It will take longer than you think. Part of being an optimist, at least for me, is believing things can be done in the quickest time possible, or at least the middle amount, not the longest time. I’ve learned that materials procurement, shipping, and production take longer than I estimated, often by orders of magnitude. That means being realistic when making production estimates, and also preparing for slow-downs. For example, I now buy twice as many production supplies as I think I need so that I will have enough on hand in future in case of shipping delays.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50's.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Schafer.
Kimberly is a lifelong explorer, retiring from a decades-long career in academic research administration and embarking on a new chapter as an inventor and entrepreneur. She is active in service, travels often and far, has a close circle of family and friends, and has been a practicing Buddhist for more than 20 years. She is excited to see where her next explorations lead her.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan to my 20 year-old parents, who were high school sweethearts from a small town in Michigan. My Dad was at the University of Michigan on a track scholarship. He finished his PhD at 25 and went to University of Oregon to teach Sociology. About 10 years later, my parents co-founded a private alternative boarding school on a 1,000 acre ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Northern California. There were about 16 students and 5–6 teachers. We lived on the ranch, had horses and goats, and I wore my overalls and went barefoot most of the time. Our classes were small and in addition to the usual subjects, we studied topics selected by the students. That led us to, among other things, learn Swedish and visit a funeral home for our class on death and dying. One of my favorite memories is going for moonlight horseback rides. It was a wonderful experience and I’m still friends with some of the students who were there.
We moved to Chico, California just before I entered 10th grade. I felt like we were moving to the big city — the highway had two lanes going in each direction! I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to public school. I didn’t know anyone, I was quite shy, my parents were getting a divorce, I was coming from a completely different setting that no one else understood, and I had been 6’1” since I was 14. I took the high school equivalency exam in 11th grade, passed, and left high school at the end of my junior year to start college.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People who succeed are not necessarily the smartest — they are just the most persistent.” This was told to me by my advisor in graduate school at The Ohio State University. This quote has stuck with me and helped me when I felt like I wasn’t the smartest, or hadn’t made the smartest decisions, or that my goal was out of reach. I’ve decided my spirit animal is a woodpecker — part of my success has been not giving up and continuing to chip away at whatever the task or obstacle is in my way. When I’ve felt that I was on the brink of giving up, this quote has helped me continue to just take one step (peck) at a time and keep moving forward.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Persistence. As I mentioned above, I’ve learned that persistence is required for getting where you want to go. It’s not hard to try something once. It is hard to keep trying over and over again, until you get it right, learn what you need to, or get the task completed. One example is my first time training to run the Rock-n-Roll marathon. I joined a training program with the local track club, along with almost 500 other people. I couldn’t run a mile without stopping. Over the next 6 months, I just kept showing up. I was one of the three slowest people on the group runs — we got to know each other well. Soon I could run 1 mile, then 3 miles, 10 miles, 16 miles and eventually I completed the marathon. And then I did the same thing the next year. It was hard almost all of the time, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Crossing the finish line was a beautiful moment!
Optimism. Believing I can do something, even when I don’t know exactly how, has been crucial. That leads me to know that I can take the steps necessary to figure it out. At work, my team would often watch me agree to do something, knowing we had never done it before, and also knowing we would in the end do it, and do it well. Like when we were approached to co-host and co-organize a fundraising golf tournament at a nationally-recognized golf course. Except that I had never golfed — no one on my team had, nor had our partner agency organizers. None of us knew what a mulligan was, or what a par score meant. And a few months later, we hosted our golf tournament! It was well-attended, went off very smoothly, everyone had fun, and we raised money for both hosting organizations. Viola!
Humility. A big part of success is being willing to show that you don’t know something, that you aren’t afraid to ask for help, and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. I have never felt that I was above any task, or felt too proud to ask a question. In my role as Administrative Director of the UCSD Center for AIDS Research, we organized and hosted seminars with a wide range of audience sizes, from 30–280. I would often sit on the floor with team members and stuff welcome packets and organize meeting materials. The goal was a successful event, and my goal was never to feel too important to help.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Prior to my Second Chapter, I spent 31 years at the University of California, San Diego, working in three different areas of research. For three years I worked with a neuropsychologist who literally wrote the book on neuropsychology. I was the Administrative Director of the Center for AIDS Research for 15 years, and served as the Director of Clinical Operations with the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study twice, first for 11 years and most recently for almost 3 years. I supervised groups ranging from 3–45 people, and had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading researchers. I was given opportunities to grow at each step, and am co-author on 28 manuscripts, 3 of which I am first author. It was an incredibly stimulating career, and I relished being in an environment where there was always someone smarter than me in every room.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I have become an inventor and entrepreneur! Borne of my own need, I invented a personal ring storage device (the Ring Thing), have obtained three patents and a trademark, set up a company, figured out how to have it manufactured in the US, and launched it in November, 2020. I started working on it in 2014, and was only able to work on it very part-time while working full-time (usually more than full-time). I am now a businesswoman, running the business and having a great time.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I think the trigger happened in 2014. I fashioned the first model of my invention out of a paper towel. I remember looking at it and thinking there must be a way to make it happen. I could see the finished product so clearly in my head. And even though I greatly enjoyed my work at the University, I knew that I would always regret it if I didn’t try. I was aware it would take time and that I had few resources to put into it, but I was determined to give it a go. It was the feeling that I didn’t want to look back on my life and wonder “what if”?
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
It may sound a little 1960’s, but I just went with the flow. I had an idea and kept working with it. I’ve always loved art, mostly as an appreciator and not a creator. And this felt like art — finding a way to craft my vision. After my first paper towel model of the Ring Thing, I hired an engineering student at the University to help with the drawings. He was able to get the first 3-D model and that really brought it to life.
The barriers for me were time, resources, and wondering if it would really come to be. For time, I had to accept that my own time was limited, and there were intervals when my job took over my life and I wasn’t able to work on my invention for weeks at a time. I had to believe that I would have time soon and would do what I could, when I could. For resources, I did my best to keep costs low. I don’t have any investors, so I suppose the time constraints helped with the resourcing issues — I only had time to make one 3-D model at a time and then spent time improving the design. The financial outlay was naturally spread over time, which made it easier. And I did wonder along the way if it would really come to be. Would I ever find an injection molding company in the US that would be able to work with this design? Could it be done? This is where my inner woodpecker came in very handy. I just kept moving forward, some steps larger than others. I called injection molding companies across the country, and talked to many designers. I learned about HDPE vs ABS. I kept telling myself that as long as I was moving forward, all would be OK.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Things are going mostly well. I have the Ring Thing manufactured in 6 colors, and they are all available for sale in my Etsy shop. The reviews from buyers have been great — all 5 stars. I am getting ready to release the product on Amazon, and next month I will be focusing on reaching out to companies for large sales.
There are been some glitches along the way. I started out with one manufacturing company and had a number of obstacles with them, including multiple long delays in production. Some of the delays were unavoidable (i.e., COVID-related delays in delivery of supplies), but many were avoidable. I had been clear that I was a startup and was doing my first production run. The volume was relatively low, but my goal was to start selling and then move to larger orders as quickly as possible. Because my job was small, I kept getting pushed to low priority in every aspect of production, and I could not make any inroads to improve the situation. I made the decision to move the project to a different manufacturing company, and now production is going much more smoothly — it’s a completely different experience. In retrospect, I should have moved the project earlier and consider this an important part of my learning curve as a business owner.
I also learned the importance of being prepared at all times. There have been several occasions when I’ve been out running errands and ended up talking to a store clerk, counter clerk or someone else about the Ring Thing. They asked me about if I had one I could show them, and you know what — I didn’t! I had hundreds at home, but not one in my purse. I finally learned, and now always have at least one in my bag, along with a postcard with photos.
I have also seen how different the business world is from the academic world I come from. For so many years I have been focused on the facts — stating data clearly and succinctly, and avoiding “fluff”. I’m learning that when launching a new product, marketing and creating excitement is so important. I am still sharing the facts, but am learning how to say things in a way that shares my excitement and highlights the really cool aspects of the Ring Thing. It turns out that writing and saying butterflies and flowers is OK!
At the end of February, 2021, I will be retiring from the University after a long and wonderful career. I will be focusing on my company, developing new products, and am so excited to have the time to devote to it and see where it can go.
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?
Yes! My friend Tom. He and I started working together in 1987 (he was a statistician at the University) and have remained close friends since. For many years we had lunch together once a week, and he was the first person I told about this idea I had. It was 2014, and I was mulling it over in my mind. He had had small business ventures throughout his life while working at Universities, and I asked him if he thought I could do it. He said “absolutely you can and I will help”. And he did! He has been there at each step, helping me sketch it out, working with my student engineer on the initial design, looking at the first 3-D models, and every step since then. He has encouraged and supported me, and also lifted my spirits when I was feeling frustrated and low. He has never wanted to be an official partner in the business, but he has surely been my partner on the journey.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I have learned that it really does take a village! I feel like every aspect of my life has led me to this point. My career managing grants, research projects and multicenter clinical trials has made it possible for me to create and manage the various aspects of my business, including product development and production. My involvement with Rotary has led to my access to people with a wealth of business and marketing experience. My love of jewelry and the friends I’ve made through that have given me a terrific focus group. My girlfriends have been my beloved cheerleaders — supporting me along the way, and being some of my first customers. My father, who has listened, supported and inspired me. My friend Tom, who I’ve known throughout my whole career and who has supported me each step of the way. My friend who hosted an event I attended — while there, I met another guest, an attorney, He and I became friends and he told me about one of the lawyers in his firm who specializes in patents. I followed up with that referral, and that attorney turned my patent application into three patents! The engineer who told me about SCORE, which led to my two mentors. And so on! I’ve learned that while I am a single-owner business, I am not alone at all. The village is all around me.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Yes –a few times. There have been moments when I felt that I really only know how to do a few things: I worked my way through college as a nurse’s aide in a convalescent hospital, I’ve waitressed, and I’ve worked at the University. At those moments, the rest of the world seemed to be a great unknown and I wasn’t sure I could navigate it. This is when my inner Woodpecker, has stepped in to help. When these thoughts come, I just keep moving forward and tell myself that I don’t have to make great strides in any one day — I just have to keep moving in a forward direction. Giving myself the space to not accomplish big things in any one moment and to allow little things to be just as important, has made a huge difference.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
The move into my new chapter has been very organic, and I didn’t intentionally create a support system. It has certainly evolved and I feel it under my feet every day. My support system has cast a wide net, starting with Tom and then my Father, then my best friend, and on to other family members and close friends.
I am a member of the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club (I’m the Immediate Past President), and the 86 members of our Club have been so supportive. They have cheered me on, and the breadth of expertise in the Club, across businesses, has been invaluable. Club members have talked with me about specific aspects of production and marketing, have connected me to potential selling channels, and have bought Ring Things to give as gifts.
I also receive ongoing mentoring through SCORE, which has been invaluable. I have two SCORE mentors, both with great experience and success in business and marketing. Their insights, guidance and support have provided me with more than I can express. Being new to business, new to manufacturing and new to marketing, there as so many aspects of each of these that I didn’t know and didn’t even think of. Receiving their mentorship, and as volunteers, has been a huge gift.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I have definitely stretched the edges of my comfort zone with this new chapter. There are two examples I can share.
First, I have always felt the most comfortable giving credit either to the research center I was a part of, or to my team, or to specific team members. I have not been an “I did this” kind of a person. I believe that my success only comes through the success of those I work with. So, putting myself out there as an inventor and to show what I have created is very much outside of my comfort zone. My largest presentation about the Ring Thing to date has been to my Rotary Club — I believe there were about 60 people in attendance that day. I gave a slide presentation about it, including my plans and dreams. While the group was very supportive, I was as nervous as I’ve ever been, and a large part of that is that I was talking about me — my invention, my new business, and my plans for it. That was a lot of “me”. I have slowly gotten more comfortable with doing that, and I know it’s the right thing to do and appropriate in this setting — it’s just a new comfort corner for me.
Secondly, my retirement from the University feels a lot like leaving the mothership. I grew up in a University environment, went to college and then graduate school, and then started my career at UC San Diego. That is the environment I am familiar with, and I know how it works. This new chapter is completely outside of that setting and sometimes I feel like I’m rappelling — there is a point when you go over a rock that you must trust the ropes. There is no other option. That is where my optimism, trust, and spiritual faith keep me held tight.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Set up and follow a good structure from the beginning. Even when you think you are too small to need a good structure, I’ve learned the importance of doing it anyway. When I received the first production run of 600 Ring Things, I gave a number of them away to people whose feedback I wanted. How did it look, feel and work for them? I didn’t have a spreadsheet set up to track the number I was giving away, and the colors. I thought I would remember. Now I am going back and trying to remember who I gave what to. Setting up a spreadsheet like this would also have helped to track my product development costs. I bought so many clasps, cords and clamps trying to find just the perfect ones. I eventually did, but having a spreadsheet set up initially would have helped to log all of the different ones I tried. I’ve learned to set up a structure for everything and so far it’s working much better than relying on my memory.
- It will take longer than you think. Part of being an optimist, at least for me, is believing things can be done in the quickest time possible, or at least the middle amount, not the longest time. I’ve learned that materials procurement, shipping, and production take longer than I estimated, often by orders of magnitude. That means being realistic when making production estimates, and also preparing for slow-downs. For example, I now buy twice as many production supplies as I think I need so that I will have enough on hand in future in case of shipping delays.
- Clarity is really, really important. This applies to both written and verbal communication. It may seem time consuming or even patronizing, but it really is neither. Last year, I was sitting with the founder of the first manufacturing company I worked with, and we were ordering clasps for the first 1,000 Ring Things. We were looking at a website that sells them 5 to a package. He asked me if he should order 200, and I said yes, thinking he meant 200 packages, with 5 clasps each, for a total of 1,000. He actually meant 200 clasps, which is what he ordered. When they arrived almost 2 months later, we didn’t have enough to finish production of the first 1,000 units — we were 800 short. I thought we were talking about the same numbers, but I should have been more clear and confirmed what we were referring to.
- Be open to every thread. I am learning that you never know where a connection will take you. It’s important to be open to new people and new information — they may take you somewhere wonderful, or just to the next step. One of the women in my Rotary Club introduced me to her Mary Kay representative and friend, who introduced me to someone else. That someone else invited me to attend her professional networking group, and now I’m a member, meeting some fascinating and very interesting people who I probably would never have found on my own.
- Believe in your vision. — There will be times when it seems unattainable, and when hope may be lost. Perhaps others can’t understand or see your vision. You have to be your own champion, to yourself and to others. There aren’t many success stories of people who hit it big on the first day of their first try. It takes time, effort and faith. I have read about professional athletes who practice their craft over and over again, alone, early in the morning or late at night. There is nothing glamorous in those moments — only sweat and effort. But that’s how great things are built and accomplished — literally one step at a time, when no one else is around. When I was sourcing clasps, clamps and cords for my final prototype, I went purchased and tested more than 40 samples. I wanted to make sure the look and feel were exactly what I had in mind, and didn’t give up until I found them. Believe in your vision — that’s the primary source of success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I love this question! My movement would be titled “Don’t Be a Stranger to Kindness”. The point of the movement would be to do something kind for someone you don’t know, as often as you can. Each person would enact this in a way that works for them. It could mean helping a person at the grocery store get an item off of a high shelf. It might mean giving a dollar to the beggar on the corner. It might mean serving food at a homeless shelter. It might mean organizing a service project with your community group. It might mean inventing an inexpensive water purifying device that would help many, many people in a developing country. Anyone can do it, of any age, any economic situation any educational level, and no licenses, special equipment or training are needed. Just kindness. There wouldn’t be an overarching organization and no overhead cost. The movement would be spread through social media and word of mouth. By doing acts of kindness for those we don’t know, there is no emotional baggage, no expectations of anything in return, and no pressure. Just kindness.
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. :-)
Yes! I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I so admire how he lives his life. He was a superb professional basketball player, and then became an accomplished, gifted, and thoughtful writer. And not just the author of one book — he has written multiple books, and continues to write very insightful articles and social commentaries. He stood true to his religion and seems to have an inner core of standing strong in his truth. As a Buddhist, I am drawn to people of faith, any faith, who embody their beliefs and live them with each breath. I would love to talk with him about his journey, his transition from one career to another, and how he has maintained his inner peace through it all.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I can be found on Instagram (Ring_Thing_) and also on Etsy (etsy.com/shop/RingThingDesigns).
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you so much for this wonderful conversation and opportunity!