Mom Entrepreneur: Marlene Byrne
Business: Project Play
Marlene Byrne is a mother, entrepreneur, and founder of Project Play, a movement which uses a series of lively children’s books to inspire families and neighborhoods to play games that spark creativity and foster the imagination.
What inspired you start your business?
After starting an ad agency, I was not afraid to try a new venture. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin playing backyard games like “kick the can” and “ghosts in the graveyard.” After pondering the fading popularity of backyard games and realizing that today, scheduled activities, electronic games, and organized sports have replaced the carefree days of playing in the backyard, I decided to write books to teach children these nostalgic games.
With this inspiration, I wrote Treasure Hunt, Follow the Leader, and Just a Baseball Game and founded Project Play in 2008. The books are meant to inspire young readers to follow the lead of the Edgebrook gang as they entertain one another in backyard games. I’m excited to say that it’s been a wonderful journey so far, and I’ll be releasing two more books this year: Kick the Can this summer and Ghosts in the Graveyard this fall.
How long have you been in business?
My idea to familiarize and engage children in true “backyard play” began about eight years ago when I started writing down these game ideas for my own children. In 2008, it became a reality in Project Play. But I guess you could say I’ve been in the business since my children, Matthew and Margaret, were born. Handing down your traditions as a parent is really a full-time job!
What did you do in your past work life?
I have worked in a creative environment for over 20 years – owning an advertising agency. I believe the creativity we use in our adult life begins as children. We need to create, play and especially negotiate rules with our peers and carry those skills into adulthood. These skills are as important as the academic skills we learn in school. Some of the most creative problem solvers I have worked with credit their ability to think outside the box with their childhood experiences.
Describe your ideal workday.
I love to be challenged to be creative in new ways. In advertising, it’s by clients who need new ways to take their products or services to the target audience. In my writing, it’s creating new stories and ways to deliver those stories that will engage children to play.
What have been some of your major successes?
I believe success is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like raising children, my accomplishments come through hard work over time. I have been able to run the ad agency successfully for 17 years and now have the opportunity to build on this series of children’s books. Over time, I hope to touch families and make Project Play challenge children and families to appreciate creativity in play.
What have been some of your major challenges?
The publishing business was foreign to me. There are many layers, and it is sometimes difficult to know the right partners to be aligned with. I have been fortunate to gain positive reviews for Project Play and be able to open doors in expanding my distribution for the books.
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
I get motivated by my children’s friends all the time. I can’t tell you how many treasure hunts we have had in our house on a rainy afternoon or how enjoyable it is to get a group of kids together and just sit and watch them play a pick up game of baseball at the park. Those are the things that motivate me.
Do you have a motivational Quote?
If we constantly focus on what kids will know tomorrow, we will sacrifice who they are today.
What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
There is no secret. There are constant challenges for organizing your priorities. Maybe that’s why it took eight years for the books to become reality. No one thing can take over your life with your family – not work, not writing. You have to try to balance and sometimes you are pulled, but it is important to keep your focus on the most important things and let the little things slide.
My mother always told me if she could do it over again, she wouldn’t worry about the dirty dishes or the clean house, she would concentrate on spending more time with her kids without guilt.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to your children about running a successful business, what would it be?
You have to love what you do. I still come to work excited about the next cool creative campaign or about what I might dream up for the kids in the next Project Play story.
Do you have a favorite business tool and/or resource?
In writing my books, my best resources are my kids and their friends. When I worked on the ideas for Kick The Can, I sat in a lawn chair, laughing and watching the group play the game. Some of the antics in the story came from the game that evening.
What is next for your business?
To get every child in the country playing backyard games, of course! But seriously, to further spread the word about the importance of creative playtime. I will release two books in the series this year: Kick the Can and Ghosts in the Graveyard. These will be a bit different from the first books in the series because they’re aimed at slightly older children and are written in chapters.
What is your two cents sales pitch?
Project Play strives to feed the imaginative minds of children and encourage parents to make play a priority—for it is as equally important to be creative and imaginative as it is to be smart.
Project Play strives to foster creativity and imagination by getting kids back outdoors for good old-fashioned backyard games. The book series, authored by Marlene Byrne, presents stories of the Edgebrook gang playing in their neighborhood. Each book teaches a game, inspiring kids to get out and play with their friends. The beautifully illustrated, hardcover series debuted in 2008 with “Treasure Hunt,” “Follow the Leader” and “Just a Baseball Game.” This year, two more books will be released in the series: “Kick the Can” and “Ghosts in the Graveyard.” To learn more about Project Play, visit www.projectplaybooks.com.
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