Witnessing Karen is like watching a storm happen in a drought—it's disruptive, happens like lightning and any environment will be better off after. Here are her thoughts on business values and the journey of Our Kinds.
The summary of my career, is that I didn’t understand the true power of ‘me’ until I was 50. I’ve moved across many different industries and taken on so many different roles. I’m basically an opportunities manager, I see the gaps and can envision different ways of achieving things.
My style is absolutely jumping in feet first, it has been ever since I was young, the difference is now I’ve got enough confidence in myself to influence the people around me to get involved. That’s what you need to take something from a seed of an idea to an actual business opportunity.
The moment that really resonates with me is launching the Karitane Early Parenting Store in Bondi Junction. I had been working in the early parenting sector for a not for profit and I could see that there were waitlists, and that funding was dwindling.
They needed to reinvent and find other revenue streams to support the demand, there were difficulties with that. Early parenting centres have a long heritage, longterm practitioners, cumbersome regulation and it can be hard to introduce anything new. Parents feel a stigma in not coping with the demands of parenting and can leave it too late to seek advice and support.
We designed a health service that presented as a store—easy to find, to access, to afford and most importantly devoid of stigma. For me, this was the highlight—that we enabled resilience in families, that we enabled stronger communities to be developed. That’s what really drives me.
We want this to be an inclusive, safe business for people. And for the business to truly represent the diversity of the Australian population. So apart from the big focus on sustainability measures, it’s really about enabling people of all kinds.
Neither of us (herself and other Our Kinds Co-Founder Hamish) are interested in working ourselves into an early grave or breaking our team. It’s important to have a life, I’ve experienced working 20-hour days and it’s thankless and burns you out. You need to have drive, but you also need to have balance within you.
I think that smart partnerships and surrounding yourself with good people is important—it certainly is for me. I can crumble sometimes, you know, you can’t do it all the time but we’re human—life is multi-dimensional, and not all about one thing. It's not all clients and work. You have all these different inputs, and, you know, sometimes the scales just tip a certain way you need that extra support.
Overall, it’s good to have lofty visions but it’s good to remember there are many ways they can be brought to life. Every day you must reprioritise. I’ve found that can be hard in business because people become very attached to ideas and concepts or ways of working. Sometimes that just makes getting things done harder. There are solutions out there and it’s important to be courageous to find them. The approach might change, but the vision doesn’t.
It’s also important for CEO’s to be able to hold people’s confidence through the unknown during that journey. I think both Hamish and I are capable of that. We’re very different, but we both have the same values and the same kind of ambition for the world—we want to leave a legacy for our kids and we both want to make sure that the businesses we’re running are profitable and that they can lead to being able to do more great work.
Honestly, we always try to make it fun. It’s just a better environment to work from.
It is this massive collaboration with people, we're creating a business architecture that other people can thrive within. With investors and partners after we explain to them what we’re doing the response is often “oh, I could have a taste of that”, like “we could partner up, I could do that, I could do this, I could invest, I could refer you to this person”. Basically, we rarely have a conversation now where we don't move something forward.
We're collaborating, we're not competing, we're not hiding away designing things. We're being almost completely transparent—we've got some things under NDA but, people are gobsmacked by the vulnerability. Then they realise that this is what allows us to engage. This is what allows us to collaborate successfully.
And then, you know the messaging, and everything is very much pro social. And it's about enabling new and better behaviours, rather than punishing old behaviours. It’s about supporting and encouraging the change. We’re looking at ways to easily apply our model to basically everything in the plastics plan—which exists in every state in Australia and across 193 member states of the United Nations.
We’re creating a great model in which other businesses can thrive. That means we all thrive. This allows us to then look at other ways we can create and solve really gritty problems commercially and sustainably.