While many of us harbor a great business idea or dreams of switching careers or packing up and moving across the country, more often than not, life happens while we are making other plans. Not so for Shelby Rideout, who not only did all of the above (more than once), but also started an award-winning brand from her basement without sacrificing a single ambition.
For Shelby, wearing many hats — and puppets — is nothing new. Her passions for children's education, modeling, acting, and her growing family have taken her from coast to coast several times, with detours in Nashville and Ethiopia in between. Today she is a mother of four, and the founder and face (with her puppet "Paulie") of Bright Signs Learning, an award-winning, multisensory DVD and flashcard kit that introduces children 0-4 to sign language and basic reading concepts. "I always tell people, 'I'm the best version of myself when I'm busy,'" she says. "I spent a lot of time in my 20s waiting for auditions to roll in, which involved a lot of boredom. I'm much happier being this person."
"I'm the best version of myself when I'm busy."
Shelby grew up on a small farm in New Jersey and graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, with a degree in elementary education and special education and a special focus on working with the deaf. Lifelong dreams of becoming an actress took her to New York City and Los Angeles, where she gained a degree in sign language interpreting from Pierce College. After returning to New York City to pursue acting and modeling by day, while tutoring by night, Shelby decided that her true gifts lay in working with children. She has no better test case than her own family, which has been rapidly expanding since 2010.
"My husband and I adopted our first daughter from Ethiopia in 2010, where I lived for eight weeks," says Shelby. "At the same time, I discovered I was pregnant with my first son." Like most great business ideas, Shelby's began by addressing a personal need and gap in the market. Recognizing the need for a multifaceted approach to learning, Shelby combined her educational background with her love for arts and crafts by making home videos to entertain and engage her own children. Not only were her own kids reading by the age of 2, but her videos grew so popular among her personal circle that Shelby launched Bright Signs Learning from her basement to the wider world in July 2015.
As someone who understands the powers of visual clues better, and more naturally, than most, Shelby relies on the Kohl's Apt. 9 collection to take her through her work days, which typically involve filming, on-site school visits, TV appearances, and business meetings. Her style is polished but effortless and 100 percent her — much like her business plan. "When I'm creating my DVDs, and what appeals to kids, and presenting myself on TV and as a teacher, I think about the importance of being put-together," she says. "Research almost unanimously shows that kids perceive that teachers who are polished are smarter and nicer. I also have to see myself through the eyes of parents, and how I come across as a spokesperson for the brand. I want upscale but not too, too formal." Her go-tos are blazers, heels, layers, and a dash of the unexpected. "I love a pop of color somewhere. I keep my styling simple, but I'll wear a hot pink for TV, just to bring some personality."
"I love a pop of color somewhere. I keep my styling simple, but I'll wear a hot pink for TV, just to bring some personality."
Today, Bright Signs Learning's reach has expanded to schools, regular TV appearances, and thousands of home users and caregivers. Most rewarding of all? It works. "We've had celebrities that have used Bright Signs Learning and Instagrammed about it," says Shelby. "That can really result in sales. But more important for me is when we get independent reviews, and they're five stars. For example, 'I'm a pediatrician and a mom, and this program is fantastic.' It's the everyday people who reach out to us who bring me back to why I created this program — which is that I love seeing children feel confident about learning and reading, and parents feeling good about what they're providing for their child and seeing growth."
While the expected result of such rapid business growth is that Shelby would let some responsibilities go, that is not who she is: for her, this particular business is pleasure. How does she integrate her roles as businesswoman and mother so seamlessly? Well, it's easier than you might think. "I don't have a cleaner and I don't have a cook — that's all still me," says Shelby. "While I may be answering emails or contributing to articles in between, I have to remind myself to practice what I'm preaching, and make sure that nothing is left off the list of priorities."