Name: Kari Willis
Location: Orange, California
Occupation: Owner, E Factor
Kari, you started your business, E Factor, over 8 years ago. How did you make the jump from corporate America to entrepreneur?
After having my daughter, I realized I couldn’t play it safe any more. I had to follow what was always on my heart and that was to start my own firm. I hit that point where my husband and the voice in my head told me stop ignoring what you WANT and KNOW you can go do it. The voice said stop being afraid and taking the safe route that my upbringing and parents had encouraged me to take.
"Yes, I had a good paying job with secure benefits, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to jump and take the risk or I knew I would regret it."
It was time to take the risk to do it my way, believe in myself, and, more importantly, bet on myself!
How did the people around you react when you told them you were leaving your six figure career to start your own business? And how did you react to their reactions?
It was definitely a mix...friends were supportive, but they had no idea what I was about to encounter. They were not speaking from experience, but as supportive friends. Family thought I was crazy! They feared how I would financially support our family and manage my time raising the kids while running a company. Honestly, nobody could see my vision and how clearly I knew this would work. I was beyond fired up to show what I could do and was just unapologetic in my decision.
Many companies have been impacted by COVID-19, but the events industry has perhaps been hit the hardest with in-person events being cancelled. What was your philosophy for your business when you saw things coming to a stop in March 2020? And what has that meant for your business?
Yes, I gave myself one night with a glass of wine to cry in my closet and feel sorry for myself. In that moment I felt the weight of eight years of hard work to now seeing my business falling apart. THEN, the next day I switched my mentality and kept telling myself “I can do hard things.” We took the mentality and approach just as we had 8 years ago when starting the business and started picking up the phone. We looked at ways we could pivot the business and moved fast. We made the pivot to virtual events the week after the shutdown. Did I know how to do it all? Nope. However, as I had done before I knew we could figure it out. I read, I researched, and we learned a new skill set. I was not going to allow this situation to stop us and I was beyond grateful that I could control how we moved through this. I was going to keep my employees and make it through this wave. Now six months later, we have a new division in our company with virtual events. Hybrid events and virtual events will not go away. Our employees have learned a new skill set that has kept them current. The growth in all of us fires me up. Watching our team grow outside of their comfort zone is something to be proud of.
You have said you are not afraid to pivot. Where does that come from? And what advice would you give to someone who is staying still because of fear?
Every bone in my body is committed to E Factor and inspiring others to start their business. Is it ugly at times? You better believe it! Are there a ton of moments of, "SHIT I don’t know how to do this?" There sure are. The longer I am a business owner the more I realize pivoting is part of the game. I attribute this to when I was 16 years old and moved to New York to perform on Broadway. I was scared, but I knew getting out of California to do what I love would be worth it. I have always been relentless in the pursuit of my dreams. I watch so many people pause in fear. Honestly, I always ask myself what is the worst that could happen? I also know that when I pivot I am making that choice and I just commit 110%. I will out work them 10 out of 10 times. You have to be confident to pivot!
As an entrepreneur, you have embraced the belief that you have to have a strong money mindset. How did that happen? And how can other people get over playing too small?
Having a strong money mindset is an area I am challenged by daily! For so long I had no idea how my money mindset was slowing down my business. I was making decisions based on the fear of losing money versus making decisions on an abundance mindset. I thought when I started my business I had my hourly rate dialed in, but what I didn’t realize was how many hats I had to wear as a small business owner. Very quickly I realized I was charging too little and had disproportionately valued my time. Every time I dropped my rate, it came back to bite me in the ass! If you play small, you will be treated small. Playing big is a mental game and for so long I struggled as to what playing bigger meant. Was that bigger clients? I kept trying to make it tangible, when in reality it was me that needed to play bigger. My mental switch was the game changer. Once I did, the fun began. As a business owner, nothing is more fun than dreaming big. It is frustrating when operating the company gets in the way of the fun!
As you know, being an entrepreneur means you are never past coming up against new challenges. How do you handle challenges?
Challenges I look at as growth! I look at it as a learning experience. As a business owner, if you don’t see them as growth you will quit. I face challenges on the daily and the more successful you get the more challenges you encounter. What you learn is that your reaction to them is what matters. You can’t freak out (amateur moment!)--you need to assess and make the best decision at the time with the information you have. Will you make wrong decisions? Yes! Again, you have to learn from it and not beat yourself up. When faced with challenges as I always tell my team, come to me with solutions not the problems. Build a culture of problem solving.
What is next for E Factor? And what drives you to keep going and growing?
Next E Factor is expanding with offices in Texas and New York. Then we will own our own venue to host events and expand the number of experiences we can create!
What drives me to keep going is our employees and my family. I love being around our team, traveling with them, and they are why E Factor is successful. E Factor is nothing without our people. I am fired up for the expansion and the number of people our firm can touch and bring joy through experiences.
Anything else you want to share with us?
Just do it! I feel like an old Nike commercial, but I tell women all the time to just go for it. Just do it - STOP overthinking it. You won’t know it all, you won’t have it all together, you will fail forward, you will make mistakes- who cares! If someone else is watching you that closely it is because they are jealous of you going for it. Stop wasting energy on what others think about you and go after what you are called to do. And whatever you do stop playing small because of other people’s opinions.
"Stop wasting energy on what others think about you and go after what you are called to do."
A question we ask everyone...what do you want to be known for?
I want to be known for being unapologetic in my pursuit to being a no BS Business Owner, loving Wife, and fun Mom, where my ambition inspires other women to do the same. At times it is complete chaos, but this is my story! I hope I inspire other women to look fear in the face and go for it if on the days they feel like a hot-mess.
My favorite quote is...
"Don't compare your behind the scenes with someone else's highlight reel."