Entrepreneur Kaaren Whitney Vernon on what it takes to educate a marketplace and how she pioneered a new way to engage Millenials with scripted series on YouTube for big brands like Walmart and U by Kotex with shift2, the company she recently sold to Shaftsbury. She puts on the ‘Advice WINGS’ today to talk networking and how to find the support we need as women in business.
Melinda Wittstock: Kaaren, welcome to Wings.
Kaaren Whitney: Thanks Melinda. Nice to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: It's great to have you and I am always intrigued with what inspires women entrepreneurs. What is your 2018 going to be like? What are your intentions and what's inspiring you?
Kaaren Whitney: Wow, 2018 I think is going to be a fantastic year. I started Shift2 about three and a half years ago, and it was really in a new category. So it's been a bit of a tough grind at the beginning as getting people to understand about branded entertainment and what we're doing in the field. And I think 2018 we're … we're starting to see people understand the category. We're starting to see big shift, and my hope for 2018 is it's going to … we're going to get more business.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's always tricky when you create those businesses where you have to educate the marketplace. What were some of the frustrations that you had along the way, because I know you sold Shift2 and you are still in an executive role with the company that bought it. But what were some of the frustrations in literally making that shift? Appropriately named company by the way.
The biggest challenge we have in this day and age is time. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @kaarenvwClick to tweet
Kaaren Whitney: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. Well I … I think you're … you're right. I mean being new in a category, there's a lot of education and … I mean the biggest challenge we have in this day and age is time. Most of the people that we want to talk to do not have time, and therefore trying to get your message out, it is a bit of a challenge. And I see that as the key challenge for anybody that's new in a category and … But I feel with a message of something that is unique and different, you will get … you will get some attention at some point. But it's just finding the right people.
Melinda Wittstock: Finding the right people, the time and in all that noise, you know being heard. And so what is your best advice to women entrepreneurs, either at the beginning of their journey or going through those peaks and troughs-
Kaaren Whitney: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: That we all know is part of the deal. What would be advice number one?
Kaaren Whitney: Well for me it's networking, always be networking. When I think about my partnership with Shaftesbury Films, it was really based off of a pre-existing networking event that I had been to, where I met the CEO there. And I think with anything that you're trying to get out there, you've got to put your face as in many places as possible, which is hard when a lot of female entrepreneurs are moms. We're trying to run a business and then you add on to that an extra layer of “Oh, by the way you have to go out tonight and go to a networking event.” But whether it's virtual networking or in person networking, I think that would be one of my key advices. And always just going with your instinct, like there is something inherent in the reason we want to do this. And you'll have a lot of people saying no and a lot of people saying it's not going to work. And you've got to persevere and that … that can be a challenge, but it … it's … you've got to … If you've that instinct that you think it's going to work, you've just got to go for it.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Just keep going. It's funny if you stand in a room, thinking about the networking part, and you look at a whole bunch of other entrepreneurs. Most of us feel like “Oh, everyone else has it figured out.” But what's funny is all those people are going through the same thing. They're looking at you thinking “Oh, she looks like she has it figured out.” And so yes, just keep going and following your instincts and being true to those really important advice, and obviously getting out and … and meeting kind of … and attracting like the right people to your vision and your business. So what's some other advice?
Kaaren Whitney: Well I always in that … that idea of networking as well is you don't know who might be the next prospect or the next person that can help you. You know and I'm not kidding, it could be your hairdresser. And I know this sounds funny but I was literally telling my hairdresser once about … you know what I was doing in my company and where I was going, and the next haircut was … became what ended up being one of my clients. So I also think you never know where it's going to come so … You almost always to be on in a way of … of really looking for those opportunities, and staying on top of … of trends. Like I know it … that's again … I use Google alerts, it's very tactical, but I put in there all the things that I'm … I'm searching for or I'm interested in. And every day first thing in the morning, I start reading through … you know what … what they … Google might've found, and obviously … Melinda, I mean this is what you do. I mean your … Your company is kind of seeing what social speak and what's going. So I'm not as sophisticated, I don't have all the right algorithms. But that's what I use, is Google alerts.
Melinda Wittstock: It's so important because so much of entrepreneurship is being able to spot those opportunities and being able to connect the dots in new ways about so much where value is created. So what would be the last piece of advice today?
Kaaren Whitney: Well I … I mean … last piece of advice? I don't know. It … It's support. You know whether it's your partner, your friends, there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights and I think that's a really hard thing. For years not sleeping and worrying about money and cash flow, and all the things that go along with … you know employing people and dealing with taxes and … you know, and things that you think aren't fair. And if I didn't have the right support, it would be … it would be very, very hard.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's so true. It's really important whom we surround ourselves with. So Kaaren how can people find you and learn about Shaftesbury and all the really cool stuff you're doing?
Kaaren Whitney: I'm on Linkedin all the time; I love Linkedin. So I can be found there: Kaaren Whitney-Vernon, and I think that's the best place to be honest.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay. That's awesome. Well thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us today.
Kaaren Whitney: Thanks Melinda.