the Des Moines Register profiled her in this Sunday's paper. Stay tuned for the highlights of her talk, "The Human Touch in an Age of Technology" in the coming weeks.This week, Zoobean's Chief Mom, Jordan Lloyd Bookey, will be delivering a talk in her hometown of Des Moines. As a part of this SmartTalk series,
Roots in Iowa key in startup maven's success
by Rachel Lopez
Jordan Lloyd Bookey’s achievements are a testament to the power of education, vision, and drive; she’s a titan among young professionals.
Educated at Wesleyan University and the Wharton School of Business, the Des Moines native began her career as an educator, including stints at both a prestigious Washington, D.C., charter school and a literacy nonprofit.
A mentor, urging her to take her passion for education in a different direction, encouraged her to pursue an MBA at Wharton, where she says she learned “an entirely new language, (one that) investors would understand,” and came to see “a much broader landscape that was out there.” She pursued her MBA believing she would continue as an educator; she came out prepared to effect real change in education and technology.
“I think it’s good for all industries — and I include education in this — to experience disruption. That disruption opens things up and it makes us progress.” It’s this progress that she’ll discuss at the Smart Talk Connected Conversations series at the Des Moines Civic Center on Thursday.
Still, she recognizes education is one area where people are reticent to embrace change. “I think there has been some fear of technology in education, even technology erasing the role of the teacher. My fundamental belief is that technology and innovations — when they’re done right — are amplifying human interactions, making them richer and better. Great education technology is giving teachers more power and more relevance in the classroom.”
It’s no wonder Lloyd Bookey was recruited to tech behemoth Google while still in graduate school. She began as an intern; then returned post-graduation.
She catapulted to leadership, first directing the diversity team; she would eventually head Google’s K-12 computer science and technology outreach efforts. That commitment — to education, diversity, and technology — led Lloyd Bookey to Zoobean, the company she co-founded and directs with her husband, Felix Brandon Lloyd. Zoobean is an online service that uniquely selects books, apps, and other resources for children — like an educational Pandora for kids.
“There actually is a lot of great content out there,” she said, “the problem we’re solving is around personalization.”
Speaking from her office at 1776 D.C., a technology startup hub in Washington, D.C., Lloyd Bookey says the inspiration for Zoobean came from personal experience, as a mother. Pregnant with her second child and searching for books, she found she and her husband “couldn’t find the right resources … even with the educator background. So we started extrapolating that to other areas — not just books, but what about apps and what about articles and research? There’s so much out there,” she said. “Why can’t we have these individualized playlists for our kids? Why can’t we create unique, personalized resources that will work for each child?”
The entrepreneurial venture would draw her away from her prestigious post at Google, and into a world where she would once again prove her intellectual chops, and now her entrepreneurial acumen as well. The self-titled Zoobean “Chief Mom” says raising capital for a family-centric venture was sometimes challenging, as “there are not a lot of moms when you’re in the room trying to make money for your business.”
She struggled to decide whether to go with the more traditional CEO/CFO moniker, but in the end went in the direction that’s led her this far: her heart.
“I wanted to embrace who I am, who we are — my husband calls himself the Chief Dad — having kids of our own really drives everything. For us, it’s putting our values first.”
This isn’t surprising, considering she hails from a long line of entrepreneurs who were also led by strong Iowa values. Lloyd Bookey says it’s her parents — Des Moines entrepreneurs Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass Bookey — who taught her “the value of perseverance and, most importantly, of being honest in business and kind to your employees.” She cites their commitment to civic leadership for much of her inspiration.
“I remember when I went to boarding school (in Connecticut) ... having a very strong sense of self, a very strong sense of what was right and treating people fairly. I owe that to Des Moines, and to growing up in a place where there’s so much emphasis on being kind, being generous, taking part and being really active in your community.
For all her achievements, Lloyd Bookey’s humility — the “Iowa Nice” — sets her apart from so many powerhouse professionals. She laughs as she tells of Washington, DC friends and colleagues who make a beeline for the beach during summer vacations. She’d rather head back to Des Moines.
“I’m so grateful for having grown up in Des Moines. I think it’s one of my best assets, having my roots, my upbringing in Iowa.”