Episode 7: Coping with Fears & “Failures” – Lessons from an Exited Founder with Kate Berski

Mar 21, 2023 | podcast | 0 comments

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You can find the full transcript for this episode at the bottom of this page

When you’re in the thick of things as a founder you often start questioning whether or not it’s still worth it. Our guest in this week’s episode is an exited founder who isn’t shy about her experience with this, but actually puts a positive spin on her frequent desire to throw in the towel. She credits the mantra she and her husband, her co-founder, shared – “We’ll Just Work Until the End of the Day” – for helping them to survive some of the more challenging days on their entrepreneurial journey.

Kate Berski is an exited founder who shares with us her story from the very beginning of her startup through the phase of exiting the company, and what’s next for her. She gives us a candid look at some of the fears and self-doubt she faced during her time as a co-founder and what helped her to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We also dive into the pros and cons of co-founding a company with your husband, how she juggled her role as a co-founder with becoming a mother, her experience becoming an exited founder, and what she’ll do differently next time around.

I think without resilience and persistence, we wouldn’t have survived this whole journey. I think it helped that we were partners as well. I think there were times when either one of us would have kind of wanted to give up but the other one is there to [say] ‘Just keep going, just keep going.’ We used to have this mantra, which was like, ‘Just work to the end of the day. We’ll quit tomorrow.’ And obviously we woke up the next day and we just did it all again.

Kate Berski is a British Entrepreneur and Writer. After 15 years in Advertising and Brand Consulting, she co-founded Curlsmith, a high performance gourmet haircare line, in 2018. It became one of the fastest growing textured hair brands and now retails at Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, Feelunique and more. Kate exited the business in 2022, when it was acquired by consumer goods giant Helen of Troy.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • The inspiring story behind the growth of Kate’s company – from the idea stage all the way to successful exit
  • What helped her reframe failure and rejection so she could continue moving forward in spite of it
  • Why imposter syndrome is so incredibly common amongst founders, and what helped her work through it
  • What helped her to keep pushing forward despite the high risk of startup failure
  • How she approached the dilemma of how to combine motherhood and life as a founder, and the advice she has for founders who want to do the same
  • The pros and cons of co-founding a company with your spouse
  • What’s next for her, and what she’ll do differently next time around as a second time founder

Find Kate Online:

exited founder

Resources & Inspiration from the Show

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About Founders’ Fears & Failures and your host, Dr. Melissa Parks

Melissa is an entrepreneur, former therapist (PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology), and an executive coach for entrepreneurs with a special focus on startup founders. Her passion for supporting startup founders in particular began after witnessing firsthand the emotional rollercoaster her husband experienced as a startup co-founder.

She started the Founders’ Fears & Failures podcast with the mission of shining a light on the mental and emotional challenges that come with life as a startup founder. Having lived abroad for 10 years herself she realizes how much we can learn from hearing stories from around the globe which is why the show doesn’t focus on a country-specific startup ecosystem.

Melissa is also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapist Community, and a mom to a toddler who keeps her on her toes, and fuels her passion for helping to make the world a better place.

If you are interested in coming on the show, please get in touch. We would love to hear your story.

Want to connect further? Get in touch with Melissa on social media:

Want to work with Melissa?

Melissa is a former therapist who now provides mindset coaching for ambitious professionals around the globe. Schedule your free discovery call HERE.

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Disclaimer: The Founders’ Fears & Failures is for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not meant to be used for personal health advice and should not be construed to constitute personal or professional consultation or guidance, or to replace medical or mental health treatment. The opinions expressed by this podcast, including the podcast guests, are not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of a medical or mental health provider regarding any questions or concerns you have about your medical and/or mental health needs. If you are in crisis, please visit this website to find a list of suicide hotlines around the globe. 

Episode Transcript

Melissa 

Hi, Kate, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s really great to be here with you.

Kate 

Hi, Melissa. Yeah, Thanks for having me. I’m excited.

Melissa 

Me too. And I’m just feeling like this is such a win for for us as mothers too, because I know like when my son was sick, we had to reschedule. I know you have at least one young child. And so we’re here.

Kate 

Yeah, I think the difficulty we’ve had scheduling this, this one call is just symptomatic of how it is to be a mom and founder, especially if you’re the primary caregiver. So I’m sure people will relate to that.

Melissa 

I think so too. Well, we have a lot that we’re going to dive into today. But why don’t we get started by you telling us a bit about your story as a founder?

Kate 

Yeah, so I’m Kate. I’m co founder of Curlsmith, which is a gourmet premium haircare brand for curly, wavy, and textured hair. I co founded the business together with my husband Michal and we’ll talk a bit about the pros and cons, the challenges of, of working with your spouse a bit later. But essentially, I would describe the last six years as kind of everything, everywhere, all at once. We’ll dig into that. But the Curlsmith story, I guess it starts about six years ago, when I was working in consulting working with a lot of beauty and personal care brands. My husband was working in some of the world’s biggest beauty product companies. So L’Oreal, P&G, Unilever, so he was coming at it from a product point of view and me from a brand point of view.

And simultaneously, we were in that stage of life in our late 20s, early 30s, where our friends or family started having babies. And we have a very international very diverse kind of family and group of friends. And a lot of those babies ended up having curly hair, and particularly my two nieces were born. And they have very, very curly hair. And because we both worked in beauty and personal care at the time, my sister in law would call us up constantly being like I can’t, I don’t know how to manage with my daughter’s hair, you know, she had very straight, blonde, Caucasian hair, and she just didn’t know how to deal with these brilliant, beautiful curls. So we started doing a lot of research. And what was interesting is the businesses we were working in, were largely ignoring that kind of sector, even though, you know, 70, 80% of the world’s population have some kind of texture in the hair with that curly, wavy, afro, coily, whatever it is, most of us have some kind of hair texture. But the world’s biggest beauty brands were kind of ignoring that hair texture. So actually, our clients, the companies we were working for, couldn’t really help us out with the right products or the right advice about how to take care and enhance and embrace naturally curly hair. So we did a lot of research. And we started on this for fun, kind of, and to help our friends by creating content. So we set up an Instagram account, and we started recording videos about how to take care of curly hair, we looked into all the products that were available and found that a lot of the products targeted at people with curly hair were not really fit for purpose. So either there, they were targeting a particular group of people and therefore alienating others, they were simply not available, you couldn’t walk into, what we would have in the UK, a Boots store, and find products at that time that worked really well for curly hair, if you did, they were a mass brand with a side line in curls. So they weren’t really thinking about curls first. And some of the brands they were very effective, but they were packed full of products were packed full of chemicals, which really weren’t good for the health of your hair. So you could get good results in the instance, but actually, it was damaging the health of your hair over time.

So we kind of found that was a bit of a gap both in terms of products that had you know, kick ass full on quality, performance, and also natural nourishing ingredients that would actively enhance the look and the health of your hair over time. So it was kind of a product gap going on. And there was a gap for knowledge because at that time you couldn’t turn on the television and see adverts with people with curly hair. In fact, often people with curly hair were the before kind of picture on the ad you need to see this girl with naturally curly hair, frizzy hair as it would be defined. And then she would use the you know, well known insert well known brand here. And then how would you match with the straight and shiny? And actually, we didn’t really agree with that. We kind of thought, “Why aren’t there brands out there talking about how to enhance your naturally curly hair?” So we started creating content, videos, recipes, for kind of natural and delicious hair products, and just putting it out there on Instagram. And we found that we grew this following quite quickly. It was obviously an untapped area where people were looking for education about how to take care of naturally curly hair. So it kind of grew from there. We didn’t really intend to launch a product brand at the start. We were just kind of doing it to help really. And then our community started almost demanding from us that we would do something more. They kind of said like, you know, so if you know so much about how to take care of our hair type, well, you know, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and and then do something for us? So we then started quite, quite an intense period of co creation. So we have this community of, you know, curly hair experts, psychologists, hairdressers, stylists, and, you know, consumers with curly and wavy hair. And so we worked with them everything, every part of the Curlsmith brand ended up being co created with our community of experts and consumers, which is quite, which was quite a unique thing at the time. We also spent a lot of time you know, standing on Carnaby Street in London, stopping everybody with curly hair and asking them about their life essentially. So we gathered this whole huge body of knowledge. And we worked with our community to build everything from the first product range to even the brand name, even the brand name was a vote to our community. It actually got a different name. We nearly launched under “Recipe Products,” because our products were all about, you know, getting those natural home hair and remedies and bottling them. And we used a lot of natural food based ingredients. Our tagline was ‘Food for Curls.’ So yeah, I’m losing my track here. I get so excited when I talk about it. Yeah, so we yeah, we nearly launched with the name Recipe Products and we put a vote out to our community. And they said, and Curlsmith was one of the options and I think our community chose it because it just does what it says on the tin. It literally kind of crafts your curls, it looks like a craft brand. So so we went with that we rolled with that almost like a day before we press print on our labels, we change the change the brand name, and I’m so glad we did, because I think it just made it really clear what we were all about from the get go.

Melissa 

Wow.

Kate 

Yeah, that’s a long winded story. And that only takes us to launch doesn’t it? Gosh, have you got three hours? So I mean, I guess, you know, we’ll we’ll go through a bit more of a journey, I’m sure. Other questions. But we grew quite quickly, we, you can tell from my accent, we are based in Europe, with my husband and I are both European. But we quickly found that our community was growing in the US quicker than anywhere else. So we even though we intended to be a UK focused brand, we very, very quickly for a number of different reasons, focused on the US. And I guess fast forward a couple of years into the business. We were listed at Ulta Beauty. We were listed in all 1200 stores overnight, which was, you know, incredibly exciting and challenging. Because at that point, we only had a small amount of seed funding to kind of get the get the brand and the products up and running. So yeah, we were listing all doors. And I guess that was a huge turning point. And when we really focused almost exclusively on US that we became an American business. And now we’re listed in other stores, you know, Sephora and a couple of online retailers that you might know. So, so yeah, we grew quite quickly. And on the rest of history, really a lot of hard graft a lot of exciting times. And last year, we actually ended up selling the business and exiting on the same day. So yeah, we’ve been out of the business for nearly a year now. And it’s crazy. I feel like we’re only just kind of coming up up for air even now.

Melissa 

Yeah, oh, gosh, there’s so many things there that that I want to dive into. But we also have some other topics that we were gonna dive into as well. Well, I think one thing I do just want to touch on that that you just mentioned in the story is that it sounds like that. Yeah, this was kind of almost an accident of sorts, right? Like you didn’t Did you plan? Or had you been previously an entrepreneur?

Kate 

Not at all. I mean, my husband had a couple of businesses over the years, but primarily we were we were both in jobs all of our lives. I think we both had that, that dissatisfied feeling that kind of itch we needed to scratch and and I thought it was that I wanted to work for myself. So I was freelance, but for a long time. And I thought that was it. I think my husband quickly realized he actually wanted to make this his focus. And he wanted to build the business. But yeah, we didn’t. Yeah, we didn’t necessarily plan that this is how it was gonna work out. But obviously it did. And we’re very glad we did it that way.

Melissa 

Yeah, I just think it can bring its own set of challenges, though, when it’s like, okay, like you were saying, we’re just let’s just try this out and experiment with it. And then it kind of just took on a life of its own.

Kate 

Exactly. Yeah, yeah. But I mean, that’s great. That’s organic. That’s natural. We kind of know it’s the right thing, and we kind of found our groove with it.

Melissa 

Yeah, I love it. Well, so you mentioned to me before the show that persistence and resilience are some of the like top skills that that you think founders need to have and that you’ve cultivated yourself? Can you tell us more about that?

Kate 

Yeah, I’m not sure if I describe resilience as a skill. I guess persistence, could could be that way. It tends to be something quite innate. But I honestly think it’s the number one thing I think without resilience and persistence, we wouldn’t have survived this whole journey. I think it helped that, that we were partners as well. I think there were times when either one of us would have kind of wanted to give up but the other ones there to kind of like just keep going just keep you up. Just keep going. We used to have this mantra, which was like, just work to the end of the day. We’ll quit tomorrow. And obviously we woke up the next day and we just did it all again. We’ll quit tomorrow we’ll quit tomorrow. But yeah, you have to be you have to be resilient because particularly in the, you know, the first couple of years, that early stages, it it feels like constant knockback. It feels like constant failure. It feels like, oh, we failed to secure that funding, and we failed to get listed on that retailer. And we failed to, you know, even secure a manufacturer that was willing to work with a new business, you know, it just feels like no after no after knock after knock, and it’s hard to not let it get you down. But, you know, I think one massive learning for me, has been in business, in life sometimes no means no, but in business no rarely means no, it means not now, not the right time. And we were fortunate enough to come full circle to become incredibly successful, and have a lot of those people, all those organizations that rejected us at the start, actually come back to us towards the end and say, actually, now is the right time for us to invest. Now is the right time for us to list you in our stores. Now is the right time for us to work together. So I think that was you know, it isn’t a shut door, I think and my husband’s very good, he’s, you know, I’m probably the most sensitive one of the two of us. So I know that he took a lot more knocks than I did. But he’s the first one to say it doesn’t mean no, it means not now. We’ll keep you know, don’t kind of cross off that contact, because in a year or so, things will be different. And you know, it will be worth talking again. So don’t shut any doors.

Melissa 

I love that what a great piece of advice. And you have I think the benefit too, right? You know you’re exited, you can say like this was a successful company. And now like looking back, you know, okay, no, definitely doesn’t mean no.

Kate 

Yeah, at the time, you have no idea. You just feel like, oh, gosh, this is so incredibly hard. But yeah, I’m lucky enough, I’ve got the hindsight of having gone full circle and exited the business. I can see you know, the wins and the losses bit more clearly now.

Melissa 

Now, I would love to know too, is along that way, like you, you’re talking about, like getting knocked down a lot. We know it’s an emotional roller coaster life as a founder. What, about impostor syndrome? Is that something that you ever dealt with along the way?

Kate 

Yeah, I mean, I guess, in in my former life, I probably dealt with that. But I always, you know, managed it because I kind of you know, actually, I’ve got this many decades of experience, I know what I’m doing all that kind of thing. So it feels more irrational before. When you’re a founder, imposter syndrome feels entirely rational, because you are genuinely every single day, out of your depth, you’re always doing things you’ve never done before you don’t feel comfortable with, you’re outside your comfort zone. So it feels real, it feels like Well, I haven’t done this before. So you’re quite justified in thinking that you are an imposter in this situation. I mean, I, you know, worked for many years in marketing and branding, so I knew that side of the business. But I’d never pitched for investment. I’d never met a VC in my life. I’d never learned the language of business in that way. I’d never pitched to a retailer, I’d never worked with a manufacturer, all of the things that we were doing, we had never done so we did feel like imposters, we were winging it. But you have to learn very, very quickly. Because you learn in the very early days that nobody is coming to save you. You have to save yourself and each other if you’re lucky enough to have partners, but yeah, you just kind of have to feel that, you know, it’s cringy, it’s it’s cliche, but feel that fear and do it anyway. Because you’ve got no other choice. You just don’t have a choice. There’s nobody else that’s gonna bail you out. You’re just doing it. And you learn very quickly on the job.

Melissa 

What you reminded me, you know, sometimes I hear founders say like, it’s not imposter syndrome, I’m really an impostor

Kate 

Yeah exactly

Melissa 

But I think that can be so dangerous too, right? Because I think you can really get into a spiral of self doubt. If you think that like you really are an impostor, right? It sounds like you had some some tricks maybe to help you to take action, even though you had some some self doubt.

Kate 

Yeah, yeah. And I think probably we were each other’s trick. I mean, I’ve talked about me how my husband, he’s, honestly the most resilient person I’ve ever encountered. It’s incredible. The persistence, the resilience that this man has. And I think sometimes, you know, when I would, I think some of the, some of the challenges are very, they feel very personal as well, when it’s your business, I think, different than when you work for someone as an employee or something, you know, particularly when it comes to raising money. I think that was the time when I found most difficult, you know, right, in the early days, where, you know, you’ll meet up with investors, potential investors, and they’ll say, you know, because you’re an early stage business, it can’t be about the numbers. So it’s about you, and we don’t like you, and how can you fail to take that? So I think, you know, he would have to pick me up off the floor after a few of those meetings when it had felt really personal. And they were equally as awful to him as they were to me, but he’s just got this, you know, this strong backbone, so I’ve learned so much from him as well about that.

Melissa 

Oh, yeah, that’s great. I think like as co founders to be able to, you know, lean on each other your your different strengths and support one another. What about like…Okay, so So, I’m hearing this story you talked about about this journey of the company. It sounds like it was wildly successful. But was there any point in time where you were worried that it wasn’t going to succeed?

Kate 

Every single day, every single day right up until the end, you’re worried because there’s no such thing, as you know, too big to fail. We’ve seen that this week with Silicon Valley Bank, you know, I think we felt that we’re deeply embedded in the community of founders. And we felt that deeply. And, you know, I think at one point, we were even involved with Silicon Valley Bank, so it’s terrifying that even if you’re doing everything right something still outside your control can just wipe you out, can take you down. And you know, as a, as a, in the early days, in all the days, honestly, it feels like everything’s out to kill you, everyone’s out to get you, you know, this person is knocking you down, and there’s this batch of product that’s gone wrong, and you have to scrap it. And that was your last, you know, five pounds, $5, whatever. And you can’t afford to pay yourself that month. And you know, we’d often be saying, we’ve got enough money to last till the end of the month, and then we don’t know what’s gonna happen. And then you just somehow something just happens for us, we, you know, by luck or design, or a bit of both, you know, we were able to keep going. But honestly, every day, we saw big, big brands in our time, competitors being taken down. And it was, it was terrifying. So I think we were always on the edge of our seat. We never rested on our laurels at all.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Well, and that’s why this is called the Founders’ Fears and Failures, podcast, right? It is, fear is so common. And so I know you mentioned being able to lean on your husband as one source of support. Was there anything else that you found was helpful for managing some of those fears? And making sure they didn’t paralyze you?

Kate 

Um, yeah, I mean, I think I’m not sure. Honestly, I think I’ve kind of said, I think it was just the kind of just keep going to the end of the day feeling just don’t, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. Because if you think about everything that you’ve got to do, and everything you’ve got to achieve, you’re never gonna get to the end of that list of jobs, they always expanding and growing, I think you just have to kind of bring yourself up to the moment be like, okay, just focus on the task in hand, just get through the day, and then worry about tomorrow when it comes and everything could have changed overnight anyway. But it’s a lot of holding your nerve. And you know, if I could go back, I would say it’s going to be okay, because you don’t know it’s going to be okay, when you’re in it, you have no idea. If you’re wasting years of your life, and it will come to nothing. Or it will be wildly successful or or anywhere in between, you just don’t know until the end.

Melissa 

Yeah, well, I think I mean, it may sound quite simple to say take it day by day. But I actually think that’s incredibly powerful. I do a lot of mindfulness work with my clients, right. And that’s all about like, being in the moment, like you said, don’t like get overwhelmed by the big picture. So I think that’s an incredibly powerful tool to use to manage those fears. And it worked for you.

Kate 

Yeah, yeah. We’re here to tell the tale. Exactly.

Melissa 

And I’m so glad to you mentioned Silicon Valley Bank, because I think that it’s always challenging to be a founder, right. I think it’s always that emotional roller coaster. And this experience is just reminding, I think the whole ecosystem that you don’t know, like, what you’re saying, I think, a lot of founders, like they, they’re like, No, I do know I do, it’s gonna be okay. And I think it’s a way to kind of like, you know, talk yourself up and encourage yourself and manage some of those fears. But this, I think, has been a big blow to a lot of people’s confidence and feeling of security.

Kate 

Yeah, for sure. For sure. I mean, it’s funny how much it affected us over the weekend. You know, we’re out of it now, or currently, but we weren’t really stressed us out, you know, we know people that were affected. And yeah, terrifying. Yeah. And unforeseen.

Melissa 

Yeah, I have to tell you, I was feeling that as well. And my husband kept telling me he’s like, we don’t worry. It’s not like affecting us. Like we’re we don’t have a startup and, and I just kept telling him, I mean, I do think I’m quite an empath, you know, and I have clients who are affected, but even just reading things on LinkedIn, and you know, the people I’ve spoken with on this podcast, it’s just, it’s I really, it was heartbreaking to see it. And I know it was a really painful, on the edge of your seat kind of weekend for a lot of people. And I am sure the effects will be will be lasting, too. For many.

Kate 

Absolutely it’s that reality check that you know…

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Okay. Well, I want to ask you a question. Circling back to what we first how we first got started on the call today about being a mom and being a founder. Because I think you told me did you become a mother during this time, right, during the time of the company?

Kate 

Yeah, I think that’s why I started by saying the last couple of years can be summed up with that film title, Everything Everywhere All at Once. You know, what’s interesting is looking back at some of those early conversations we had with potential investors, some of them were not shy to say, I really hope you’re not planning on having a family, which kind of shocks me now because we were in our 30s, you know, that it’s now or never at a certain point with with having a family. So, you know, I can’t believe they were allowed to say that. I don’t think they really are. But um, but anyway, so we obviously ignored that question. And we got roughly established and then it got to a point where we were that age where it had to be sort of now or never, so we had our daughter who’s now three, the end of 2019 and it really was still just at the cusp of Curlsmith really taking off, I think it was, when she was born, we had only just managed to move out of our small flat in London and into her house, she was actually born the day that we moved house, which is not recommended. And it was just crazy. You know, they say the most stressful things in life are, you know, having a baby moving house, I would definitely add having a startup on to that. And we did all of that all at the same time moved to a new area as well. So, yeah, we were pretty, we took on a lot. And I think that also marked so that my role within the business changed a lot over the time, whereas how my husband was very consistently all in the business, I played different roles over the course of the company purely because we were a family business. So at the start, we couldn’t afford to pay ourselves for quite a few years. So we had to pay our mortgage and our bills somehow. So I had to split my time between freelancing to pay the bills and working for Curlsmith. And that was a kind of a tension in itself.

So that was the early stages. And then there was a period of time where I was able to be all in, then I went and had a baby. And then there was COVID, which meant I, we had to divide and conquer. And I was for a chunk of time out of the business looking in but playing that supporting role and looking after our daughter with very little support, because COVID. So that was another unique challenge that we faced. So I think I have been all in the business and I’ve been outside the business. And I would have a huge amount of empathy for the partners and spouses or of entrepreneurs, because that’s almost, I almost found that role harder than when I was all in the business as a full partner. Because you when you’re all in, you have a lot more empathy for what each other is going through. Because you’re in a more similar situation where it’s one of us in the business, one of us doing everything else, you don’t necessarily understand each other’s world and it can become incredibly lonely. So I think at one point, probably the most difficult period of the whole business was for personal reasons, really, the year after my daughter was born when me how was completely focused on the business. And I was completely focused on her. And we were on our own separate paths that were both incredibly difficult and challenging and COVID on top. So I think that was the hardest stage for us. But yeah, you know, it continues. Now you know, the balance. Every every working parent knows the challenges of just about kind of you just about managing to balance work and life. And then you get that phone call from daycare, and you know, your child has been recalled. And you’re like, I’m just doing something really important today, it’d be really helpful if you weren’t sick right now, all those nights where you’re up all night. I had it again last night. Actually, we’ve got another cold. It’s a constant colds, isn’t it this time? But yeah, so you never know when you’re going to be up all night with your child and then have to perform at the highest level in business. And when you are a founder that you can’t have time off. You don’t have holidays off. You don’t have sick days of sick pay anything like that. So yeah, I think it’s the same challenges that every working parent faces, but times 100. That’s how it felt to us.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Wow, I guess you really had the opportunity to improve your resilience. Have your resilience tested with all of those different changes? Right, the changes when your daughter was born? And then yeah, I’m just imagining the timeline a couple of months later. COVID. Right on top of that, yeah. So much to juggle there. So what about Yeah, I mean, do you have, because I’ve heard this before about other founders saying that one of the reasons why we see so few women, female founders or female founders, as part of a founding team, is because startups are often founded around that time where we’re, you’re thinking about families. And so I imagine that there are so many, well, female founders out there who are wondering like, am I going to be able to have children? Am I going to be able to fit that in? I’m also just wondering, like, do I really want to take on the role of founder because I want to start a family or I’ve recently started a family. You the question, but do you have any words of advice for for the women that might be in that position? And then yeah, but I do know, it often falls on on women more?

Kate 

Yeah, it’s the uncomfortable truth, isn’t it? That’s still, the burden of childcare tends to fall on women. I think and I hope I don’t want to be too demotivational. Because I’m really passionate about supporting female founders. And I’m actively mentoring some some female founders at the moment. I would say you should definitely do it. I mean, there’s no better feeling than being in control to you know, in inverted commas in control of your own destiny, to work for yourself and to follow something that you’re really, truly driven by and passionate about. And I think you’ve got a few options. I think the best thing you can do is not be in it alone. I think you need business partners, or if not a team, you know, I think we we struggled on with just two or three of us for a lot of the business and I think we made life hard for ourselves. So if you’re in a position where you can have a founder, a co founder or a team from the get go, that will massively help because then you can divide responsibilities and then you know if one of you has to take time away from business for whatever reason the others can can pick it up. I’m not sure how Curlsmith would have worked out because we were so lean. When I had my daughter, there were only three of us. So we were so lean at that point that I, I can’t imagine the business would have carried on, if not for having me help in it full time. But I think the other thing is, we were incredibly ambitious to a fault, I think we just kind of we were really thrusting for growth from day one. And you can choose to take it slower. And I think next time we do it, we would probably be like, okay, we can add another couple of years onto the timeline, that’s fine, just so that we can have a bit more work life balance, and we can have weekends off, and we can have evenings off. Because you have to do when you have a family you don’t, it’s not a luxury, that child needs looking after an intimate time with them. So you can’t work seven days a week and you can’t work all night anymore. So it might take longer, and you might need more support. But it’s it’s absolutely possible. And it probably would make it more enjoyable if you did it that way as well.

Melissa 

Yeah, I love that advice, right? Like, kind of that slow and steady wins the race sort of mentality, which is isn’t very common in the startup world, right? I think you’re right, there’s so many, it’s just like Rush, rush, rush, like, grow, grow, grow as fast as you can.

Kate 

Yeah, and I think you know, this time around, I think I’m so much more aware of the resources available for founders and for female founders. And, and I think a lot of it is quite recent, you know, even things like this podcast, I know of only one or two others where they’re tackling similar topics. Most of the content about founders is that very glamorous, founder story and you don’t see all the other bits and how they were making all the rest of it work together at the same time and the life part, and not just the work part. So there’s resources like that, I think, you know, if I would have been listening to podcasts like this, at the time, I would have found that really comforting. If I’d have known people like you who specialize in, you know, founder mental health, I think taking the time to find that external support and connect with other founders in the same boat and be allow yourself to be really honest, because I think one of the traps of being a founder is you’re always in pitch mode. Even if you’re in a social setting, you kind of feel always in pitch mode, like you can’t say anything negative. And that kind of perpetuates this myth that it’s easy for other people. And it’s not easy for you if you’re a founder, and you’re not hearing those, those struggles. So I think it’s the environment we’re in now is much better setup to support founders.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you. That’s my hope is that it is I think we are that we’re kind of at a turning point. And but I will say like something interesting I found with the podcast is that it it is more challenging to get people who are currently founders on the show, because I think there still is that pressure to show up as superhuman and basically as a founder. And of course, sometimes there’s money on the line, right? And so you want to portray a certain kind of facade we’ll say to you investors, right? And so it is, it can be very tricky to talk about some of these more vulnerable behind the scenes stories.

Kate 

Yeah, it’s definitely a good point. I think even from a personal point, I think, a year ago, or when I was still in the business, I would have found this a much more difficult conversation, because I wouldn’t have known how it was going to turn out. So I would have been terrified to reveal any of the struggles in case any of those struggles sort of took us down. But yes, I can completely relate to that. And also, you’re just a lot busier, it’s just so intense when you’re in the thick of it, but it might just be harder for them to find the time. But it’s interesting to see all ages, people at all stages in there. I’d love to hear from you really early stage founders as well.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, that’s my goal is as we grow, you know, we can get a mix of people at different stages. Yeah. Well, so we were just talking about your husband, and kind of, well, we were talking that your husband and we were also talking about your advice for people potentially think considering having a family having a co founder. But I would love to also know, what are some of those challenges that came with having a co founder, especially co founder who’s your spouse?

Kate 

Yeah, I mean, I would say it’s equal part pros and cons. It’s more pros, really, I think the biggest pro especially, you know, those times when I was able to be fully focused on the business as well is, you have so much more empathy for each other, when you really are in the business, and you really understand what they’re going through, and the huge things that are happening and all the spinning plates, I think you get on so much better. And you know, also sometimes it was, you know, for months and years on end, it was the only time we ever spent together was when we were working together. So I don’t think I would have seen him if I hadn’t been his co founder. So I you know, I really feel for the spouses that don’t work in the business because they you know, you have to be really strong to deal with a largely absent partner and someone who’s inside their own head even when they’re physically there. So I think it’s, it was I was much happier. We were much happier when I was fully in the business because we understood each other so much better. And I guess the you know, the other challenge I mean, especially in the early stages was purely financial. I mean if you’re both, if you and your partner are both in the business and all your eggs in that basket. If anything happens to the business that hits your family hard because there’s not an outside, you know, support system in terms of finances. So I think that’s why we we hedged our bets a bit at the start. And I was doing freelance work on the side, just to kind of make sure that we had some kind of income to pay the bills. But but that is a challenge. And, you know, I saw that it worked better when we were all in and I would have loved at the start to have had the luxury of being all in as well. I think I mean one of the good thing is you have to resolve conflict quickly, because you can’t let things that happening in the business affect your personal life, and vice versa. You can’t take it out on the business, you know, so you have to kind of get over stuff more quickly. So it was probably quite quite good for us.

Melissa 

Couples therapy, a version of couples therapy co founder therapy.

Kate 

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And I think the other the other good thing was, you know, getting to see your partner in their element, you know, performing at the top of their game being really impressive. I mean, often we don’t see our partners at work. I think, you know, what was interesting about COVID, and working from home was, some couples got to see their spouse in work mode for the first time. And that can be equal parts hilarious and frustrating. But, but you’re getting to see, you know, my husband really at the top of his game really thriving, really finding his, his role in life, his purpose was really inspiring. So that was, that was awesome. And having him see, the positives that I could bring to the business were incredibly different personalities and different skill sets. And we’re able to kind of combine those two things. And what makes us work as a couple makes us work as co founders as well.

Melissa 

I love that. Yeah, yeah. Well, I think I might have told you this in our first call is then I got into the world, I became an entrepreneur myself, because my husband was a co founder of a startup. And it is so lonely. When you’re just like on the sidelines and watching you, I was thinking of this when you were talking about how you would sometimes the only time you spent together was working together, because I was finishing my PhD at that point. And so we would just do like a like co working together, basically. And that was that was our quality time.

Kate 

Yeah, it’s sad, but true. And business trips become holidays. And most of our holidays became business trips as well. I mean, we went to a wedding in the states at one point, and we ended up at a bunch of trade fairs and a bunch of meetings. I was like, how did this, how did this happen? And every time you pass a store, we’d have to do a store, check. You know, it can’t help but infiltrate every part of your life. So I guess that’s the downside as well, when you’re working with your spouse, it can become all work and no fun. Sometimes.

Melissa 

Yeah, well, I think it does probably make it harder to kind of find those boundaries between work life and personal life.

Kate 

Yeah, for sure. For sure.

Melissa 

Yeah. Well, I would love to know what what about life now what about, you know, post selling, like having sold your company? You mentioned that it’s kind of like, it’s still like, you’re like, you’re still coming up for air I think it’s how you referred to it.

Kate 

Yeah, I think anyone who’s been through the process of, you know, building business, and even the last bit of, you know, selling the business is incredibly intense, and you’re always on the edge of your seat, and it adds an extra job on top of your day job. So it was it was incredibly intense for right up until the end. And then it was a very sudden stop. And I think we just we both got really sick. I think the body just like, we just got really, really sick for like a month. I think it was just like that release. I think it’s a common thing, I’ve heard you mention it before. So yeah, there was that we thought it would be like bang, opening the champagne. And it was, let’s just go to bed. But yeah, so it’s been it’s been really, you know, it’s hard to believe that it’s been a year, but I think we needed time to, you know, recover process, spend time as a family with our daughter, and our wider family who we massively neglected over the last few years. So I think they’re grateful to have us back in the family. And yeah, and now, you know, we’re obviously looking forward to the next thing. It’s not if it’s when and what it will be, but we’re full of ideas. And you know, we’re not retiring yet where there’ll be something next. But in the meantime, we’re taking the luxury of pursuing our passion projects, whether that’s, you know, supporting other founders or investing in other startups, or I’m writing a book as well at the moment. It’s great, you know, I love talking to people, it’s my favorite thing. And it just means I can have lots of conversations with lots of very, very interesting people. Most people expect it to be about business, and maybe we’ll write the Curlsmith story next, but this is much more of a like lifestyle oriented book is called “Help! I’m 30 ish”. And it’s, it’s basically a light hearted light touch, self help guide to navigating your 30s one life changing event at a time. And it covers a lot of things I’ve been through that everyone else has been through and obviously peppered with my experiences. But as part of that I’m speaking to everyone from kind of therapists to teachers to travel bloggers. So you name it anyone who’s got a perspective on life as a 30-something and those big events, getting married, having kids, starting a business, hating your job, travel, all those kinds of things that we go through. So it’s a super fun process. And something that I’ve always wanted to do. So I’m scratching that itch before we start the next business.

Melissa 

Yeah, I love it. I kind of think about, like, right now is like a parentheses sort of time for both of you. It sounds like to explore some other things. I love it. Yeah, well, what about anything like with in terms of when you said that, that was a really challenging time getting ready to sell the company? Any particular challenges that you went through that you kind of? I don’t know that you want to share about with that? Because I do think it’s a unique time for founders, right, like, you think it’s going to be really exciting. But it’s actually so stressful?

Kate 

Yeah, yeah, it was, it was stressful. And, you know, we weren’t fortunate enough by that point to have grown the team and have a really solid management team that were able to kind of carry us through that process. And we were clear that we wanted to exit as part of the deal. So a lot of founders stay on for several years, but that we were ready to move on. So we did a lot of work behind the scenes, but we didn’t necessarily have to do the face the outward facing side of things, but but it was still very, very up and down. And I think one of the challenges is when you grow really quickly, and you don’t set up that infrastructure. From the start, you don’t have all of your ducks in a row in terms of all the paperwork and all the policies, and everything’s signed off and dotted resume and moving at such pace. And also, you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to need. So the requests would come for, you know, vast quantities of paperwork and policies, and we’d frantically have to scramble things together, contact people that we haven’t worked within, you know, for five years and be like, Can you sign this thing? Whatever else, it was a lot of work to pull all of that together. It wasn’t just like one pitch, and you’re done. You know, you’re selling the company, so you have to sell everything in really good shape. And that’s a huge that’s a job in itself. Yeah, yeah.

Melissa 

Well, I would say then, no wonder that you both got sick afterwards. This is like that. It’s that crash of when you’re working just at a really high pace fast pace? And, yeah, it’s a consequence that that happens, but unfortunate, sometimes it is what has to happen as a founder.

Kate 

Yeah, yeah, I think so. It worked out. You know, it was a nice break, you know, after after that intensity was it was a relief.

Melissa 

Okay, there’s, I always ask that people come on the show, you might have heard it before, because I know you’ve listened to some of the episodes. What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time just starting on this entrepreneurial entrepreneurial journey?

Kate 

Yeah, I mean, I think I’ll probably said said most of the things, but it would definitely be if I could talk to myself about this particular situation, it would be just hang in there, just hold your nerve, because it will be worth it. And I think even if we hadn’t exited in a successful way, I think the things that we’ve learned, the connections we’ve made, the experiences we’ve had would have, they just made us kind of stronger, more resilient, and more capable people. So we’d be in a better position to start something new now. So just hang in there, hold your nerve would be the main thing. And that, that point about staying in the moment, so you can quit tomorrow, but today give it everything, and things could change. And that yeah, that thing about, you know, don’t see reframing failure, don’t see a failure as a failure. It’s not a no, it’s not now, you know, even a whole business can be a not now it can be a fantastic idea at the wrong time. So it’s not a failure. And don’t cut, don’t close any doors, because things come full circle, take it from me, you will be hearing from those people who have rejected you at the end, and it’s a great satisfaction. And then I would say, you know, probably do it a bit slower. I think next time we would do a bit slower, we would build in more support from the start both in terms of team but in terms of other outside building in time for our own sort of mental health and well being. Because it would be more sustainable. Even if it takes a year or two longer to grow the business to that scale, it would be worth it. Yeah, that’s it, but overall, wouldn’t change it for the world. We wouldn’t change it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, especially doing it at the same time as having a family and moving house and COVID and everything but you know, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.

Melissa 

I love it. Yeah. Well, I asked this question, you know, because I want people to listening to the show to learn, you know, from other people’s experiences. But there really is something about going through it yourself. That you you learned so much. And I don’t think anybody’s going to listen to this advice and completely avoid all of the, you know, the emotional rollercoaster, right. Like you’ll still have your own your own lessons to learn along the way.

Kate 

Yeah, exactly. You just you can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You have to go through it. As the book says. Yes, yes, exactly. Yeah,

Melissa 

I say that all the time to my clients, right. Like it’s gotta go through it. What about if people if people who are listening if they want to reach out and get in touch with you? Where can they find you?

Kate 

Probably the easiest way is LinkedIn. So Kate Berski Find me there. Or you can follow my journey of writing the book on Tik Tok and on Instagram. Help_Im_30 ish. I’ll see you there.

Melissa 

Awesome. Well, I’m gonna go I don’t think I think we’re connected. I know we’re connected on LinkedIn. I don’t think I’m following you over on Instagram. So I’m gonna follow you there, too. And I’ll list all of those links in the show notes too.

Kate 

Absolutely. And I might have a favor to ask you as well. Melissa, I’d love to turn the tables and interview you for the book. If if that’s something you’d be

Melissa 

Oh, I would love it. Yeah, let’s do it. But not on the show

Kate 

No, not we don’t have to be live.

Melissa 

Yeah, let’s do it. I’m excited. Wow, I feel very honored. I wasn’t expecting that. So thank you for the invitation.

Kate 

Of course. Thank you. And thank you so much for having me. And thank you for doing this. I think so many people like us would have found it so valuable. And so today’s fans are very lucky to have you.

Melissa 

Well, thank you so much, Kate. I really appreciate it. And thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation.

Kate 

Yeah, I agree. Thank you so much and take care

Melissa 

Thank you. Thanks

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HI I’M MELISSA

I'm a therapist-turned-coach who loves working with clients around the world! I work with the globally mobile community to support them through transitions as well as entrepreneurs who need support navigating the rollercoaster of entrepreneur life.

I'm also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) Community, a mom, a self-compassion advocate, and an aspiring author.

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