When I stumbled upon Camp Wildfolk, I knew I was on to something special. And then, when I met the camp’s founder, Cassie Young, for the first time, it was solidified. Cassie’s energy was both relaxed and spirited. But also, focused, dedicated, and contagious. Her team shares in this same wonderful energy and you can tell they’re passionate about the magic that’s happening at this kids' summer day camp every day.
Hi Cassie! Tell us about Camp Wildfolk.
Camp Wildfolk is a summer day camp located in West Hollywood. It's a fun, modern twist on traditional day camp, with a growth-centered and project-based approach. We play. We get messy. We let loose. We take risks. We practice and develop a Growth Mindset. We nurture our innate Creativity. We celebrate curiosity. We collaborate and team-build. We say "YES, And...". We develop a "can do" attitude. It's hands-on, experiential learning and it's WILDLY fun!
Can you share more about your story, how you started the camp, and the inspiration behind it?
I've been working in the Day Camp field for 17 years and it has always been the place I felt the most at home, and the most "me." It is never something that I saw myself doing as my career, though. In It just never even occurred to me that someone could set out and start a camp. Then, in 2009, I started a graduate program at UCLA for my MSW and during the summer, began working at a progressive, local day camp as their Assistant Camp Director. It was the first time I saw folks running a private camp in an intentional way. I fell in love. The Owner created a job for me out of grad school and I was there for almost 6 years- running the camp.
I really saw the ins and outs of running a small business and in many ways loved it, but it was also challenging working in such a small organization and honestly, not being the main boss. :) Having to sacrifice some of my vision because it wasn't what the Owner wanted became difficult. I also started to become incredibly passionate about project-based learning and growth mindset development and as much as I tried to work it into the program- the Owner of that camp really didn't want to truly take it on. I started to feel the flicker of a fire start inside me and I began fantasizing about what it would be like to run my own camp. The time came when I needed to leave that camp. I tried working for another "intentional", highly respected camp, and STILL found that the elements that I love most about camp, just weren't there.
Then, my Dad's health really took a turn. He'd been "fighting" cancer for the previous 10 years- so living with a dying parent wasn't out of my norm, but in August of 2015, he was finding himself in the hospital more and more. I decided to leave that camp job and give myself more time to spend with my Dad. During my down time and to keep my mind focused with everything going on with my family, I started working on the plan for my Camp, thinking maybe it would be a "some-day" plan. All my free time became devoted to planning—free nights and weekends at the coffee shop.
When my Dad passed away in early November, it became my everything. The inspiration is to create the most fun camp experience EVER. I just want to make it a community of magic-making folks who have something big to offer the world and the passion to guide and support young change-makers. The Camp Wildfolk Mission is to Guide and uplift a community of authentic, empowered 21st Century Leaders- inspiring their imagination, cultivating resilience through the development of a growth mindset, and nurturing their WILD spirit and WILD hearts.
What is your highest accomplishment, so far, as a business owner and what did it mean for you or the camp?
For me, 2015 was the most challenging year of my life- turning 30 and becoming an orphan (I had lost my mom when I was 13 and then a week before I turned 30, my Dad died). Losing my Dad was the most painful thing I've ever experienced, and yet somehow, channeling my love for him and his belief in me to push myself toward pursuing something so HUGE, felt like the most wonderful thing I could have done. I'm proud of my resilience and it really reminds me of why I care so deeply about this work- about guiding and shaping the minds of the future, to be resilient, loving leaders who are compassionate and community-minded. Who can roll with what they're given, innovate, and turn anything into a golden opportunity.
When was a low point in your business and what did you learn from it?
I've hit a lot of bumps in the road and we're just getting started. Each little phase, I'd get a small victory and then I'd suddenly see a new bump ahead. But with that I learned that the universe really only gives you as much as you can take. I didn't know what I didn't know and I know that I'm the kind of person that will grow as I go (didn't mean for that to rhyme so hard! Yee-haw!). I just mean that there were challenges, but I figured them out. I got through it. One area at a time. I can't freak out about everything that's happening or needs to get done, or is hard- or nothing would happen. So I'd focus on one element- like getting my site secured. That was really hard. It was discouraging and not my strong suit (the sales-pitchiness of it). Once that was accomplished, it felt like the greatest victory in the world. That lasted a short time and then I realized, "Crap, now we got to figure out how to get people to sign-up for this thing they have never heard of." So then that sent me on a new spiral project of taking on marketing. Once that was kind of handled, I had HR logistics to figure out. And so on. But just taking on each little area, one thing at a time- with an eye on the overall big picture, always.
How did you fund the camp as you were just starting?
I'd been saving some money for the past few years, knowing that I had a big dream in mind. In the two years prior, the plans became more real and so I started budgeting accordingly- putting every little bit aside for " the Dream Camp project." I spoke with some mentors, who started my dance studio, some 15 years ago with "a little cash and a lot of credit card debt the first year" with a "I'll just make it happen," mentality.
Initially, I was going to take out a loan, but then I realized that if I worked part-time as a nanny, I could use that money to live on, and still have time in my day to work on the camp and see my Dad. So that has really helped (but has also been EXTREMELY hard to manage both- on a physical level and also mentally). Then, I got a small amount of money when my Dad died, so I just put that directly into a business account. The day I opened it, with $10k in the bank, I was so overjoyed and proud I cried leaving the bank. The only person I wanted to call to share the excitement with was my Dad. They also gave me a credit card with 0% APR for the first year, so I just figured I'd use that if nothing else.
Running a seasonal business has its perks and challenges. There aren't a ton of startup costs for a camp, which is good, but I’ve definitely spent more on marketing than I initially budgeted. My plan is just to hustle my butt off working as much as possible the first few years, knowing I’ll appreciate it SO much when the business is finally making enough to support my year-round salary, without me having to work extra jobs to keep myself afloat.
Are you a one-woman show, or do you have a team?
It's me. I'll have my team for the summer. And I was extremely lucky to have two staff members that reached out through Facebook when they saw I was starting a camp, who used to work for me in previous camp positions, that have been helping with my marketing events on weekends. SO grateful for them, because you just can't do marketing events alone! It's a lot doing it all on your own, but I also care SO much about setting the culture and branding and everything from the get-go, that I'm not sure I'd trust anyone else to do it with as much passion and heart as I would anyhow.
Do you outsource any parts of your business? And why did you choose to or not to do so?
Not really. I got help with my graphic design in the beginning, but for upkeep, I do it all. The only reason I don't is financial. I don't have enough to pay myself yet, let alone someone else. :)
How did/are people finding out about Camp Wildfolk? How are you gaining customers?
It's Marketing-Gone-Wild up in here! I had no idea how familiar I was going to have to get with marketing. I've always been fairly savvy with social media, but lohdy, I had to get deeeeeep with social media. Marketing to Moms (especially as a non-Mom) is a unique science. I've learned that Moms need to hear about your business from someone else- especially when it's related to entrusting their children to you. They need a reference, a referral, a testimonial... which is really hard when you're a new business. Just getting the word out there as much as possible.
Is this business your full time job?
Yes.. and then I also have a part-time job on top of that, to keep some income flowing in. I'm basically working constantly. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I think that after this first summer, we'll grow to where I can pay myself a small salary, and each year it'll get bigger- to where eventually it can be my only job! Can't WAIT!
What do you wish you knew before you started this journey?
I'm not sure there is anything I could have known that would have changed anything. There are certain lessons you just have to experience as you go. I was as prepared as I could have been, and there still is just so much to do, to learn, to grow.
What's next for you and Camp Wildfolk?
I'm so excited to see all the hard work and planning come to beautiful fruition! Then comes the reflection and revamping and post-summer brainstorming on how to improve the operation and make everything twice as good (at least).
What is the best advice someone has ever given you?
My Dad's motto was "Treat Yourself and Others with Kindness and Compassion." I'm really trying to take that on for myself and build a business that encompasses that vision.
Introvert or extrovert?
Outgoing introvert. I refuel alone, but I will definitely get in a mood where I just put shame aside and will put myself out there, when it's needed. But social events drain me. I definitely need to recharge by myself, like a true introvert.
Favorite television show or movie?
So, so many. A League of Their Own, Mary Poppins, Big Fish, Cutting Edge, and Son-in-Law are the movies that I could repeat by heart (yes, there's a a Pauly Shore movie in there.. I was a weird kid).
Is Netflix a noun or a verb?
Currently reading (or it's on the list)?
I've got Jen Sincero's "You are a Badass" audiobook going on repeat. I go on a daily walk to the coffee shop, so it's always playing in the background to and from. It's truly fantastic. Her humor is super aligned with mine, so it makes the deeper, heady stuff just super easy to grasp.
One thing you can't leave the house without (not including wallet, keys, or phone)?
I feel weird without my planner. It's a security blanket. I see-saw between being a total pack-rat (the inner mom-at-heart in me- who has to be prepared for everything and anything), and my Sagitarrius rising, which says, "Just hit the road" with nothing.
Can't start the day without?
“…and all the colors I am inside have yet to be invented yet.” by Shel Silverstein
Always inspired by?
What's a favorite memory of yours that you wish you had someone there to photograph?
All my early years growing up at camp. I didn't have a camera until I was 12, so all those early memories of camp are solely in my head.. All the #tbt and #fbf 's I'm missing out on!!
Shout out to another girl boss doing her thing and what you admire about her!
I'm incredibly inspired by my dear friend Jessica Carrillo of Art & Soul Events. She's always been like a sister to me and I'm endlessly inspired by her passion, dedication, and tenacity. She found her calling and then went full-force into creating her dream life. She was definitely a big influence on me making the jump to saying, "Yes" to my dream, as well!