Celebrate successes — No one should rest on their laurels, but it is important to take time to reflect on how far the business has come and all you have accomplished as a founder. In times of great success, this will keep you humble and in times of trouble this will keep you hopeful.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Krupp. Heidi Krupp is the founder and CEO of her namesake, award-winning PR agency, Krupp Kommunications. She launched her business in 1996 from her studio apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey and over the last 25 years has become an industry leader in marketing, branding and communications.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA with a mother who worked in a clothing store and a dad who was a cab driver. They spent each and every day meeting new people, learning their stories and making a friend out of everyone. I always admired how they were extroverted, inclusive and sociable. They made everyone feel special, and treated them as true equals.
Being able to model and mirror my parents’ connectedness was incredibly natural, but I was adopted and had a hard time feeling like I was truly connected to the world around me, in the same way that they did. This was not on my parents, because I know they loved me very much, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone, somewhere, was connected to me that I didn’t know. I wonder if part of me was yearning for even more and more connection as a result of this unknown.
Eventually I realized I could feel more connected to the world by listening to other’s stories, just as my parents did. In connecting with others’ stories, I was able to feel more connected to myself because I learned that I was able to make a difference in other people’s lives just by listening to them. I had no idea this was even a career path or that I could make a living out of listening to people and making them feel special in the same way my parents did for me. In my career, I decided to take it one step further — I wasn’t just going to absorb the wonderful stories I learned from the people I met; I was going to share them with the world to bring a feeling of connectedness to everyone.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting and exciting moments in my career was working on a world exclusive crisis with the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, at the exact time I was trying to start my family.
My husband and I were on our ninth round of fertility treatments. I only had enough physical, mental and emotional capacity for one more round of IVF. We made the plan to go to Las Vegas, where my doctor was located, so that I could be away from the grind of New York City, and focus solely on self-care and have a successful transfer and positive pregnancy.
The Monday prior to my scheduled trip was Book Expo (BEA) in New York, which brought all of the best authors, producers, hosts and influencers to town. I went out to dinner with some of my “Oprah friends” who at the time were working on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Their phones were ringing off the hook and they kept excusing themselves from the table. I couldn’t figure out why since the show had wrapped for the season. It was later revealed that The Duchess of York was dealing with a crisis that was leading the headlines in the news. I was called upon to help her team determine the best path forward and if, when, how and to whom she would share her side of the story.
The Duchess specifically requested my help because of our previous work together while she was the spokesperson for what was then known as Weight Watchers. I was humbled and honored that she turned to me, and we ended up working with The Oprah Winfrey Show on a world exclusive. Anyone in our profession knows that when someone needs help, and you are able to do so, you jump right in. That is exactly what I did.
I made my husband and fertility doctor a promise that I would stay calm so that we could make this ninth and final cycle a success. As love, luck and the universe would have it, on my ninth fertility cycle, exactly nine months after the interview took place, we would deliver our son, Caden.
Despite the chaos and stress, working on this with the Duchess of York took my mind off of things and removed some of the pressure and stress my body was under as I tried to will it towards pregnancy. I had to focus on what I could control and the task at hand. Helping her helped me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my career, I was taking my client, the late Dr. Ruth Peters, around to network with some producers of top-tier national television shows. We called an elevator to go up to our first meeting and when the doors opened, one of the most famous television personalities was standing right there in front of us. Without a second thought, I nudged Dr. Peters right into the elevator, practically forcing her to stumble over herself. Many would say that pushing a client into an elevator was a mistake, but the persistence paid off because a week later she was booked on one of the most coveted talk shows.
This was the first time I had ever met Candi Carter, who is now the executive producer of The Tamron Hall Show. She took that meeting with me from a cold call, and to this day, the two of us giggle about this story and reminisce about the start of our strong personal and professional relationship.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I met my mentor, Jan Miller, one of the top literary agents through Catherine Crier, who I worked for at ABC News 20/20. Jan was telling me about her work in publishing and the amazing people she represented over her career. I was fascinated by her work and how she started her own business, even though I knew nothing about the book industry or entrepreneurship.
Jan would walk into the room and take the air out of it. Her energy was infectious and her positive attitude made everyone around her happier. Without even knowing me, she believed so much in my potential and inspired me to be greater and bigger than I could have ever imagined.
Jan is the one encouraged me to start my own business and told me that all I needed was 5,000 dollars because that was how she started hers. It was almost like she knew it would plant a seed in my head. A bit later I sold a car that I had inherited from my grandmother for exactly 5000 dollars cash, put the cash under my mattress and called Jan, saying “I sold my car, now what?”
Before I knew it she was setting up meetings for me, introducing me to people who she thought I could help, sending me clients, and telling me all the ins and outs of the public relations industry. Jan believed in me and my energy, put me on the right path and helped me find the courage and confidence to continue to do so. I am so blessed to call her a mentor, friend and my son’s godmother.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I have met so many women whose confidence had been shaken and had neglected to start their own businesses because of the stigmas around being a powerful female and the lingering standard that a woman’s place is in the home. Especially now with COVID, women are being sent back into their homes and many are stopping work altogether because the world of a year ago is not the one we live in today.
This is where mentorship and a women-helping-women mission comes into play. I feel like a lot of women, myself included, either aren’t aware of mentorship or don’t know how to find a mentor — I was not even seeking out a mentor at the time I met Jan, but now I couldn’t imagine my life without her influence. My entire livelihood would not exist as it does today. There is an incredible community of women founders, investors, and industry powerhouses out there who love helping others grow and it is so important for aspiring female founders to seek them out.
On the other side of the coin, women who have found success need to be empowered to share their successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses. Oftentimes, women who have “made it” are reluctant to share the not-so-glamourous parts of founding a business because of this pressure to be perfect. Unfortunately, women are working within a much smaller margin of error. Founding a business is hard and without other women being open about the ugly parts, aspiring founders can easily feel “stuck”.
Role models and mentors are what will fix this issue. As women, we need to build each other up and support one another. One woman’s success is not another’s a failure. We are better together than apart. It is time for all of us, as Dr. Shefali would say, to “radically awaken” to our truths.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Two-way mentorship and industry-representation is how we can overcome the obstacles women face.
Aspiring female founders should seek out a woman they trust and believe in, and who believes in turn, believes in them back. The world is a better place when we work with each other rather than against. Additionally, women who have “made it” should make themselves open and available as a mentor because listening to, guiding through and connecting with one another makes us all stronger.
industry representation is so important to include here as well. Not only should industries look to bring in more women but they should also strive to bring in a more diverse group of women. You can’t be what you don’t see, and when women are able to see someone with similar background and experiences to them, it helps assure them that success is within their reach. We’re making strides in this area as a society, like the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States, but there is still a long way to go. Everyone deserves the same opportunities that this girl from Pittsburgh had, and I’m ready to be part of this mission and show young women how to get onto the path to success.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women are emotionally connected to our communities and cultures. We are compassionate beings who care for one another, collaborate well and often, and prioritize communication and conversation.
These elements are ingrained in women so deeply that we often do not realize them as strengths until someone pulls them out of us. The world is better off when we recognize and utilize our strengths, which is why I believe that there should be more women founders.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth is that your business will eventually reach a point where it can no longer evolve. I’m starting my 25th year in business, and every couple of years I ask:
How do I evolve?
How do I change to meet current demands?
How do I keep growing?
What more can I learn?
The world changes around us every day and so do the ways in which people do business and make connections with one another. Businesses that will last are the ones that are able to change with the times while maintaining true to their core purpose.
The best way for a business leader to evolve is to be a lifelong student and seek out people who are smarter than you. I like to think of being a founder as being a coach. The coach has the game plan but needs to figure out how to build their team, inspire a culture of collaboration, and help everyone win together. Coaches need to not only find the right people, but to put them in the right positions. The right people and positions will change, but the overarching goal should not.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
All women can unleash their potential and be a founder of their own lives. Every day, women are founding their families through motherhood, founding new friendships through their desire for connectedness, and founding their purpose through harnessing their passions.
Not everyone can start a business, but everyone can be the agent of change and creator of something wonderful in their own lives each and every day.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Refuse to take no as an answer — “no” just means “not today” or “not right now.” The only doors that are truly closed are the ones you shut yourself out of.
2. Bet on yourself — I was working in New York at my dream job, most people would have thought I was crazy to give it all up and try something on my own. I believed I could, so I did.
3. Work with others who you believe in, and who believe in you — saying no to partnerships and contracts may seem crazy when you are just starting out, but you are able to put more passion into projects that truly resonate with you and are able to produce better work when you’re not doubting yourself.
4. Celebrate successes — No one should rest on their laurels, but it is important to take time to reflect on how far the business has come and all you have accomplished as a founder. In times of great success this will keep you humble and in times of trouble, this will keep you hopeful.
5. Make self-care a priority — Health is wealth, and I know that I cannot be the best for those around me if I am not being the best for myself. Mental and physical health are your most powerful resources.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My entire business is based on my ability to tell stories, and I prioritize working with clients who I truly believe in and who have a mission to inspire others. I believe that by using my skills as a storyteller to make these immensely inspirational voices heard, I am doing my part to make the world a better place. Because I choose to work with people who make a difference in the world, I am a catalyst of change.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Especially since becoming a mother, I believe that our children are our future and that anything we can do to support them benefits us all. I would love to figure out a way to help children around the world share their biggest dreams and connect them with the mentors, leaders and difference-makers who can help them realize their dreams. Support from others is how we unleash our full potential, and we often don’t think about mentorship or expert guidance until we are much older. I believe our future is limitless if we show children what they can achieve with their boundless energy and creativity and give them the tools to get there.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to sit down with Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group. I especially admire his letter to himself, “Advice To A Much Younger Me” and the way in which he discusses the importance of imagination, dreaming big, resilience through failure, having a kind heart and enjoying every day.
This all resonated with me. My son Caden was six at the time I first read this. I want to be able to inspire not only my son, but young people everywhere, to believe that it is possible to fulfill even our most incredible dreams, even those we haven’t thought of or realized. It would be amazing to foster an environment that will help my son, his friends and all other children harness their full potential.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.