Home Interviews Kristen Carbone of Brilliantly: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Kristen Carbone of Brilliantly: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

by Charles Purdom
Kristen Carbone of Brilliantly: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur  we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Carbone.

Kristen Carbone is committed to making the lives of the people around her more comfortable, fulfilling, and beautiful. After a decade-long career working in curatorial departments in Museums across New York and New England, she founded Brilliantly, a platform dedicated to meeting the long-term, quality of life issues faced by women who’ve had experience with breast cancer.

A writer, public speaker, and solution finder, Kristen serves on the Advisory Council for the Breasties and is a member of Dreamers & Doers, The Fourth Floor, Female Founders Community. In addition to her work at Brilliantly, Kristen is an avid jigsaw puzzler, gardener, and list maker. She currently resides in Providence, Rhode Island with her two children.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Kristen Carbone: A few years after my mother Lisa died from metastatic breast cancer, I had a preventative mastectomy and reconstruction. Much to my surprise, this was not just a simple surgical intervention, but a process that changed how I thought about myself, my body, and my role in the world.

Before starting my current company, Brilliantly, which is dedicated to helping women with the transition from confronting cancer to embracing life, I worked in the arts. I spent a little more than a decade working in curatorial departments working with contemporary artists and doing creative consulting and education.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Kristen Carbone: Brilliantly started with trying to solve a problem for me. After my mastectomy and implant reconstruction, one of the things that bothered me was feeling constantly cold. After countless failed attempts to jerry-rig something, I set my mind on designing a sustainable solution to help women like myself feel physically better. Through countless conversations, I also recognized that the opportunity to help women feel better was much bigger and have started a portrait project, a corrective exercise program, and hosted numerous events about quality of life issues faced by this community. I wanted to broaden the scope of what’s out there for navigating life after an experience with breast cancer. After almost four years of R&D, Brilliantly Warm, our app-controlled warming wearable that fits into any bra is launching next month.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Kristen Carbone: I started dreaming up my first business when I was five — Kristen’s Kustom Krayons- and periodically dipped my toe into starting a real business until 2017 when I dove in headfirst. I think my background in the arts and being brought up in a culture of critique allowed me to be open to constructive criticism and collaboration, which have been integral to the success I’ve found so far.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Kristen Carbone: My dear friend Chris found the fabric for and helped build our proof of concept design for Brilliantly Warm, which was the fodder for the entire initiative. Once we had a design, and I confirmed the market need, dozens of my friends and former colleagues rallied to help. This has truly been a group project.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Kristen Carbone: I hope that Brilliantly stands out because of my honesty and transparency as a founder. This started because I wanted to feel more comfortable and since I started talking with other women have been genuinely compelled to make them feel more comfortable too- not only with Brilliantly Warm, but with all kinds of quality of life issues, women are facing. I spend a lot of time listening and then finding industry experts to help create content that gives actionable steps towards feeling better. There’s so much out there that talks about struggles like body image, sexuality, relationships, communication, but very little that provides a roadmap for actions that help to address and overcome them.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Kristen Carbone: I’m tenacious (maybe even to a fault). There have been many moments where giving up seemed like an option- like when I was kicking off a fundraising sprint in early March 2020, right as COVID hit, but I was unwilling to give up.

I’m warm-hearted. Human connection is what motivates me, and my ability to bond with people has been integral in building the business, motivating my team, and building the Brilliantly community.

Most of all, I’m scrappy. I can do a lot with a little. I’ve lived very well on a meager salary for most of my career, which made me a natural for bootstrapping and finding creative solutions to problems I faced. Right now, for example, my kids and I are living with a friend to save money while I work towards a product launch.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Kristen Carbone: This is a great question! Very early on a few people encouraged me to go for venture funding way before I understood what that meant or even if my company would be appealing to that kind of investor. I spent way too much time doing research, pitching, and trying to make decks that were appealing to the wrong kind of investor for my phase.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Kristen Carbone: I try to always be honest so that people who are working for me feel like they can be too. For example, I’ll say “I don’t know how to do that.” or “I need help to finish this on time.” or “Do you mind walking me through that because I don’t understand.” I am not pretending to know it all and I don’t expect people working for me to feel like they need to either. I also value sleep, personal time, and family. I work best when I know I also have space for myself, meaning there’s no 9–5 mentality at Brilliantly. I’ve had people on my team who do their best work late at night, which is awesome and is a startup luxury.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Kristen Carbone: Writing, public speaking, and collaborating are the best ways I’ve found for getting to know the other people working in my industry and having people know me.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Kristen Carbone: We’re experiencing a tide change in women’s health. We are finally being given permission to speak up about our lived experience — everything from period products, maternal health, and chronic illness are seeing innovation and change. Networking and getting to know other women who’ve been through an experience and seen an opportunity to improve some aspect of it is the best way to spread my mission. We’re all working to make each other’s lives better. I’ve been continuously bolstered by other female entrepreneurs- from investor introductions to cross-promotion. It’s helped me feel less isolated, as well as given me credibility and clout.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Kristen Carbone: I think that many people believe they need to build their business alone as if the suffering and grinding will prove their grit. Asking for help, building an advisory board, and admitting I need expertise that exceeds my own helped me avoid mistakes, burnout, and getting stuck.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

Kristen Carbone: I struggle with not knowing who to call when something goes really well or really poorly for this exact reason — who will understand what I’m going through?! Being a solo founder can be really isolating, even when it’s going well. The process of starting Brilliantly feels like continuously pushing myself to chop down redwood-sized challenges with the butterknife of my experience. Building something from scratch as one person with no budget is both courageous and a little crazy. It’s a professional wild west- there are no weekends, no HR department, no systems, no teams, no cadence to the day, and no accountability except to yourself. Every single failure is mine to own, and success can feel hollow without a team to share it with.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

The first time I got an email from a woman who’d found a blog I wrote and felt compelled to reach out and tell me that it helped her, I cried. I printed it out and hung it on my wall. Similarly, when we did our first user testing with Brilliantly Warm, one of our testers reported feeling so relieved of her discomfort that she cried. Knowing that I made an impact, even in a way that improves one or two peoples’ lives, is so rewarding and keeps me moving forward.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Kristen Carbone: After the first time I pitched investors, they emailed me on a Friday with a list of things that they wanted by Monday morning. It was the weekend of my closest cousin’s baby shower and I spent the entire party hiding in a bedroom on the phone with various advisors working on my deck. I even took a call while she was opening gifts and had to write notes on the back of my paper plate. It was painfully bittersweet to feel so hopeful about the potential investors and so awful for disappointing my family. My efforts to build something I can call my own and be proud of comes with constant difficult decisions.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Kristen Carbone: I’m not sure that I have bounced back. I just keep trying to bounce forward. I am getting better at managing my time and apologize to others and myself that I can’t be great at everything simultaneously.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Kristen Carbone: 
  1. Sleep! I need at least 6 hours a night. In the months before I left my day job, I was getting up between 4 and 5 am to work on Brilliantly before my kids got up. Then I’d take them to school and go to work. Once they were in bed, I’d start again around 8 pm until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I’d often fall asleep with my computer in bed with me, surrounded by decks that I used to print, hang on the wall, and edit by hand. In those months everything felt like a Big Deal. My exhaustion made it hard for me to see things clearly and prioritize. I quickly learned that I couldn’t keep going at that pace and do even an OK job with work, parenting, or building my new company unless I could also rest.
  2. Engage in indulgent self-care. I don’t mean having glasses of wine while soaking in bubble baths, although that does sound nice. I mean eat real food, drink water, and go outside every day. I have a hydration accountability group on Instagram, no joke. If I didn’t get reminders throughout the day to drink water, I’d probably live exclusively on coffee.
  3. Inner stability. We’ve touched on this already, but starting a company is a roller coaster. I spend a lot of my time cultivating my mental health. I do yoga, I meditate, I lay on the floor in the sunlight between meetings, I take walks… Right now, the business is only me and if I’m not well the business is not well. Sometimes I even find myself saying out loud “it’s ok. You’re ok.” when I’m faced with a difficult moment.
  4. Have both cheerleaders and critics at the ready. I need people who will strongly give me feedback, tell me when they think I’m wrong, push me to work harder, and drive me forward. I crave evaluation and growth and therefore have advisors who give me notes on blogs, podcasts, and pitch practice. Equally, I need people who send encouraging notes, emails, and texts. I have one friend who has been sending me a greeting card almost every month telling me I’m awesome or she’s proud of me.
  5. Celebrate the highs! There are so many lows that drive me towards improvement and growth, that sometimes I’ve forgotten to slow down and celebrate my victories. Another founder suggested that even though Covid delayed my product launch and prohibited an in-person launch party, I could still do something celebratory to commemorate the milestone. Got any ideas?

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Kristen Carbone: This has been an unimaginable year and I see signs of resilience everywhere. I think of resilient people as those willing to accept that life is challenging and who can find ways to rise, thrive, and love in spite of the challenges they face.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

Kristen Carbone: Along with my dad, I was the caretaker for my mom as she was succumbing to metastatic breast cancer. I was 23 at the time and that experience taught me that I can handle more than I ever thought possible. A big part of my healing, and ability to find the positive outcomes of that awful circumstance is because of the amazing people in my life. I am endlessly inspired by my family and friends.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Kristen Carbone: I believe that the good and bad, joyful and painful, are always happening simultaneously. I chose to focus on the positive simply because I feel better when I do. Even in the darkest moments- my mother’s death or when I was recovering from my mastectomy- I felt supported and surrounded by love.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Kristen Carbone: Attitudes are contagious. If you show up to lead inspired, enthusiastic, honest, and positive, it’s hard for people not to follow suit.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

Kristen Carbone: “Expansion can sometimes feel like breaking.” Growth can be so painful, and in times when things feel challenging, I need reminding that I’m on the right track.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Kristen Carbone: We’re on IG, Facebook, and the web as Brilliantly.co and if someone is compelled to reach out, they can connect with me directly at kristen@brilliantly.co

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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