60 Kaaren Whitney: Winning the Viral Loyalty of Millenials

Kaaren Whitney Vernon on Wings PodcastEntrepreneur Kaaren Whitney Vernon shares how she pioneered a new way to engage Millenials with scripted series on YouTube for big brands like Walmart and U by Kotex with shift2, the company she recently sold to Shaftsbury. We talk innovation in marketing, customer engagement, and what it’s like to exit your company.
Melinda Wittstock:          Welcome to Wings Kaaren.
Kaaren Whitney:                Thanks Melinda.
Melinda Wittstock:          So congratulations are in order for you because after several years with Shift2, you sold the company, and you’re now working for the acquirer Shaftesbury. So tell me about that process and what that was like?
Kaaren Whitney:                Well … First off, it is a very emotional process and I was very lucky to have support around me. It’s kind of interesting, the CEO ended up using her … one of her key board directors to do the negotiations. So there was a little bit of separation between myself and … and her, which I think was actually a good move because it does become very emotional when … You know I want … I obviously want the most out of my company and she wants to get it for the least. So you’re already starting off with … you know, very different objectives. And so she kind of separated herself a little bit from it by using one of her board of directors. So that was kind of an interesting process, and … in the end I think the negotiations were very good and like we … It was very fair we … deal that we both came to.
So … and I think in the long run, what I’m doing here now, will really add … because I was a small company, and now I’ve got the support of a much larger global company. And while we have growing pains for sure integrating into Shaftesbury, I think long-term it’s a key area for … for Christina for growth. It’s branded entertainment division and now instead of just a small group trying to deal with all the ups and downs, I have an infrastructure here. And I’ve got people, and I don’t have to worry about cash flow and all the things that come with having a bigger company acquire you.
Melinda Wittstock:          Yes. It’s so true but that there are … there are good things and … and potentially challenging things as well. So you mentioned you have this infrastructure now. You don’t have any kind of sleepless nights thinking: “Oh man, can I meet payroll?” You’re not out there having everything on your shoulders. But on the hand, there’s a little bit of control that you relinquished. Right?
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          What’s it use … What’s it … What’s it like getting used to that transition, from going to … you know I’m creating my own destiny entrepreneur to feeling a little bit more like an employee in a way? I mean is … is … Was that hard like emotionally to be able to figure that out, walk that path?
Kaaren Whitney:                Well you know it’s really interesting because the company doesn’t do what we do. It’s a new category for them. There’s a lot … still autonomy. It’s not like we’ve kind of merged into another company that’s doing the same thing and you lose people. If anything they look at you and they have no idea … you know what you’re doing. So there is still that autonomy that allows us to kind of push ahead with what our goals are. So I think that really matters on who you sell to … for sure is that understanding because … you know there can be a lot of misunderstanding about what … You know all of a sudden if you’ve got a boss and they’re saying “Well, actually we want you to do this.”, and you really don’t believe in that. But I think they rely heavily on what we’re doing and our … our vision, because it isn’t a category that they’re used to.
Melinda Wittstock:          Yeah. So making sure that there’s a real alignment on culture and vision … you know, even when you’re qualifying the opportunity to sell your company. It sounds Kaaren that you’re an intrapreneur and it … it’s lovely that you have that econ … Sorry, I’m going to pick up that way again.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          So it sounds though that you are an intrapreneur, that you can still innovate but innovate with the resources that you need to really grow in scale.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah, and that’s a very interesting way of putting it Melinda is … You know I think a lot of companies now are looking for that role of … you know, of finding people that can actually push them into new directions, see where the opportunities are and allow for them to … to really happen. And as I said I mean Shaftesbury, just to give a bit of background is … is a … has been a traditional television and film production company. Very successful, 30 years in the business. But really saw the change in the industry and how television is being made. And as you know advertising is diverting from traditional television and going into digital. And I think Shaftesbury has been very … has always pushed the envelope into new areas and branded entertainment, which is what Shift2 did is certainly one of those areas. And the CEO really saw that in order for her to diversify and not just be relying 100% on television, is to look at this new area of branded … creating branded content.
Melinda Wittstock:          Yes. So let’s … That’s a perfect segue into branded content and what you created with Shift2. It’s so creative. I want to start with your initial inspiration to create Shift2 and from there, some of the early successes that were really quite phenomenal in their innovation. So what was the original aha spark that made you say “Right. I want to go do this and pioneer this whole new category”?
Kaaren Whitney:                It was my kids.
Melinda Wittstock:          That’s great. Some of these ideas come pretty close to home. I love that.
Kaaren Whitney:                Well no, it’s true. I mean we have a family room with a television in it and I have two boys. And I remember I would weekly go in and see pizza boxes and … you know Coke cans and all that kind of garbage in there because they were watching television. And one month I went in and went hmm, very odd. Nobody’s been in this room in a month. There are no pizza boxes! And so I remember going up to their room and saying to them … This was probably about six years ago “What … What are you doing?” And they said: “We’re watching television.” And they were both on their laptops. And that kind of hit of well wait, they … they think that this is now where they’re getting their entertainment from. It’s not a traditional cable network, they’re getting it from the internet. One of them was a gaming geek and he was watching gaming guys and the other loved watching old TV shows that were all being … you know, had been uploaded on to YouTube.
And … and it was really that decision that I had been in the youth business for about 17 years, running a company called Youth Culture. And certainly we had seen … we’d done a lot of research on media behaviors and habits, and we’d seen the growth of the Internet. I mean this … we started doing this in 1999. The Internet was still … I mean we could do dial up and people were using ICQ for chat. You know Facebook didn’t exist, but we saw that now youth were really calling it cool and they … they wanted to spend as much time on there. So I realized that I couldn’t put all of my eggs into in those days print, I was in the magazine world and they weren’t looking at print. So I started to experiment on YouTube and the culture on YouTube back then … very fairly new. But we started to see influencers and I literally … Honestly Melinda, I ended up getting … getting rid of my traditional magazine editors and started to use YouTubers in different categories. So I remember using an influencer for beauty and she had huge amounts of followers on YouTube and didn’t … you know? And so now she became the person that would pick the type of beauty products that we would showcase in the magazine, and we started to kind of connect together.
But really where the change came was … I was approached by a … a YouTuber who is very famous now, Gigi Gorgeous. And she was doing a … wanted to do a … a reality show on YouTube and … about four young people surviving in the city. And they needed some cash for it and I went “I’m going to try this.” So I was the executive producer. And when I saw the results of the fans and the way young people came and drove to see the show, no marketing at all. Nothing. We just put it up on YouTube and we had millions of views. And then I did a … I got a couple of brands get involved. And the brands were all like “What is this YouTube thing and why are people lining up to see this woman?” And we did a couple of live events and I … that’s when I just went “I got to get out of this traditionally. There is something going on in this world that brands have no clue about, and I need to educate them.” And that’s where Shift2 from, is I wanted to educate brands on the value of creating … you know ongoing content YouTube for their … for their channels.
Melinda Wittstock:          So I remember when I saw you again after a really long time because we knew each other in high school.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          Just for full disclosure and then all these years go by like I don’t know. Like I … I’m not even going to … I’m not even going to date us by saying how many years.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          But I remember the time you were doing a series called ‘Carmilla’.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          Which was so creative. Tell everybody about Carmilla, what it was, what were some of the numbers it drove and how it worked for … I believe it was Kotex-
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          Was the brand.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah, it’s … it’s interesting. I mean … for a while now because I’ve been in the youth market, I met a woman called Denise Darroch who was the brand manager at U by Kotex. And … You know every day she was coming into her office trying to figure out a way to connect with young women and struggling to understand … You know they were using ad blockers, they weren’t listening to her 30 second ads on television because they were now streaming and … So she was really challenged with trying to get her … the core feature that what her brand did, and how it protected young women ’cause it’s … it’s basically a tampon. It’s a tampon company. And who wants to listen to the … the features in … in tampons. I mean it’s just a very interesting subject matter for a lot of young women. So we decided that we were going to come up with something that was going to entertain these young women, get their attention. And once we got their attention, it was the idea then to say we can talk about product features.
And it was … She was very open to it because her brand was what I call a little bit of an outlaw brand. I mean U by Kotex is a black box and they were … you know, they were trying to cut the regular … you know everything’s good when you have your period, the white dresses and twirling around on the beach. And they were … Yeah. And they were really trying to call what it was, like periods sometimes suck. And you don’t really want to be embarrassed about it but we’re … we’re … we kind of hide it. So she was open to the idea of creating something that would entertain them. And we came back with this series called Carmilla, which was actually based on a novella that was written in 1872 by Sheridan Le Fanu. And it was about basically a vampire, and it was the first female vampire 20 years before Bram Stoker even created his … his Dracula. But it was a cautionary tale. It was actually … you know a … against female love, it was kind of the downfall of it. And we thought what if we flipped on the head and made it that actually women falling in love is normal and natural, just like having your period. And what better way than to take people out with a fantasy world, which is Carmilla. I mean a vampire.
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]When you are an entrepreneur, you get sucked into making sure everybody is happy. I’m learning that it’s not always about everybody. Not everybody is going to be happy in a company. And there’s always going to be somebody who thinks something can be done better. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @KaarenVW[/tweet_box]
And I’ll tell you Melinda … I mean it’s been 108 episodes now and because she allowed the story to come first and she didn’t interrupt it, she found that she had 94% unaided brand recall on that show. Without even putting a logo on, because she connected in a way that was visceral, that got to people especially in the LGBTQ community, where they said “Someone is … I see these girls. Someone is thinking about us. Somebody’s actually creating content that’s relevant to us and inspires us, and we thank the brand that brought us this.” And they were a brave brand to do this. And I give Denise all with a lot of credit for … for going along with this idea. But really amazing now that it’s been … you know, translated into 18 languages. We just did a deal actually to be on Hollywood Suites. We did a movie that came out at Halloween that was funded partially by fans. You know it’s … We just signed a book deal with Kids Can Press, it’s going to be launched in 2019. And we’re in discussions now, we’ve got a development deal for a TV series.
Melinda Wittstock:          Kaaren, that is so inspiring and also really interesting how you worked with that brand. I remember … I recall at the time I think … Didn’t they hold back to not even mention U by Kotex until about episode 20?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah. So you’re absolutely right. We always were very transparent and told the audience that there was a brand that was funding the content. And kept it a little bit of a mystery and when we announced it, that it was actually U by Kotex the fans went crazy. And they actually crashed the … the U by Kotex social site because they … they had never seen so much response before from anything. And they … To be honest, they didn’t know how to deal with it and we had to educate them on how to not only respond to the fans and create a two way conversation, but also terminology. I mean like anything, you always know when you’re a fan of something. People create their own lingo.
And so these girls started to call themselves Cream Puffs and … So the brand who was kind of watching this, we … we taught them that if you’re going to talk to them, call them the Cream Puffs. That’s how they call themselves. And so it was sort of an education piece for the brand to kind of learn all this new lingo and how to respond in real time and … And again a lot of brands it’s a challenge, they’re used to kind of scheduling … you know “I’m going to do three tweets today.” And we’re like “You can’t do that. I mean when fans are there, you … you respond. I mean you got to … you got to engage with them. That’s … that’s where you really get where this comes to life.”
Melinda Wittstock:          That’s wonderful because it is … it is a conversation. Marketing has become very much a conversation and a lot of brands don’t know how to do that or they’re … It’s almost like they’re a little bit afraid … some of the bigger companies of interacting on that really personal level. But they’re also … they’re used to being able to just put their message out and that’s all changed. It’s been so disrupted so quickly. I say to people now that we live in … Instead of selling B2C, it’s C2B.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          The consumers really-
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          Have … Have all the power. And so … you know for a brand or a business to be relevant on any platform, it is really about that conversation. And that’s a trend that you saw really early on. And now you’ve spun this out into all these different YouTube channels and series. What are some of the other ones that you have going right now?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yes, we’re … we’re doing a series right now for Walmart and Interact, and it’s called Upstairs Amy. And again, it was a brand who was challenged with reaching a younger consumer, in this case it was millennial moms. And their traditional mode of … of speaking to their consumer has always been things like flyers and magazines and television ads and … And as you probably know with a younger mom, I mean she’s connected with her mobile phone. I mean she’s attached to it, she’s checking her … her Facebook and YouTube and learning about how she can … you know, raise her child and communicating with her friends. And so we created a series that was basically about a mom and dealing with her … what her real life was and what she thought her … her life should be. Like her … her dream life and sort of this combination. And really that spoke to Walmart’s ‘live better, save money’. So this whole idea of I’m still … I still have to raise my kids but there … there’s a part of me that still wants to be a woman and be an entrepreneur or whatever, and it’s sort of balancing that lifestyle.
And I think this show is a comedy, it’s cute … it’s … it’s got some really traction now with fans. But even more importantly, the brand is able to learn a lot about … to your point Melinda, this two-way conversation. And … and creating a lot of content that allows them to kind of speak and say, “Hey, Amy the main character, she dealt with it this way. How would you deal it?” And start those conversations with … with new moms. And you know I think really now, we’re seeing this conversion of content and conversation and commerce all coming together … whether it’s through platforms like YouTube or Facebook and … Which were traditionally … you know, as you know, conversation platforms. But now they’re providing content and we do have the opportunity for commerce on there. So I … I think it is this conversion that’s so interesting for brands to look at and start to experiment with. And you’re right, a lot of them are afraid to do that.
Melinda Wittstock:          Yes. I … I … I love that though. These three Cs, these content, conversation, commerce, because it really all is the same thing. We live in such an increasingly integrated world. I’m also intrigued though with how you actually pull off these deals, because we were talking earlier about … you know, having to educate … you know, the buyers of this or the folks who can really leverage this strategy. Is there a lot of resistance to begin with, and how do you get around that? Because I suspect there’s some lessons for anyone who is listening to this podcast today that sells enterprise software or sells anything where there’s a long lead cycle or anything B2B, where you really have to create a whole new deal structure or persuade someone, a big company to do something they’ve never done before. That’s one of the hardest things for entrepreneurs to pull off.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          And so what were your … some of your secrets in terms of how you got some of these deals to begin with and how you get them now?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah. I mean I’ll … I’ll break it into like my three areas. But one is … it’s … it’s finding the maverick within a … within a company. A big company who either is very … you know, you find them on LinkedIn; they’re writing a lot of stuff about change, disruption, they’re speaking at conferences about this. So that’s one I always … on the lookout for, I call them the mavericks
Melinda Wittstock:          I love this about finding the mavericks within companies. I’m actually a member of an entrepreneurial group called Maverick. So I have a … I … I think most entrepreneurs are inherently mavericks, so finding your … your sister or brother corporate to do a deal with. And so you have this hack of looking for them on Linkedin, which is … is pretty cool. And then once you’ve identified those people, how do you approach them?
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Kaaren Whitney:                Well I mean, there are several ways. One is … is using case studies, like showing them what we’ve already done and how it’s changed. It’s going to conferences where I know there going to be at as well and having opportunities for speaking engagements, being on panels, so they can see what we’re talking about. But even more importantly, it’s just meeting your own … you know, you’re own colleagues in this case, other … other mavericks. And what I did about six months now is, I went to an organization called the Branded Content Marketing Association in the U.K. that have been around for about 15 years. And I asked them if I could bring this association over to Canada and actually North America now.
And we launched at TIFF in September and basically it’s … it’s helping brands to understand best practice in branded content. It’s going out to them with research ROIs, so we’re in discussions with comScore and Ipsos. And it allowed me as a … almost an expert third party to really have conversations with CMOs of big companies, to talk about their challenges of branded content, how it might fit within their bigger media mix. And it’s been really interesting process and … You know, we just actually put out our first video, which … which I can send you a link to, which is talking about the trends that we’re seeing in 2018 in terms of branded content. So it certainly is another way that we’ve kind of positioned ourselves, and allows me to kind of meet the C-Suite.
Melinda Wittstock:          That’s wonderful. And so that … that …[inaudible 00:34:02], I’d love to be able to share that with all our listeners. And so we can maybe put a link to that on the show notes. But Kaaren I love what you’re saying, because if you don’t have a platform create one. It reminds me of the motto of my daughter’s school, she goes to an all girls’ school. And this is great, I think of this every day now, find a way or make one.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah, yeah. That’s great.
Melinda Wittstock:          Right?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          It [inaudible 00:34:31] the mantle of the entrepreneur. But you know creating that eco system around you is really smart. So you automatically have the ability to talk to all the people that you need to. So going way, way back when you were a kid … I mean did you know that you were entrepreneurial? Did you … Did you do all the lemonade stand, all that kind of stuff when you were a kid? Did you think that you were going to go out and create your own business and grow it and scale it and sell it and all that good stuff?
Kaaren Whitney:                You know it … it’s interesting, I mean my dad was in academics, so it’s certainly not in his wheelhouse. But he was always a world traveler. So when we were young, my parents moved constantly. We were in different countries all the time. So there was … you always had to kind of be reintroducing yourself in new situations. But yes, when I look back I didn’t realize I … I was doing things that could … would be considered the lemonade stand. But I did art classes in my basement and charged kids to do and I wasn’t even goo at art. You know, I wasn’t. And I remember having-
Melinda Wittstock:          You hired … you hired … Like it’s so funny you say that ’cause you figured out how to leverage a weakness.
Kaaren Whitney:                [inaudible 00:35:40].
Melinda Wittstock:          You liked art, so you used to hire other people … That’s awesome. And how old were you when you did that?
Kaaren Whitney:                Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I was probably 10.
Melinda Wittstock:          That’s amazing.
Kaaren Whitney:                11.
Melinda Wittstock:          That’s great. I love it.
Kaaren Whitney:                But even things … Like I remember I got that book ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’.
Melinda Wittstock:          I remember that.
Kaaren Whitney:                And it was a huge book and you know in those days, people didn’t go … the library wasn’t … You know, people wouldn’t go to the library … I don’t remember people going to the library that much, but … And I would rent out the book and inside I’d written … you know, ‘If you tear or mess the book, it’s $0.05. If you’re late, it’s $0.07.’ You know I had this whole rules and regulations about renting out my book. But no idea that … you know, that that would lead to anything. And I think when my … my parents got divorced at the time, my parents were living in Africa and I was at boarding school in England. And I remember hearing the news and my mother had been a stay home mom and it was … you know, and followed my father from pillar to post moving us. I just remember thinking, oh my God, I never want to be relying on anybody for my money.
Like it was such a big thing for me. And I … I … Again I don’t have girls, but if I did, I would pushing them to always have … you know, always be making your own money and don’t rely on anybody because … You know they’d been married 30 years when this happened. And you know, not having worked it was … it was such a detriment to our family in terms of … you know, just finances and … and being reliant on … you know, and my dad continued to live abroad. So, you know there’s no infrastructure for making sure you’re getting money. And I think that that is a lesson that I hope all young women … you know, understand is that they have to be making their own money.
Melinda Wittstock:          Yeah, that was a very powerful lesson for me too because my parents divorced when I was six. And all of a sudden you know, I watched my mom struggle through … You know, she was a single mom with three kids, and had never worked.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          I mean she’d been a competitive figure skater, so she started teaching skating. I grew up at an ice rink … skating.
Kaaren Whitney:                But you were a good skater, I remember that.
Melinda Wittstock:          I ended up having to be. It was … It was an interesting kind of cross to bear. But you know, that’s the other thing about sports though too. All these influences we have as kids, so anyone who’s done any kind of competitive sport as well, especially teen sports for women … you know, are much more likely … Did you play any sports or anything like that when you were growing up?
Kaaren Whitney:                You know what? I was a really good … I know … my mother always said “Do tennis. Do tennis.”, and I loved badminton. So I went all through off … you know, our Ontario … you know, in high school right up to grade 12 competing with badminton. But it’s certainly … it’s a great thing to have now when we’re up at the cottage and everybody’s playing badminton. I can … I can … I still do very well, but it wasn’t really a … a big team sport.
Melinda Wittstock:          It’s interesting though because it does teach you all kinds of things about discipline, about training, about it being okay to fail.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          I failed constantly as a figure skater. I mean you know because you were learning all these jumps and things, and you’re like basically-
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah, but you’re gutsy. I mean [crosstalk 00:39:07].
Melinda Wittstock:          Well I just like fell down. I fell down like a lot.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          I think I’m still paying the price ’cause I still have these weird like neck pains and things from it but … But, yeah … But it’s … It’s interesting though going back to this thing about divorce, because I … you know I watched her really struggle. And I thought the same thing. Okay, never, ever, ever am I going to be in that situation. And that’s a funny one when you set an intention like that because many, many years later, I found myself in almost the exact same situation.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          You know with a marriage that was failing and … and … in being in a bad kind of frame of mind and my business really struggling as a result and … and being able to correlate those two things. So I’ve now arrived at the conclusion, it’s so very clear to me not only for my own journey, but so many of the women that I interview, that our personal growth and our business growth is intrinsically connected. And like the frame of mind or the mindset that we have, really is a predictor of how well we’re going to do in our businesses, whether they get into flow or whether they feel like kind of Sisyphean, kind of push the boulder up the mountain kind of businesses.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          And that’s been really interesting, that epiphany of personal growth. So have you had similar … like sort of epiphany’s on your journey about the connection between your … you know where you’re at in your head and where your business is at?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yes. I mean it’s so funny you asked this because I have recently thought … I … I’m coming now in my … I’ll say it in my 50’s, to a point where I’m actually … most people would be in their 30’s. But I … I’m fine with it, like I’m actually getting to do all the things that I want now. My kids have grown up, I’ve done my job as a mom. They’re out of the house. My husband is … you know, set to retire. He is just happy to make nice meals for me and now it’s all focused on me. It’s all … 100% is about growing my business, about … you know, being able to travel. I was never … You know when you have kids, it’s so hard to travel. And now I … I’ve been in Europe like three times, in January I think I’ve got four trips planned. I’m really coming into my own now and I know I’m a little … I guess I’m a late bloomer. That’s all I can say. But I’m … I’m lucky that … that I’m kind of getting this opportunity and I don’t care about my age. I’m … I’m just … I’m really kind of excited that I’ve got this chance now.
Melinda Wittstock:          Isn’t it wonderful though, ’cause we’re at the same age right?
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          So where wisdom and exuberance start to be equivalent.
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          ‘Cause I always had like plenty of energy, like almost boundless energy, but the wisdom took a little longer to catch up or it … or whatever. It’s kind of like growing pains. But I feel the same way. And I see so many women around me and around us doing incredible things … and in … in reinvention and really stepping into the light I guess if you will, in their late 40’s, into their 50’s and even 60’s and starting businesses. And there was some great research … I will find this and I will put it in the show notes for the episode of the risk profile of women versus men. And men tend to really take all their biggest risks and be like really great at startups in their 20’s and women tend to have that same profile as exactly as you described. Like as their kind of coming into their mid to late 40’s and into their 50’s and that’s when we really excel. But that of course does not fit the … the venture capital pattern for who gets capital because we don’t … We’re not walking around in our 50’s in hoodies and spending time in our garage and eating ramen noodles. We’ve-
Kaaren Whitney:                No.
Melinda Wittstock:          Like a good deal more experience and … and are bringing … Sorry. It was just there was a gap there. We have a good deal more experience that we’re bringing to innovation and plus isn’t it great to just feel really comfortable with yourself?
Kaaren Whitney:                Oh, I mean I have to tell you I’m … I feel so … you know, content right now and happy and excited. And it is … You’re absolutely right. We have this society that is so obsessed with youth and the next big idea’s going to come out of a 20-year old guy. But I also feel there’s a little bit of that shift right now with women and … you know, I’ve seen other reports too of this is year of women. Women are standing up to their rights. Women are going out there and we’re getting … you know whether it’s diversity inclusion in big companies, it’s becoming members of boards now and there’s this big push to get more women out there.
I think … I think there is this … this pivotal shift now and you know, with women like you that are leading the way and talking to other women entrepreneurs and sort of embracing this idea that we can at the age of … you know, in our midlife can come up with great ideas. Like our ideas are just as good as a 20 year old guy and we’re doing it. And so I think we should be proud of that and we should get other women kind of feeling confident. Now the money, that … You’re right, that’s … that is going to come. I think … you know whether you look at things like She-EO that’s out there and they’re trying to kind of shift that conversation of venture capital … you know, towards more female entrepreneurs. Companies, big banks that are looking at supporting female entrepreneurs. But … you know, it still takes time but at least we have that confidence. Right Melinda?
Melinda Wittstock:          Exactly. And it’s … I think … You know one of the reasons I started this podcast ’cause it occurred to me one day that women were doing amazing things and they were sort of succeeding in silence.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          And it was really time to affirm and acclaim our journeys, because the more of us … just like the Me Too movement. You know the more of us that actually share our real authentic experiences, the more it gives permission for other women and younger women coming up to really just not get in our own way and just like go for it. ‘Cause I think-
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          I think of all the ways that … that … that women … even now, you know or I think … Sorry. When I think of all the ways women, even now how we … how we get in our own way. So whether it’s like … I don’t know. Making perfect the enemy of the good or not hiring fast enough or … or trying to do it all ourselves or those sorts of things …
It’s interesting to see though that even now, women do … I mean a lot of us still kind of get in our way. On this show we talk a lot about for instance things like perfectionism, where sometimes women don’t speak up in a meeting or don’t sing their own praises or don’t ship the product early enough because it has to be perfect. That’s just one way where sometimes we … we can be our own worst enemies. What are some other things that we do or perhaps things in your life Kaaren, that you found yourself doing that you’ve then sort of overcome … you know as you come into your 50’s and say “Oh, man. I’m not going to do that anymore.”?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:          I’m over that. What are some of those things?
Kaaren Whitney:                Well I’ve always … you know I think as women … and it’s interesting, I’m just hearing again about young girls still going for dolls and boys still going for Lego. And how we … we socialize girls from a very early age to be about nurturing and caring and … You know, I think a lot of women have a very high need to make sure that there is … everyone is working together and getting along and … and HR can really drag you down as … You know, when you are an entrepreneur, you get sucked into making sure everybody is happy and getting along where I think … now it’s kind of … I’m learning that it’s not always about everybody. You know it’s not that we don’t want people to be happy, but it’s … it’s not always about … Not everybody is going to be happy in a company. And there’s always going to be somebody who thinks something can be done better, and that … at the … doesn’t have to be consensus and that it’s my decision. And that’s taken me a long time and I still sometimes shuffle back going the consensus route or hearing that people are upset and trying to solve the problems. And … And I do think that comes from that very early age of nurturing and … you know, being a caregiver and that … that we want that and that sometimes doesn’t work in a company.
Melinda Wittstock:          Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s so true. So when you look forward to say the next several years, you know five to ten years, do you have a moonshot? What’s your big vision? Where do you want to be?
Kaaren Whitney:                Well I just recently was in the South of France at an event called MIPCOM, which is the big television marketplace where people from all over the world come and sell their products. And we’re a digital play and we were presenting what we were doing with Walmart and everybody was like “Wow, this is amazing.” I had an opportunity to put a pitch together for two … One is a French broadcaster and one is an Italian. And my dream of all dreams is that this concept, this idea of helping brands understand the value of creating stories on an ongoing basis digitally, means that it’s a global property. And I love the idea of being … you know, if we get this business in Italy … you know, it’s for a big supermarket. Imagine … I mean it’s a global European supermarket. So that would be my moonshot, is getting content that would really … would be bought for all around the world, not just North America.
Melinda Wittstock:          That’s beautiful. So, I know you’ll do it.
Kaaren Whitney:                So then you’ll come and visit me in Italy?
Melinda Wittstock:          Oh absolutely, I will. I’ll drop by MIPCOM again too.
Kaaren Whitney:                Or Paris.
Melinda Wittstock:          I remember going to MIPCOM … God years ago when I was media correspondent of The Times of London, and wow what a scene that was.
Kaaren Whitney:                It’s crazy. It … It’s so amazing to see … to be able to walk down aisles of … like Korea and an aisle for China and aisle for India, and just see all the content that people are creating. But knowing that what we’re doing with brands and creating content that is just as good as what you would … you know, you would see on a television and that … that it’s still so new, even in all these countries gets me excited. Because … you know, I do think that we’re … we’re going to see more … you know, Italian or Scottish or other broadcasters coming to us to say “How do you do this and how can we get involved?” So I don’t want to end my career in North America, I just hope there’s these opportunities that I get that … to see a global kind of presence.
Melinda Wittstock:          That is a wonderful mission and vision. And Kaaren for people who want to find you and … or maybe … you know, we have a lot of women who run companies that listen to this, and could find what you do very valuable for them as well. How can they find you?
Kaaren Whitney:                Yes. I think … you know the best place to find me is … is on Linkedin for sure. Kaaren Whitney-Vernon and it’s certainly … I’m always on there and … and speaking to people and posting blogs and videos. So that would be the best place.
Melinda Wittstock:          And it’s Kaaren with two A’s everybody. So K-A-A-R-E-N.
Kaaren Whitney:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock:          So what a wonderful conversation. It was so great to catch up with you today.
Kaaren Whitney:                Oh, thanks Melinda. It’s always great to hear what … what’s going on with you as well.

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