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Diary of a Young Entrepreneur – Louisa Wood

Louisa Wood’s businesses have never really left the schoolyard – First there were the homemade scrunchies in Year Six, then the chocolate Freddos in Year 11 – At 26, Wood’s latest scheme can be found in the backpacks of school children all over Australia – She talks to Emma Gardiner about the chemistry class that created a publishing explosion.

Active ImageLouisa Wood’s businesses have never really left the schoolyard. First there were the homemade scrunchies in Year Six, then the chocolate Freddos in Year 11. At 26, Wood’s latest scheme can be found in the backpacks of school children all over Australia. She talks to Emma Gardiner about the chemistry class that created a publishing explosion.

The school diary was basic and boring until Louisa Wood decided to do something creative and enterprising about it. “They were such poor quality and all they were ever used for was to soak up lunch box juices at the bottom of our bags,” says the 26-year-old managing director of Get Positive Productions.

Having just been banned from her Freddo fundraising due to the burgeoning waistline of the school principal—and the fact that it was simply too successful—Wood was already on the look-out for the next big thing. As it turned out, it was sitting right in front of her.

Over the following months, she developed the idea of a school diary that students would actually use; one that would instil some basic life skills such as how to get your driver’s licence, create a bibliography, reference correctly, and where to apply for scholarships. Riding the wave of enthusiasm, Wood applied for the Nescafe Big Break and was thrilled to receive one of the six minor prizes of $2000. “The money went towards developing the prototype,” says Wood. “One thing I discovered very quickly was that everything costs money. When you’re paying a graphic designer $40 an hour, it all adds up. Winning the Nescafe Big Break gave me the financial freedom to get MyDiary into the first stage of production.”

After enrolling in a cognitive science degree at the University of Western Australia, Wood continued to work on the MyDiary project, eventually becoming frustrated with the impractical nature of her studies. “Two years into my course I decided to defer,” says Wood. Her determination to push her business into profitability saw her reapply for the Nescafe Big Break. “There was nothing in the fine print to disallow it so I submitted an updated entry and won again.” That was in 2000, the year that Get Positive Productions became registered and opened its first bank account with the second lot of prize money.

Since then, Wood has built a business which turned over $750,000 in the last financial year. “At first, I started selling the concept to schools in the Perth area [where Wood lives], but after three years I opened it up to the eastern states and sub-groups.” What was initially a product geared towards high school students soon saw versions develop for primary school and senior high school students. “Their needs were different. The primary school diaries are very clear and simple—the idea is to get the kids to start writing in their homework. For the junior high students, they are entertainment oriented. Teenagers are a very harsh audience and we really need to keep developing the content year on year. For the seniors, we include lots of planning tools and timetables. The format is a lot cleaner as they use the MyDiary as a practical study tool.”

Plans for the future include publishing podcast links and designing laptop and mobile phone models. “Teachers will be able to schedule an exam and email their students. The diary entry will automatically appear. With the podcasts, we’ll record 10-minute motivational and informative speeches that the students can download on a range of topics, such as effective study practices.” But before these prototypes can launch, Wood needs to partner with a software designer and a venture capitalist. “I’ll retain 100 percent control of the paper version of MyDiary but I want to joint-venture the other models as this isn’t my area of expertise.”

So, what sets MyDiary apart and protects it from copycats? “Our willingness to personalise. We custom-design the front and back covers and include up to 24 pages of specific school rules and information at the front. We also offer a full-colour bookmark that features artworks produced by the school’s students.”

Wood loves a good system, but while her business is heavily systemised the workload is still significant. September through to January are the busiest times—this is when the orders roll in and need to be filled and distributed—but the rest of the year is still manic with management and strategic planning, as well as creating new content. Wood runs Get Positive Productions out of the dining room of her home and has one full-time employee, her PA, and 10 sub-contractors who are responsible for the design, printing, and courier service as part of their roles.

“I have a computer and an internet connection. I never even see the diaries in hard-copy; everything is done off-site. You don’t need to invest in capital items. Why buy a $100,000 printer and then watch it depreciate? All young entrepreneurs need to do is develop the intellectual property, protect it and then sell it.”

As one of the only 26-year-old Australian women playing in the big league, Wood says that the usual practice of going to uni is holding young female entrepreneurs back, as well as a paralysing lack of confidence. “I have learnt to blow my own trumpet until my lips hurt,” she says. “My parents are always saying, ‘What are you selling now?’ Women have so many characteristics that make them shine in business–the ability to multi-task, keen intuition, a fair but firm approach, empathy for their clients’ emotions, as well as being able to align spirituality with business practice.”

Having recently appeared on the cover of the business edition of the White Pages, Wood’s visage can be found in the offices and homes of approximately 1.5 million people. As a contestant in the upcoming Ms Olympia, a bodybuilding competition to be held in Perth, Wood also has a larger-than-life public profile in her home city. And with the upcoming launch of her debut novel, Zero to Hero: Adventures of a Wannabe Millionaire, Wood’s profile—and business—are on track for further advancement. “Business has given me everything I have wanted,” she says. “Over the years I’ve made money but I’ve also made a lot of friends and have attained a sense of personal freedom, which is so valuable to me.”


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