Friday, August 17, 2018

An Entrepreneur Who Knows Her Why - business serving a higher purpose

Kortney Olson , founder of the GRRRL  brand
Kortney Olson is carving out a niche space in the multi-billion dollar industry of women’s active / leisure wear. She is the founder and dynamic CEO of “GRRRL”, a brand that reflects a spirit of physicality, independence and authenticity.

Traditional sportswear brands tend to target women of “standard” sizes, whereas the GRRRL brand caters for women of all sizes and their marketing specifically features women of large plus sizing.

Like any entrepreneur, Kortney’s motivation and determination in establishing and growing her business is fuelled by a vision – but it is one that is deeply rooted in driving social change and female empowerment. The brand is associating itself with leading female ambassadors from sports that include weightlifting, martial arts and body-building. High profile brand ambassadors (such as Holly Holman, the UFC mixed martial arts champion) get on board because they share the same values of inspiring women to become more self-accepting of their body image.
"We want women to find the awesome and extraordinary within themselves”
The company’s tagline “It’s Time to Change the Game” speaks for what the business stands for. The website explains “…..Our clothes won’t change the world, but the women who wear them will….. We want women to find the awesome and extraordinary within themselves”

A brand that says to women - "Be true to who you are"
Since the establishment of the business in 2015, growth has been phenomenal - with over 30,000 customers spread across more than 20 countries. 

Kortney established the business as a means of generating funding for her “Kamp Konfidence”, a training and personal development program that aims to inspire teenage girls to develop stronger foundations of self-respect and self-love. 

The incidence of suicide and self-harm amongst teenage girls is alarming and Kortney believes this can be reduced through educating young people to develop their skills in resilience, assertiveness and self-esteem, so they are more capable of with-standing peer group pressures that exist around drugs, sexuality, bullying and body-image.

Kortney’s passion is encouraging women to stop looking for acceptance and approval outside of themselves and instead find it within. Her zeal is partly fuelled by her own early struggles with depression, drugs and rape. She readily admits that for several years she seriously lost her way and was barely surviving in a deeply dark place - but eventually regained a sense of direction, faith and clarity of purpose in her life.

Strong is the new pretty at GRRRL
Kortney is using these experiences to connect with young women who may be facing similar struggles and she seeks to inspire them with the confidence to follow their dreams. 

Kortney agreed to share some of the lessons, tips and insights she has gained so far as an entrepreneur who is building a successful business (which recently featured in Forbes magazine). However she explains it is a business whose higher goal is more than just making a profit .....I asked her 5 questions –
      1. Running and growing a business takes a lot of stamina and inner fortitude. You were a professional athlete Kortney, and perhaps thereby possessed the benefit of bringing an ability to focus and persevere to your business. But what about other aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice would you offer them for getting through the difficult times?

That’s a great question Brian.  I believe my dogged attitude actually comes from something other than having an athletic background.  It comes from being a recovered drug addict/alcoholic!  Upon completing treatment, many of us still carry traits of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  I realised a long time ago that I could turn that OCD into something incredibly powerful. 

Recovering alcoholics and addicts are often given labels by society – and a social stigma will often accompany this – however we don’t have to allow these to hold us back.  For me, it was about a flip of perspective – turning a weakness into a strength. 

An integral part of my growth as a business owner has been accompanied by my commitment to personal growth and self-development.  Something I found incredibly helpful back in early 2015, was taking the “natural gift assessment”.  As part of an intensive self-improvement program, I learned that we are all born with various inherent gifts and that I have 3 “primary” gifts ….. The gift of Encouragement (explains why people like and trust me); The gift of Evangelism (explains why if I have love or belief in something or someone, then the world is going to know about it), and the third (which apparently is rare to have as a primary gift) is The gift of Giving. 

The gift of giving means that when I see a problem in the world, it’ll keep me up at night until I see that it’s fixed.  I have come to believe that if we are able to understand what our primary natural born gifts are, then we can harness these powers to our benefit (and to the benefit of others around us) - and better understand the reason why we are programmed the way we are.

Also let me add Brian, I have recently found myself being invited to speak at business conferences, and I have developed a keynote speech which I call “Goals Not Controls”.  In a nutshell, I share my experience that as entrepreneurs many of us often get TOO caught up in all of the details of what we think things are supposed to look like - right down to the very smallest detail.  Instead, as we learn to focus more on the overall end result, and less upon the means of achieving that result, we free ourselves up for the possibility that sometimes the Universe will have a different plan for how we will get there.

     2. What have you learned about surrounding yourself with the right team of people, in order to grow a successful business?

Yes, surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting people is CRUCIAL!  I believe we eventually become the sum of the 5 top people we most hang around with....

Since I’ve been in Singapore, I’ve been searching for mentors to help guide and direct me because I know how important this is.  I am convinced that the growth of my business is directly proportional to my on-going growth as a human being ….. and the people with whom I most regularly associate with will influence my learning and growth …..  

In my business (and my life), I want people around me who possess strengths and qualities that complement my own, people whom I can trust – and people who ultimately help to bring out the best in me.  

I recall reading once that Warren Buffet said that when he was hiring senior people to join his business, there were three qualities he particularly looked for – Intelligence, Drive and Integrity. But above all – he regarded integrity as the quality that he valued most.

     3The “GRRRL” brand is carving out a real niche in the women’s active/leisure wear industry. You have built a HUGE social media following …. What marketing advice would you offer to small business owners – who typically however are operating with a very limited marketing budget.

We’ve bootstrapped this brand to the moon and back.  It may surprise you that we spend very little on marketing - in fact, less than 5%. 

What people are drawn to, is authenticity……  I believe we’re at a tipping point where people are really starting to cut through the nonsense and wake up to who genuinely resonates with them and helps them see-through all of the “smoke and mirrors”.
For me, business is about showing up on a consistent basis.

With social media, it’s about putting myself out there in ALL states which has really spoken to my audience and enabled me to connect with them.  I don’t sugar coat anything.  I’ve posted pictures of myself crying in complete and utter frustration. …… Even though I once had a mentor tell me that leaders don’t show emotion and cry, I have made a conscious decision to always keep it real.  For me, authenticity is the way forward.

      4. What would you say has been one of the major hurdles you’ve had to overcome in your business journey so far – and what did you learn?

The biggest hurdle has been cash flow.  It’s probably a headache that many other owners of small and medium size businesses can relate to!

At this point in the growth of my business, ever cent is going back into inventory…… But- one thing I have learned is this – the power of prayer and trusting that the Universe has a plan……. I believe that as long as my business goals are such that others will gain benefit – as opposed to goals that are purely about self-benefit, then I believe that the Universe will provide me with the necessary means for achieving my goals. This faith has kept me showing up time and time again. 

When I say the word “prayer”, I’m not necessarily meaning in a religious context.  I know that it can be a loaded word, carrying connotations of some type of “God”. 

But even an atheist can simply look around and keep an open mind that there is SOMETHING else out there beyond this material world that we have access to if we ask for help.  Every entrepreneur should read the classic book Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.  It’s here he talks about “the ether”.  It’s this ether that I refer to as “The Universe”. 

I do not wish to sound like a zealot. But at the end of the day, all I know is that for me, there is a God, and I am NOT it. 

If I show up on a daily basis, and ask this higher power (God, or whatever you want to call it) for guidance, and to show me how to serve humanity through my business, and not my selfish, self-centred ego -  then things always seem to have a way of eventually working out. 

It also takes some of the pressure off of me personally, as I believe there is a “higher power” that can help guide and inspire me in the way I run my business (and my life) which can enable me to better serve our planet.

      5. Kortney, so much of what you are doing with “GRRRL” and “Kamp Konfidence” is motivated by your passion for women’s empowerment….. Do you believe that an entrepreneur can succeed if their motivation is solely about making money by providing a “solution to a problem”, or does it need to be more than that?

Providing a solution to a problem is the fundamental premise of how business has been done for the last 100 years.  If you’ve watched the recent film “The Founder” about the McDonalds Brothers and Ray Kroc, I think it reveals a lot about the most basic principles of traditional business.  Value is in the eye of the customer; quality is about maintaining an expected standard consistently; and ensure the customer and accessibility is kept at the forefront of all product development decisions. In addition to these basic business principles, the film also displayed how the pursuit of profit could sometimes be ruthless – presenting Kroc as someone who eventually cared more about money than the relationship he had originally built with the brothers.

However I think we have seen some shifts in the business landscape over the past ten years …… There has been an emergence of brands like GRRRL – and also for example, Tesla and The Body Shop, which exist for a purpose greater than just solving a problem and turning a profit. ….. Whilst we are solving a problem, it’s a much higher level problem than just plugging a gap in the marketplace and meeting a consumer need. At its core, there is a cherished vision of a social benefit that is driving the business – which is one that I believe our customers, associates and staff can all genuinely become engaged with.  

Each of us must find our own way.... For me, building a business that is as much about serving a "Higher Purpose" as it is about being profitable, has provided me with a sense of meaning and personal fulfilment that I had been searching for in my life. 

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us Kortney.  You can find out more  about the GRRRL story at -  More information about the self-empowerment workshops that Kortney Olson runs for teenage girls can be found at Kamp Konfidence on Facebook - enquiries from potential new corporate sponsors for the workshops are always welcome.

Other articles that might be of interest - The Inner Game of Business and also How To Flourish - lessons from positive psychology