“In the beginning, I wasn’t trying to build a business. I was just writing for my own daughters.”
For Kristina Garner — and for so many other creators — 2020 has been busy, chaotic, and unexpected. “I don’t know why,” she said, “but I just didn’t see this coming.”
Kristina is the Founder and CEO of Blossom and Root, a homeschool curriculum focused on nature study, literature, S.T.E.A.M. and the arts. The Blossom and Root curriculum serves homeschooling families around the world, and Kristina is one of the most successful creators on Gumroad this year.
“Earlier in the year, everybody kept saying, ‘I bet there'll be a lot more homeschoolers now.’ I said, ‘No, it’s a lifestyle; it’s something you research and think about for a long time. I had no idea things would be the way they are now.”
We asked Kristina to reflect on her creative journey, and here’s what we learned.
From the Start, a Love for Education
From the time she was in high school, Kristina has been teaching.
She taught Pre-K starting at 16 years old; she taught preschool throughout college; and she taught kindergarten after college. Along the way, she earned a Director of Early Childhood Education qualification in preparation to serve as Director of Curriculum at the center where she taught.
In the years that followed, she alternated between teaching part-time and full-time, all the while aspiring to grow her own business. She’d already done so successfully once, having created a gardening and garden design business while teaching part-time.
In 2014, after stepping away from gardening and returning to teaching full-time, Kristina started listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast on her way to work. “I heard Pat talk about Gumroad and I thought it would be ideal because I could grow a business from anywhere.”
A year later, Kristina and her family moved from Colorado to Hawaii. “While we were there, we were trying to figure out how to educate our daughters because Pre-K was really expensive. We couldn’t find a school that was affordable and that we felt excited about.”
At the time, Kristina was publishing a blog (interviewing artists and creators), but couldn’t figure out how to make a living from it. “I loved writing but I didn’t know how to monetize it, and that was the main end game: I wanted something that would help me make money so I could be home with my girls.”
“By then,” she said, “I’d been teaching a long time. I’d always liked the idea of homeschooling because of the freedom it allows, and I realized I was qualified to teach my own children.” Immediately, Kristina started looking for a homeschool curriculum and couldn’t find one she liked. “I knew what I wanted. I knew what worked for us and what didn’t. So I decided to write my own.”
Writing and Putting Two and Two Together
In late 2015, Kristina started writing her Early Years Curriculum and finished in the Summer of 2016. In parallel, she also wrote a Kindergarten Curriculum to “clear a pathway for herself” and stay ahead of her eldest daughter.
Then she had a moment of recognition: “Here’s this thing I’ve built,” she said. “I have a lot of background in it and it's something I love. I love teaching. I love writing curriculum. I love children. I love education. They come naturally to me and I get excited about them, but I never thought I could build a business from them.”
“Until that point,” she said, “I’d just never put two and two together. I’d been blogging about homeschooling; I was getting ready to release the course on my blog; and I thought, ‘I wonder if other parents are looking for the same thing I was.’”
Thinking back, she remembered the Pat Flynn podcast. “I had Gumroad in the back of my head the whole time. Homeschooling takes a lot of my time, so I needed something easy and streamlined and user friendly.” Right away, she set up her account, added the Early Years Curriculum, and started selling. “Gumroad freed me up. I didn't want to stumble over the mechanics of how to sell a product; I just wanted to work on the product.”
Shutting it Down — And Then Committing
“Not long after I started selling on Gumroad, I shut down my store for about three months because I got really nervous.”
Kristina put her curriculum online to help other families looking for what she built. But she soon had second thoughts. “I’m a private person,” she said, “and I was nervous about sharing my work with the world.” She was making money “here and there to pay the bills,” but she decided to shut it down and get a job.
She and her family had moved back to Colorado in 2017, and she started working as an editor at a women’s magazine in Denver. “I remember someone emailed me on my Blossom and Root email, which I hardly ever checked. The email said, ‘Where’d everything go? I wanted to buy your preschool curriculum and I can't find it.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Someone’s actually looking for it!’”
With renewed resolve, Kristina re-opened her store and continued to blog about her homeschooling journey. She shared how she and her daughters were using her curriculum and how they incorporated other resources. “I think Gary Vaynerchuk is the one who said, ‘Don't try to invent content, just share what you're already doing; document instead of invent.’ And that resonates with me.”
While slowly growing Blossom and Root, Kristina was still working at the magazine job she didn’t like. “I was bored to tears,” she said. “It wasn't a good fit, but we needed money, so I did what so many others have to do: I worked and just did the job.”
“At that point, the business was still on the back burner because I didn't think it could grow to sustain us.” In 2018, she left the magazine and started working for other creators, writing blog posts and helping with their social media — things she could do from home. “That was a big step up from working for the magazine, but it still wasn't a fit because I was helping build somebody else's dream.”
“I wanted to pour my whole heart into Blossom and Root. I wanted it to be my whole focus — it’s everything I am and everything I want to build, so I was just trying to bridge that gap.” It wasn't until the beginning of 2019 when Kristina was able to bridge the gap and work full-time on Blossom and Root. “When I made that commitment, it grew big because all my focus was going into it.”
With a clear vision of what she wanted for the company, she wrote and released additional levels, including her first U.S. History curriculum. She continues to revise previous levels to fit with the ethos of the company as she sees it now, and she’s on track to release the Fifth Grade Curriculum late next Summer.
Right now, Kristina is reformatting First Grade Language Arts, a 36-week curriculum. “I have 150 books in a stack I'm trying to narrow down. I spend a lot of time reading and researching, trying to find pieces that fit well together.”
Serving Homeschoolers (in the Middle of a Pandemic)
“I went from answering 10 emails a day to having 200 emails in my inbox a day.”
At first, Kristina wasn’t sure how COVID-19 would impact homeschooling decisions. “I didn't see it coming,” she said. “I just kept building the Fourth Grade Curriculum all summer, thinking things were pretty normal, but then I got to the beginning of our Fall Sale, and it was a flood of emails every single day.”
Kristina takes time to answer emails personally. “People are stressed and worried. They’re being thrown into a decision suddenly, starting from square one.” With new homeschoolers, she answers questions about her company and about homeschooling in general. She also directs families to her posts, ranging from the journey to tips for nature-based homeschooling in the winter.
One message she emphasizes: homeschooling is different from public school. “It’s a night and day difference. We’re not trying to recreate school at home.” In Kristina’s words, “The thing I love about homeschooling is the freedom. The world can be your classroom and you’re free to follow your child's interests.”
As always, Kristina is staying ahead of her daughters and looking to the future. “What I’m coming to understand is I want a team. I feel comfortable handling the material up to the end of fifth grade independently. But when I start getting into sixth and seventh and beyond, I want to bring in people who are experts in their field to help me craft those upper levels.”
Three elements that are core to Kristina’s ethos are flexibility, adaptability, and creativity. Five years after starting Blossom and Root, Kristina believes, “Every child is different. Every family is different. I want to give families tools to feel confident about teaching their child — and give them the ability to adapt.”