Igniting Insights: Start-Up Advice from Entrepreneur Kara Walsh
Today we launch a new blog series - "Igniting Insights: Interviews on Profession & Purpose.” Our journeys are filled with diverse and inspiring travelers from around the country. In this series, we'll sit down with entrepreneurs, experts and creatives who have joined our journeys and get insider insights. First up? Entrepreneur Kara Walsh shares marketing, partnership and travel advice she has gained from the launch of her company - No Small Plan.
You recently founded an interesting company called No Small Plan that uses physical products to represent where people have traveled. Can you explain a bit more on where the idea came from and why you decided to pursue this idea?
I conceived of No Small Plan when I was working towards my goal of visiting 50 countries by the time I turned 50. Along the way, I enjoyed talking with others about my quest and their travel adventures. Many of the global travelers I met had not thought about setting a travel-related goal, but our discussions got them thinking that maybe they should.
It seemed a shame that there wasn’t an easier way to share the stories of where you’ve been and where you want to go. Sure, you’d occasionally see a map app floating through your Facebook feed, or you may have a scratch-off or push pin map on your wall at home, but neither of those offer a prompt to conversations in real life about travel experiences. How do you know if a work colleague or the person waiting for their coffee next to you would be an inspiring person to talk to about travel?
No Small Plan was founded to motivate people to be ambitious in their travels and to have a fun, easy way for them to share those experiences with people around them.
Your background is heavy in both b2b and b2c marketing... what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over your career that you are applying to your new venture?
[It’s] all about having a unique brand and respecting it with every decision that you make
The importance of a strong brand identity, consistently executed, is so ingrained from my b2c marketing experience, starting with Coca-Cola early in my career, that I couldn’t do it any other way. From the visual manifestation of the brand, to the tone of voice, to the plethora of executional decisions about what feels true and what feels icky, that’s all about having a unique brand and respecting it with every decision that you make.
On the b2b side in this venture, it’s mainly been about the strategic choice of partnerships. Pre-launch, it was all about choosing the right platform partners who would help create a seamless, easy, fun experience for customers (e.g., Shopify for e-commerce, Printful for the latest direct-to-garment printing technology on demand). Now my attention is turning more towards b2b partners whose customers are travelers. No Small Plan can help those partners deepen their relationship with customers, while benefiting from the partners’ existing scale and travel data. These types of partners will likely include tour operators and online travel agents (OTAs).
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your business right now? What advice would you have for those in the early stages of building their own company?
Scaling a consumer business is rarely easy, so my advice is:
1 // Be realistic about what you can accomplish and get the pieces in place to persist at it over time.
I am constantly overestimating what I can accomplish in a given period of time. If you’re like me, you are an optimist. I have gotten better about prioritizing which activities should be outsourced (just because you *could* do them yourself doesn’t mean that you *should*). Be a delegator even before you build a team. Upwork is a fantastic resource for specialized freelance talent that I’ve leaned on heavily in the beginning stages of my business.
2 // Consider forging strategic partnerships that can help secure substantial volume without diluting your direct-to-consumer brand.
This is something that I believed and thought carefully about before launch, but of course you also secretly hope that you’ll open your doors and be stampeded and everything will be easy once you’re business is up and running. The truth is that is when the real work begins!
3 // Get to launch as quickly as possible so you get real world feedback on product demand and user experience.
I think I did a pretty good job of getting an MVP to market rather than waiting for the perfect, be-all and end-all product, and I’m so glad I did. I would have put time and resources into the wrong things had I waited longer to launch.
You’ve obviously traveled quite extensively in your life, including a journey with Ignite in August of 2017... what has travel taught you about business? Any broad lessons that you apply to your daily life that you learned while traveling?
Both travel and business should involve regularly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. However, you need to calibrate why something makes you uncomfortable and decide whether it’s a growth opportunity or just a bad idea. For me, with travel, this means I often choose to go where I don’t know the language, eat intimidating food and try some new activities that make me really nervous, but I won’t put myself in truly risky situations or indulge in anything that has a harmful impact on the local environment.
In business, what makes you feel uncomfortable because you’ve never done it before vs. what goes against your brand or personal values? I love having my own business so I can always make decisions that I am proud of, but that meant giving myself a long runway so I can turn down the things that aren’t true to me or to my brand.
my biggest creative breakthroughs happen when I remove myself from my day-to-day world
Lastly, one of the main reasons I travel is that my biggest creative breakthroughs happen when I remove myself from my day-to-day world. The more removed I am geographically and culturally, the more clarity I get on how to solve a challenge or to tackle an opportunity. Staying close to home and working constantly without travel breaks is actually seriously counter-productive.