Never be the smartest person in the room.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bree Pear. A tech-nerd entrepreneur with a passion for humans and a drive to make waves in the world. In 2016 Bree founded Only Human — a platform for good that brings humans together for a deeper purpose. Bree believes that by building a community of like-minded humans willing to make changes in this world, we can create a ripple effect that’s felt on a global scale. In the current political climate, it’s more important than ever to bring humans together for the common good. For the last 30 years she’s trained herself to hone in on her strategic and logical left-brain while balancing the wild creativity and intense passion of the right. Together they form her professional drive with the realism for business and the creativity to give technology a human heartbeat. Most days you can catch Bree with her family, on a basketball court, pondering extraterrestrial life, or working on Only Human’s next Cause Campaign.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
While most kids enjoyed their lunch in the cafeteria, more often than not you could find me alone in a bathroom stall or making up an excuse to eat with a teacher in their classroom. The bullying started at the age of 10 and created a lack of self-esteem that caused me to hide for fear of being hurt. With very few friends I turned to the internet to escape. I cultivated relationships with people online who understood what I was going through. I found a passion for digital art and web development at a young age and found a way to block out the hurt by throwing myself into random projects. I learned my first HTML code by skinning my MySpace profile and quickly moved into building websites and designing digital art for the fun of it.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
In 2015 I lost my relationship, my house, and my job over the course of a couple months. I was the heaviest I had been in my entire life, and I had lost all passion and drive. My ah-ha moment happened in the middle of a bar watching yet another re-run of the same night playing out in front of me. I knew that if I wanted to make a difference, repeating the same day over and over and calling it a life was never going to make me happy. So that night I walked out of that bar with a new mindset. Over the next 12 weeks I lost 25 lbs, ditched a lot of negative friends, and started staying up until the wee hours of the morning building a platform that I wished I had when I was younger. When I started building Only Human, I didn’t have the vision that it would become my career, I was just doing what I had done my whole life. Except this time, it didn’t feel like all those meaningless projects I did as a kid. It felt like I unlocked my own potential.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
For me, the best ideas come from looking at the hardest moments in my own life and solving them. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that no matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone. In an era of social media and technology I struggled with true connection with others and a community that supported the healthy lifestyle I was cultivating. I can’t say that I “overcame” a challenge, but rather kept building. Each time I launched something new, people responded in support and it seemed like the next right step appeared in front of me. On a daily basis I have to find the courage to keep stepping.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Quit listening to what everyone else is telling you. When I sat down with my family and friends and told them that I was going to quit my full-time, bonus-giving, benefit-having job, they called me crazy. They expressed how scared for me and skeptical they were that I could become successful. Sometimes the people who love you the most will hold you back because of their own fears and doubts. It’s important to remember that their fear should not translate into your own.
On the flip-side, I’d also tell anyone to prove their concept before making the leap into making it a full-time career. I spent over a year building Only Human as a free resource before I thought about quitting my job.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Pretty early on in my journey I became really clear as to WHY I was doing the work, thanks to reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. It wasn’t for a paycheck, because that didn’t come for years. I wanted to start conversations that bring humans together so that we can create a less judgmental and more kind world. In that moment, I wrote myself a letter telling future me why I started and how important it is to keep going even when it’s hard. I’ll never forget the first human who walked up to me with tears in their eyes and told me that because of this community they didn’t take their own life. When the thing you love to do is also saving lives, it’s hard to not find gratitude in the work — even when it’s challenging.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
At the age of 20 I worked for Apple and I can clearly remember the first time I was introduced to their company values and mission. Ever since, I’ve absolutely loved building and cultivating company culture through shared values and vision. Building Only Human’s core values and then applying them to the work we do each day has been my favorite.
My least favorite (like many others) is that when you run your own business it’s hard to shut it off or step away. Thanks to these tiny devices in our hands we’re constantly accessible. I’ve learned that I need to schedule in time for myself, time with my family, and time to put all the screens away. I set appointments with myself to go to the gym, take a yoga class, meditate, or be with my fiancée and two kids.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There are so many more mundane admin tasks that you never think about before diving head first into being an entrepreneur. A prime example of this is accounting. I was never great at it and it was something I dreaded doing. So instead of hindering our success I found a professional to help with the things that I’m not good at. I’ve found as a business owner that I can be the thing that holds us back more than anything else. I know now that it’s ok to ask for help and it’s OK to admit you’re not good at something.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Absolutely. When my bank account was sitting at $6 and I had maxed out most of my credit cards, I had moments where I thought about getting a “real” job. But then I thought about what it would mean to work for someone else again and I quickly found a way to overcome the financial struggle. We’re built for survival and it always shocks me to see what I’m capable of when my back is against a wall.
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?
Listen, I’ve never designed apparel before Only Human and I’ve never EVER had to showcase said apparel to the public to entice them to buy it. Long story short, it’s embarrassing looking at some of the original vendor events we did and how poorly we displayed our products and told our story. I vividly remember not even having hangers at the first event, bundling all the shirts and having them stacked in huge piles on folding tables, and no easy way to ring someone up. Needless to say we’ve gotten SO much better at event planning and booth setup.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Simon Sinek, Oprah, Seth Godin, and Peter McKinnon. The leaders I find myself trying to emulate all seem to be very clear as to who they are serving and why it is they do what they love. They all work to impact the world around them in positive ways and tend to have a philanthropic mindset.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Every. Single. Day.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It will never feel perfect — launch it anyway.
- Ask for help on the things you’re not good at.
- Never be the smartest person in the room.
- Pay your quarterly taxes instead of waiting until the beginning of the year.
- Find a collaborative tool for task management and start to document all of the company processes early on.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m lucky enough to be living this dream. Only Human is a movement of good humans doing good things for good causes. We sell apparel that we call “conversation starters” and we get to impact lives each month through storytelling, donations, volunteering, and community building. We have an Advocate community of over 4,000 humans that exists in 40 different countries and counting, so these conversations have become global. I wake up every day with gratitude knowing that the work I’m doing is touching lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come from it.”
Sometimes all it takes is pushing through the fear that can feel crippling in order to get the life you’ve dreamed of. More often than not, a decision that takes 20 seconds to make can cause a ripple effect that completely changes the course of your life.
Some of the biggest 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.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.