Running her own business, Clever Cookie Academy, since 2019, Peita admits she still doesn’t have that elusive work/life balance down pat, but on the upside, she has the power to call her own shots.
Tell us a little about the Clever Cookie Academy.
I founded CCA with two students in a shed on our property in 2019. I was taking leave from my Head Teaching role and craving to combine skills from my previous career in film marketing and my teaching experience to create an education business. We now have 425+ students and a team of 14 rockstar educators servicing Central West, NSW, and beyond. Our mission is to transform the lives of our students and to ‘bake the next generation of dreamers, doers, thinkers, and believers.’ I’m so proud that what we do as an educational business goes beyond academic success. Through regular tutoring, holiday masterclasses, and extracurricular activities, we strive to be a part of the village in helping to raise extraordinary humans.
What inspired you to start Clever Cookie Academy?
I witnessed first-hand the struggles teachers had to meet the needs of all students. The failure of the current educational system is that it makes it very easy for kids to fall through the gaps. In school, I could see that when students weren't engaging, they couldn't achieve their personal best. I was also saddened by learning cultures being hampered by student apathy or kids being ashamed of achieving (because it wasn't cool to be smart.) I knew that as a parent, I'd want my child to have the opportunity to join other like-minded students, experience expert teaching and thrive.
My experience as a National Publicity and Promotions Manager for Sony Pictures and then Universal Pictures had bolstered my expertise in marketing, so I had a quiet confidence that if I built the business, students would follow! We now breed a culture at CCA, celebrating our wins, cheering each other on, and respecting the value of education.
What is unique about the Clever Cookie Academy?
As Rob Sitch said in the Aussie classic, ‘The Castle,’ it’s ‘the vibe.’ We are purposefully an un-school. Every decision we make about our Cookies’ experiences with us, from the moment they walk through the door, to the way we teach, to the cushions we select for the waiting room, is decidedly different. We focus on engagement first because if we cannot engage and connect with kids, they won’t learn anything. Our business model is supported by educational research, favouring small group-based learning, and our mixed-school groups enable us to shatter school stereotypes and create a team atmosphere. Our most prominent point of difference is that, unlike most tutoring businesses, our teaching team are all fully-trained teachers and experts in their field. In contrast, our competitors rely on students with neither teaching expertise nor experience.
What's the most rewarding aspect of running your own business?
Aside from bearing witness to our Cookies’ boosted confidence and achieving outstanding results, changing how kids feel about education is super fulfilling. We teach them the value of always giving your best effort in life and reassuring students that the HSC is not the be-all and end-all. There are numerous pathways to your dream career, and anything is possible with hard work and determination.
What have you sacrificed at each stage of your career?
Early in my film career working for Disney, I sacrificed my time and did little besides work. A life-threatening illness forced me to realign my priorities upon having my first child. I craved a better balance and decided to retrain (studying teaching full-time) while running a small business from home. Teaching in schools was a simultaneously rewarding and exhausting career; however, I craved the creative autonomy and the challenge of being entrepreneurial. And I realized that if you’re built like me, and it’s difficult to switch off, you’ll make an excellent employee, but you may as well work for yourself!
What's the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
My business mentor, Pip Brett, once told me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. “Stay in your own lane.” And to me, this meant that competitors would come and go over time, but it’s best to keep your blinkers on and focus on your own business. We’ve fiercely followed this advice and rarely, if ever, focus on what our competition is doing. For us, it’s about constantly thinking about the experience and service we deliver to our Cookies and making it the best possible experience for them.
How do you balance work\life\mum responsibilities?
I once heard the phrase, ‘balance is bullshit,’ and I’ve come to agree over time. I believe women can have it all, just not all at once. Although it’s a priority, despite having a truly supportive husband, I never truly feel adequately balanced. Our operational hours at CCA are particularly tough on our kids, so we’re conscious of the weekends being family time and making the most of our holidays. Logistically, we have to be super organized as a family. In the last two years, I’ve realized how important it is for me to have a creative pursuit outside of work and family, and honoring this helped me to be a better partner and Mum.
What's on the horizon for Clever Cookie Academy in 2023?
In 2023, we’re still obsessed with our Cookies' academic success; however, we're broadening our offering. We’ve created new products specifically for Adults, like our ‘Sound Squad’ Pitch Perfect singing group and ‘So Frenchy So Chic’ Adult French lessons, and the feedback is fantastic! We’ve also launched ‘Project Shine,’ a junior drama group, which is so exciting.
Our main goal for 2023 is to launch a digital offering. Our sessions are mostly sold out, and we’re passionate about being accessible to all students. The challenge will be replicating our learning environment in self-paced digital courses and webinars, but we’re convinced we can do it!
Location: ORANGE | NSW
Facebook: Clever Cookie Academy
Photography: Kirsten Cunningham