Female Founders: Kai Johnson of KALM Collective On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Decisiveness — The ability to make business critical decisions and move swiftly on those decisions. There is no room to procrastinate. In our industry of retail jewelry there are many other options for consumers to shop so being quick on marketing campaigns can be the difference between getting a sale or losing money on unsold inventory.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kai Johnson.
Kai Johnson, a marketing professional and community philanthropist that co-founded her fashion jewelry line, The KALM Collective, in 2020 with her college best friend. Their pieces are perfect for women who want fun and flexible jewelry that can be used for any occasion.
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?
For over a decade I’ve worked as a marketing analyst for a leading tech company in the Midwest. I’ve always had that drive and eagerness to start my own business since my college days. Last year, I joined the social media platform, Tic Tok I stumbled across #small business Tic Tok and I became hooked! These were women, wives, mothers, and daughters like me who were not only starting their own business but they were creating their own brand, redefining business standards and finding their own success! That was my personal “A ha” moment, I discovered my inner entrepreneur was not only itching to come out… it bursted out! I started watching their videos, taking notes and actually listening to their advice. It was a Master Class right there on Tic Tok! . I called my best friend from college and asked her to partner with me and ‘Viola….The KALM Collective was born!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Early on as my business partner and I were doing our initial research on starting a business we were distracted by the possibilities of a drop shipping company. It felt quick, easier to manage and most of the logistics would be managed by a third party. Realizing that we both have full time jobs and that this was going to be a side business for us both we thought drop shipping would make the most sense. So we completely diverted to a different business idea. As I was developing the website I had this feeling in my gut that this was not the best idea, the products we were planning to sell wasn’t even an interest of ours. I had a heart to heart conversation with my partner and we promised each other then that we would stay true to our mission and what we love.
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?
We went through hundreds of different iterations of our business name, The KALM Collective. As you can imagine, finding and settling on a business name can be a tough stage in the business process. Making sure it stands out and represents who you are. We went through the motions of setting up our LLC and thought we had done our due diligence on research but found other jewelry lines with a similar name that we had originally sought out. We had the logo created, website designed, in the process of getting our permits and had to quickly resolve before we launched. So back to the drawing board we went and came up with KALM as it is our names merged together — Kai Alisha and London Monet — KALM. At the time, I don’t think we were laughing. But looking back on it now the experience makes us laugh. We call it our rookie mistake!
Ok, thank you for that. 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?
Lack of time. Lack of funding. Lack of available resources and support. These are all hurdles that women often face, especially for the working mother. It can be tough to take a risk on starting a business when you have a family to support. Having time to dedicate to research and development and finding the resources available can be an immediate hindrance. And when I think about the proportion of women owned businesses getting VC funding versus their male counterparts that continues to add to the problem. This is not a cheap road to go down and without adequate capital in the early phases, many businesses may never see it to their first day and often times ends up as an idea that never comes to fruition.
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 would love to see us normalizing female entrepreneurship. Staring as young as elementary school by providing entrepreanuer development and mentorship programs for girls to inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs. Growing up, I did not have anyone in my immediate family that was an entrepreneur and did not think that would be an option for me or how to go about starting a business. Developing programs and showcasing to young women on the skills needed to start a business is how we can start to make an impact on creating and developing more female entrepreneurs.
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?
Women are resourceful and powerful beings. The satisfaction from being able to build something from the ground up and thrive and provide for your family are reasons why I love being an entrepreneur.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Myth: Starting a business is glamorous. Being a founder and growing and scaling your business is tough and takes dedication, hustle, and grit. In today’s day with social media, it’s easy to make having and building a business look fun and glamorous but what is oftentimes never depicted are the tears shed, the late nights and the amount of sweat equity put into the business.
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?
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. There are times that you are going to want to give up, you’ll need to pivot your business to help it scale and you’ll need to spend late nights making sure that you are providing the best customer service to your customers. If you know you are the type that likes to be able to log off and completely shut down when you leave your job than consider getting a “regular job” but if you are someone that wants to build and leave a legacy for your family and have the grit to build a business, then consider entrepreneurship.
Ok super. 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.)
- Grit — I describe grit as having perseverance, confidence and passion to succeed. You are going to get knocked down several times, but having perseverance and hustle to continue to wake up and do it all over again is what is needed to be a successful entrepreneur.
- Work Ethic — For me as someone who has a side business and a demanding 9–5 job, a work ethic is incredibly important. Being able to dedicate my personal time to building my business can be challenging especially with the demands of having a husband and children. I’m the type that will put the needs of my family first which means it is a lot of late nights on working on my business. WIthout that work ethic it would be easy to let the business fall by the wayside but I want to be able to see my business grow so having work ethic keeps it as a priority for me.
- Self Motivation — Pep talks and daily manifestation are what keep me going. Every day when I check in with my business partner we always align on our business objectives and leave the conversation with a word of encouragement. The daily reminders of why we do what we do keep us motivated to continue. SOme days are slower than others and being self motivated is an important skill that can often go overlooked but is needed to be able to keep you on your feet.
- Resilience — The pandemic has proven to many business owners that you need to be agile and resilient. So many businesses that were not able to pivot in a mostly digital world that we are living in now were not able to see the end of 2020. Being a resilient business owner and understanding the complexities of your industry and aligning to the needs and demands of your customer are critical to growing and scaling your business. We started our business in 2020 and immediately knew we needed to start as an e-commerce to meet the demands of online shopping trends that were on the rise.
- Decisiveness — The ability to make business critical decisions and move swiftly on those decisions. There is no room to procrastinate. In our industry of retail jewelry there are many other options for consumers to shop so being quick on marketing campaigns can be the difference between getting a sale or losing money on unsold inventory.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
WIth everything that I do, I always try to find a way to give back to my community. I was recognized in 2020 as an Indianapolis Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 for my community impact. I helped to develop a training program to increase the number of under-represented minorities, women and low income individuals get into Technology.
When I had the idea to start this business I told my business partner that I wanted to build this business as a values based company and knew early on that we wanted to create a foundation to help support other women and people of color. That is why I am excited to announce that we are unveiling the creation of The KALM Collective Foundation which will aim to help women build their confidence by donating clothing and jewelry to perfect their look for their job search. WIth the establishment of the foundation we want to help women become economically independent and it starts with building their confidence so they can sell their best self at their job interview.
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.
I would love to help develop a program to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs. Exposing children to the world of entrepreneurship as young as possible so children can see entrepreneurship as an opportunity for them when they graduate is key. SHowing them what is needed to start, sustain and grow a business so it won’t be intimidating to them if they get to a point where they want to explore entrepreneurship at a later stage in their life. For me personally, I did not have someone in my family that I could look to as I was growing up so I did not feel that starting a business was an attainable goal. Now that I am an entrepreneur I want to instill these values into my daughters and hope to influence their friends and other children of what is in reach in the world of entrepreneurship.
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.
Michelle Obama, Mellody Hobson, Sarah Blakely, Bethany Frankel, Melissa Butler
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.