Meet The PE Class Of 2018: Mara Lecocq, Founder and Creative Director of Secret Code
The 2018 PE Intensive, which took place April 13 & 14, brought together the the top 200 female founders from the PE Venture Competition for hands-on workshops and mentorship in New York City. Among the 200 were 10 finalists who have been given the additional opportunity to participate in the pitch competition on Saturday, April 14 for a chance to receive a $10,000 grant and a spot in a five-week accelerator program hosted at Rent the Runway’s headquarters.
Today we’re pleased to feature Secret Code, one of two “wild card” companies selected during the Intensive to participate during the live pitch competition (along with the 10 pre-selected finalists). Visit our 2018 PE Intensive website to meet the entire #PEClassOf2018, read our rundown of our favorite moments from 2018 PE Intensive, and relive highlights and behind-the-scenes from the Intensive with hashtag #PEIntensive18.
Mara Lecocq is Founder and Creative Director of Secret Code, a personalized children’s book starring little girls as tech heroes. We caught up with Mara after the Intensive to learn more about the inspiration behind Secret Code, how she deals with information overload, and her favorite moment from #PEIntensive18.
What inspired you to start your business?
Up until recently, I was a creative director at a digital agency, specialized in innovative products and campaigns for brands like Nike, Starbucks and Verizon. I was really annoyed by one thing: there were practically no female leaders at my level or above. I started noticing it was a pattern for all industries. On average, 80-95% of industries impact policy and how society perceives itself (e.g. politics, STEM, journalism, TV, music, finance) are white-male dominated at the top.
The thing is, you don’t suddenly become an empowered tech leader when you turn 30…it has to start young. Studies show that stereotypes sink in between ages 5 and 7, and that has an impact on children’s interests and, later, their aspirations.
I wanted to give an answer to Marian Wright Edelman’s quote, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” I wanted to make girls see what they can be. I wanted to plant a seed in their formative years that could turn into a passion and later a fulfilling future. That’s why my team and I built Secret Code: a customizable children’s book that stars your girl as a tech hero. Customers order books on Yoursecretcode.com by customizing the name, skin color and hairstyle [of the main character] so it looks like the girl you want to inspire, and then they receive a beautiful picture book in the mail about their girl’s story as a badass robot engineer.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Information overload, and death by a thousand paper cuts. I love this day and age where information is accessible and there is no excuse not to be informed about something, but hearing too many voices that say one thing and its opposite can lead to forms of paralysis. For example, we hear advice like “launch, fail fast, pivot,” but then we’ve also heard, “you only launch once.” So your mind goes back and forth non-stop while also dealing with putting out all sorts of fires. That’s why I got excited about Project Entrepreneur: for its content curation, and for access to a consistent direction and voice that moves you forward.
What’s been the greatest reward?
First, hearing how girls suddenly develop an interest in technology is incredibly rewarding. A woman reached out saying she gave Secret Code to her niece who hated science, and now she wants to take robot camp and plays engineer. I could have just died right then.
On the entrepreneurial side of things, winning one of the 2 out of 190 spots as a wildcard pitch finalist for Project Entrepreneur has been an unbelievable experience. Also getting the recognition from Sophia Amoruso and the Girlboss Foundation for the business idea, and signing with WME who saw potential in just the story we wrote—not even the customization aspect—were also validating. Seeing my efforts pay off and celebrating milestones helps me stay resilient.
What changes would you like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
Industries need more diversity at the top, which is the vision for Secret Code and its next stories. Our goal is to create stories that make white male-dominated industries aspirational for girls and boys of all ethnicities. I want girls to dream about becoming politicians, CEOs, film directors and investors. I want boys to dream about becoming supportive, intersectional feminist leaders.
Decision-makers are still very much white men and, secondarily, white women. I not only want to see more women in leadership roles, but I want more men of color too.
“Innovation is the clash of differences,” as Sallie Krawcheck says brilliantly. Diversity leads to opening perspectives, understanding people you service better, accessing underrepresented markets and mindsets, and therefore, better work and business results.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Friends and cocktails. Oh, and working out—but I’ve been terrible at that recently.
What about #PEIntensive18 did you enjoy most?
The wildcard pitches. Just the exercise of getting feedback and practicing in front of supportive women is the best feeling ever. We’re all here bonding over the same thing—being hustlers and choosing the hard life because we’re so passionate about making our vision happen—and it’s great to finally find your kin.
All photos courtesy Mara Lecocq
Visit our 2018 PE Intensive website to meet the entire #PEClassOf2018, read our rundown of our favorite moments from 2018 PE Intensive, and relive highlights and behind-the-scenes from the Intensive with hashtag #PEIntensive18.