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Kristen Denzer of Tierra Encantada: “Resourcefulness”

Resourcefulness: Provides the ability to be adaptable and handle whatever life throws your way because you will figure it out. Grace: Things do not always work the way you want them to, and you are not always right. Being able to acknowledge that and move on is critical. Vision: Having goals and a vision for where […]

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Resourcefulness: Provides the ability to be adaptable and handle whatever life throws your way because you will figure it out.

Grace: Things do not always work the way you want them to, and you are not always right. Being able to acknowledge that and move on is critical.

Vision: Having goals and a vision for where you want to go helps provide the hope and desire to keep moving forward even when things are tough.


Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Denzer.

Kristen is the CEO & Founder of Tierra Encantada, a leader in Spanish immersion early education® Tierra provides education and care to children ages 6 weeks through 6 years. Entrepreneurship runs deep in Kristen, and Tierra is her 5th company.


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?

I have always been the type of person that likes to keep busy and is very goal-oriented. Whether that is in work or life. If my plate gets too full and is heaping, my mindset is not that I remove things from my plate. It is that I need to get a bigger plate! Case in point, when I was accepted to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities I decided that I was going to graduate with my BA early — in just three years. But that gargantuan goal was not enough for me. I also wanted to double major. And volunteer. And work 20+ hours a week to pay my rent, car loan, and bills. So, I did.

That drive has fueled my love of entrepreneurship and led me to start five companies over the past dozen years (consulting, event rental/floral design, dog daycare, real estate, and language immersion early education). All of my past endeavors have related to my life in some way, and Tierra was no different. Tierra was desired based on what I wanted for my own children and they both attended Tierra before going on to grade school. Part of my motivation for starting Tierra Encantada was also wanting a company that I could feel genuinely proud of. By having a company that offers good jobs and treats employees how they deserve to be treated. A company that makes a positive impact on the lives of those involved with it. A company involved with moving the needle in society in valuing diversity of all types. I wanted to do more than make a living, I wanted to make a difference.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

When my children were very young, we moved to a suburb of the Twin Cities. As I began my search for childcare, I was disappointed to find not a single option that fit what I was looking for. There were no language immersion options, nor options that served quality meals. The only center that was worth considering was a program that had a chicken coop and garden — but also had over a year waitlist. That got me thinking about the large gap between what parents want and what is available — and I dove in headfirst to planning the first Tierra.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Growing up, I had the same personality traits that I do now so I would imagine that I was more of a natural-born entrepreneur. Being a successful entrepreneur often requires specific characteristics that are not easily developed down the road when people are adults. Things like innovativeness, the need for achievement, the ability to handle stress and resourcefulness are not easy things to just learn and adapt. People often ask how to get started, and I tell them they just need to do it. The difference between me and someone else thinking about starting a business is that I decided to do it — and I decided that I was going to do whatever I needed to make it a success.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Growing up, I was very close with my grandparents. My grandfather was an entrepreneur and started a gas station when he was in his twenties. He and my grandmother owned it, and some of my fondest memories of them are borne from that. My parents worked jobs so if I was sick and needed to stay home from school, my grandparents would watch me. I remember those days fondly. My grandma would pick out all the marshmallows from a box of Lucky Charm cereal — which she did because I didn’t like the cereal, but I loved the marshmallows in it– and would bring me a big bowl of just marshmallows. Sometimes she would pick out the entire box! She was awesome like that. And she was able to do it because she did not have to work a “typical” job. She had control over her schedule and could be there to make those special memories. I’d also hang out at the gas station with my grandfather. He would have me sitting at the counter with him checking people out. I’d run out to the vending machine with a bucket and empty all of the quarters out of it and refill it, getting my first taste of entrepreneurship before I was even a teenager. My grandfather also was elected to city council and eventually as Mayor — and the memories of driving around placing yard signs have stuck with me as well. I think those experiences shaped my drive, goals, and life in tremendous ways. I have worked hard to follow in his footsteps as both an elected official and an entrepreneur and make them proud — I only wish my grandma was alive today to see it.

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

Our company stands out because we don’t just say employees are number one — we mean it. Most companies in the service sector, and particularly in childcare, view positions as “jobs” with high turnover being the norm. We view every position with us as a career and treat it as such. We focus heavily on promoting from within and provide our employees with benefits seen with careers. Across the United States, a tiny fraction of early education programs give their staff much in the way of benefits and we find ourselves in that tiny fraction. Not only do we provide paid time off and eleven paid holidays, but we also provide medical insurance, dental insurance, paid parental leave, training and professional development reimbursement, and 401k with an employer match. Maybe 5–10% of early education programs in the entire country can say the same.

You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I think the most important character trait that I have that has been instrumental to my success is my resourcefulness. There is little that I am not willing to roll up my sleeves and learn how to do. With my businesses, I have put on a legal hat and spent hundreds of hours researching contract law, writing and editing agreements, and researching standard lease terms. I have put on the general contractor hat and worked as the general contractor for two of my centers, hiring and overseeing a dozen subs to build out an 8,000 square-foot childcare center. I have put on a real estate developer hat and applied for all the dozens of zoning variances I have received for my projects myself. I have put on an architect hat and educated architects on the building code because they have not completed designs per code. As an entrepreneur, many things will be thrown at you every day all the time. Being resourceful enough to do the legwork to figure things out and educate yourself has been the single most important trait I have for my entrepreneurship journey. Two other traits that have been critical are passion and the ability to handle stress. When you have passion for what you do, it doesn’t seem like work. And that passion can be felt throughout the company. It drives innovation and forms the vision for your team. It inspires a deep level of care about what you are doing and a desire to always strive for improvement. Being able to handle stress is key because as an entrepreneur, there will be A LOT of stressful moments and as the leader, everyone looks to you. You need to be able to have a steaming pile of crap dumped in your lap in front of your team and be able to laugh and say, well that sucks. But, let’s clean up and turn the crap into sunshine and rainbows.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Over the past couple of years, we have grown exponentially. With that growth, comes significant change. As we have created new positions and hired over 70 full-time employees in the past two years, I have received advice suggesting it is wise to take team “morale” into consideration when determining if an employee is a good fit. That even though an employee is not doing their job, we should keep them because it can affect morale and may cause turmoil. I made that mistake, and it had a much more significant impact long-term keeping staff that are toxic or not capable of doing their job because of the impact that has on those around them and staff you may lose from those ripple effects. I learned that protecting your vision, mission, and team are of the utmost importance and if someone is not working it is best to take the short-term hit for the good of the company as a whole. One of our values really echoes this — being the leader isn’t always easy, but it is always rewarding.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Improving work culture is an area of growth for us. Up until two years ago, we had no corporate employees. So, we are essentially a newborn on our journey in work culture. My style tends to be more laid back and approachable. I think in this technology-driven world, there is no substitute for face-to-face connection. And connection is key. If people know the person behind the screen, they will interpret emails and written communication much more accurately through that person’s voice. Supervisors do weekly check-ins with their direct reports to ensure staff feel supported and opportunities to connect about work. Some of the things we also do are quarterly potlucks with Kahoot trivia and birthday celebrations with cake or treats. We are hoping to do more though in the coming years, and this is an area of growth for our company.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

I think the most important thing is open, clear communication with stakeholders. At Tierra, we are more than a business. We are a community. When making tough decisions, collecting input from stakeholders — both clients and employees — is especially important. People want to feel heard, and groupthink can provide ideas and insight that may have been missed. At a minimum, it provides a window into whether the perception of your company matches the reality or what you are striving for and allows you the opportunity to correct misconceptions because you know about them. Once a decision has been made, do not treat people like they are children. “Because I said so” may work with your five-year-old, but not so much with your stakeholders. There will always be people that disagree with your decisions, but to build trust it is important to be open about why those decisions were made. For example, announcing you are closing your store two hours early permanently without explanation will result in all sorts of wild assumptions. Adding to the announcement that stores are closing earlier because there are only three customers on average during those final two hours and there have been some safety concerns with staff being alone at the store late in the evening puts that decision in a completely different light.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

People are better educated and more informed than ever. Customers want authentic, real people to do business with.

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?

Waiting too long to hire help and not documenting everything always. Entrepreneurs tend to wait too long to hire the help they need because they continue to take on more and more until they hit a breaking point. Part of the reason for that is because of how time-intensive it is to train someone. It takes more time to train and have someone else do something than to just do it themselves — but then no one ever learns. It is a huge burden to hire due to the training time because almost nothing is documented, and it is volumes of knowledge stuck in the founder’s head. The best piece of advice I can give a new entrepreneur is to document EVERYTHING. How you order something, how to enter a payment, how you add a new customer to your system, how you make a decision, how you respond to an email, and so on. That makes it so much easier to hire because everything has been created to help that hire hit the ground running.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur; you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

No one can ever prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster ride that embodies entrepreneurship. It is a crazy, wild journey that can bring a joy you never thought possible and feelings of loss you cannot imagine. The emotional highs are indisputable. Being an entrepreneur has enabled me to fulfill many of my wildest dreams. I have been able to take my little sister on her first international trip to see the world. My children have been able to expand their education beyond school and practice their Spanish in El Salvador, learn about biology in the Galapagos, and visit a tiny centuries-old shop in Italy to make Venetian masks. I have been able to provide experiences to my friends that are once in a lifetime and create lasting memories. I saw my company in print in magazines I read growing up and was named a Top 100 Female Founder by Inc — which I have been reading since before I ever owned a business. I have also been able to help others without a second thought, whether it is a rescue dog that a nonprofit needs money to pay for surgery for or the Wildcat Sanctuary needing funds to help support constructing a new enclosure for a tiger they rescued. I can make a difference.

But that comes at a cost — and it is steep. Those that work regular jobs will never understand what it is like. When you work a job, you rarely are solely responsible for the livelihood of others and have the choice to just walk away at any moment. You report to someone, which means as much ownership as you take for your job you never truly retain 100% responsibility for what you are doing. You can go home, play with your kids, and turn off your phone. You can go on vacation and not check your email. You can have moments without a care in the world. Entrepreneurs cannot. I carry the weight of hundreds of family’s livelihoods on my shoulders. If I make a wrong move and I have to lay off staff, it is my burden to carry that those employees may not make their mortgage payment or are no longer able to afford their family vacation or lose their vehicle. To complicate things further, our business is caring for the most important thing in people’s lives — their children. That brings the pressure to the next level because one wrong hire can result in harm to someone’s child. The stress and pressure an entrepreneur experiences brings extreme lows that are only amplified by how lonely it is at the top. At the top, you are the leader — so no matter how hard things get, you have to put on your happy face and can-do attitude for your team because it’s all on you. It’s certainly not for everyone and as you get larger and have more staff, it does get easier. The stakes get higher — but you have more people around you to provide support. A rollercoaster is the best way to describe it!

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Since I was a teenager, I have been reading Inc Magazine & Entrepreneur Magazine. I loved reading about the stories of founders and their success and daydreamed about how one day I hoped to achieve something similar. Last summer (2020), someone from Inc Magazine reached out to me because someone at the magazine had suggested me as a female founder to talk to. I was incredibly honored, and when I learned I was included in Inc’s Top 100 Female Founder List — it was truly meaningful. My Inc fangirl daydreams had come true!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Resourcefulness: Provides the ability to be adaptable and handle whatever life throws your way because you will figure it out.

Grace: Things do not always work the way you want them to, and you are not always right. Being able to acknowledge that and move on is critical.

Vision: Having goals and a vision for where you want to go helps provide the hope and desire to keep moving forward even when things are tough.

Drive: Being able to work 80 hours a week and take on more so your team isn’t as stressed makes it possible for you to achieve your vision.

Support Network: In the past year I have been able to develop a much stronger support network of fellow entrepreneurs to bounce things off of which has been instrumental in handling the crazy rollercoaster this ride is.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

I tend to keep a positive attitude in situations — particularly with staff — because as the leader I am the one everyone looks to. My attitude is a bellwether for how everyone should view and approach a situation. If I am confident and in control, my team will feel that way too.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

“Don’t cling to a mistake just because you already spent a lot of time making it.” I am of the mindset that I am not perfect, and my company is not perfect — there is always room for improvement, learning, and growth. As an entrepreneur, being adaptable is critical and being able to say “I was wrong about this, let’s change course” is key to being a strong leader. That quote resonates with me in many ways, both in life and work. It speaks to character and being able to identify when you have made a mistake and immediately change course to correct — versus waste another few weeks, months, or years rationalizing the mistake because of the investment of time has already been made.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our website is tierraencantada.com and franchise.tierraencantada.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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