When 8-year-old Wild Freeborn became a Girl Scout earlier this year, she had a simple goal: sell 12,000 boxes of the organization's addictive cookies. She wanted to earn enough money to send her entire troop (all new scouts) to summer camp in Brevard, N.C. After going door to door in her neighborhood, visiting stores in downtown Asheville, N.C., and consulting her parents about her precocious business plan, she asked her tech-minded dad, Bryan Freeborn, "Can't we use what you do at work?" referencing his job as the chief operating officer of TopFloorStudio, a Web design and development firm.
In late January, they posted a YouTube video, starring Freeborn in Girl Scout gear, touting her straightforward sales pitch. "Buy cookies! And they're yummy!" Soon after, they set up an online order system that was limited to customers within their local area (so Freeborn could personally deliver them).
Considering that the national Girl Scout Cookie Program bills itself as the largest program to teach entrepreneurship to young girls, this e-commerce strategy seems especially savvy. But some families in the community felt threatened by the Freeborn's unconventional efforts, likely because various prizes are given out by local councils to girls who sell a certain amount of boxes. "If you have an individual girl that creates a Web presence, she can suck the opportunity from other girls," says Matthew Markie, a parent who remains involved in Girl Scouts even though his three daughters are well into their 20s. Markie, and other disapproving parents, brought the Freeborn's site to the attention of local Girl Scout officials who told the Freeborns to take down their YouTube video and reminded the family of the organization's longstanding prohibition of online sales.
Bryan Freeborn is committed to teaching his daughter what the Scouts won't allow. "We had to talk with Wild about the ethics of cookie sales, what you can and cannot do," he says. "We decided that as long as we weren't taking money over the Internet, we weren't doing anything wrong."
Photo by Stephen Cummings