Today we’re interviewing Renee Pena, a learning specialist who has a really unique background. She’s a New York State certified teacher, former dancer, and she has a degree in Arts and Special Education. Her company is Made For Your Learning which uses creative methods to figure out what a kid is best at and, like a jigsaw puzzle, figure out the best way for them to learn. She’s on our show today because she has a really interesting story to tell about building a business that scales, yet at the same time keeps her in her spot of brilliance, working with the children and helping them piece together the best learning style for them as individuals. She had another business where she ended up just managing, and she realized that wasn’t really right for her, so in today’s interview she shares her secrets to creating a business that keeps you doing what you love to do.
Renee: My first business was called Creative Sitters. It was actually an art education business that had to do with both the arts and the home, and I did that for two and a half years. This business came about quickly. I had the idea, launched it, and all of a sudden I was hiring people around my age, sending them out, getting clients, marketing, doing baby fair events, and partnering with different types of companies. I also had the idea to do parent and babysitter meet-nights.
Jasper: What led to you actually doing that, Renee? How did you get into that?
Renee: It was kind of a natural flow. I wasn’t teaching as often as before and I wanted to make some extra money, so I was babysitting. The parents kept asking, “Are there more people like you?” I thought, “There has to be, that makes sense.” So it was more out of a client need than it was out of myself, and it grew a lot bigger than what I had originally anticipated. I thought it would be something like just a small agency, but it was growing larger and larger.
I woke up one day really, really sick, and I realized I was managing. I wasn’t babysitting at all at that point. It was about six months in from my last babysitting gig and I felt really sad. I wanted to actually be with the families, but then who would run the company? I said to myself, “No, enough is enough. I’m denying that I really want to work with families, as opposed to watching families being happy that someone’s created a business that does that.” I honestly felt really out of touch, so I just kind of disappeared from the company for a week and realized they couldn’t run it without me because it was still too new. But then, I could also see that it could kind of run without me, so I made the decision to close it and find my real passion — working with families — and what could come out of it.
Jasper: Rather than close your business, Renee, why didn’t you think of actually selling that business to somebody else?
Renee: That’s a great question. I didn’t have that knowledge, to be quite honest. I was just so new that… Actually, when I sent out the email that I was closing it, people asked, “Oh, can I somehow take it over…” or “Can I talk to your clients…” etc. I thought, “Oh, should I sell this? Should I sell my list?” I guess I just didn’t know enough. Shark Tank was not available at the time and I didn’t know who to turn to. I kind of just did it impulsively, which is a lesson I learned not to do. I learned to figure out my exit strategy first, before I open a business. That was my big lesson, because after I closed it, people asked “Why didn’t you sell it?” I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that was possible.” I only knew two options at the time, which were to get another CEO or to liquidate it.
Meredith: Yes, that’s sort of the tricky thing. A lot of times people are told that the ultimate goal in your business should be to get to the position that you got to. You want to systematize it, hire people, get to the position where you’re running it, eventually get someone else to run it, and then just get to the position where you own it. I think it’s really interesting the choice that you made, but it’s also something for people to keep in mind, right? Because if you truly love doing what you’re doing, then maybe you need to structure your business in a way where you can still do what you love to do, still do your passion. Not everybody wants to be a manager.
Renee: I completely agree with that.
Meredith: So how did you take the lessons from that and turn it into what you’re currently doing?
Renee: I took some time off. I was actually in school to get my masters, and I thought, “Let me finish that.” I finished up that program and took some months after that to really kind of dwell on my papers and all my journaling to myself. I honed in on what I really loved and why I started the first business, and why would I want to start a second one. The thing that really surfaced at the time was I thought, “Another business? You can’t get this out of your system.” I was still working full-time, so I just sat with it and didn’t rush the process. I feel like the last time I really rushed it. I know a lot of people will say, “Go with the momentum,” but I really felt like I needed to just kind of sit, slow down, and listen to what happened in the past. The things that I was great at, the things I shouldn’t outsource, the things I should’ve hired early for without stressing out about it, were really big lessons for me. So I started a blog. I thought, “Let me start as a blog, and then let’s see how people react to that.” That’s how I came up with Made For Your Learning. It had a couple of different names before that, like Reneepedia, and then I landed on Made For Your Learning after a couple of conversations with some friends and family and other business owners. I really “re-listened” to what people said about passion and what it meant, and I came up with Made For Your Learning. I’m really passionate about it, my exit strategy is clear if I need one, and I’m sticking to it.
Favorite Book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Favorite Tools: Evernote, Google Keep
Want to get a free audiobook version of the book recommended by this week’s guest? Click here to download it.
Renee Pena Tip
Focus on what your child is good at rather than what their problem is.
Renee Pena is a Learning Specialist with an unique background. As a NYS Certified teacher and my creative background in dance, arts, and special education. She “gets” your kid’s learning woes because she has been there herself as a dyslexic learner. Her website, MadeForYouLearning.com , is a home where she offers specialized tutoring learning labs and other tools and resources for learners (3- to 13-years-old) with learning difficulties.
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