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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Sophie Deen

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, it is where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. I am very pleased to say that my guest today is none other than Sophie Deen. You haven’t heard of her yet, but you will be the end of this. She is the Founder and CEO of a kid’s media company it’s really cool, it’s called Bright Little Labs. A former Lawyer, Sophie retrained as a Psychologist and she realised that children, particularly girls and minorities, needed positive role models in the stem subjects, that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Sophie joined Code Club, a global network of free coding clubs where with Google and the Department for Education she devised a nationwide training programme for Primary School Teachers in the new computing curriculum. She then worked on Code Clubs international strategy in over eighty countries. Bright Little Labs was founded in 2015 aiming to inspire the next generation with interactive stories promoting critical thinking, computer science and equality for kids. They began as a kick starter project reaching over thirty countries and have since become a multiple award-winning stem media technology business and they’re Cabinet Office backed to boot. We’ll be talking to Sophie in a few minutes about all of this and her belief the stories are key to changing the future of the tech industry. We’ve also got brilliant music from amongst other Ray Charles, Art Blakey and Moonchild. That ladies and gentlemen is today’s Jazz Shapers, I am very excited. Here’s Art Pepper and Mambo Koyama.

That was Art Pepper with Mambo Koyama and I absolutely love that, hope you did too. Sophie Deen as billed earlier is my Business Shaper, she’s the Founder of Bright Little Labs doing clever things, telling stories to small children to help them understand all sorts of stuff about life. Hello.

Sophie Deen
Hello.

Elliot Moss
It’s lovely that you came here, now tell me you are a new business.

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
You’re four years in, what possessed you to set your own thing up?

Sophie Deen
I never decided to do a business. So its always been like a ball that’s in front of me that I’m chasing but I did want to do something about how kids see themselves and how they see the world around them through stories and I do think that we need to think differently about how we’re being educated and how we’re preparing for the future and so I just wanted to create a different story that was mainstream. I never really wanted to run a business and I don’t think I, I still don’t really want to run a business.

Elliot Moss
You’re the reluctant entrepreneur. But that specific want, that desire to say you know what I want to tell a different story, I want kids to learn in a different way, where did that come from yeah?

Sophie Deen
Well I was working at the time in Wembley in London which has got a very high Asian population, it’s the second highest in England and so all of my kids, half of them were female and about 80% of them were from Asian background and I noticed that in their stories they never saw themselves, they were never the Leaders, or the Engineers or the Scientists and I started looking more into representation in kids stories and about 15% of people in the whole world have white Caucasian skin but about 73% of characters in kids stories have white Caucasian skin so there’s this, I mean the things that we’re talking about in our stories are really misleading and then I worked at a tech company that regulated the performance of the internet which sounds dry but was really interesting and when I was introducing the computer science curriculum I realised that everyone thinks of computer science as this geeky thing like you’ve got to be probably a boy, maths genius sat in a dark room coding on your own and parents who were thinking about teaching their kids computer science tended to come from more affluent backgrounds and know what it was and so when I think of my family they were like, they didn’t go to University so they were like Lawyer, Doctor or Accountant that’s the goal, that’s the dream and so I wanted to make stories that made, gave kids access to sort of digital skills so that they could be prepared for the future and all kids, not just sort of kids from one type of background.

Elliot Moss
And you did that because somewhere deep in your gut that just felt like something you needed to do; it strikes me that you haven’t actually had much of a choice in this in a weird kind of way. Does it feel like that? As you said you didn’t want to set your own business up really, you’re doing it because you’ve got some kind of greater goal which is to help right wrongs by the sounds of it to me?

Sophie Deen
I guess I just, I probably am not that strategic a thinker I just, I wanted to make a different sort of story, I think there’s room for it, I think if you look at the demographics in the world anyway over half of the kids born in America now come from mixed race families so this sort of whitewashing of kids media is no longer appropriate so I thought the stories were important and relevant and that there is a really big market for it and I did not really think more than that just I literally could not sleep one night and had the idea of Detective Dot and the Children’s Intelligence Agency and I told it to some kids in the morning and then it just sort of became a thing.

Elliot Moss
I just want to go back a little bit you were a Lawyer, I touched on that briefly. You did work in this tech company which you said it sounded dry, but it wasn’t. When you decided to become a Lawyer what was driving that decision at that point? If you can remember, it is probably ten years ago or so?

Sophie Deen
I don’t know I just think that I mean I always cared about human rights, that sounds, I sound like…

Elliot Moss
No, I think that’s a lot of the reasons why many Lawyers actually say you know I wanted to be a Lawyer and I joined Amnesty International when I was fifteen years old.

Sophie Deen
Did you?

Elliot Moss
I did. So, it’s exactly, absolutely that sense of social justice for many Lawyers I speak to is right there so that was for you also kind of important?

Sophie Deen
Yes, and I just think in my family it was, I don’t know I just think everyone said that I should be a Lawyer because potentially I was quite good at arguing at home.

Elliot Moss
I do find that hard to believe actually Sophie and then, but moving from there what made you then go do you know what this isn’t for me?

Sophie Deen
Its so boring being a Lawyer isn’t it? Construction Department of a massive law firm but I really enjoyed the sort of the thinking skills that it taught me and I actually really like information hierarchy so being super organised because I did a lot of filing, I mean like a lot of filing and you had to label things correctly and be really organised in how you think about presenting information and so I loved it but obviously I’m not going to be a Lawyer. I mean if you knew me you would think it’s ridiculous. I’m never going to care about a very specific point ever.

Elliot Moss
But then that, so that information hierarchy as you call it its almost, I feel like that’s skill one. So, then you go and work for this, I think you were Board Secretary and HR Manager at another business for a little bit?

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Which is probably organising and important and a bit legal?

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And then you go and work for this, as Chief Strategic Officer at the IT company you mentioned Sam Knowes which is this whole point about internet strategy for regulators and so on. What did you learn there?

Sophie Deen
Yeah. Oh gosh I learnt so much there. That company was growing really rapidly, I was brought on to help with admin basically and I was studying part-time so this was all trying to support my studies because I was re-training but the company was winning contracts with different regulators across the world and so I was learning about the infrastructure of the internet, that its cables, its not in the air, its not in the clouds, its submarine cables going under the sea and I learnt about different countries and their approach to internet strategy, that only about half of the world even has access to the internet so who’s writing the history when you go online and you’re searching for things its just half of the world’s version of events. I also learnt about a growing business, I learnt about how to pitch the business to different clients, I saw first-hand how the CEO would approach business development, I learnt so much in that company.

Elliot Moss
And then the last, the bit before your business now was this point which I also mentioned working with Google and with the Department for Education on this Code Club World as it was called?

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
What did you take from that that then enabled you to add the other two pieces of skills to the final bit of the mix which was Sophie arrived with her own idea?

Sophie Deen
Code Club was really cool because it was a grass roots organisation so the CEO, Claire, noticed that kids weren’t learning computer science at school and so she created a curriculum and it was almost like a dating site so you have Techies who work in business and schools who want someone to come and help them with the digital skills and we created a curriculum, or Claire created a curriculum and then they would go and use it and because it was open source and anybody could download it and shape it to their own needs and their own schools it just sort of grew, I hate this word, exponentially.

Elliot Moss
It’s a good word though Sophie.

Sophie Deen
Grew fast.

Elliot Moss
Fast, yes.

Sophie Deen
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
It was a curve that went up quite a steep amount just before the rollercoaster goes down the other side.

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
One of those.

Sophie Deen
So when it started growing across the world we started thinking about well how do you teach a coding club in Kenya when electricity might not be sort of constantly available and how do you retain the integrity of a brand that has been so successful because people can put their own sort of spin on it.

Elliot Moss
Yes.

Sophie Deen
To make it locally relevant to them and so thinking about a big franchise was really interesting and also thinking about how to make sure that kids were engaging with it because they loved Code Club, it was cool.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more, I’ve now given you the background as to why we’re now sitting talking with Sophie Deen, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that she has been the recipient of many accolades whether it’s the Innovator of the Year, British Interactive Media Association, Barclays Every Woman Start Up Founder of the Year, whether its most Influential Woman in UK IT, a lot of stuff and that’s what makes Sophie special I guess and you’re going to find out a lot more after this, it’s some words of advice from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

There are absolutely loads of ways for you to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers and indeed to hear this programme with Sophie as well again. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes or just put the words Jazz and Shapers, not too complicated, into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform and you can enjoy the full archive and there’s about three hundred and fifty Sophie so if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, you haven’t got any but if someone does have they can listen to all of them back-to-back that would take a bit of time. So Sophie Deen is my Business Shaper today, Founder and CEO of the kids media technology I’ve just making this up, company, we can call it what we like can’t we. It’s called Bright Little Labs. So, you’ve done all this stuff suddenly and you’ve worked with Governments, you’ve worked with big organisations, you’ve worked with an organisation which is looking at regulation. You now know that pipes go under the sea, I mean an amazing amount of structural information in your head and you’re super charged because you are an information hierarchy goddess as well. In those opening few months when you said you know what I’m going to do this thing. What did it feel like to sort of be no longer looking at the CEO and no longer looking round going they’re in charge and actually feeling like you’re in charge?.

Sophie Deen
I never really said I’m going to do it so that didn’t really happen, I went to this meet-up and explained the idea, it was like a local meet-up for people that care about the supply chain and where their stuff comes from which I care about and somebody said ‘oh what do you do?’ and I was like ‘oh I make this story’ which didn’t, like nothing really existed and it turned out that she was from quite a high profile charity and she was like ‘we’re doing a pop up event in Soho could you run some workshops there for Teachers?’ and I was like ‘uh huh’

Elliot Moss
Which charity was this?

Sophie Deen
I don’t want to name it in case it makes her look bad.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Sophie Deen
Like a big one.

Elliot Moss
Okay. That’s very polite, you’re very polite Sophie.

Sophie Deen
And so I went home and I was like oh okay right I need to make a website like right now and curriculum materials and the event was happening probably in two months from that date and so what had been the beginning of an idea suddenly was a thing I needed to make for an event and everything kept happening like that. Someone would introduce me to someone else and they would say ‘oh we love it can we have a bible. Can I have a show bible please’ and I was like ‘uh huh’.

Elliot Moss
What’s one of those then, you had to quickly work that one out?

Sophie Deen
Exactly, I was like a bible, why would anyone want a bible from entertainment but actually it doesn’t mean the religious bible it means…

Elliot Moss
No, I guessed.

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Because it would be quite hard to write the religious bible again wouldn’t it and then also to make it original.

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
It would be a bit derivative.

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
But the bible about the specific elements of the programme and what the characters do…

Sophie Deen
Exactly.

Elliot Moss
…and just plot lines and all those sorts of things. Just give me a snapshot about this, we talked about it before, the Children’s Intelligence Agency and…

Sophie Deen
Detective Dot.

Elliot Moss
Right, just give me your, who is Detective Dot for those people who don’t know?

Sophie Deen
She’s an eleven year old Tech Whizz from Wembley in London and she’s also a Secret Agent for the CIA, which is the Children’s Intelligence Agency, all of your listeners are probably too old to join and she has a sidekick drone and she is really good at sort of data analysis and sensing when people are moving about and spying but she gets very passive aggressive if she doesn’t have Wi-Fi or if she gets a bug and she has another sidekick called Tumble who is obsessed with taking selfies but often in the back of the selfies they capture the clues to the adventures they’re on with the CIA and then they have a nemesis called Shelley Belly and she’s running a massive empire – like all of the big empires you might think of but actually she wants your data so that she can get global mind control.

Elliot Moss
And in this, in these stories that map out little animations and things you are essentially saying what to kids that are watching, what are they enjoying about these stories, what are they learning?

Sophie Deen
Well they’re really learning about the digital world that they live in so its not just computer science for example, their weapon of choice is a selfie stick that releases a mega fart if it gets into enemy hands and so it runs an authentication code on the thumb. So you can look at the code of that you know like what are the instructions and we could use whatever language it doesn’t matter, we use pseudo code but you’re also learning about fake news or how can you tell what’s real and not real or what happens if your house is listening to you so all of the issues around security and safety online are very important if you’re a Top Secret Agent for the CIA.

Elliot Moss
In terms of developing the story lines and all of that I know now you’ve got a team of I don’t know how many, fifteen people?

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Give or take and I happened to look on the website and they have all these fabulous roles I mean it looks like a sort of fun playground for adults to be children again. Is there a lot of that, is the inner child in you not so inner at all, is it just who you are? And is it all those people that you work with are as well because they all seem highly intelligent as well, I had a little scope around, they’re proper professional people.

Sophie Deen
Yes, they are all proper. No, it’s not I mean most of the time I’m just highly anxious about failing so it is not like fun times at the office especially if I am there.

Elliot Moss
And why are you anxious about failing Sophie?

Sophie Deen
Because I really believe in what I am doing and I feel that I am in a really privileged position and have every opportunity to succeed and I really care about using the platform that I’ve got and the voice that I’ve got and so I really don’t want to fail and I don’t know exactly what I’m doing so it’s a lot of pressure.

Elliot Moss
And how do you balance the fact that obviously you are doing lots of good things and the fact that you need to believe in yourself that you can do more good things with that angst because the angst is it you can channel it positively but sometimes does it get the better of you? Where you stop or you’re paralysed a little bit, or have you managed now to work through that?

Sophie Deen
No sometimes I am but thankfully it’s not just me, so I have, I work in a team and the team is great and so I just think that’s the nature of the role. I don’t know well probably its quite a lot to do with me as well but…

Elliot Moss
Do they know when you’re angsty though, do they know, and can they support you because obviously that’s…

Sophie Deen
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…and they don’t mind, I mean it is unusual, you’re incredibly honest about your own vulnerability which is a fabulous thing to hear actually because I meet many people who maybe aren’t quite as honest about the fact that you know what they don’t really know what they’re doing to a point.

Sophie Deen
No, no I don’t it’s true.

Elliot Moss
But is that, is that actually quite liberating and once they know that do you actually think you get better outputs from them as a result?

Sophie Deen
I don’t know they’re all lovely people and very supportive and we all try and support each other there so I just, I don’t, it just, it is what it is, I don’t know what it is like to be somebody else.

Elliot Moss
That’s a fair point Sophie. How would they describe you do you think?

Sophie Deen
Actually, so we have an Advisory Board and I asked our Chairperson to review me because I realised that I haven’t had a review for like three years and so I can tell you exactly what people think.

Elliot Moss
Oh yes please.

Sophie Deen
So he asked everyone for three good things and three things I could work on and in summary they would say I am very passionate about what we’re trying to do and just like go for whatever it is blindly and probably a bit too blunt, a bit too literal sometimes.

Elliot Moss
A bit too literal but the other two things were good.

Sophie Deen
I mean there were lots more bad things, but I am sure you…

Elliot Moss
I liked bad things, I think this is quite revealing, I felt like I was in the room and you were getting your feedback, but you don’t have to tell me. Stay with me for my final chat with Sophie Deen, the super honest Sophie Deen, my Business Shaper today plus we’ll be playing a track from Moonchild that’s all coming up so don’t go anywhere.

That was Moonchild with Be Free. I’ve got Sophie Deen with me just for a few more minutes. We’ve talked about this business a little bit. We haven’t talked about the main investment partner, Turner and what the future holds. Tell me a little bit about how you and your vision are going to be brought to life now with a real behemoth of a company alongside you?

Sophie Deen
So yeah, it’s really cool that we’re partnered with Turner who are now part of Warner Media because of their merger.

Sophie Deen is the founder and CEO of kids’ media company, Bright Little Labs. Bright Little Labs was founded in 2015 with the aim to inspire the next generation with interactive stories, promoting critical thinking, computer science and equality for children. A former lawyer and children’s play therapist, Sophie has worked alongside Code Club, Google and the Department For Education to help introduce the new coding curriculum in primary schools.

Being named as one of Computer Weekly’s ‘Most influential women in UK IT’ in 2017 and 2018, the London Tech Week’s ‘Changemaker’ in 2018, and the Barclays/Everywoman ‘Start-up Founder of the Year’ in 2017, Sophie believes in the power of storytelling to promote critical thinking, computer science and equality for all children.

Interview highlights

I wanted to do something about how children see themselves, and how they see the world around them through stories.

I think that we need to think differently about how we’re being educated and how we’re preparing for the future.

I found that children never saw themselves in stories.

I started looking more into representation in kids stories.

I believe in what I am doing.

I wanted to make stories that gave all children access to digital skills so they could be prepared for the future.

Everyone said that I should be a lawyer because I was quite good at arguing at home.

My stories allow children to really learn about the digital world that they live in.

I feel that I am in a privileged position and have every opportunity to succeed.

I really care about using the platform and voice that I’ve got, so I really don’t want to fail.

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