You may know her best as the spirited Penelope “Punky” Brewster, the titular star of the popular 1980s sitcom that still draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on YouTube. But what you may not know, if you’re not one of the more than 1.5 million people who follow Soleil Moon Frye on Twitter, is that in the three decades since she took the role that made her famous, Moon Frye has blossomed into a multifaceted entrepreneur—directing commercials and two films, writing books and co-founding three businesses. (That’s in addition to acting stints including a lead role in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and the voice of Jade in “Bratz.”) She and her husband, film and television producer Jason Goldberg, are also raising three children with a fourth on the way.
We talked to Moon Frye about her transition from actor to entrepreneur in ventures ranging from an eco-friendly children’s line to a party planning and decorating business, and how her early experiences have informed the choices she’s made since.
You became an actress very early on. How did you get into acting?
My dad, Virgil Frye, was an actor, and I grew up watching my big brother [Meeno Peluce] on set. I was super shy at first, hiding behind my mom on sets. Then one day, I decided I want to try this…I found that being in front of a camera, and being on stage, was a way to open up and come out of my shell. And it was so much fun. But my mom, who was an incredible caterer, also tried to make sure we had a childhood. We were never pressured into acting.
What kind of effect did landing the role as Punky Brewster have on your life?
Punky’s such a big part of my heart and my life… Here’s a little girl who’s been abandoned in a shopping center. You’d think it’d be really dramatic, but it had such heart and humor. It was such a powerful show for so many with broken homes or unorthodox experiences. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but this little girl embraced it. She knew she could be different and that life is what you make of it.
How have your experiences growing up informed the choices you’ve made as an adult?
I’ve always been able to follow my dreams. I’m never afraid of trying something and just going after it. No dream is too big. I was never told I couldn’t do anything, so I’ve wanted to try everything.
You’ve continued to act, but you’ve also moved increasingly into other endeavors. Can you talk about that transition?
I had my first baby in 2005 and had tons of questions about the environment. My mom always taught us to recycle and give back and be aware of the environment. But after you have kids, you start asking what you’re putting on and in your kids.
My girlfriend [Paige Goldberg Tolmach] and I were feeling the same way and thought there must be many others. So we started The Little Seed… We were on a mission to find the safest most eco-friendly products and put them in one place.
What did you learn from running The Little Seed?
It was my first experience in retail. We taught ourselves manufacturing. We launched our blog. Eventually we [closed the L.A. store and] moved it online… And we worked with Target on a partnership and, before we knew it, our products were in 1,000 Target stores. It was incredible.
Your next venture was P.S. XO, an e-commerce company (formerly called Moonfrye) that focused on party invites and supplies. How did you make that transition?
In 2013, I wrote my second book (“Let’s Get This Party Started”). I’m always writing from experience, and I’d always loved to plan parties. I was constantly looking for things for parties that were unique and authentic.
I partnered with [former IAC executive] Kara Nortman, and we built out the business. Then we merged in 2014 with a company that’s always been one of my favorites: Seedling from New Zealand [which sells children’s products including toys, activities and games].
How did you connect with them?
Advisors who worked with both of us brought us together.
How has Seedling grown and what’s your role in the business?
As a co-founder, I work closely with our CEO on developing new products and opportunities. The company’s grown from around 30 products in 2010 to more than 350 now. We’re stocked in more than 3,000 stores all over the world. We employ about 70 people in New Zealand in the United States. Last year, we sold more than 600,000 Seedling products. And this year we’re launching more new lines.
Some people might think you had a financial advantage because you were a successful child star. Has that been a factor?
People have this false impression that if you’re in front of a camera, you’re making millions of dollars, and that’s just not true—especially as a kid. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. Anything that came in felt like such a gift. My mom was a single mom raising us. She worked like crazy to support us. So much of my life has been about enjoying the moment and enjoying it (money) when it comes.
What does financial success look like now?
When you’re younger, you think, ‘I’m going to build a billion-dollar company.’ But when you get older, you just want to help your family and do some good. I want to be able to give my kids enough to let them know they have the support. But I also feel it’s really important for them to be their own individuals and strive for something… If you’re only focused on the money, you don’t enjoy the ride.
What do you look for in the ventures you pursue?
A lot of times it’s, ‘Hey, I see a need for this. I wish I had something like this as a mom or a wife.’ And knowing that if I’m feeling that way, there must be other people who want the same thing.
What advice would you give to someone with entrepreneurial dreams?
Dream big… Know what you know and realize there’s a lot you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Also, don’t focus on growing too fast. Take time to evolve. So much of discovery is trial and error, and seeing what works and doesn’t. You could be sitting on an incredible unicorn ($1 billion business) and not even realize it if you’re stuck in one way of thinking. You have to be adaptable to change.