AGENT Q&A with Sofia Fenichell, Founder of Mrs WordsmithLast Updated: June 1, 2019
“I wasn’t sure I was employable so I decided to hire myself!” Sofia Fenichell spoke with AGENT about the launch and early days of her phenomenally successful edtech business, Mrs Wordsmith.
In Sofia Fenichell, founder of the globally successful & innovative vocabulary programme Mrs Wordsmith, has a fantastic exemplar & role model not just of entrepreneurial excellence, but also of the counterintuitive thinking and drive that’s necessary to get a project off the ground and ensure it succeeds.
“I didn’t want to work for anyone and wasn’t sure I was employable so I decided to hire myself!”
Sofia Fenichell launched the Mrs Wordsmith programme in London in 2016. She had earlier realised at the age of 44 that she didn’t want to work for someone any more, and that she was probably unemployable for that very reason. Mrs Wordsmith was part of her simple, proactive alternative—“I decided to hire myself!”—to sitting around fretting about her supposed unemployability.
Mrs Wordsmith is a revolutionary vocabulary programme whose success with children and parents alike is built on the twin strands of data science and creativity. Cambridge University data scientists have helped the company to amass a corpus of 10,000 words that matter most to academic success, while the A-List creativity underpinning the programme takes the form of the award-winning Hollywood artists behind the kids’ movies Madagascar and Hotel Transylvania, who have memorably illustrated each of these words. The combination of rigorous relevance and edgy creativity has created the kinds of learning connections that register, ‘stick’ and endure.
Like most great ideas, it had its genesis in a completely practical situation; in this case, the efforts of Sofia Fenichell to find a vocabulary building programme or book to help her daughter at school, and her frustration at the poor quality of what was available at that point.
In fewer that two years, Mrs Wordsmith has helped kids to fall in love with learning, and investors have fallen in love with the business too. Mrs Wordsmith has become one of the fastest growing venture capitalist-backed startup businesses anywhere in the UK.
In the TED Talk below, from 2017, Sofia Fenichell explains the Mrs Wordsmith concept and how it works:
11 Questions for Sofia Fenichell aka Mrs Wordsmith
Sofia Fenichell spoke to AGENT about the story of Mrs Wordsmith so far, the challenges and successes of this fast growing business, and shared the key lessons she has learned since starting up her business.
1. Briefly tell us about your business and your business goals.
Mrs Wordsmith is on a mission to teach kids the 10,000 words that matter to academic success. We are illustrating these words with the award-winning artists behind Madagascar and Hotel Transylvania, so kids fall in love with learning. And we use data science to teach the words that matter so learning is more relevant and efficient.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
I was 44. I didn’t want to work for anyone and wasn’t sure I was employable so I decided to hire myself!
3. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
We have such a big vision that it takes world class people to pull it off. People have been the biggest challenge and equally our biggest asset. We’ve hired well. It makes the difference between success and failure. Unnecessary stress is caused when you have the wrong people in the wrong jobs. Clarifying the roles and finding the right people is hard work, but if you put the time in, the payoff is exponential. Great people are everything.
4. What gives you the most satisfaction in business?
That I have built a team that is mission driven and dreams of changing education.
5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life. That’s part of it. The other part is prioritising family when you go home. Eat dinner with the kids. Do sports together on the weekends. Those kinds of things.
6. What is the first thing you do every day?
Sadly, answer emails. I am trying to change this to exercise. I haven’t quite worked that one out. I am still a slave to my inbox.
7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
A picture of my kids from the summer after playing tennis.
8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Spotify. No music—no life.
9. What is the last thing you Googled?
The postcode for my son’s school.
10. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
A set of vocabulary cards in my wallet. They are credit card size and a better calling card than a business card. Show what you do.
11. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Work with the right people. And have more patience that things will work out.