The New Normal Post #1: Drexel Entrepreneurs Creating Opportunities in the Age of COVID-19

Just Be Books Image

Featuring Paris Gramann and Rebecca Lee of Just Be Books LLC

Drexel graduate (’20) Paris Gramann began developing the idea for Just Be Books LLC when she was in high school. As a young person, she battled mental health issues that included anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. She never felt that she had the words or the permission to tell the adults in her life how she was feeling. Paris has experienced mental health difficulties throughout her young adult life. It wasn’t until college that she realized she was allowed to talk about her struggles and ask for the help she needed. Paris believes that childhood is the most important time to learn how to talk about our needs, about how to speak-up for ourselves and how to listen to others. Just Be Books gives parents the tools to teach children how to do what Paris struggled with as a child – how to use their words to express their emotions. The Just Be Books tool kit includes the illustrated children’s book Just Be which tells the story of an apple named Albert who discovers, with the help of friends, how to manage his feelings of sadness, a plush Albert Apple toy and downloadable supplemental information.

The current COVID-19 pandemic makes this a scary time for everyone and especially kids who haven’t developed the skills to express their fears. Children have been pulled out of school, isolated in their homes; they can sense their parents’ anxiety over not only health, but also about the financial repercussions of a shut-down economy. Children are most certainly struggling with fears of illness, death, dying and uncertainty. Now, more then ever, they need Just Be Books!

I asked Paris and her partner, Rebecca Lee (an undergraduate student studying Middle School Education at Temple University) to answer a series of questions aimed at discovering how Just Be Books is pivoting to face the unique challenge presented by this “new normal”. Here are their answers:

Describe your pre-pandemic business model plan:

Before the pandemic, our sales were all Business to Consumer. We fulfilled 85 book orders prior to December 1, 2019, and we raised $4,205 from a Kickstarter campaign.

At the start of 2020, we continued online sales from our website and began working with Business to Business organizations. By March 2020, our books were in two retail locations: Magical Child in Encinitas, CA and Blue Literacy Bookstore in Cincinnati, OH. We began to work with schools and tested at three different schools and were hoping for more testing at additional schools.

Our focus was on 1) School District Partnerships 2) B2C online sales 3) B2B retail store wholesale partnerships and 4) Clinician Partnerships.

How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunity?

With most schools closed and people practicing social distancing, parents are turning to online resources to help continue their child’s learning and creativity at home. Just Be Books LLC is shifting our focus from in-person school assemblies (which have been canceled) to creating free content for parents and kids — accessible via our social media accounts and our website. Since parents are cooped up in the house, we have noticed greater activity on social media so we are using this time to become more present on social media platforms. We are currently working with our adviser, Shannon Sweitzer, Ph.D in School Psychology, to create positive mental health activities and crafts that keep kids learning and help them work through some of the anxieties and stress that can arise from an unprecedented situation like this. Just Be Books hopes to provide free, fun, and helpful content to our wonderful existing customers as well as gain a greater following by reaching out to our partners and networks.

How has your business pivoted? 

We had assemblies and readings scheduled throughout the end of March that were either canceled or postponed. With this disappointment comes a fantastic opportunity to get more creative and pivot to better meet our customers’ new needs. Just Be Books is launching a 20-Day Mental Health Activity Challenge that will give parents ideas and instructions for positive activities such as arts and crafts projects and brain teasers that they can do from home with common household supplies. We also plan on utilizing video platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to do live readings, breathing activities, and yoga. All of this content will be saved and available for customers to view at later times.

How important is “thinking outside the box” to the survival and growth of your business?

Thinking outside the box is very important to our business! We always want to be bringing something new and creative to the families we sell to, but we also always want what we are doing to be rooted in research. We are striving to create new “outside of the box” content that is grounded in what’s known to work for kids. We are brainstorming activities with professionals and modifying them to be do-able with simple things that most families have around the house. We are really excited to make these educational crafts accessible to all families. These activities can be accessed here.

How important is resiliency to you? 

Resiliency is an important aspect of every part of both our business and professional lives. In regards to the pandemic, we took a few days to process and readjust, but we think our shared resiliency and passion for our customers is helping us stay motivated. 

How are you connecting with your peers? 

We are so happy to have built amazing relationships with our peers at the Baiada Incubator. We have been able to continue some of our “break times” (aka playing cards or a game called Spyfall) via video chat. Using technology like Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts has helped us all stay connected with one another. We have also been able to touch base emotionally with our peers and give emotional support to one another through text messages and “vent sessions”. 

Everyone is going through this together. Some peers are taking a hit and others are thriving with the extra challenges that the pandemic is providing. 

How important are Mentors to you at this time? 

We are excited to explore the additional resources that our Universities provide (Paris is a recent graduate of Drexel University and Rebecca is currently an undergrad at Temple University). Among those resources are the Mentor Match program where we can find extra support to help us better understand our current challenges. As I mentioned before, our adviser, Sharon Schweitzer, is helping us to create positive, research-based, activities for our 20 Day Mental Health Activity Challenge.

What new learning are you planning?

Our team at Just Be Books is excited (and anxious) about all of the new challenges that will come from the changes in the world right now. At the heart of us both, we are students. We are currently working on our second book as well as the specific projects listed above. We are both learning how to provide effective content for families in need of mental health resources at this time. 

To learn more about Just Be Books, visit the following:

Facebook: @justbebooks https://www.facebook.com/justbebooks/

Instagram: @justbe_books https://www.instagram.com/justbe_books/?hl=en

Website: justbebooks.com/

On a personal note: As a kid, I had a crippling fear of death and dying. It took me years before I felt brave enough to say something to my parents. When I finally found my words, my mom very simply said, “Everyone dies. It’s just a part of life”. Not a particularly reassuring reply, but just the act of speaking my truth out loud provided instant and sustained relief.

How I wish the Just Be Books tool kit had been available when I was a child! It could have helped me find my words at an earlier age and saved me a lot of stress and worry.