Interview: Valerie Crisp
Founder of Watson, Entrepreneur, “Wonder-Woman”
Former Professional Athlete and Costumes Professional in Film Industry
“Changing people’s idea of what is good and what is possible is exciting to me.”
SHE INSPIRES Interview Series
I’m always curious about the journeys of successful women who are building amazing companies, overcoming obstacles and going for what they want.
New insights, learning and inspiration you get from them are tremendous.
Here I sit down to discuss what Valerie had to face and who she had to become as a woman, a skater, a designer, an entrepreneur and how she achieved the successes that she did.
She’s also been a professional figure skater for 23 years (retiring in 2016), competing all over the world with team Canada, finishing with a bronze medal in world championships.
Pumped by pushing her own comfort zone as well as helping others realize their true potential, choosing to be in control of who she works with and raising the standards for deliverables, Valerie has set off on an entrepreneurial journey and founded Watson.
WHAT LED YOU TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
When I became a captain for my skating team, I really enjoyed being a leader and in a way having my own ability to choose what I was doing and how things would be run. I enjoyed having a lot of control over where the team was going and how it was going to get there.
So I started to realize, when working in film doing costumes, how I would perhaps not be able to make a lot of my own choices, even if I got to my own goal, which was becoming a costume designer. I would still have to work with people with crazy personalities, a director who wants something different. You have to curate your own perfect team for that working situation to be pleasurable. Otherwise it’s not ideal.
So that’s when I started thinking about how can I get out of this, how can I start my own business and be in control of who I work with and what the standards of deliverables are.
Also work-life balance is huge for me — film is crazy hours, being an athlete is also crazy hours, and I didn’t want my future life to be so one-dimensional. So neither of those things was going to be it.
WHAT IS YOUR PASSION AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER IT?
My passion is changing people’s minds about how much they can accomplish and showing them their true potential. It’s also creating things that people didn’t think were possible, over-delivering and blowing people’s minds.
In skating I learned very early on that I had an idea of how good I can be, but my super hard coach would push me way past that and I became stronger and better. You are put into situations where you have no choice but to succeed. And so I got excited about delivering things that people didn’t think were possible. That transferred into the film industry– if there was a certain mandate around how work is done, I was always trying to impress my boss by doing things in a way that they didn’t think of that gave them a better result.
Also, as the team captain training 16-year-old girls, changing their minds about how much they could accomplish became a strong passion of mine.
And so now when I see complacency in the world or, for instance, backpacks that are crappy to use, my reaction is “I can make this better. Why is nobody thinking about this? Why don’t I try and see how many people are interested?” So as long as there is enough validation, changing people’s idea of what is good and what is possible is exciting to me.
ALONG YOUR JOURNEY, DID YOU FACE ANY OF THE SOCIAL CONDITIONING TELLING YOU TO GET ON THE “PATH”?
Definitely. I would say that my parents’ expectations were liberal, but not totally “you can do whatever you want”. So first of all the expectation was that I was going to go to university. They subscribed to the idea that so long as you have a degree or a diploma, you will have a good job. There was only one program that I was interested in, which was fashion, because I was already making my own clothes and I was actually excited about that. I sort of skirted the rules. I don’t think my parents were impressed by a fashion degree — for them it was not academic and might not lead anywhere. So I pushed the boundaries of the rules, but they were ok with that.
Film — yes, they were a little bit worried at first. It’s contract work and you have to be hustling for your next show. They didn’t even know that this was a job. So I would definitely sensor my explanation of how the industry worked. And as I showed them “Hey, I’m making great money, I’m learning a lot, and I’m having a good time”, then they were more open to the idea. I definitely would just give them little bites and tell them more once I’m succeeding.
And when I started my Watson backpack business, I quit my film job to do this full-time in May 2016, but I didn’t tell my parents about it till September. I knew that they would be afraid that I didn’t have financial security to do that. I felt that they needed validation on this business, financially, seeing money coming in before they would not give me a hard time. I probably could have just told them the truth and they would have gotten over it, but I didn’t feel like adding to my own personal stresses. Selfish decision but that was it. I told them the truth in the least painful way I guess.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST LEAPS YOU’VE MADE IN YOUR LIFE?
Definitely quitting my film job, and quitting it so far in advance of getting financial return from the entrepreneurial venture. That’s risky. Although it’s less risky because I have a roof over my head and we live in a developed country, so the worst-case scenario is not that bad. I believe that whatever choice you make, if it goes badly, there is always a way to get out of it.
“Whatever choice you make, if it goes badly, there is always a way to get out of it.”
Also I would say it was a leap to change my leading style in skating to better serve the team rather than just selfishly hold on to the identity of who I was for my own comfort. I’m an introvert and I prefer to just lead by example and be the most positive person and have everyone follow me because I’m great. And that’s not the type of leader that is the most effective for most people. That was a challenging growing experience but I learned so much and those skills are now the things that I’m most proud of.
WHO DID YOU HAVE TO BECOME IN THE PROCESS? WHAT WAS THE KEY TO GET THROUGH THE CHANGES?
When it comes to skating, I had to become more extraverted, more patient, more understanding, and kinder. I had to really be in tune with what motivated my teammates because we don’t all have the same inner motivators. Personally, I wanted to have the best fitness test, I wanted to be the best on the team. A lot of people don’t want to be the best. A lot of people just want to go to world’s championship, enjoy this experience with their friends, and have a different idea of what the best looks like. So understanding what motivates different people and leading in a way that speaks to their motivators (not necessarily agreeing with them) and not just mine was a challenge.
Being an entrepreneur, who did I have to become? Bulletproof. I definitely had to become resilient. I was shocked by a number of things that go wrong that are “normal” for an entrepreneur. So you just got to roll with the punches and put all the bad stuff in a balloon and let it fly away. Don’t hold on to all the things that went wrong in the last six months because that will just bog you down. You got to keep your eye on the prize.
“Put all the bad stuff in a balloon and let it fly away.”
The biggest shock for me is just realizing how important it is to choose the people you work with and really be critical before you bring someone in to your project. You really want them to be super excited about what you do and also be kind of sceptical. I was in industries, whether it was skating or film, where if you weren’t very good at your job, you got chopped. So now in real world I kind of expect everyone to be good at their job, and most people are not. It’s a challenge to find such people now. I’m just grateful for the experiences that I’ve had and I was lucky to be in spaces with a lot of top performers.
HOW DID YOU COPE WITH FEARS AND SELF-DOUBT ON YOUR JOURNEY?
Analyzing what could go wrong and what I would about it do gives me a lot of calmness. So if this whole business crashed and burnt, I’d lose a bunch of money but I could always go back to my old job and rethink what I might like to do instead. So really just thinking about alternatives and knowing that the alternative is not the end of the world.
Tim Ferriss has this “fear setting” exercise — he thinks about all of the things that could go wrong and what he would do, so then you have a plan for all of the bad things. That’s something we definitely did in skating as well.
WHAT MAKES YOU STRONG?
When I feel weak or unsure or down, what brings me up is relating whatever hardship or uncertainty that I’m going through to something similar that I overcame in skating. I have so many experiences where things were not looking good or I felt hopeless, but I got over them and the results were awesome. I knew that no matter what went wrong, there is a way to get out of it. I would say leaning on those experiences and trying to relate my current “uncertain future” to other top situations in skating that I got through. Then I feel like, “That’s right, I can do this, it’s not much worse.” It helps.
Also, everyone on our skating team got a ring — the more years you were on the team, the more diamonds you got. When I retired, I took it off because I was sad and didn’t want to be reminded of what I left behind. But now I feel like it’s my wonder-woman ring — “You can do this! You’ve got this!”
WHAT MAKES YOUR LIFE FULFILLING? HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU “GOT IT RIGHT” FOR YOURSELF?
I don’t think there is one “got it right”. I think knowing the ingredients that make you happy and being aware of them, you can craft all kinds of different lives that fit within those ingredients. And I think you will be fulfilled and happy. So when I quit skating I had to do big deep dive, “So I can’t do this anymore, but what are the fundamental things that make me happy about that and how can I cultivate them in my life going forward?” Just trying to get closer and closer to that all the time and do more of the things that bring you joy and less of the things that don’t.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO FEEL LIKE SOMETHING IS MISSING IN THEIR LIFE, THEY ARE NOT HAPPY WHERE THEY ARE NOW, OR THEY WANT TO MAKE A CHANGE?
I feel that when you are searching really hard for something, whether it’s a partner or your calling or some sign, you are kind of in a ditch, you can’t see. I think that when you let go of that desperation to find the answer, to find the perfect partner, to find whatever it is that you are looking for, that’s when it comes to you. I think that trying too hard for something kind of makes you blind to opportunities that are outside of what you might have imagined. So I would encourage people to try new things, to put themselves into more challenging or uncomfortable situations because you’ll learn more about yourself and then it’ll become more clear what brings you joy or what’s not really serving you anymore. So I would just encourage people to have more new experiences.
“Trying too hard for something makes you blind to opportunities that are outside of what you might have imagined.”
- Whatever choice you make, if it goes badly, there is always a way to get out of it. Know your alternatives.
- Don’t let the things that went wrong in the past bog you down. Let go and keep your eyes on the prize.
- When feeling down or unsure, think of similar situations in your past and how you overcame them.
- Let go of any desperation to find the answers, and that’s when they will come to you. Trying too hard for something makes you blind to opportunities.
- Try new things, put yourself into more challenging or uncomfortable situations — that’s how you’ll learn more about yourself and it’ll become more clear what brings you joy.
Originally published at www.katyakhalimov.com.