On today’s episode, I interviewed Kim Kaupe, who is the founder of Bright Ideas Only where she has worked with Oprah, Paul McCartney, and Jimmy Buffett. Her first company, The Superfan Company, allowed her to work with everyone from Katie Perry to the Boston Red Sox. She was recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30, and by Inc Magazine, 35 under 35. She also received one of the highest offers on Season 5 of Shark Tank.
I’m going to kick us off with a line from your LinkedIn profile which talks about you being an accidental entrepreneur. You have a quote there, it says, “I was not hustling candy in the back of the bus, growing my neighborhood lawn mowing conglomerate, regulating a pyramid of fellow babysitters, and I never once had a lemonade stand.” Can you talk us through your origin story? How did you become an accidental entrepreneur?
Yes, I think we have this awesome fantasy that entrepreneurs, you have great people like Mark Cuban and Richard Branson and Gary Vee, and they all talk about how they were hustling as these young kids. We have this born with the mentality, you’re an entrepreneur because you’re born with it. I really think it’s important in anything that I do to say I wasn’t born with it. This is something that I fell into. This is something that hit me after I had a corporate job, after I was already through school. If anybody’s out there, whether they’re 60 years old or 20 years old, just know that entrepreneurship can hit you at any time, at any age.
You’re really explicit that one of the reasons that clients work with you is, and you call it genuine collaboration in an era of generic connection. What does genuine collaboration mean to you and how does it allow you to stand out?
I think, for me, genuine connection really means doing what’s best for our clients or doing what’s best for somebody that we’re working with. I think what’s happened now, especially marketing with the age of the niche, and everybody does one thing really, really well, which is great, they sometimes lose the ability to think holistically for a client.
For us, it’s really thinking holistically, and honestly, Matthew, there have been times where people think I’m crazy because we’ve turned down work or we’ve actively told people, “I know that you want to give me this six-figure contract, but I’m actually not the right fit.” I know that I’m going to do a B- job, and I have a friend who could do an A+ job. Makes my CPA absolutely mad when I do that, but I think it’s really about the long game, it’s really about what’s doing best genuinely for the other person, whether that’s a client or a colleague, regardless of what it actually means for you.
One thing that we hear from a lot of our listeners is about preparation and they ask how do our guests prepare. How do you get prepared for a meeting with a major client or maybe a prospective new client? How do you stay calm and focused? What does the prep look like for you?
I do three things before I meet with any new client. Number one, I stalk the crap out of them. LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Instagram, I am finding out anything and everything I can. Number two, if during that Nancy Drew hunt I find that we have a friend or colleague in common, I will call that person and say, “I’m meeting with Beth, can you give me some insight, or afterward, can you tell Beth that I’m not a weirdo?” I’m always looking for that common connection.
The third thing I do before any meeting is, at the end of the day, realize, take a deep breath, this is just another person, and hopefully, we can help each other, and if we can’t, and it’s not the right fit, or it’s not the right time, that’s okay. I always say before you go into a meeting, pretend like you’re collecting Easter eggs. You might be able to eat the candy now, or it might sit in your Easter basket for years. There are people that I’ve been colleagues with or connections with for 9, 10, 11 years before we finally work together on something. At the end of the day, you are collecting a Rolodex of humans.
How do you set goals? You’ve had a successful career, it’s allowed you to work with very interesting individuals. What does goal setting look like for you?
Goal setting is a slippery slope for me because, if anything, as a Type A, goal achiever-oriented person, I have the tendency to just keep setting the goals without celebrating when I actually do accomplish something. Goals are tricky, but one thing that I always keep in mind with goals is I’m flexible to change. I’ve been an entrepreneur now for 10 years and I always think when people have business plans for my five-year plan, my three-year plan, honestly, the way that our world is developing right now, I think that those should be totally scrapped.
Your goals should be very short and very malleable because as we can see with the pandemic, I’m sure a lot of people had big goals in 2020 —revenue goals they wanted to hit or things they wanted to achieve — but you have to constantly be ready to change those goals at a moment’s notice.
Let’s talk about you as a leader. When you think about the evolution that you’ve been on, what surprises you the most about how you’ve changed as a leader along the way?
I think what surprised me most is when I think about myself as a leader, it’s really leading alongside people. I always make it a point to say, “We’re going to walk this road together. I’m not necessarily leading in front of you. I’m going to walk with you,” and I think so many leaders are more of a top-down strategy. “Do what I say, not as I do,” or, “Do it because I told you to,” or, “Do it the way that I tell you to do it.” For me, it’s really about, “What do you think is the best way to do that? Let’s look through this together.” I really feel that leaders should be walking alongside, whether that’s their team, their staff, whoever it is, their clients, their colleagues. I really want to be in the trenches with people, not leading from so far ahead.
When you think about leaders that you want to cultivate at an organization that you’re working with, what skills do you think they need that maybe you wouldn’t have said a year ago, two years ago, five years ago is really important? What’s really prescient right now that maybe wasn’t a few years ago in the realm of effective leadership?
I think the number one skill somebody can have right now is resilience. I actually talked about this on Twitter, and I have a LinkedIn newsletter called What Works, and I did a whole blog on it. It’s actually one of the most clicked on blogs now of the year for my LinkedIn strategy, but it’s really about resilience. You’re going to get knocked down and plans are going to change. How are you getting back up? How every day are you saying, “I’m going to make this work, I’m going to keep working hard to achieve my goals”?
That single skill of resilience, it used to be really something that only salespeople needed, people were constantly hearing, “No, no I don’t want this. No, I don’t want this.” Salespeople usually have a lot of resilience because they’re used to hearing no, but for the rest of us, resilience is not necessarily a muscle that we were exercising a whole lot.
I think now in the pandemic in 2020, it’s become a muscle that we’ve been forced to exercise. We have been forced to become resilient. I hope moving forward, not only with the rest of 2021 but into the future, we don’t just let the muscles, the six-pack abs if you will, I hope we don’t let them die off. I hope we continue to practice resilience and continue to push ourselves even when things might go a little bit back to normal.
You’ve had the opportunity in the course of your career to work with some pretty inspirational leaders. Does any meeting, interactions, stick out that forever change the way you approach leadership after meeting with one of those individuals?
I feel like I’ve had so many of these aha moments, it’s hard to pick just one, but I would say one that’s happened most recently with a recent client is we worked with Oprah and her team at the launch of 2020 to launch her 2020 Vision Tour. A lesson that I took from her and her team moving forward is before every single thing they did, down to the Wednesday two o’clock meeting, there was intention setting. What is the intention of this meeting? You think big picture intention. “What’s the intention for my company? What’s the intention of where I’m going to live, or where I’m gonna raise my kids,” but they really got into the nuance. What is the intention of this specific meeting?
It really helped reshape how big things are done. It’s not just the big shifts, it’s really those micro, micro, micro-shifts that you’re making every single day that add up to these big shifts. In my book, honestly, anything that Oprah’s doing, eating, drinking, I’m like, “Sign me up,” because obviously, she’s doing something right.
When you think about your development over the years, does something stick out as something that was unbelievably difficult, a hurdle that was really difficult for you to get over, but since you got over, it’s had a transformational effect on how you lead and how you manage your business?
I think it’s something that I continue to actively battle and actively get over which is imposter syndrome. If anyone is not familiar with that term, it is basically the secret evil voice in your head that says, “You’re not good enough. You’re not supposed to be here. These people are smarter than you. They’re better than you. You are an imposter for being in this room.”
I think when you meet some of my clients earlier, or some of the accolades that we were able to achieve, imposter syndrome was very prevalent in a lot of those moments of like, “Who am I to be working with somebody like this? What value can I bring to somebody that’s so smart or so talented?” I had to really realize and continue to actively work on that. We all have a voice and we all have a purpose, and we all have special superpowers that we can bring into a conversation, into a meeting, into a team, into an organization. It’s okay to let those shine, and you shining bright doesn’t put out somebody else’s light. You can both shine bright together.
You and many of the people that I’ve had a chance to talk to on this show have a ton on their plate. We all do, and we’re all trying to figure out ways to optimize our time, balance work and life. Does anything stick out from your routine that has allowed you to have some of the balance that makes you a better entrepreneur and a better professional?
I’ll give you one answer that probably everybody gives you, and it’s more of a traditional answer, and then I’ll give you a second one which is like the real talk. The first one is time batching. That has actually helped me a great deal. For instance, I don’t take meetings on Mondays. It’s like no-meeting Monday, and Monday is for a lot of my deep work or housekeeping, and really figuring out how I can batch my time to have that 2, 3, 4-hour sprint to do some of the deep work without getting bogged down in emails and calls. Then you’re switching in and out of things. How can I get large chunks of my calendar and dedicate it to certain tasks? That has helped, number one.
The second answer to that question, and probably a lot of people don’t talk about on this show, but I think it’s important to talk about, is I have help. I hired a virtual assistant in April of last year. It was the best decision I ever made, and I was nervous because I didn’t necessarily have the money. It was chicken or the egg. Do you hire an assistant, so you can go out and get more work, so then you can pay for the assistant, or do you wait for more work to come so that you could pay for an assistant?
It’s this endless circle and I finally just said, “I have to pull the trigger. I have to get help,” and lucky for me, once a lot of that work was off my plate, it did open me up to get bigger clients or to do more keynote speeches or to do more consulting work. I will say getting help and I don’t think enough people talk about that. I think too many people talk about “Hustle Hard”, or Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek, time block, or whatever. Gary Vee has this team of 34 people under him. Tim Ferriss has an entire team. I think when we set these unrealistic expectations for people, then people are getting home working till 11 o’clock at night and wondering why they’re not seeing results. It’s like you have to delegate, you have to outsource. It’s like this secret thing that nobody talks about.
All right. A final question before I shift to the last two questions that I get to ask all of our guests. What is the piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
The piece of advice I would give to my younger self is to copy somebody else’s homework. For so long, I thought I had to reinvent the wheel. I thought I had to come up with everything myself, and that’s just not the case. There are courses on LinkedIn all about entrepreneurship. That’s like, “Don’t even worry about Googling “What is an LLC?” Here’s a course full of a decade worth of information, and it costs $25. It costs less than your Starbucks habit.” Copy my homework and that’s not, “Oh, I didn’t go through the trenches.” Forget the trenches. If you can skip the trenches altogether, skip them. To me, that’s the biggest thing that I wish I could go back and tell myself is, “Go copy other people’s homework, go figure out how other people did things, and just take what they did, and build a better mousetrap.”
Building a better mousetrap is a wonderful spot to shift to the final two rapid-fire questions that I ask everybody. The first one is this: If you could describe your leadership style in just one word, what would the word be?
If I had to pick one word for my leadership style, I think it would be “Alongside”. I know I referenced that earlier, but I really love to lead alongside people.
The final rapid-fire question is this: What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?
I feel like I’ve received so many gems and great pieces of advice. I’m cheating. I’m using two, and one is, “It’s not a no, it’s just a not right now.” I think so many times when we hear the word “no”, we just think it’s no forever, and it’s not no forever. It’s just no, not right this second.
The second thing is to ask for forgiveness, not permission. I think there are times in life where you just have to go out and do it. If you mess up and you have to say sorry for it, that’s okay, but you can’t continue to wait around or wait on other people continuously, or else you will never get things done.