We’ve all heard the saying, “Little kids, little problems…Big kids, big problems.” As our kids move from toddlerhood to school age and into the tween years, self-esteem and safety become primary concerns—especially in the era of social media. So we are thrilled to share about Miss O and Friends, a safe socialization brand aimed at girls between the ages of 8 and 16, that’s all about boosting self-esteem. The innovative platform includes a website, streaming TV show, app, books and more. We spoke to Juliette Brindak Blake and her mom Hermine Brindak, who founded Miss O and Friends together when Juliette was just 16 and a student at Eastern Middle School, right here in Greenwich (she’s now a mom herself!). She recently moved back to town with her husband (who went to Brunswick), and her mom has lived in Old Greenwich for the past 30 years. Here’s our interview with this dynamic Greenwich mother-daughter duo!
For anyone not yet familiar, how do you describe Miss O and Friends?
Juliette: Miss O and Friends is an original media and lifestyle brand that offers a platform for tween girls to safely express themselves. Our goal is to help build self-esteem in young girls, by giving them a safe, positive place to just be girls and provide them with content that reflects the beautifully unique & diverse world we live in, empowering this next generation of change makers. Through our website (www.misso.com), Girl2Girl Wall App and our YouTube Original series, Hyperlinked, we offer platform where girls are put center stage and are able to have their voices & opinions heard– in a safe, moderated, bully and judgement free environment. The Girl2Girl Wall is our main socializing app that we are really looking to grow and since it’s an app, it’s a great alternative for the other negative apps out there. Here is the link for the Wall: https://missoandfriends.com/miss-o-and-friends-girl2girl-wall-app/ Girls can write and share content, ask questions, get answers, and help out other girls. I started Miss O and Friends when I was 16, as a hobby to help my younger sister and her friends through middle school and as we’ve grown and evolved over the years, we’ve always stayed true to our “by girls, for girls” mission to provide a positive platform for the tween girl demo.
Such an amazing concept. How did it evolve?
Juliette: The idea for Miss O and Friends evolved very naturally over many years. When I was 10, I started drawing these girls that I called ‘Cool Girls.’ My mom, Hermine, is a graphic designer so she took my drawings and transferred them onto the computer. My younger sister, Olivia (who is the real ‘Miss O’) also got involved and it became a hobby for my mom, sister and I having the characters we created just do activities that Olivia and I liked to do. When Olivia turned 8, my parents had a birthday party for her where my mom made ‘Miss O-like’ characters for my sisters’ friends. She blew them up really big and mounted them so when the girls walked into our house, they saw characters that looked like them. Her friends went crazy for them and kept talking about how much they loved them.
It was also at this birthday party that I started seeing things happen with Olivia and her friends that my friends and I were dealing with in middle school. Girls were clicking off and leaving each other out, they were talking about their boyfriends… and how they didn’t want to eat birthday cake because they didn’t want to get fat. I was 13 at the time and still in middle school, and dealing with all the super fun stuff middle school girls deal with, but it was so upsetting and shocking to see already happening to my 8 year old sister.
Middle school is a really difficult time for young girls with so many new things going on; their bodies changing, cliques, boys, bullying, school work, parents, etc., and I wanted to create something for my sister and her friends to help them through these difficult years since there wasn’t anything like Miss O that existed. I wanted to create something for my sister and her friends to help them through middle school: hence the name, Miss O and Friends. With the help of my parents, my mom being a graphic designer and my dad, Paul, having a background in business, I was able to officially launch the company in April 2005. It was a hobby for a while, but after I graduated college in 2011, it’s been my career since!
Hermine: While raising two daughters, I continued to work as a Designer/Creative Director in the beauty, haircare, stationery/gift, and publishing industries. Designing has always been my passion, so after Juliette and I created these “cool girls” together, (girls created from Juliette’s original drawings) we wanted to do something with them. So we decided to create a website. That was 15 years ago when the only thing out there was Myspace and Addictinggames.com. Nothing for kids, let alone safe. Coming from a family of engineers, I was excited to take on the challenge! Juliette wanted a place online for her younger sister, Olivia (Miss O) and her 9 year old friends to play and be safe. We teamed up with some web developers and embarked on designing a website for girls!
Why is Miss O and Friends so sorely needed, especially now?Juliette: There is a lack of safe, positive, empowering media properties for tween girls. Between the ages of 8-14, girls’ confidence levels fall by 30% and with the increase of harmful social media, negative role models and age inappropriate content, tween girls (and their parents!) are in desperate need for a brand that can solve this problem and truly put girls first. And that is exactly what Miss O and Friends does. During the pandemic, the feeling of loneliness has increased for everyone, and has especially affected the already vulnerable and impressionable tween girl population.
Hermine: It’s so hard to be a young girl these days. Middle school has always been a tough time for girls, going through puberty and changes in their body and trying to figure out who they are. But now add pressure of social media to the mix. Trying to get “likes”, getting that “cute” photo to share, insta-perfect influencers, looking like you’re popular based on how many “internet” friends you have, has caused tremendous anxiety, feeling left out, and an assortment of mental health issues these young girls are facing at such an early time in their lives. Then add the pandemic where they can’t see their friends. They are so lonely, no one to hang out with, no sleepovers, no playdates or going to the movies, no sports at school. Their lives have completely changed. When girls discover Miss O and Friends or our social app The Girl2Girl Wall, they no longer feel alone. They make friends with girls from all over the world and connect. The conversations they have are heartfelt and caring. They have a place to go where they trust and feel safe. It will never replace the physical interaction (and we’re not trying to do that as girls talk about in real life issues) but it connects them so much more than “liking” a photo.
What has the response been from parents/girls so far?
Juliette: It’s been incredibly positive. The messages I receive from girls about how Miss O changed their life, and how they are so grateful for us is truly what keeps me going– especially when things get tough in the start-up/entrepreneurial world. A lot of girls write to us how they are thankful they can just be themselves and know they won’t be judged on Miss O, as opposed to their experience on other social platforms. They are grateful for the online support they receive from the Miss O community.
We’ve also had girls, who start off as members and as they get a little older, become employees of Miss O. It’s really special to see how they have grown up and attribute their writing or design career to things they learned on Miss O. Both Hermine and I have written a ton of recommendations for these girls for college, scholarships, and jobs. We are so proud of them and that our platform has played a significant role in their lives.
Hermine: Parents are so grateful that we exist and have created this safe, positive place for their daughters. There’s no need to worry where and what their daughter is doing online if she’s on Miss O and Friends or our Girl2Girl Wall app. We have gotten thank you emails from many parents throughout the years for being there for these young girls as these parents are in a constant battle with where their daughters can go online. Now they can offer an alternative they feel good about.
Besides joining, of course, what advice do you give parents looking to help their daughters find appropriate and engaging content online?
Juliette: Definitely check out anything before letting your daughter go on or watch it. It’s important to also have an open dialogue with your daughter so she feels comfortable coming to you if she stumbles across something inappropriate or has an issue on another app that she’s using. CommonSense.Org is a great resource for checking out reviews and age appropriateness of shows, movies, games, apps etc.
Hermine: I would suggest that the parent reviews any site or app prior to their daughter checking it out. Preferably the content should be COPPA compliant if the child is under 13. Make sure there are no free chats where they can exchange personal information like phone numbers, addresses, or name of school they attend.
Why is Miss O so unique from everything else out there?
Juliette: There are few things that make us truly unique from everything else out there. The biggest is that we actually are focused on the tween girl and our platform is built to ensure their safety and protection. Any competitors of ours definitely reach the tween girl, but they say they are for teenagers, which means it’s not really serving this unique audience. I already mentioned this, but we truly are by girls for girls and besides the 5 adult employees we have, we have over 300+ interns and ambassadors (all tween and young teen girls) that help contribute to and grow Miss O– making us truly authentic.
Hermine: The most unique part of our brand, on the website or app, is everything is truly by girls, for girls. As most sites for kids are written by a staff of (adult) editors and writers, our content is written by girls of all ages. It’s current, letting the community know exactly what’s going on in their peer group. It’s relatable, it’s authentic, it’s global, and it’s what other girls are going through too. Our girl community has options to submit polls and quizzes, their art, photos, recipes, stories, poems and report on current events. We have some super talented budding writers! Girls can also enter contests and win prizes.
On the Girl2Girl Wall app, girls are giving and getting advice from their peers. They are establishing friendships with girls from around the world through conversations (convos). They feel safe, and many times have told us they are so grateful to have found Girl2Girl.
Awesome. What’s next for Miss O?
Juliette: We’re really hoping to grow our community and build out our Girl2Girl Wall App. We’re excited to launch some new updates and looking to grow with some new partnerships.
We are also working on a new season of our series, Hyperlinked. Hyperlinked is inspired by my true story of creating Miss O and Friends and it follows 5 girls as they create and build their website (MissO.com) to help other girls, while they deal with middle school issues of their own. Think: Dear-Abby, Meets iCarly meets Silicon Valley. The series focuses on entrepreneurship, positive female friendships, STEM, Coding (CS). By showcasing girls in non-traditional roles, we are really putting girls center stage and highlighting how there is no one definition of what it means to be a girl.
Hermine: In addition we are looking to create some Miss O and Friends branded products exclusively designed for this tween girl demographic, We are developing a Clean Beauty line, an Accessories line, App Games, along with some other products and looking for some partners to help us with this.