Hire the right people: Every founder foresees scaling the business and removing themselves from the day-to-day business. For that to come to fruition, the people you hire become crucial to the success of the business. I look to hire people I could imagine myself working for and following.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krystal Kinney.
Krystal Kinney is Founder, Chief Creative Officer & Lead Strategist at THR33FOLD, an independent, award-winning communications agency that specializes in shaping mass narrative while driving brand trial and adoption. Krystal has spearheaded the agency’s directional growth over the past 12 years from a branding agency into a fully integrated communications agency that manages and builds global brands throughout digital, social, and public relations.
Since its founding, Krystal has held several key management positions in the agency that include leadership across industry verticals including Finance, Tech, Food, Travel, and Consumer Products. With 17+ years of experience in guiding marketing and brand strategy for both B2C and B2B organizations, Krystal combines insight with vision to help businesses diversify and grow.
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?
Yes, and thank you for the opportunity. I come from a long line of strong-willed, entrepreneurial women. My great-grandmother “GG” owned a beauty salon that was attached to her house. My great-grandfather passed long before I came along, and my GG never remarried. I recall that she was always self-sufficient. My grandmother followed in her mother’s footsteps and started selling beauty supplies and cosmetics to the ladies that came to the salon. Being around these women shaped my independence early on. I was always curious, and with so many ladies and conversations happening all around me, I became naturally observant and insightful, mainly about people. I loved watching all these ladies lined up in their chairs under the dryers, flipping through magazines, pointing, gasping, and chatting about every detail of the latest starlet on the cover. Women would come in one after another with torn out pages of advertisements and media spreads. They would point to the hair in the ad and say, “I want to look like that! Can you do it?”
I loved looking at the ads, always trying to figure out how they were able to get so many women wanting that look. That disposition for curiosity and understanding of people, a combination of well-balanced analytical and creative abilities, an appreciation for strong communication, and a good dose of ambition led me to a career in advertising and public relations. Today, I am the founder, Chief Creative Officer and Lead Brand Strategist at THR33FOLD.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Funny enough, THR33FOLD’s success in business depends on our ability to keep things interesting, all the time; certainly, for the brands we represent.
I think for me it is less about one thing being the most interesting and more about how every day is new, exciting and different. You often wake up thinking you are running after an international campaign launch, and then end up managing a global PR crisis. I would say every minute of every day is jam packed with interesting.
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?
I once ordered a take-out fish sandwich from a local dive during the night of our big new office move and build-out of furniture. Everyone suggested burgers but I insisted I was being healthy and smart. I ended up in the hospital with food poisoning for the following five days. The lesson learned: sometimes the obvious choice is the smartest choice; and the smallest choices, when not fully thought out, can derail the biggest initiatives.
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?
That is an easy one as the business I founded is shared with my life partner, Daniel. In the paraphrased words of RBG, I have a life partner that thinks my work is as important as his and that has made all the difference. He joined five years after our founding and brought the skillset of an experienced consultant and corporate executive, having worked all over the world for many years with major consumer brands. We complement one another very well, approaching issues or initiatives from very different angles. We are both well versed in what the other brings but we know and respect our strengths. The agency is better for it, and we pack a strong punch, able to compete with the best of them — even better, in fact, because we love what we do and because it is so intertwined with our personal lives.
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 think for many women, the ability to see this as a possibility, as a choice, isn’t always there. Social constructs that define necessary roles still skew traditional economic creation more towards men. This means that women often find it harder to get funding to start a business, partly because they don’t accumulate necessary credit and are considered “riskier”. I recently read that only 2.8% of VC funding in 2019 went to women-led start-ups. And, that figure dropped to 2.3% in 2020. This may also have to do with the make-up of boards and decision-makers across so many VC firms, where only about 12% of decision-makers are women. What is true, is that when women lead, they encourage other women to follow. I believe that investing in women is good business as it adds diversity of thought and experience for the many brands we represent. If everyone started looking at women as an investment, we would make great strides paving the way for more female-lead organizations.
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?
I love this question because I truly believe there is so much work to be done here.
First, women need equal compensation. The fact that women on average make 18% less than their male counterparts not only perpetuates the narrative that women do not contribute to economic growth, but it also, by design, makes it harder for women to build financial stability, credit, or assets. The diminished ability for women to build independent wealth makes it very difficult to take risks, such as founding a new business.
Second, families need affordable quality childcare. Women are often the ones that sacrifice their career goals and start-up ambitions when childcare challenges arise. Women disproportionately take on unpaid caregiving responsibilities when their family cannot find or afford childcare. I read a recent survey conducted by the Center for American Progress, that showed mothers were 40 percent more likely than fathers to report that they had personally felt the negative impact of childcare issues on their careers. Many of these ladies end up leaving the workforce. Why work if your earnings only cover your childcare? I think both equal pay and access to affordable childcare go hand and hand, and they feed into a vicious circle that keeps women at a disadvantage when it comes to the pursuit of founding a company.
In general, I think it’s important for women that have achieved success in businesses, or as founders of organizations, to mentor and encourage other women. As a society we need expect more inclusiveness of women in positions of influence and power — it should not be the exception, but rather the norm. This obviously is influenced by government action, where solutions in the areas of equal pay for equal work and family leave can help normalize that expectation.
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?
Although they are fewer in number, female founded businesses tend to deliver higher revenues and profitability — so, it just makes business sense. Several studies have been published on that point, a notable one is from S&P Global, published in late 2019.
There is also the obvious reason that there are not enough female founders to create a critical mass such that banks and other supporting institutions would begin to listen. It is interesting that women make up 56 percent of the workforce but only account for about 6 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies. The more women become founders or take on leadership roles, the more opportunity we will have to normalize the idea that women equally contribute to the global economy.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The most obvious myth is that women founders have done it alone. Often, women founders are simply people who have taken a chance on an idea, or a dream, and who were able to recruit or inspire enough people to help them.
It is also a myth that you must know everything to run a business. You do not. As a founder, you do have to be a bit like an orchestra conductor — it may be your vision of what the music will sound like, but it takes a lot of talented people to produce a good sound. Simply, you do not have to be an expert in every instrument to successfully lead.
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?
There is a big difference between having a job, building a career or founding a company — all are equally as meaningful, and all may be as equally fulfilling. Being part of a team, where you are all working together to move things toward a common goal can be very rewarding and very fulfilling. I find that founders are sometimes people who envision something they can’t let go. The desire or idea just keeps gnawing at them to the point that they take that leap. I think founders must possess an enormous amount of energy, passion and drive to take that leap of starting a company.
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. Self-belief: Founders are visionaries who trust their instincts. People will give advice, but you ultimately decide, and you are responsible.
2. Perseverance: There will be hundreds of setbacks along the way. As obstacles happen, stay on the relentless pursuit of your goals.
3. Positive Mindset: As a leader, you are always championing forward momentum. Having a positive, solutions-focused attitude makes any challenge — big or small — solvable.
4. Seek advice often: Collect advice from those around you. Ask others what they think and how they would approach problems or opportunities. Gaining perspective leads to well-informed decisions.
5. Hire the right people: Every founder foresees scaling the business and removing themselves from the day-to-day business. For that to come to fruition, the people you hire become crucial to the success of the business. I look to hire people I could imagine myself working for and following.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
This is a great question because the “WHY” of our agency is to Fuel Progress — it is what we aim to do, every day. We engage with brands that, in some way, contribute something meaningful to people or to society. They don’t have to be transformative, but simply move the needle forward. This includes brands related to sustainable foods, safe driving solutions, products that enable innovation, or even brands that are about restoring lives and communities after destructive events.
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.
To have the number of women in business and government leadership positions be equal to or greater than that of men. I would love to create that kind of movement as it would indeed change the world.
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 am always fascinated by successful couples, especially those that together influenced people or changed history. RBG and Martin Ginsburg come to mind as do Charles and Ray Eames — so do George and Amal Clooney who are influential and contribute meaningfully in such different ways.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.