behind the book?
KEVIN
My inspiration for writing this book came from my oldest son and a childhood toy.

Just before my 8th birthday I spent over a month in the hospital with a bone infection in my leg. One morning during that stay, a friend of my father’s woke me. Hanging-on the curtain rod around my bed was a cute stuffed animal, a monkey named Kookabuk. My father’s friend went on to tell me a wonderful story about how Kookabuk was there to help me get better. During that time, I developed an incredible bond with my new friend. Kookabuk became a cherished source of friendship and strength. I improved and was discharged from the hospital not long after. Fast forwarding to adulthood, I always wanted to create children’s stories using Kookabuk as the main character, but could not come up with a storyline.

Many years later I married and started a family. My first born was diagnosed with Autism at two-years-old. As he grew he began displaying challenging behaviors. Struggling to figure out how we could understand what’s was going on with our son, we sought the assistance of many therapists and professionals. One of his therapist suggested using social stories. She explained that social stories are tools used to help children understand and prepare for new situations. Taking her advice, I began creating social stories for my son. The first one was about a child going to the doctor to have his blood drawn. We read it together several times before visiting the doctor’s office. It worked! My son had his blood drawn without incident. Other social stories followed. While writing one of them, I realized I finally had the storyline for Kookabuk!

My friend Kookabuk helped me through a very difficult time as a child, and now I am very happy he’s back (47 years later) to help others.

JESSE
As Kevin described, the inspiration for the book series and the characters within are really from his personal experiences, as well as his relationship and journey with his son (my nephew). Kevin discussed the concept with me years ago and we had always planned on writing the series. Life as teachers and parents can be very busy, and we finally had some time to dedicate to Kookabuk over the last year or so. Personally, my greatest inspiration is to entertain as many children as possible while simultaneously putting forward the idea that friendships can develop between all different types of children.

2.      Why is it important for kids to approach new experience with a positive attitude?
KEVIN
The effects of positive thinking have been well chronicled. It has many benefits linked with health, work, and life. It has been proven that positive thought broadens ones outlook and empowers individuals to explore more opportunities. Children who develop and maintain a positive “can-do” attitude are more likely to engage and participate in new experiences without fear of failure.

JESSE
Many children are hesitant or anxious when approaching a new experience for the first time. That’s normal. However, we as parents/caregivers/teachers have to do our best in order to help our children prepare for new experiences. Take for example the first day of school (or starting a new school). We expect our children to be somewhat anxious and hesitant for this experience. If we as adults can share information about the new school (the teachers, the classmates, the daily schedule, etc.) with our children before that first day, hopefully our children will feel more prepared and less anxious. This is extremely important because no one performs at their best while feeling negative or fearful. Therefore, as adults we have to constantly think of ways to teach our children to face new challenges with a positive attitude.


3.      How can parents help their kids have a positive, yet realistic, outlook?
KEVIN
I can best answer that question with the quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Instilling a positive attitude empowers your child to take the shots; letting them know they’re not going to make them all is realistic. It is up to parents/caregivers and teachers to be honest with children by painting a truthful picture and applaud every attempt regardless of the outcome.

JESSE
I believe that we should tell our children to give the best of themselves in all situations, and that when they don’t succeed, it is not the end of the world. No one succeeds all the time, in all arenas. For example, the best hitters in major league baseball fail at least 70 percent of the time.  I think it’s equally important at a certain age to speak freely with our children about how all individuals are different. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher, I work hard to differentiate instruction to tap into each child’s strengths so that they can feel successful. When things are difficult, I try to take pressure off the child, and remind him or her that all I expect is effort, and if they keep working hard they will achieve a level of success. I have seen a definite increase in anxiety in children over the last 10 or so years. Our kids must be constantly reminded that they are awesome, and don’t have to be perfect.



Jesse Howard is a special education teacher in Westchester County, NY who received his Masters in Education (Childhood/Early Childhood/Students with Disabilities) from Manhattanville College. Raised in a family of special education teachers who embraced their passion to live a life devoted to the well being of all children, his career has focused mainly on early childhood and students with disabilities. He made learning creative and experiential for his students and developed a strong connection with parents.  Realizing the importance of the role of the parent as “First Teacher,” Jesse encouraged parents that time spent reading with children was a critical as well as a rewarding experience.  From these experiences, plus his love of writing, grew the foundation of his philosophy surrounding the Kookabuk series. 

Kevin Howard graduated twice from the University of South Florida, receiving both a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Education. He spent the first 14 years of his early professional life in private industry, and is now approaching his 20th year as a public school teacher, trainer, and coach. While his resume is packed with a wealth of experience and education, Kevin confesses that his most rewarding experience has come from fatherhood and being the parent to a child with Autism. Kevin created and co-authored The Kooky Adventures of My Friend Kookabuk to share the knowledge he gained raising his son. The Kookabuk series is a collection of social stories that serve as a source of information, inspiration, and guidance for parents and children alike. 

For more information, connect with Jesse and Kevin on their website, as well as FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Kookabuk Shares His Shovel is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace.