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Meet Nancy Traversy of Barefoot Books in Cambridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nancy Traversy.

Nancy, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My own story began in Canada where I spent my childhood moving from army base to army base and living in obscurely named places like Chilliwack and Petawawa. So it was pretty easy for me when I was in my early twenties to pick up and move across the world from Toronto to London when I transferred with my first job at Price Waterhouse.

The day in 1985 when I was asked by a male partner in the company to go home and change because I was wearing trousers, which “women didn’t wear”, was the day I knew my story needed to change.

I have always loved numbers and, coming from a family who likes to design, paint and create, this made me a bit of a black sheep. So it was a surprise when, in my mid-twenties, I discovered my own passion for color and design and decided to leave the big corporate world of finance to work in a small design house in Covent Garden in London. I stayed in the design industry for many years, where I learned the ropes of running a creative, entrepreneurial company and was lucky to be able to do business in fascinating countries like Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

I think my willingness to take risks, passion for travel, and real appreciation for stories were born in those early years. In 1992, when I met Tessa Strickland, my co-founder at Barefoot, my eldest daughter was three weeks old, and I had just started my own company advising small creative start-ups. As a new mom, I was drawn to the idea of starting a little business making beautiful books that introduced children to wonderful stories and art from all over the world.

I didn’t really know much about the publishing industry back then and in hindsight that was probably lucky, as Barefoot has always strived to be more of a pioneer than a follower. I had three more children over the next few years, and my kids have all grown up Barefoot, actively involved in testing stories, picking artists and generally helping out in our little business.

In 1998 we jumped off our first big cliff and decided to set up shop in NYC. And in 2001, my family moved to America, and we made our home in Concord, MA where we now live happily with our ever-expanding menagerie of animals and lots of color.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
We always found ourselves a little bit on the fringe in the world of traditional publishing and struggled with a business model that relied on a few big box middlemen who tended to cater to the mass market and who treated books as commodities.

I was told many times over the years that our global themes were too esoteric, our illustrations were too sophisticated, and our books were not mainstream enough to have broad appeal. I was also told by many seasoned industry veterans that publishers don’t brand themselves. People know great writers, like Dr Seuss and characters like Barney or Big Bird. They really don’t care much about who the publisher is.

Although it was certainly tempting to dumb down and do what it took to sell as many books as possible in as many places as possible, we decided to stay true to our core values and commitment to quality. What kept us going was the fan mail we received from parents and teachers who told us how grateful they were for our books. We knew our audience was out there somewhere…our challenge was how to reach them, especially in the days before Facebook and Instagram.

So rather than following the pack, we decided to do things differently. We gradually pulled out of Amazon and the big chains and focused on building Barefoot into a colorful, timeless family brand for the very best children’s content. And we started to build a community of people who loved our books and believed in our mission.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Barefoot Books – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Our mission at Barefoot Books is to share stories, connect families, and inspire children.

Storytelling is at the core of what Barefoot is, and has been, for a quarter of a century. We believe that stories have an incredible power to transform our children’s lives. So we try to find the very best ones from all over the world, and the most talented illustrators, storytellers and musicians to bring these stories to life.

We always place diversity front and center, making sure that children, no matter who they are, see themselves in our stories. And we think that kids actually have really great taste, so we try never to dumb down to them.

Barefoot has published 600+ books for children that encourage discovery, compassion, creativity and global awareness. Our first app, Barefoot World Atlas, has 4 million downloads and our YouTube Channel has nearly 100 million views. Over the years, we have partnered with retailers, schools, libraries and literacy organizations in the US, UK and Canada, as well as our distribution partners around the world, to help us reach as many children as possible. Our stories have also been translated into more than 30 languages.

However, perhaps what sets us apart most is our innovative, community-based, approach to spread the word about our mission and our books. Our Ambassador program empowers parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, artists, storytellers, musicians, cooks and gardeners to run their own entrepreneurial businesses, sharing Barefoot in their communities – at home, in schools, at farmers markets, and in their online social networks.

As mothers who started Barefoot from our homes 25 years ago, it is incredibly rewarding to empower individuals to write their own stories, running independent Barefoot businesses that benefit the whole family.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
As we celebrate Barefoot’s 25th Anniversary, it was very rewarding to be included on the Forbes 2017 list of 25 Best Small Companies in America. Especially gratifying was when they said we had “defied conventional wisdom and created a publishing brand that parents and grandparents recognize, trust, and buy.”

After a quarter of a century of living Barefoot, and persevering through the many twists and turns of our journey, I am proud to still be standing to tell the Barefoot story and to have raised four wonderful Barefoot children.

I am proud to work with an extraordinary team to create outstanding children’s stories and to be part of a passionate Barefoot family who helps us share them.

Most of all, I am proud that, over the last 25 years, our community has put more than 20 million books into the hands of children. I can’t wait to see what the next 25 Barefoot years will bring!

Pricing:

  • As a special for Boston Voyager readers, we’re offering 25% off any purchase on our website. Visit barefootbooks.com and enter special offer code VOYAGER at checkout. Offer valid until August 31, 2017.

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Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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