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A Step Into the Unknown

Welcome back to my entrepreneur journey! As I wrote in my previous article, once I spotted the colourful notebooks in the store and became curious about them, everything was just one big question mark – even Mr. Google could not give me answers, can you imagine? I was wondering, why were there so few shades available if such notebooks could help so many people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome (note that approximately every fifth person deals with the syndrome)? Why was it such a mysterious topic? Trying to figure out how to solve these questions required a lot of time, thinking and energy, but it was also… kind of fun.

It quickly became clear to me that if I wanted to get real answers that reflect the reality (well or, at that point, if I wanted to get any answers at all), I had to directly ask questions of people who have scotopic sensitivity syndrome. But where to find them? Guess what, that is where Google actually could help me for a change. I found out about The Institute for Scotopic Sensitivity (also known as Irlen) Syndrome and The Institute for Dyslexia, two Slovenian organizations that work to identify specific learning and other difficulties (of course focusing on the syndrome and dyslexia) while also putting much emphasis on trying to help people who face such difficulties find their strengths and awesome talents, which is commendable.

It is a no-brainer that in business (and in life in general) your success heavily depends on your own hard work. However, there are also factors that are out of your control. Sometimes, you need some luck and have to be in the right place at the right time. Even though I’m writing about my entrepreneur journey, I would not have been able to come this far without working with some incredible people many of whom were happy to help me for free.

I wrote an email to both institutes and explained what I was trying to do. I am very thankful to have got in contact with two employees, who were so kind and did their best to share my online questionnaire on all their social media profiles and among their clients and therefore enabled me to get the answers I needed. Without them, I would have hardly ever been able to know if there really had been the problem as I thought, and consequently, Brightnin would have probably never been created.

Both employees were experts in the field of specific learning difficulties and helped me tremendously also with their priceless knowledge and years of experience. Fun fact: you have probably noticed how I have been mentioning that notebooks with colourful pages help people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome at reading, writing, and learning more easily. Before I spoke to those two employees, I thought they were helping people with dyslexia instead, which is not true. Of course, this conclusion of mine was based on my own online research and what I saw when I visited many stores, in all of which such notebooks were marked as “dyslexia notebooks”. So, the data on the Internet were wrong. Did this surprise me? To some extent yes, because I did quite a lot of research and of course visited many different websites, but on the other hand, the Internet is still the Internet, and I knew that everything I read had to be taken with a grain of salt. What surprised me much more was how even in the biggest, most renowned Slovenian stationery shops, notebooks with colorful pages were displayed under a completely wrong, deceiving name, and were also broadly advertised as products that supposedly help at a certain problem, while that was simply not true.

So, to make it clear: notebooks with colorful pages cannot mitigate the effects of dyslexia (a learning difficulty of neurobiological origin that causes problems with words’ comprehension) on one’s ability to read, write and consequently learn from your notes efficiently. There exist no scientific proofs that they could do so. On the other hand, such notebooks can indeed help people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome (a difficulty of neurobiological origin that means lacking perception for one or more colours in the colour spectrum; therefore, the brain struggles to process what a person sees). The employee from The Institute for Irlen Syndrome also informed me that scotopic sensitivity syndrome is often wrongly recognized as dyslexia, because both have similar symptoms. Therefore, if someone supposedly has dyslexia, and finds colorful notebooks helpful, this person actually (also) has scotopic sensitivity syndrome.

As I previously mentioned, I created a questionnaire and sent it to the institutes for people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome to solve it. In the sample, also people with dyslexia were included, as dyslexia and the syndrome often come hand in hand and, because of many wrong diagnoses, many of those with dyslexia may (also) have the syndrome.

Making the questionnaire took me days – not really because I had to form many questions (there were around 40 at the end), but especially because I had to include a lot of conditions for continuation to the next question. Many next questions a person was asked depended on this person’s previous answers. I had to create so many of those conditions (for example, if a person answers “yes” in this question, send them to question number 6) that in the end, the questionnaire looked like this:

Totally excited, I was waiting for the first responses to come, patiently sitting in front of my computer, and refreshing the page every minute. Of course, I was not expecting the answers to come very quickly, but let’s say that adrenaline was doing its job. Then, a miracle happened. Only four minutes after the questionnaire was published by The Institute for Dyslexia, the first person submitted answers. Whaaaat!!! That is crazy! It was just one response, but at that point, it meant the world to me. It meant there was hope for my idea. Five minutes later, I refreshed the page again. Five more responses! And in another five minutes, the number of answers doubled!

All this excitement was suddenly interrupted by a bitter realization. I made a mistake. Those conditionals I mentioned before…. One of them gave the questionnaire program wrong instructions and led to the end of the questionnaire way too soon, before a respondent solved even a quarter of all the questions. Therefore, those first answers were practically useless (although I am still very grateful to have received them because it means some people voluntarily took their time to solve my questionnaire). Nevertheless, after a minute of panic, I solved the problem, forgave myself for this human error, and then it was fine. Actually, incredible.

In two weeks, I got more than 200 responses, which was much more than I expected. My eyes were sparkling with joy. First of all because so many kind people actually put effort into helping me get the answers I needed, and second of all because doing customer research was an important milestone on my entrepreneur journey.

When my adrenaline level finally dropped a bit, I began reading those answers in detail. That is when I was moved to tears. I realized that problems of people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome and dyslexia were way deeper than I imagined. It was not just about difficulties with reading, writing, and learning, and the fact that they also wanted nice looking colorful notebooks with covers in different patterns which were not available at the time. It was also about social ostracism. Parents wrote how their children were denying help because their “different” colorful notebooks were the reason why they were labeled as “weird” or “incapable” children and excluded from peer groups. My heart was breaking apart, but on the other hand, my feeling that a new very important chapter in my life might have begun became even stronger – and it would not only be special for me but could influence other people’s lives tremendously as well.

Those mentioned problems were so deeply rooted that just creating another version of colorful notebooks would not be enough to solve them. It was not enough to just help people with the syndrome individually. If I wanted to make a real difference, I had to go much further and also start changing how the society views scotopic sensitivity syndrome, dyslexia, and how they treat people that deal with such difficulties. But how on Earth do you do that as a 17-year-old? The secret is… you tell them a good story.

I got an idea about creating beautiful colorful notebooks that would bring people joy and motivation to learn, develop and reach for their goals. By making their covers plain (leaving you space to decorate them however you want) and putting focus on the fact that those notebooks would first of all encourage creativity and innovativeness, and saying that they would be suitable also for (but not only for!) people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome, it would be possible to achieve that also people who do not have the syndrome would buy such notebooks. Consequently, using notebooks with colorful pages would become normalized, and people who really need them would not be ashamed or excluded for having them anymore! Wow.

I said to myself: “Nika. This is an absolutely brilliant idea! I am incredibly proud of you. Are you even aware of what a huge difference could you make in our society if you make it happen? You could abolish stigmatization of people with scotopic sensitivity syndrome (and consequently those with dyslexia as well)! Ideas that could move mountains do not come every day. And you just got one! And, most importantly, you honestly wish to go for it. You want this experience, knowing there will be ups and downs, but it really feels right. It is something that curious and creative Nika would love to do. So, give me a pinky promise that you will do everything in your power to bring it to life.”

I gave myself the pinky promise. I have never broken a pinky promise. Especially not this time.

To be continued…