Interview with Carmen Greco, mum of Jenk and co-founder of iCoolKid

Read how an idea to send a weekly email to his school friends inspired eight-year-old Jenk to launch iCoolKids – and how his mum, Carmen Greco, has helped him grow it into a a unique multi-channel digital lifestyle platform for young people.

What’s your career background?

My career in finance began in 1986, working for the Royal Bank of Canada as a floor trader on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In 1991, I moved to New York City and began working at the investment bank Goldman Sachs as a Proprietary Derivative Trader.

I spent a total of nine years working in this area until 1999, when I moved to the London office to manage the High Net Worth Derivative Sales & Trading Business and then moved on to setup and manage the Emerging Market Derivative Sales & Trading business.

Trethowans

In 2000, I became Goldman Sachs’ first female Managing Director in Europe. I worked for the company for more than 16 years in total until 2006 when I moved to UBS as Managing Director until late 2008. In total, I spent 22 years working in investment banking.

Following this I then went on to co-found Haoma Medica Ltd. in 2009, a biotech company that focuses on the development of drugs for the treatment of Osteoporosis and Osteopenia. I then co-founded Aventum Devices Ltd in 2012, a medical device company that focuses on the development of Glenoid Positioning Guides for the use in shoulder implant procedures.

Currently I hold the position of Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer at both companies in addition to my latest venture iCoolKid Ltd, a newly formed joint venture with my 12-year-old son Jenk.”

How did your career change after having children?

Some people seem to think you have to pick between becoming a successful businesswoman and being a mother. The truth is you can do both. My career has changed – but for the better.

I’m very proud of the fact that after having Jenk, I stayed in the business world and continued to grow my career. The great thing now, is that Jenk has come up with a business idea of his own, and I’ve been able to use my knowledge to help him bring it to life.

Jenk and I have always had a very good relationship and I believe that working with him to launch iCoolKid – something he’s so passionate about – has allowed our relationship to go from strength to strength.

It’s so rewarding to help Jenk develop his ideas from scratch. This has also enabled me to immerse myself in a completely new and fresh business adventure and it’s something I’m very excited by.

Where did the idea for iCoolKid come from?

Jenk’s always had an extensive extra-curricular schedule, as he loves to try new hobbies in his spare time. Back in 2014, when he was just eight years old, Jenk came to me with the idea of sharing all of the exciting extra-curricular activities he was taking part in every week with his school friends and their parents via a weekly email.

He wanted to share all the cool things he was doing with a wider audience and hopefully inspire his peers to join him. The idea really took off and over the last three years has developed into the iCoolKid we know today.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

What started as a simple email that Jenk and I sent to his classmates and their parents, was soon being shared across wider communities and schools. Jenk noticed many people were interested in what he was getting up to, and asked me how we could put all of this information into one place for everyone to see.

We talked about his idea in depth, and then Jenk decided to present the formal idea of iCoolKid within a show and tell session at a school assembly. His presentation generated a lot of positive conversation and interest, and as a result – Jenk asked me to help bring his idea to life!

The business evolved from there, and has turned into a unique multi-channel digital lifestyle platform for young people – offering timely, engaging and cool content for kids to share and enjoy.

It’s been great to use my business knowledge and expertise to help Jenk with his own vision, and we now have a permanent team of five staff who work daily alongside us.

Jenk juggles his full-time education with generating ideas for the website and social media channels – which we then develop as a team into fully formed pieces of content for the iCoolKid audience.

What’s your USP?

We are proud to be the UK’s largest digital media platform, specifically targeting Generation Z, with over 3,000 original articles spread across seven topical channels. To our knowledge, there aren’t any other websites out there which cater for this age group in the way we do!

We’ve been incredibly lucky – our audience has responded very positively to the content we’ve been putting out to date. We continually work hard to give Gen Z’ers the content they want.

We aren’t focussed on celebrity gossip or mainstream sporting stories, as many other websites are. Instead we offer kids something a bit different and the opportunity for them to learn about and get involved with new things.

I think another reason why we are successful is because the face of the brand, Jenk, is in the exact age demographic who we aim to target. He provides feedback every morning to the editorial team about the hot topics and trends his peers are talking about at school, and we use that as a basis for the content we put on the site.

This makes iCoolKid constantly topical, on trend, authentic and relevant, which keeps our audience really engaged.

Who’s your target audience?

Our main target is Generation Z, with a specific focus on those aged 8 to 15. In recent years I believe we have witnessed a seismic shift in generational influence and we shouldn’t underestimate the power which this age group now wield in every day family life.

Not only do kids now tell their parents where is best to eat or go on holiday, but they also inform them of must-see events, most interesting gadgets, and the best technology etc.

‘Gen Z’ are the most connected and informed generation to date, and at iCoolKid we see ourselves as a kind of ‘Buzzfeed’ for those individuals – providing them with bite sized chunks of new information with the aim of motivating and encouraging them to fulfil their potential and pursue their passions.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

As Jenk is currently in full time education, with an extensive extra-curricular schedule it’s quite easy for him to spread the word about iCoolKid to his peers.

We have also been growing our site visitors and social media followers organically and as our social media channels are growing – through targeted and engaging content. Every new follower we have means a lot to us- it’s so rewarding to see all of the hard work pay off.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

One of our most successful strategies so far has been engaging directly with consumers through speeches, conferences and talks. For example, Jenk spoke had TEDx early in the year, the Young Entrepreneurs Conference, Brand Week Istanbul and the Model United Nations Conference.

Speaking directly to consumers we feel is the best way to resonate and build a deep and long-lasting relationship. It also comes with the added benefit of positive media coverage which again helps to raise awareness of the brand through word of mouth.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Every day, every week, every year, new obstacles will pop up. Challenges are the norm in daily life, not the exception, and the faster you learn to see them, face them and deal with them; the better the outcome will be. The trick is being able to forecast them!

I have learned the hard way, and I wish that in some of my past experiences I knew then what I know now. The first step is to accept it is real and that it won’t just go away, and then face the possibility that you alone may have to be the one to fix it.

And your proudest moment so far?

My personal time with my husband and son for sure. On the professional side, becoming the first female Managing Director at Goldman Sachs in Europe. Additionally, I would have to say reinventing myself as an entrepreneur and co-founding three companies to date, using the tools I learnt in 22 years of banking.

Why is work so important to you?

I have always felt passionately about the places I’ve worked and the people I’ve worked with. I’m happy to say that I’ve always enjoyed what I do. I believe it’s very important to look for what motivates you in life.

I’m lucky to have had a career that I love and continue to enjoy, and I really wish more people followed their dreams and pursued a job and career which they enjoy and which brings them fulfilment.

Who inspires you?

My father has always been my biggest inspiration and remains so today. He inspires my spirit and that leads to unlocking my passion; resulting in positive and unending drive to follow my own path.

He passed away at 98 years old but remains very much alive in my memories and is a driving force behind my everyday choices.

How do you balance iCoolKid with your family?

I’m fortunate as I get to work alongside my family every day. My husband and I both support Jenk with iCoolKid and we’re always discussing upcoming projects and key decisions as a team.

Earlier this year, Jenk spoke at a TEDx Youth event in London where he presented to the audience about ways of making your ideas come to life. Jenk did all the ground work, but it was actually my husband who came up with a punchy line for his talk!

I’m really happy as we complement and bounce ideas off one another and make a good team. I enjoy the fact we get to work together.

What are your three top pieces of advice for other parents of an entrepreneurial child?

1) Find a ‘career board of mentors’

I strongly believe in the power of mentoring. One of the key pieces of advice I have given to Jenk, is that he should have a ‘career board of directors’.

It’s incredibly important to gain impartial advice from your peers, colleagues, and those friends and family members who might hold a specific position of authority or be excelling in their own career. This involves thinking of a group of people who are good listeners and who want to share their time and advice with you.

For example, my advice to Jenk was to pick a friend maybe 2-3 years older, a couple teachers from school, his favourite relative, an older cousin or family friend – until he has 4-5 people he can count on to bounce his ideas off and give him honest advice.

I think everyone can use this method, however high up the career ladder you are, and it’s something I have stuck with throughout my career to date.

2) Encourage resilience

I would encourage resilience amongst anyone looking to start their own business. It’s incredibly tough and often means frequent knock backs, long nights and a whole load of ‘no’s’ before you finally get a breakthrough.

This is completely normal in the field of business and I can assure you that all the frustrations and no’s will only bring you strength of character, and make you more successful in the long run – if you stick at it long enough.

Take in every bit of constructive feedback even if you don’t always agree, there is normally truth inside there somewhere, you may just be unaware.

3) Be unique!

The competition in today’s market is fierce and to ensure your idea survives – you must make sure that there’s something that sets you apart from the rest. This will allow you to create your own space in your chosen industry, which comes as a great advantage, as there’s nothing more marketable than being the first of your kind.

You can find out more about iCoolKid on their website