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Kary Oberbrunner of Igniting Souls Publishing Agency: “When you feel like quitting, you’re often close to a breakthrough”

When you feel like quitting, you’re often close to a breakthrough. One day, I was out on a hike, looking down on the city. I could see a beautiful blanket of fog covering my town. As I watched the fog, I started noticing that some of the details on the other side of fog were […]

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When you feel like quitting, you’re often close to a breakthrough.

One day, I was out on a hike, looking down on the city. I could see a beautiful blanket of fog covering my town. As I watched the fog, I started noticing that some of the details on the other side of fog were a bit hazy, and I couldn’t see a clear path to the other side. It reminded me of all the struggles we all go through when we feel like we keep hitting obstacles or experiencing failures. Because that fog is there we can’t see that on the other side, success is just waiting for us to toss away our fear to venture through the dense fog. This is a physical representation of the gap that exists between what we know is possible and what we see on the other side. Rather than quitting, we need to push through.


As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kary Oberbrunner, CEO of Igniting Souls Publishing Agency, is an author, coach, and speaker who helps individuals and organizations clarify who they are, why they’re here, and where they’re going so they can become souls on fire and share their message with the world. In the past twenty years, he’s ignited over one million people with his content. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Kelly, and three children.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My story started back when I was a young man at 23 years old. I held a knife in my hand, I was ready to carve the F-word into my body yet again. Here I was in grad school. I was studying how to help people pursue more joy and peace in their lives, but I was still stuck in my own life. Three questions haunted me all the time: Who am I? Why am I here? And where am I going? These questions seemed to come into my awareness all the time, and because I didn’t know the answers, I took all that anger and frustration, and I fell into this addiction of self-injury. I struggled, and I suffered.

But that day, something changed. That day, I decided that never again would this struggle define my life. I wanted a new story. So, I gathered around me mentors, and I began to explore the answers to those questions. Slowly, over time, as I journeyed deeper into this exploration of myself, I began to find the answers I needed. And I went to other people and asked them questions about their journey. I shared with them the answers I found. Something amazing happened when I did that: they began to experience the same clarity I had found for myself. I knew right then my purpose was to ignite souls.

I realized that most people were self-injurers too. Maybe not with a physical blade, but they self-injure with self-limiting beliefs, like “I don’t have enough,” or “I’m not worth enough.” These are the people my heart aches for. I have reoriented my life and my purpose to help others discover the answers to these three questions so they don’t have to experience regret anymore. When they answer those questions for themselves, they become a soul on fire.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

In grad school, I worked hard to first get my master’s degree, then my doctorate. I worked my way up the ladder in a faith-based organization. Though I was a leader in that organization, I knew something was missing, but I wasn’t brave enough to make the jump to freedom. Then, one night, I watched Shawshank Redemption, and I resonated with Andy Dufresne’s story. I watched him suffer through his time in prison — a man convicted of a crime he hadn’t committed — and like me, he had a choice to make. Do we stay locked inside this prison, or do we find a way to break free? I ended up taking the risk to chip through the prison wall and escape to freedom. Later, I stepped out of my internal prison and into a literal prison when I walked into Ohio State Reformatory, where Shawshank Redemption was filmed. There, I wrote my book, Day Job to Dream Job, and I’ve done many masterminds in that historic museum since then.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Back when I first started out as a speaker and executive coach, I was having a discussion with one of my mentors — Chet Scott, who wrote Becoming Built to Lead — I told him about an upcoming corporate gig I had because I was struggling with how I was going to serve their employees. After an intense back-and-forth conversation, he told me a searing truth: “I don’t believe you.” Then, he cussed me out and hung up the phone. Ouch.

I stood in silence. After the feeling of wanting to vomit passed, I knew I had to find a way to close the gaps that existed in my actions. Through all the teaching I’d delivered to my clients, I hadn’t applied those lessons where it mattered the most — my own life. I had to shed my own self-limiting beliefs if I wanted to continue helping others. In that moment, I made the choice to leave my day job forever.

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

I can sum up who we are with the word GPS. Our four core values function as our GPS literally and figuratively. Growth-Minded Grit, Positive Optimism, Show up Filled Up, and Servant Leadership. Everyone on our team encompasses each of these four values. When I left my day job, there was a huge culture shift in the work I did. I liked my job, but I didn’t love it. The fact that we needed a two-hour meeting — with 18 people attending — to discuss how we collected the offering blew my mind. That was two hours any one of us could have spent helping someone in need, but the corporate culture of endless meetings took that opportunity away. From then on, I decided I wanted to dive into work that offered real value. I’ve never attended a meeting like this again and I never will.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

  1. Add costs or risks to your goals.
  2. Take a pause, step back, and ask yourself, “What’s the cost if I don’t achieve my dream?” Write it down and make it real. Then, when you set your deadline to finish the next task associated with your dream, you understand what consequences you’ll face if you’re not successful. That raises the stakes and adds a specific cost to your dreams.
  3. Celebrate the small wins.
  4. Many people are focused on one big goal: write a bestseller, double their income, start a business, etc. But when we frame it that way, we don’t stop to consider that there are so many smaller successes along the way. When we’re only focused on one big goal, we often feel discouraged by the enormity of it all. By breaking our big goal into many micro-goals we experience progress faster. Progress leads to celebration which leads to confidence to tackle the next micro goal. This process creates a flywheel effect which leads to more and more momentum.
  5. Be resilient.
  6. Another component I recommend is resilience. Time after time, I’ve met with rejections, disappoints, and failures along my way to success. But every time, I told myself it’s not my final resting place. This one tiny failure is not a stop sign. Rather, it’s a sign to keep going, to push forward a little harder to achieve my dream.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Back when I was a pastor — and still to this day — Chet Scott, who I mentioned earlier, was one of my first mentors who helped me see what I couldn’t. We were having a conversation one day about my desire to leave the church to focus on my career as an author. As I spoke, he listened, then he got real quiet. Eventually, I asked him point-blank, “What do you think?”

He said one thing to me that really resonated: “You can’t take the ring and stay in the Shire.” Being a Lord of the Rings fan, I knew exactly what this meant, and his words fired me up. By trying to pursue my career as an author while still working as a pastor, I was trying to go on the journey without committing to actually leaving. So, shortly after, I took that big, scary step, and I’ve been able to celebrate so much success along the way.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Good companies generate income, while great companies create income AND impact. When I coach my team or my clients, I try to help them generate at least one of the following three things: impact, influence, and income. Of course, income is important to visually measure your financial success, but without those other two elements, a company can easily be forgotten and replaced by another leader who isn’t afraid to lead his or her company to greatness. Money is not a measure of how great one can be — it’s all about the mark they leave on the world once they are gone. If a company were to evaporate suddenly, how would the community feel about its departure? When an entrepreneur leads with that question, I feel they are on their way to claiming true greatness.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. When you feel like quitting, you’re often close to a breakthrough.

One day, I was out on a hike, looking down on the city. I could see a beautiful blanket of fog covering my town. As I watched the fog, I started noticing that some of the details on the other side of fog were a bit hazy, and I couldn’t see a clear path to the other side. It reminded me of all the struggles we all go through when we feel like we keep hitting obstacles or experiencing failures. Because that fog is there we can’t see that on the other side, success is just waiting for us to toss away our fear to venture through the dense fog. This is a physical representation of the gap that exists between what we know is possible and what we see on the other side. Rather than quitting, we need to push through.

2. Step outside your comfort zone.

Like many people, prior to the pandemic I used to travel. Going to the same fitness center in the hotels I stay at — at whatever city I’m visiting — can be a little monotonous. Sure, it’s the expected thing to do. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s safe. But when you do what’s predictable, your mind goes on autopilot to preserve energy. One morning I woke in my hotel room, and I knew I had a decision to make: did I want to do another treadmill or elliptical workout or did I want to get my exercise while exploring an unfamiliar city? I chose the unpredictable route. With no idea of where I was going or who I’d meet along the way, I just took off jogging to give my mind the experience of novelty. You see, performing the same routines every day hacks our brains and robs us of the opportunity to grow from good to great. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with having a set routine, but I think once in a while, doing the unexpected things clears a path for greatness.

3. Seek out rejection.

When I was younger, the thought of being rejected scared me. As a result, I didn’t put myself out there. And you know what I learned during that period of my life? I learned that I never had to live through failure because I never tried to achieve anything. We will always get rejected. That’s a fact we can’t deny. These days, I wake up with a goal to get rejected every day because it reminds me of how much I’ve grown and the opportunities that are still out there for me to grab onto. Just the other day, I tried for something huge, and I received a nice rejection email back. Did it stop me in my tracks? Absolutely not. I put that rejection behind me, and I moved toward the next opportunity. Who knows?

4. Don’t give your power away to other people.

There are two types of people in the world: victims and victors. Victims let the world happen to them, while victors happen to the world. Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about a product she had in mind to create based off a particular skill she had. I asked her point-blank, “So, are you going to create your product or not?” She told me it depended on whether she got hired to speak at a conference who was interested in that skill. If they hired her to speak, she said she would create that product. If not, she wouldn’t. She gave her power away to an outside source to determine whether she was a worthy speaker or not. At that moment, she had accepted her role as victim. Then I asked her, “Are you a victim or a victor?” If you want to move beyond settling for good to owning your greatness, you must happen to the world instead of letting the world happen to you.

5. Don’t ignore the warning signs.

I’m an avid cyclist, and I recently went in to have my bike checked out at the shop. They told me one of my tires had a small knick in it, but they thought it should be fine. I asked for their advice, and they said I could put some tape on the tube to reinforce it, and I shouldn’t have any issues. Fast forward a few weeks. I was out on my morning bike ride, and sure enough, the tire went flat during rush-hour traffic. Because I didn’t heed the warning that something could go wrong with my bike in the future, I got stuck on the road of life. Luckily, having a flat tire only derailed my life for about fifteen minutes that day. Many times in life we see warning signs that we ignore. Here is the cold, hard truth: if you ignore the warning signs that come up in your business, you will get stranded like I did. And it’s not always going to be a fifteen-minute delay. Sometimes it’s much longer: days, weeks, months, or even years of pain you have to suffer through. To move from good to great, you need to start looking at the warning signs all around you. Pay attention to what’s happening in your industry and find a way to respond so you can avoid that future pain.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

When I was preparing to launch the Unhackable book, I wanted to ignite souls in the process. I just wasn’t sure how to do this. Then “out of nowhere” comes B1G1.com! I met with the director, Paul Dunn. He told me every book purchase could change someone’s life somewhere in the world! It’s a new way of thinking and doing business. I said, “I’m in!”

Guess what? We did it. Every purchase of Unhackable allowed me to give even more back to B1G1 and save a sex slave, dig a well, feed a family. We created over 6,000 impacts globally. We changed more lives and sold more books in the process. It was a win-win.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

For me, it’s always been about perspective. In his book, The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday writes, “He was inclined to see the opportunity in every disaster.” That one quote defines my entire perception of what roadblocks and standstills provide for entrepreneurs and businesses. Once you recognize you’ve come to a wall that’s blocking you from moving forward, that’s the first step toward success. I tell myself there’s no way I’m turning back from this point as long as my goal is realistic and appropriate. It’s not about arrogance — it’s about confidence that comes from my past experiences. Because I came out of a dark place in my teenage years, I know I don’t want to slide back into that darkness, and that pushes me forward to tackling each obstacle as it comes at me. Everyone is capable of this sort of drive once they align their attitudes and perceptions for success.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Everyone around the world is facing some sort of difficulty because of how much the pandemic of 2020 changed the way we live, work, and do business. Again, it’s all about perception. Can you look around at the challenges to find a new, unique way forward, or do you resign yourself to immediate failure by giving up. My company faced challenges in 2020 like most other businesses did. For years, I ran a successful in-person conference for entrepreneurs, speakers, and authors. When the pandemic first broke out, I was faced with either canceling the upcoming conference entirely or pivoting the kind of experience we could create in the circumstances. I didn’t want to risk letting down my tribe if the hotel forced us to cancel last minute, so I turned it into an “experiential conference.” And it became much more successful than we ever dreamed it could be. We found a software platform that allowed us to give attendees a similar experience as an in-person conference, and for some people, they felt they were even able to connect more with that online experiential event than they had at the in-person conferences. It was such a success that we decided to continue hosting smaller events throughout the year. It created more income for the business, and we were able to impact much more people around the world. When difficulty presented itself, we put our creative minds together, and we pivoted out of necessity. It’s helped our business evolve for the better ever since.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

The most underestimated aspect of running a company is leading people well. Products, programs, and processes can be controlled. People can’t be. Leading is an art and a skill. It’s head and heart.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

The best strategy is to focus on serving, not selling. When you add value, then you will be visible in your customer’s mind. If you focus on trying to be visible, you will become less valuable.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

First, entrepreneurs need to understand what it is they want to highlight about their brand. They need to be clear and direct about their goals for their brand and act accordingly. You can’t make that first step without knowing where you’re headed. Beyond that, everything you say and the content you publish contributes to your brand. This requires a ton of integrity — both personally and professionally. If the brand you put forth is truly who you are and where you want to go, that will shine brightly in everything the public sees. One of the things I feel gets overlooked when it comes to building a brand is the involvement of your audience. A brand is not a one-way street. A strong, positive brand creates engagement.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Here is a quick lesson I learned about business and the customer experience: it is much more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to serve the ones you already have. So, I think it’s important to open up a genuine line of communication to build that relationship and strengthen it for as long as they are with the business. I have one guiding principle when it comes to dealing with the customer experience: listen slow and fix fast. More often than not, your customers simply want someone to truly hear them, whether there’s a fix for their problem or not. When you listen fast, your customer can tell, and they won’t feel heard, validated, or valued. But it doesn’t end there because you have to take the most immediate action to solve the problem. Listen slow — fix fast. When you fix fast, this instills much more confidence in your customer that you listened to them thoroughly, and you are committed to continuing the relationship.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

My approach to social media has always been to give. I deliver real, life-changing content, I give away merchandise and opportunities, and I focus on others by sharing the stage with them. Over the years, my tribe has come to understand that when I show up, I come ready to serve and pour out value wherever and whenever I can. When you shine the light on others and how you can help them, your reputation is rarely at risk for negative attention. If you put your values on display for the world to see, your social media presence retains that same integrity.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I see many CEOs and founders focusing on growing their client base rather than serving their existing clients. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Instead, invest time and energy taking care of your current clients. In the process, your client base will grow.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Carl Jung once stated, “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” Imagine what the world — and the generations to follow — would look like if we started living on purpose. This is the same principle that originally started me on the road to success when I first left my day job and became an entrepreneur. I think we deserve to live in a world where our dreams matter enough for us to take action, inspiring our children and our community in the process.

How can our readers further follow you online?

They can find my latest book at UnhackableBook.com or keep up with all we’re doing at KaryOberbrunner.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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