Did you like super heroes, or puppets, or TV shows, or picture books? Chances are, you did.
That’s why Radha Agrawal created Super Sprowtz, a children’s multimedia company with a mission of connecting kids to their food. “The arts – stories and action adventures – are the most influential way to get kids inspired and engaged. We wanted to create a world that makes vegetables cool and fun,” Radha told me about her original idea.
It started as a few coloring book pages and an “ah-ha” moment in 2009, and is now a rapidly growing business that hosts puppet show tours, has a nutrition education curriculum, a permanent exhibit in the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and so much more.
You could say Radha is a super hero herself, with all that she’s done in the past couple of years. Radha Resilient: Super Successful, I would call her.
They started as 2-dimensional coloring book characters for the West Village organic pizza restaurant Slice that Radha owns with her sister. (Yes, this is not Radha’s first time around the entrepreneurial block.) Originally called the Vegtapeople, Radha created these coloring book pages to promote the family atmosphere of the restaurant.
Radha would color with the children who came in, and told them stories about the Vegtapeople and their superpowers. To her and the parents’ surprise and amazement, once the kids found out about the superpowers, they would go up to the counter and order more vegetables.
“I saw this amazing direct correlation between story and action. And just in this half an hour of coloring with them and talking to them about the superpowers, they went and they changed their behavior. They changed their eating habits and their parents were like ‘Oh my gosh, my son, who hates broccoli, is now eating broccoli because he realized that it’s good for your bones; it gives you superpowers.’”
Radha then started fleshing out the characters, and wrote several children’s stories. Each book focused on one character and its adventures battling bad guys like Pompous Pollution. The bad guys were necessary, Radha said, because “to me you can’t teach by just showing what’s good. You also have to show what’s bad.”
In their final iteration, the 2-dimensional Vegtapeople morphed into the 3-dimensional Super Sprowtz puppet characters. Suzy Sweetpea: Super Speedy. Sammy Spinach: Super Stretchy. Erica Eggplant: Super Smart. Colby Carrot: Super Sight. And others… what kid wouldn’t be instantly attracted to the alliteration, the bright colors, the fun stories?
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and Radha knew she wanted to turn her storybook characters into something bigger.
Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees (although neither do vegetables for that matter)
Radha’s previous experience gave her many of the skills she needed to jump into creating Super Sprowtz. After graduating from college she worked as an analyst at an investment bank. Although it didn’t suit her, she told me wryly, “at least now I’m not scared of spreadsheets. And you need those.”
9/11 resulted in her whole group – which covered airlines – being laid off, thereby cutting her analyst career short. But free of banking, Radha knew she wanted to work in film. She spent the next several years as a talent agent for TV commercial directors, working on productions, and finally producing a film in the Middle East about the Iraq War, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010.
“I wanted to apply all of my know-how in TV commercials and production and apply it in a way that was meaningful for the world, and also was filling a hole in the market. There was nothing out there that was a comprehensive brand.”
The stage and the table were set. She had the idea, but she needed the funding to make it happen.
Radha put together a business plan and talked to every businessperson she knew.
“How do you make the best possible business plan possible?”
“How do you present an idea that will get people excited about it in a financial way?”
“How do you think like a CEO?”
With the business plan, her children’s books, and a never-give-up attitude, Radha began banging on doors and pitching to friends and family members.
She got a lot of no’s, but finally a big yes. A check for $50,000 from a college friend who told her “I believe in you.” And then the yeses started rolling in.
“But it’s one of those things where everyone saw it right away. They saw the idea on paper and they didn’t need to see anything else. They were like this is so obvious and I want to be part of it. But I also think they invested in me as much as they invested in the idea,” Radha asserted.
Over the course of only friend and family rounds, Radha raised $550,000 for Super Sprowtz. Let the adventures begin.
Turning the Idea into Something Digestible
Radha knew the key to being successful in this business would be packaging Super Sprowtz in a polished and exciting way so that it could compete with other brands, Disney for example. Everything had to be the best of the best.
Which is why Super Sprowtz held the biggest audition in the puppet world that year. The top puppeteers – such as voices from Sesame Street and the Muppet movie – flew to New York and auditioned to play the various Super Sprowtz characters. (Watch the hilarious auditions here.)
Once that was set, Radha and her team started connecting and networking in the space. They wanted to find out who was doing the top work in the area and “how we could connect with them in a meaningful way. Where we’re not just talking about doing work with them but we’re talking about building a future generation of healthier kids. So it’s not just selling a show about fairy tales or fairy princesses, we actually have a mission.”
The Nitty Gritty – Things You Don’t Really Hear About
I thought it was really interesting when Radha started talking to me about the process for designing the puppets. Look at how many things she had to adjust and think about while making the product:
- What kind of fabric to use – how does it feel to the touch?
- What color will it be?
- I don’t like the way the puppet’s arm rotates. Can we change it?
- The eyes are too big.
- The functionality of the mouth doesn’t work so well.
- Where will we warehouse it?
- Who’s going to ship it?
- What will we pack it in?
- Where is it going to go?
It’s an interesting exercise for conceptualizing the steps that will actually turn your idea into reality.
As the puppet show came to life, other ideas popped up. A clothing line with organic baby onesies. A television show that now airs with 3 minuteo spots on Child 25. A healthy cooking show. A nutrition education kit boasting 20-lessons and a 160-pages curriculum guide, and many other products featured on their online store.
Eat Your Vegetables and You’ll Get Lucky
Super Sprowtz went on a media tour to promote its mission and products. Radha was holding one of her puppets in the green room before an interview, when someone came up to her and said “I have never seen puppets this cool in my entire life. Who are you guys, and what is your story?”
Turns out this someone was the Communications Director for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. The Museum was working on a new exhibition called “Eat, Sleep, Play,” and the board was at a loss for what to put in the “Eat” section. “Come meet our Executive Director,” he said. “Bring the puppets!”
And that’s how Super Sprowtz landed a permanent exhibition on the first floor of the Children’s Museum. As Radha said, “You can’t make that up, you can’t plan for those moments to happen. It’s good karma. The right place, the right time.”
“If you work hard, good things will happen.”
Yes they will, Radha Resilient, yes they will.
Super Sprowtz is growing by leaps and bounds. They recently announced their official charity partner, the Food Bank of New York, which will receive 5% of Super Sprowtz’ profits. They will be holding 7 puppet shows at Century 21 stores over the next year. And, the day before I spoke with Radha, they got their biggest order to date.
Which is good, because Radha has a big vision. “Our plan is to be truly the default location for parents to go to when they think about nutrition education. And of course our plan is to be a global company. This problem is not something that’s just in America. It’s a global issue. There are 1 billion obese people, surpassing the starving, 900 million. It just gives you an idea of how much our food system needs to change.”
Keep Sproutin’ Super Sprowtz! Don’t forget to eat your veggies!
Radha’s Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneur’s
- If you’re going to fail, fail big. Fail shouting it as loud as you possibly can.
- Self-impose your deadlines. If you don’t, when is anything going to get done?
- The financial risk will always be there, but life is short.
- You’re going to be stressed out, but you still need to live and have a life outside of work. Radha recommends going dancing to relieve the stress.
- Hire interns. If you have an incredible intern, and they add value to your company, do what you need to do to hire the person full-time.
- You have to be able to communicate your ideas in a way that other people can understand. Test it out on lots of people to make sure that’s the case.
- Pick five people who inspire you and surround yourself with them. Don’t just focus on people your age.
- Be patient. Things take time and nothing happens overnight. But keep putting one foot in front of the other.
- You have to let go of the fear of having people laugh at your ideas, at having people laugh at the brashness of your approach.
- The key to making any idea into reality is to build it in iterations.
- Everyone is a critic, but not everyone is bold enough to pursue their idea, so you should take everything they say with a grain of salt. Also, that’s when you know you’ve hit something that you really feel passionate about: when nobody can dissuade you from what you’re doing.
- Just remember, you are what you make of yourself.