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Author and Angel Investor Kim Perell: “How I Was Able To Thrive Despite First Experiencing Impostor Syndrome”

Stop comparing yourself to others. Focus on being the best version of yourself and embrace what makes you different and unique. Everyone has their own special talents — the key is to find yours and execute on what you are good at. What other people have or haven’t accomplished has nothing to do with you. […]

Stop comparing yourself to others. Focus on being the best version of yourself and embrace what makes you different and unique. Everyone has their own special talents — the key is to find yours and execute on what you are good at. What other people have or haven’t accomplished has nothing to do with you. Focus on your own journey. It’s the best way to make sure you’re staying true to yourself and not trying to be someone you’re not.


Asa part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Perell. Kim is an award-winning entrepreneur, bestselling author, angel investor, and tech CEO. Laid off from her dream job out of college, Kim started her first company from her kitchen table, going from broke to a multi-millionaire by the time she was 30, and selling her last company for $235 million in 2014. Kim is an angel investor in over 70 startups, 15 of which have successfully been acquired. Kim attributes her success to her ability to execute, which inspired her to write her bestselling book, The Execution Factor: The One Skill that Drives Success.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Ofcourse! I grew up in Portland, Oregon, the daughter of two entrepreneurs. I was born a twin, and quickly learned that I wasn’t “the smart one” after my twin sister and older brother got into the gifted and talented program… and I didn’t. But it helped me decide at an early age that regardless of innate abilities, luck, or anything else, I was going to control my destiny and be successful.

Fast forward to graduating from college. I felt as though I’d finally done it. I accepted a job as a marketing analyst at a dot-com. I was there when we raised our first million and when we raised $120 million more in venture capital shortly after. Quickly, we expanded to over 300 people. I oversaw the entire Internet marketing and sales division. At 23, I had 30 people reporting to me, many of them close friends and people I knew from college who I wanted to share the opportunity with. I was on top of the world.

Well, it didn’t last. As quickly as it all began, it started to fall apart. In March 2001, the dot-com bubble burst and the company went bankrupt. I had to lay off all of my colleagues and some of my dearest friends. When I was done laying them off, the company fired me too. At 23, I was broke, unemployed, and totally directionless.

But hitting rock bottom made me realize what I wanted. I shifted my thinking and vowed to build something on my own that would allow me to live the life I wanted. Something that wouldn’t end in disaster!

So I set out to start my own digital marketing company. People doubted me. They told me I had no idea what I was doing. They told me to play it safe. But I chose to believe in myself instead of believing them. I decided to press forward, against all odds. My confidence was greater than everyone else’s doubt, and that’s what made all the difference.

And that risky little company? Turns out, it wasn’t a failure at all. What started as a $10k loan from my grandmother turned into a bustling startup run from my kitchen table… which eventually turned into a multimillion-dollar company. By pursuing my dreams and choosing to believe in myself, I gained so much more than I ever could have imagined.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I’ll tell you about a time when I thought I was about to lose absolutely everything all over again. I’ll never forget it.

I was at IKEA on a weekend one fateful day over a decade ago at my previous company when I got a call from my tech guy telling me our servers had failed. And our backup server… well, it didn’t exist. We were operating on a bare-bones budget, and a backup server had seemed too expensive. That one server represented our entire business. I thought it was the end of my company.

I pushed through it, accepted responsibility, and worked tirelessly to make things right. That experience taught me how to accept accountability, be transparent about my efforts, and always (always!) make sure to have a backup server. We ended up not losing a single client, and I was much better prepared for the future. That was one of many experiences that taught me how to be resilient in the face of obstacles. And I believe that attribute is one of the major keys to my success.

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

I understand the value and importance of relationships. I know we can achieve so much more together than I can alone.

I’ve built a team of people with incredible potential. I spend a great deal of my time fostering relationships, getting to know people, and helping people succeed in their area. We encourage each individual within the company to execute on their own, giving them the freedom and the trust they need to be “intrapreneurs” within the company. I’m always seeking out win-win scenarios and looking for ways to better leverage the talents of those around me. We’ve integrated mentorship and knowledge-sharing into our culture. We also have a culture of regularly expressing gratitude and recognition.

Our incredible people are definitely what makes my company special. One day, a colleague of mine came into my office and said, “Thank you, Kim.” I responded, “You’re welcome! What’s going on? Do you need me for something?” She laughed and said, “Nothing’s going on. I just wanted to thank you for all you do for us here.” And then she left. No hidden agenda, no ulterior motive. In 30 seconds, she gave me one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had at work. My company is filled with exceptional people like that.

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?

I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my grandmother. When I was broke, unemployed, and looking to start a business, just about no one believed in me. So many people told me not to go through with it. But my grandmother was different. She always supported me. She always made me feel loved, capable, and special. And she did more than just tell me she believed in me — she showed me by giving me a 10k loan, right when I needed it most when I was starting that. Without my grandma’s belief in me, I would have not been able to start my first company.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?

Impostor syndrome is feeling like everyone has it figured out except for you. It’s doubting whether you really deserve to be where you are now, even if you know logically that you’ve worked so hard and tried your best to do things right. You experience feelings of self-doubt, even a fear of being “found out”.

What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?

Impostor syndrome can make people less likely to take risks and ask to get. And in business, being able to take risks can make all the difference. It also affects your overall wellbeing. It makes it harder to celebrate and really savor achievements. It casts a shadow over every success.

People who struggle with impostor syndrome also usually don’t see themselves and their potential as clearly as others might. They might struggle with self-doubt despite having many great qualities and achievements.

The key to overcoming this is you must ask to get. Be relentless in terms of drive and determination to succeed. And try again if you fail. Because you will fail, repeatedly. You have to A.S.K. to G.E.T. Ask for opportunity. Ask for the investment. Ask for the support. Ask for the introduction. Ask for the sale. Ask for the meeting. Ask for what you want — worst is you don’t get it. To be successful you have to be willing to risk failure. The world needs everything you have to offer. As you embrace your fears for what they really are and press forward courageously, you’ll find that success is just as real a possibility as failure is. Work hard, focus on what you can achieve, fail the best you can, and learn every step of the way. It’ll diminish your feelings of imposter syndrome.

How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?

When you’re in the thick of it, struggling with impostor syndrome, you tend to put others on a pedestal. Since you feel like some others are far above you, you might defer to them to make decisions and have some trouble asserting yourself. You also might have a hard time opening up about how you feel to others, since you worry that feeling like you don’t deserve to be where you are is compelling evidence that you truly don’t.

But once you’ve learned to manage it, it can help you empathize with others. Because it’s really amazing how common it is. My experiences have helped me really connect with fellow female entrepreneurs who feel some of the same things I did when I was starting out.

We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?

Absolutely. When I first started my own company, I was terrified. I was young, I had just gotten fired, and I was broke. Everyone doubted me. And even though I chose to press forward, block their voices out, and believe in myself, I was still terrified. But I felt the fear and did it anyway. Ultimately, your confidence must be greater than your doubt. As an entrepreneur and executive, a huge part of success is that you keep going despite doubt and uncertainty.

Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?

I believe I did. Rather than focus on feelings of self-doubt or worry, I focused on my vision and my passion. I zeroed in on the things I wanted to achieve and the things that made me feel grateful to be alive. Because those were the things that were the most authentic and true to me.

I also learned to master my emotions. Sometimes, we act as though fear and self-doubt are facts. Really, they’re just emotions that are only as powerful as we make them. I stopped allowing those feelings to overwhelm me or distort my reality.

I’ve also surrounded myself with successful people who support me and challenge me.

In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Talk about it.
A few years ago, a CEO of a company I invested in called me and said, “Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and you have all these people looking at you for leadership but you doubt yourself?”

His question surprised me for a few reasons. For one, I was shocked to hear that he felt that way. He had always struck me as someone who was so self-assured and capable. I had nothing but confidence in his abilities.

But I was also surprised because his worries were so, so familiar to me. I knew exactly how he felt. I’d felt that way countless times early on.

Talking out how you feel with successful people you trust can help you realize how common and normal your feelings are. It can also help you see the way you look through their eyes.

2. Invest in relationships.

Surround yourself with successful people who want your success to continue. Find a mentor and peers who see your potential and believe you deserve to be where you are.

I believe that at the very least you should always, at any given time, have a mentor, be mentoring somebody else, and have a group of peers who are at your level with whom to share resources, cross-references, and gut-checks.

3. Master your emotions.
Too often, we act as though fear and self-doubt are facts. Really, they’re just emotions that are only as powerful as we make them. Don’t let those feelings overwhelm you or distort your reality.

Choose to listen to positive emotions like self-belief, trust, and hope. Give far less weight to negative feelings or self-talk. The belief in yourself must be greater than anyone else’s doubt, including your own. This was absolutely key for me when I decided to start my own company.

4. Stop comparing yourself to others.
Focus on being the best version of yourself and embrace what makes you different and unique. Everyone has their own special talents — the key is to find yours and execute on what you are good at. What other people have or haven’t accomplished has nothing to do with you. Focus on your own journey. It’s the best way to make sure you’re staying true to yourself and not trying to be someone you’re not.

5. Focus on your vision & your passion.
Zero in on the things you want to achieve. Set a clear, specific, meaningful vision of something you want to accomplish. Then, make that your North Star. Let it guide everything you do. I always write down my vision and put it on my bathroom mirror so I’m reminded of it every single day.

And make sure you’re devoting plenty of time to your passions, the things you’re willing to sacrifice for, things that make me feel grateful to be alive. Because those are the things that are the most authentic and true to you. They’re the things you were truly meant to do, regardless of abilities or talents.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement is ExecutionI attribute my success to my ability to execute. Execution is the ability to DO — get things done, the right things — to get results. To learn to adapt and change, and keep moving forward despite the challenges, hardships and obstacles that lay ahead. Execution is what separates the dreamers from the doers, and it’s the trait that all successful people have in common. I am so lucky I get to share this skill with others through my book, The Execution Factor, designed to help people achieve success in business and life through mastering execution.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to share a meal with Arianna Huffington, Sara Blakely or Oprah Winfrey. All these women serve as inspiration, showing women around the world that if you follow your passion, work hard, and execute on your vision, you can create not only an amazing company but a movement. These women prove that anything is possible.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @kimperell.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

You’re very welcome! Thank you for shedding light on such an important issue.

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