Ep. 11: INTERVIEW - Kim Kaupe on Building Superfan with No Funding

 
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Kim Kaupe on Building Superfan with No Funding | Idea to Startup Podcast Episode 11 | Convert audio-to-text with Sonix

Brian Scordato :
Hello. This is the Idea to Startup podcast brought to you by Tacklebox, the accelerator for founders of full time jobs. Recently a founder told me that Tacklebox was like a personal trainer who has a regimen that kicks the crap out of your idea until you see clearly whether your idea has potential or not. I'm weirdly fine with that.

Brian Scordato :
Anyway, today on the podcast we're talking with Kim Kaupe the founder of Superfan. Kim's built a great business the past eight years on the back of one core insight. There's a small percentage of fans that want a lot more than what they're getting from their favorite musician, baseball team, music festival, just about anything they care about. Her clients include Carrie Underwood, the Boston Red Sox, the Stage Coach Music Festival and Paul McCartney. And she's built experiences to delight these diverse fan bases.

Brian Scordato :
Best of all, she's done it with exactly $0 in funding. Kim's also built a powerful personal brand, something we get into as an important question I get from a lot of founders is "should they elevate themselves when building their product?", "do they matter?", "will them being the face of their business hurt or help?". Finally we talk about the tough decision of going B2B or B2C. This is a good one I hope you enjoy. Here's Kim and have a great Fourth of July weekend.

Brian Scordato :
Thanks so much for being here.

Kim Kaupe:
Thank you for having me.

Brian Scordato :
And for anyone who doesn't know what is a Superfan?

Kim Kaupe:
An agency focuses on the fans and obviously really rapid fan bases that cannot get enough of their favorite music artists, sports team, celebrity to be that sort of thing. So we focus on that subset of fans and making sure they are surprised and delighted and feel really connected to the things they love.

Brian Scordato :
Awesome, I am really excited because this sounds like a ridiculously daunting idea to start. So I looked at your idea.

Kim Kaupe:
Any idea is a daunting idea to start, but yes.

Brian Scordato :
That's very true. I'd love to hear how this started. What was the idea that kicked this all off?

Kim Kaupe:
Absolutely. So my co-founder Britney and I really were sitting in this space eight years ago we started the company, I always like to tell people you know January 2011 if I could paint a picture, there was no Spotify, there was no Instagram, there wasn't a Snapchat, Twitter was just becoming this weird thing that people were starting to use. The landscape of how we consumed entertainment was completely different than what it is today.

Kim Kaupe:
But what we were seeing is OK, Facebook was starting to permeate beyond young people. And what we're seeing is that these celebrities and entertainers that were on the platform and it use to be really fine for some of them to post once a month and then turned into once a week and then it turned into a once a day. And then it turned into once in the morning and once in the afternoon. And what we're seeing is like what which is feeding the bears. Like they're feeding the bears more and more and more which just means the bears are going to keep coming if you keep feeding them. And not only that if you stop feeding them, they're equally angry. Which is pretty much what's happening now fast forward eight years when any celebrity like Selena Gomez decides to take a break from Instagram. The fan base goes apoplectic because they're so used to be fed information.

Kim Kaupe:
It also causes, we're seeing, that people were becoming less less disconnected from their favorite celebrities and sports teams and entertainers and anything we're becoming more connected because it wasn't just "oh I like Justin Bieber songs", It was, "what does he eat for breakfast?", "what is his workout plan?", "who is doing his hair?", "how is he styling his clothes?" and people became more connected to these other parts of an artist or an actor or a sports team that we were never able to see. Or certainly when I was growing up where are able to see it.

Kim Kaupe:
So we decided to start this company to really focus on that subset. Those superfans who were gonna lean really really far in and get really really excited by these opportunities to engage for.

Brian Scordato :
Awesome, I love a tight customer segment, so I like that a lot.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah it's super, super niche. I always tell people, they're like well who is a Superfan. They're are superfans everywhere. Superfandom is not a demographic and psychographic and it doesn't matter if you're young or old or where you live. And when I have people say "oh I'm not a Superfan of anything", I always say "well what coffee did you drink this morning?", "What airline did you fly?", "what shoes do you swear by?", Because people sit there and talk all day long about you have to fly Delta, you know, I don't fly anything but Delta and I only drink Starbucks coffee, I can't drink anything else but Starbucks coffee or my mom's spaghetti is the best spaghetti and every other spaghetti is terrible. You are a Superfan, whatever that thing is that you will live and die by. So everyone is a Superfan of something.

Brian Scordato :
My mom's spaghetti is the best.

Kim Kaupe:
It could be that

Brian Scordato :
So that's really interesting to me. I love that. I think that in general founders should go after that to start. So rewinding back to when you started, was there a specific artist that you were like, this artist has a crazy superfan.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah, When I started the company at 25 I was just like can someone give us work. Like anyone, I don't even care who is it. And I think just in that beginning year You just want someone to believe and I think what we ended up doing a really great job is in the beginning people are shocked, but we pretty much worked for free because I knew that once we had a case study, once we had something that I could go to people and say "here Brian I know it has Ralph on it, but imagine it with you. But we needed that first piece to be able to take to all those other meetings.

Kim Kaupe:
So the first couple projects we were pretty much like listen we'll do this for free, like, no harm no foul on your part. You get something out of it, we get something out of it. Great. So the first couple projects we did for pretty much zero dollars in order to have something to go and show other people, because I think there is a real domino effect and you see that in a lot of start ups whether you're talking about press, whether you're talking about products.

Kim Kaupe:
Um I'll have friends who have a product business and the minute they get in Whole Foods everything blows up because anybody else they go, they can be like "Well Whole Foods carries us" and it's the same thing with the press. The minute you get one piece of good press it's a waterfall system into everything else because once you can say "well I was on the New York Times top 50 entrepreneurs of the decade" then it's much easier forbes or an entrepenuer when you have something to point to behind you and say "well if they said something is good then it must be good".

Kim Kaupe:
And that's true whether you're a product or service and whether you're talking about your own business or a PR stunt.

Brian Scordato :
So early on, founders or anybody can borrow some credibility from somewhere else.

Kim Kaupe:
Yes not really borrow credibility but get it wherever you can, so many entrepreneurs come to me and say like "Kim you're on the Forbes Under 30 list, like how do I get on Forbes?". And I'm always like "hold on boo, don't worry about getting on Forbes, what's local? Is there a local award in Greenwich, Connecticut?". I don't know, is there something you can win there and can you go from that and get something from the state of Connecticut and from the state of Connecticut and builds and that way when you finally apply to a Forbes or you finally go to someone again you have something to point behind you and say "look I was no. 1 alumni from my college. Or I won this award or that award.

Kim Kaupe:
It's much easier for people to say yes when they see that it's been previously verified and that is true anywhere down to dating. You go on a date with someone and think that you had a great time, but the minute one of your friends said "oh my gosh I went to college with him and he's great". You're kind of saying "oh I'm definitely going on a second date". You know, because you have that validation from another source.

Kim Kaupe:
And PR is the same way. So I always tell people get validation from other sources before you go after some of these bigger fish, because it makes it much much easier than just nothing and out of the blue.

Brian Scordato :
Yeah that's great. So I'm interested in taking a little step back and saying, alright, so you get these clients for free.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah.Wa

Brian Scordato :
What was that first product, and like how.. I don't want to suggest that it was stressful but I imagine the first product with that might...

Kim Kaupe:
Oh my gosh our first project was for the brand KidsBop which if you don't know KidsBop, it's essentially a brand that gets kids to sing popular songs but they clean up all the lyrics. So whatever's in the top 10 right now, Arianna Grande or whatever, they will take out the curse words they'll maybe change around phrases so instead of say "we're all up in a club", they'll say, "we're all up in a clubhouse". You know instead of "sipping on scissor", they'll be like "sipping on apple juice". Like they change all the words to make it kid friendly.

Kim Kaupe:
But that was our first project. And it was definitely really nerve wracking because it was the first real products that we had in market and no one knows you can have all these hypotheses. I think it's going to do well and you know statistically it should do well, but you never know. I mean once you put it out there you're just kind of sitting back and crossing your fingers so it was extremely stressful.

Kim Kaupe:
But it's also something that I think that the blissful naive twenty five year old me, that was doing it ,was very much a sort of shrug your shoulders and "yeah we'll see how this works". You know there wasn't... I didn't have a second mortgage on my house and it wasn't "Oh my God I had to put my kids through college" or "oh my gosh my husband gonna kill me if this doesn't work.

Kim Kaupe:
You know I had no kids, no husband. Thankfully because I had scholarships, no college debt. You know I didn't have some of these moving things over me that I had some entrepreneurs is a real fear and a real problem. So for me it was like ok we're going to see if this works and it's stressful. But I think looking back I definitely didn't have the type of stress that I would have now if I were to do it all over again.

Kim Kaupe:
And just like that, It was my first company and I didn't know, if you ask me what are the odds that this is going to make it. I would said 50/50. I mean now I've read studies that the odds of making it as an entrepreneur are like 2% or 3, it's like 99% of start ups fail, I mean you probably know, it's some ridiculous number. But, at the time I was so unaware, I was just like, "yeah we have a real shot at this". I look back now and I'm like, I was so dumb. So young and dumb, in the best way.

Brian Scordato :
Yeah well I hope things don't work like this. You got going. And so I think about that. You get your first client and then you start, I imagine that was pretty manual and you start rolling any sort of product and you start thinking about, what's our next. What was like the mindset around growing? Did you have a full time job at the time too?.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah. So I had a full time job. It started as a side hustle and when it got to be too much on nights and weekends, I quit. So my co-founder and I quit our jobs and did it full time, but it was a real struggle. I mean I did this for everybody in the beginning, but I always tell people, as long as you could hold hold on your job. Like start something on the side and start it, I always joke on somebody else's paycheck. Because you can iterate on nights and weekends and change things and whatever. It's certainly better iterate with a paycheck and health insurance and 401K then to be iterating on zero dollars and zero health care and that's a really scary fact.

Kim Kaupe:
So you can iterate on nights and weekends, it's like that's always my preferred method, although some people are balls to the wall, they want to quite their jobs and Go for it but I think having that financial stability is, I'm also very kind of, I joke I'm very risk averse which everyone doesn't believe obviously, I started my own company and what not, but I do think it's about balancing risk and I definitely believe in risk but I believe in taking risks when you thought of Plan B C and D and not just kind of gone "Plan A!" and not thought about anything else.

Kim Kaupe:
But I think in the beginning starting knowing that there were some safety nets that we had built in and then also just knowing that it was going to be okay if it didn't work. You know that that I wasn't. I was, going to lose time and effort and money and reputation but I wasn't going to lose my home or my kids or something like. But after that first project came out, I think, again going back to my earlier point of getting that early validation and rolling with it having something to point to was really really helpful.

Kim Kaupe:
And then also empowering those that we worked with to advocate on behalf of us. I also believe that even after eight years the best marketing a company can do is through our clients. We won all types of awards, we've been featured in a ton of things. Nothing is more powerful than a client saying to someone else "you have to work with them". They are phenomenal. Like no amount of press is going to be that one to one recommendation.

Kim Kaupe:
So I think with those early early projects telling those people "hey we love working with you, hopefully you love working with us. If you don't mind, can you introduce us to three people in your rolodex that you think would also like working with us?". And luckily those early early believers were like "sure, here's my Rolodex. Here's here's people that I can introduce you to". And coming through someone that you've worked with and can vouch for you is is huge. That's really how started to grow in that first year was through those referrals.

Brian Scordato :
Is there something that you did early on, I like to think about start ups as like, I think a lot of people think you can do ordinary stuff and kind of get extraordinary results. I just don't think that's how it really works.

Kim Kaupe:
I think that about the gym. I think that I can go to the gym twice a week and look like Giselle and that's not the case sadly.

Brian Scordato :
So thinking about like, what an ordinary person would do approaching a startup like this and thinking about how you approached it. What are some of the things that you would consider, I don't want to put you on the spot, but what did you do that was extraordinary?

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah yeah.

Brian Scordato :
What were the things that created, like a delta for you, like really, really worked?

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah I, The things that I think were extraordinary when you first started. Gave up a lot of personalwise, in terms of you know missing family vacations. That was huge missing birthday parties, having friends get really mad because you weren't making it to things that were important to them. And you know, maybe TMI but I don't know I lost some romantic relationships in the beginning that were, I have since called those people to apologize but it was totally my fault. Admittedly because I didn't have the bandwidth to give to everyone.

Kim Kaupe:
And I still say that all the time I say I have 100 percent. And it's like a pie chart and everybody's on there but where their percentage is, is like constantly changing. There are some days where I'm a super awesome bad ass boss and a really shitty girlfriend and kind of an awful daughter. And other times where I'm an awesome daughter and maybe not so great of a boss. So like the pie is always shifting and changing but I think in that first year it was 90 percent business and 10 percent friends family romantic partners.

Kim Kaupe:
You know life care. I gained weight. You know self care was just out the window eating really poorly, not exercising. Again, you're just eat, sleep, breathe, work, work work work work. And that is a big delta that people say they want business but they don't want to do the work. You know I say that I want a body like a Victorias Secret model, but like quite frankly I'm not willing to do the work, I'm not willing to go the gym twice a day, five days a week. I'm not going to eat nothing but veggies and chicken, because that's boring. But like if you ask those girls that's what they have to do.

Kim Kaupe:
And I always say to people, you can't get anywhere but what are you willing to give up and a lot of people aren't willing to give up so I'm not saying it's right or wrong me just like me, I don't want to go to the gym today. They just choose not to do what it takes to have their business become extraordinary and sometimes to your point, things are just also just be a bad idea. Like people can be working really hard on an idea and it's just it's not good. It doesn't matter how much work you put into it. People don't like the products or don't need the service or the technology is not super awesome.

So I'm feeling it's going fine. It's not necessarily the only thing. But as for my personal belief and why we were so successful in the beginning, I think it was dedicating just exorbitant amounts of energy towards the business.

Brian Scordato :
Was there anything you did specifically as part of that energy that you like a larger return then you invested?

Kim Kaupe:
A bigger return than the time we invested. I think I'm going to go back to it. I think talking to those early clients and asking them to open doors for us. I think especially as women we get really shy to ask for things or I shouldn't ask and they're gonna think I'm being pushy or whatever. But what I've realized in the course of eight years starting a company is people that you work with that have a good experience, usually, genuinely want to help you. Like genuinely when they end a meeting and say "if there's anything I can do for you, let me know" I always tell people "Speak up". Don't just say "Oh OK, good to know thanks". Say "well, now that you mentioned it actually, Can you help me do these three things?. Can you introduce me to this person? Can you write a review for my linkedin? Can you..." You know whatever whatever it is, ask. I think that that is the most powerful thing that takes very little time. It can playoff in Spades, spades for you and bring amazing opportunities that you would never have had if you didn't ask, if you didn't just ask.

Brian Scordato :
That's a really good one. And you mentioned it. We've had a Tacklebox a 65 percent female founders. I do think it is sometimes easier for men or more natural for men to ask for stuff or potentially going to be much more, you be better able to comment on that then me. But I think it's really good advice for everyone

Kim Kaupe:
Definitely. And I think it's also as women we tend to try to be this sort of super man and that's what's been portrayed in the media in terms of weekend. Don't get me started. I never want to hear about it again in terms of weekends. Take care of the kids, and clean the house and have a Pinterest Worthy kitchen and work you know like the most crazy CEO there is.

Kim Kaupe:
And you you're trying to do everything, instead of waving a little white flag and saying I can't do all this. It's not physically possible. So how can I get a cleaning lady. Can I get a virtual assistant. Can I get you know I think asking for help is it's almost shameful, because in the media it's like, well you should be doing everything, like this or Leave It To Beaver style version of how women should be leaning in. And it's just it's not realistic.

Kim Kaupe:
The Pinterest pages aren't realistic. Perfectly curated Instagram's aren't realistic. And so the one thing I always tell women, entrepreneur entrepreneurial or not is to ask for help. Ask for help from people around you, from your friends, your loved ones. Because a lot of times they want to help and they have no idea how. No idea how to help you. My mom always ends calls by saying "I wish I could help but you know I can't negotiate this deal for you". And there are times when she's right. But there are times when I say Mom I have to plan a trip next week and just I have no bandwidth. Can you look at planes for me. It's so simple but it is such a big help and it makes her feel like she's able to help me too. So I think just ask is is really important.

Brian Scordato :
Cool, we have a bunch of founders say something similar. I'm blanking on which one was. We didn't hear recently where someone said the biggest delta that they did and other people did is they basically exported all their gmail contacts when they were starting the company, they have a list of like 3500 people and they bucketed them back to them to close friends, acquaintances and broader. So 3 specific types of e-mails with a different ask for each.

Kim Kaupe:
There you go.

Brian Scordato :
Share this to the closer ones, take a look at this to the next closest ones. And it drove a ton of traffic for them.

Kim Kaupe:
100%, but it's taking the time. I mean I can't even imagine that must be very time consuming to organize 3500 people. Holy cow. That's a lot.

Brian Scordato :
So I think, something interesting to touch on, so you start going with this business is a true marketplace where you have the content creators on one side and you got all of your early customers on the other. How did you balance acquiring and building a product for both sides.

Kim Kaupe:
I honestly don't think we did a great job at it. Self admittedly, I think. I think early on we had an identity crisis trying to be a B2C company and a B2B company and it took us a good 4-5e years to really say we're not a B2C company, we're just not. They're not the people that are paying your bills. They're not the people that are you know driving this business. So when I think of a B2C company I think of "OK I sell socks, you know, I have a deal with Wal-Mart , Kmart, Amazon to sell my socks. I know that the socks cost two dollars. They sell them for four dollars. I get my two dollars. OK great".

Kim Kaupe:
The way our business worked is we would create a product for let's say in those early years, a record label. The record label would own the product, the record label would sell it to Wal-Mart, Amazon, Target etc.. So what was happening is we might sell the product to the record label for 5 dollars. They were selling it to Wal-Mart for seven dollars and Wal-Mart was selling it to the consumer for eleven dollars.

Kim Kaupe:
So we actually got no part of the sale. So it wasn't like oh the more they sell the more we get. Once we sold it to the record label we were down. So the amount of consumer engagement or the amount of like it actually didn't affect our bottom line. And I think in those early years we, um, if you've ever seen Mean Girls we kept trying to make fetch happen. Fetch was not happening. We kept trying to force, like well we need consumers to recognize our brand name. We need consumers recognize this product. We need consumers and in the end, the consumers aren't paying us . They just weren't. That wasn't the model we had set up.

Kim Kaupe:
And so I think it took a couple of years but finally it was saying you know we're really a B2B business. We need to focus less on the consumers andWe need to focus more on, in our case, the record labels who are paying our bills. And I think if we had figured that out sooner. I would love to see where our company could have gone or what could've happened. But, I'd say it's 20 20. And it was a really good learning lesson. So I'm glad we went through it.

Brian Scordato :
I think a lot of founders go through that, there is this is sort of it's small and just seems more fun getting one then using one. And it's just like a weird version of loss aversion. It's like if I stop selling and then I lose I'm not a B2C company.

Kim Kaupe:
B2B is not sexy. No one wants to start a B2B company. Everybody's like people like I want millions of people to love my product and like I wanted X millions of people. And that's really not B2B so. Yeah I mean I don't think any entrepreneur hears themselves saying, I want to create a business that nobody ever knows of or hears of or has any clue about. You know so a lot of that is ego too.

Brian Scordato :
Yeah definitely. Made that switch. On that, I'll ask one more sort of tough question. What were you, so you said that was, I don't know if you'd call that just a mistake or a learning point. But what other, where there any other big mistakes you made early?

Kim Kaupe:
How much time do you have? So many mistakes, still make mistakes by the way. So you really need it like until you get a last week. We have tons and tons of mistakes. I think one of my favorite, I mean it's not favorite but it's funny. Now it's funny at the time it's not funny. When we first started the company, You're in that sort of hustle crush it, cheap, thrifty, you know do what you can to get what you can and we decided okay you know we're not going to pay for a bookkeeper. Book keepers are expensive. We don't need them. We can just watch hundreds of hours of Youtube. Oh I'm fine. Don't do this and we can and we can do this.

Kim Kaupe:
Again in hindsight people spend years learning how to be an accountant and decades learning about tax laws and the intricacies of tax law. But we thought we could YouTube it. you actually cannoot. And so we're gonna do our own books in the first year and no problem. We thought that we understand taxes. And I'll never forget that 2nd year. I'm go get my mail and there is a letter from the IRS. I was like That's funny, why is the IRS contacting me. And opened the letter and they basically say you know you're an idiot and you haven't paid city taxes the entire year. And honest to God I had to google what is the city tax.

Kim Kaupe:
I had, I grew up in Florida. I knew we had federal taxes and I knew we had state taxes I had zero idea about city taxes, at all, because I have worked in corporate and corporate taxes magically come out of your paycheck and whatever is your bank account you get to spend and so I had no concept of city taxes which we basically had not paid the entire year and not only didn't need to pay those fines because we had to pay them on time and that's when I was kind of like we have like we need a bookkeeper.

Kim Kaupe:
And thankfully we found one who specialized in small businesses and God bless him, he spent six months. cleaning up our books. By the way, that was the tip of the iceberg. We shouldn't fund so many things incorrectly and I think it was it was a costly mistake. The fines and also cost of time. Which as you know in the beginning months and years, your time is what was so valuable social waste so much of it. Not only learning all things on Youtube, but fixing it, contacting the IRS and saying whoops, sorting through all that.

Kim Kaupe:
It was a huge huge time suck and time you never get back and money you certainly never get back and it was a massive massive mistake early on but yeah. I unfortunately haven't got 50 of those stories but that was one of my favorites that we thought we could get what people spent four years getting an education in college for a few hours. It's that emoji, the facepalm.

Brian Scordato :
So thinking back to that early phase. Usually in that first year of things really exciting. You get a Customer. There's like a lull. Did you experience that lull and were there times you were thinking about quitting

Kim Kaupe:
You mean like yesterday?

Brian Scordato :
Or was it always like

Kim Kaupe:
Yesterday I felt like say screw this.

Brian Scordato :
So what. So what kept you going early on if there was a lull that was pretty bad. What was the. Was there like faith in customer or product or

Kim Kaupe:
I'm trying to think because we were a B2C business we never really had a lull in customer because that wasn't really where we're getting our money from but I think we also iterated the business so much as you can imagine to being in the marketing and entertainment and band space over eight years.

Kim Kaupe:
I joke that it feels like every year we're pivoting our company, not massive pivots but these little tiny pivots because every time you know again I keep harping on it but all of a sudden you have Instagram. OK, that brings a new pivot. Ok suddenly Snapchat debuts OK that's a new pivot. OK now we have to TicToc. OK now we have more music festivals than we've ever seen in a 20 year period.

Kim Kaupe:
The landscape is constantly changing. So you're constantly having to iterate based on the technology based on consumer engagement based on just fads. I think anyone can argue that live entertainment has gone out exponentially. You also have these very Instagram worthy wider TV experiences, a color factory, MUSEUM OF ICE CREAM, rose mansion, Saved by the bell. You know where they recreated the mask. They did in LA for a couple months. So they did a Seinfield pop up here in New York couple years ago or recreate roots from Seinfeld.

Kim Kaupe:
The live entertainment space it is definitely growing in a way that again I never remembered. I think it will ever be something that people wanted to see and go experience. So I feel that our business is always kind of in this state of micro pivots as opposed to macro pivots. And I tell them all the time, pivot is a scary work because they think they have to completely change the business "so uh, i can't pivot because I spend so much time working on this".

Kim Kaupe:
And I always think of it as micro pivots, sort of adjusting almost as if you're hanging a picture on the wall. You know I'm not telling you to turn the picture, I'm saying you know just keep adjusting it, you know keep taking steps back nd constantly adjusting it because I think that is when you perfect business when you never stop tweaking it.

Kim Kaupe:
Actually think the minute you stop taking it your business is dead because tech changes too fast, the landscape changes too fast, and if you're not constantly tweaking, you're dead in the water. It happened with TV, happened with record labels. You know their platforms have had to really change and had they been pivoting all along, I don't think I would have gotten to where it did.

Brian Scordato :
Is there. A framework or a process that you use to identify which trends are worth investing time and money in. Or is it fine to be a little lacking

Kim Kaupe:
I think because we're a bootstrapped company, I never want to be an early adopter. Tried that, didn't work. Lost a lot of money. When you have VC money or you have founder. Yeah. Like go be an early adopter. Because if you have a two million dollar oops it's not gonna kill your business because you've raised a series B and you have tons of money in the bank. Great.

Kim Kaupe:
When you're bootstrapped you don't have the free for all to lose in that early adoption age and if you're bootstrapping you have to sort of like behind it is you have to let people go and see what happens first. And if you start to see that it's working then you can start follow in their tailwind and I think that's just a matter of financing and a matter of what you're willing to take risk on. But for me personally it's always been about seeing where the trends are going but not being the first one there.

Brian Scordato :
I love that you brought up fundraising. So you never raised money?

Kim Kaupe:
Right.

Brian Scordato :
Did you consider it, was it something you tried to do and couln't raise?.

Kim Kaupe:
No I never raised, never thought about raising. It seems really hard. I have lots of other fellow founder friends who have done it. It's very stressful, decks and the meetings and it seems like a lot of work. So. big kuddos, but I really think that for the type of business that we run the agency model of just knowing what things cost and marking them out. I think it's different if you have a tech platform. If you're trying to start a SaaS business you trying to do something where you couldn't make money and you had to invest so much to start.

Kim Kaupe:
I think for us I always say, we didn't start a cupcake shop where you have to buy a physical space, buy the cupcake mixers, buy all the ingredients before you can even open the doors to see that money come in or build the technology of an Uber or you have to build all the platforms that engineers are learning. We just had our brains and ideas and monetizing ideas doesn't cost anything. Because ideas, you don't have to pay to use the brain.

Kim Kaupe:
If you don't take my brain well we'll do if you're a client. I didn't have to and so I think for raising it wasn't something that was necessary and so it was really just the thought process of, well we don't need it. Why are we going to do it? Because I think that fundraising has become sexy and cool and people think that's fun.

Kim Kaupe:
But I always go back to the basics of do you actually need it. Forget having a fancy offices, forget being able to say that you're sitting at the cool kids table. Do you actually need the money? Because with that money you give up a lot. Give up control, board seats, percentages, equity and I always say, unless you need to do it, don't do it. There's no reason to go through it.

Brian Scordato :
That's funny that you mention that it seems really hard because the founders that I meet with would think that what you did is harder than raising money and will think that will open up a door to jump over their fence.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah, but I don't their thinking of the personal stress and toll. And if I use this example all the time I go to Vegas and gamble and I gamble with my hundred dollars and I lose it. I kind of say "OK that stinks for me". If I go with a group of friends to a bachelorette party and I plan whole things, I end up being a terrible Hotel. The restaurant was awful. I feel terrible because people have spent their hard earned money on what was supposed to be a fun exciting time and I've ruined it for them like the bachelorette party analogy is terrible and I feel bad.

Kim Kaupe:
And I tell people all the time that's raising money. You are taking money from people that it is friends and family that you know. And there is a chance that you can completely squander it, like the whole thing and now you have to be with all those people and say all that money you gave hoping, it's going to be great, I'm positive whatever and that takes a toll on you. And doesn't your a sociopath because that means you don't have feelings. You're a robot.

Kim Kaupe:
You know having that responsibility you have other people's money invested in me, and it's not just about my own money, well if I screw up my own thing. That's fine. If I screw this thing for all of these other people I think that responsibility lives with you all the time.

Kim Kaupe:
I tell people now I have employees I've never gotten a restful night's sleep in eight years. Because you constantly have this little ball in your stomach that is constantly worried, constantly worried about, you know for me, I am constantly looking at Trump with his China tariffs because we deal with China sometimes. What's going to go on and how that going to affect us. And you're constantly having that.

Kim Kaupe:
But I also think that that's what makes a great astronaut as you're constantly threats and opportunities whatever arrises. I think if you think that taking other people's money is going to make that disappear or solve that, I actually think it makes it worse because I do have friends that have significant amounts of money and they tell me all the time that they feel pressure and it might not be those people pressuring them. It's your own self pressure of feeling like you're letting all these people down or losing people money that's not a good feeling.

Brian Scordato :
I've done it

Kim Kaupe:
I've done it, it's not.

Brian Scordato :
It's not.

Kim Kaupe:
It's not. It's interesting you think that people really think that bootstrapping is is more stressful?

Brian Scordato :
100%

Kim Kaupe:
Really. Why. Because they haven't done it or because they just think oh why other people's money it's more fun.

Brian Scordato :
Yeah. I think there's this myth that like well VCs lose money all the time or angel investors lose money all the time. If they wouldnt invest it they couldn't lose it. And they imagine they'll be fine losing that money.

Kim Kaupe:
Interesting.

Brian Scordato :
I've done it and you're not wrong, it is awful

Kim Kaupe:
It's awful.

Brian Scordato :
Everything you say is true. I still think about it, I have investors from an early company that I started prior to Tacklebox that I invested. I just felt so bad.

Kim Kaupe:
You feel awful. Ff you don't feel awful you're a weird person.

Brian Scordato :
So you brought something interesting that, so you got. You're running this company, you've got employees, you've got tariffs, like all this things. You got your existing clients, you got the relationships with the companys you manage. How do you handle that? How do you prioritize?

Kim Kaupe:
How do you prioritze? I think you got to get that pie chart. I just accepted the fact that I'm not going to be an a plus player every single day in all of those different facets because it's just it's just too much. And it's about showing up the best I can and also trying to even it out.

Kim Kaupe:
I think it's also hard because I have a client based business and this is true, I'm sure since the beginning of time, that people with straight hair curly hair with curly hair and straight hair and founders that have service businesses want products and founders that have products want services. Because I look at my friends with products and go oh "you know the peanut butter doesn't talk back. the peanut butter has no thoughts, I want a peanut butter business".

Kim Kaupe:
And then you know because I'm dealing with humans and dealing clients who you know wake up one day and decide they want purple instead of blue and I want to do this instead of that or the dates are changing or this is flowing. That takes a certain amount of mental energy and space to deal with humans instead of peanut butter. But I think that it's just trying to balance it the best I can.

Kim Kaupe:
I mean there are days where I go home and I just want silence. No podcast, no TV. I just want to make my dinner and to sit alone in silence which sounds so dark and scary. But it's just because you're talked out or you're peopled out. It's exhausting. And so I think just finding the time to try to do all those things well is sort of how I mentally accepted it. I know that it's not great every day unfortunately.

Brian Scordato :
Yeah, that goes nicely into my next question. So one of the things that I admire a lot about you, is that you are everywhere. You're just a hustler. I know that you've done an incredible job building business and building a personal brand. They sort of go hand and hand really nicely. So opportunities like Shark Tank or opportunities like the LinkedIn series. It doesn't surprise me that you're exhausted. So how do you approach those sorts of opportunities, like how do you do such a good job of Personal branding.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah. That's something that I hear about a lot actually and I think how I've mentally tried to wrap my head around it is, I think sometimes when people hear personal branding and hustling and being everywhere they think about it as work. Where I try to think about it as fun. Instagram Stories that are hilarious. I out a bunch of emojis all over them and I think it's really fun. LinkedIn stuff has been really fun.

Kim Kaupe:
And I try to think of it as fun and extra, where as I think so much of it now has turned into well its influencer and it's a space and it's a business. How are you monetizing and what's your content schedule. I'm like forget all that. Forget them on it. Forget the content and have fun and I see that a lot of times people actually respond to that. I get so many messages from people saying wow it actually looks like you're having fun at work today. And I am, I actually have a lot of. work today.

Kim Kaupe:
I think people say oh wow you know that LinkedIn thing of you on the street talking looks so natural. And it was because I came out of a meeting and I did do that. And so I think that sometimes what had happened with Instagram or with these social platforms is that people want to curate everything and everything is perfectly curated that they miss that authenticity and that spark and that fun because they made it a business.

Kim Kaupe:
And I think it's really hard to make fun a business. I think it's possible but I think for me it's hard. So the attitude I've taken with everything is just not forget the fun and have a lot of joy in what you're doing. I mean that sounds really easy for me to say "have joy", but I think that people feel that.

Kim Kaupe:
And I think it's something that people can't put their finger on because I've had people say, I watch your videos and it's not that you're tell me anything I don't know. But there's something about the way you say it or it's something about the way that it hit me, that it just resonated more. And I think it's that's Joy. I think that it's coming through and saying you know I want to help people, I want to share this story in a way that doesn't feel contrived and doesn't feel super curated.

Brian Scordato :
That's great. It's very juxtaposed from a lot of founders that I've met who think of it as a total job. It's something they dread it and they dread it and you can dread writing e-mails but you know but I doubt you can dread a good instagram story if you don't actually want to do it.

Kim Kaupe:
No and I think people can tell. I think people can tell, I think friends and family and consumers, I mean they're smart. They're not idiots. So if they see that you're sort of phoning it in. Doing an Instagram story or doing these posts on Twitter or whatever it is. I mean, I see it, I'm not by any means but I see founders that are I know 100 percent doing it because some social media manager is telling them to do it.

Kim Kaupe:
And I think my biggest point is, if you don't like social media and you are a founder here's a revolutionary thought. Don't do it. I think that somewhere along the line somebody put out this message that well I do need I have a presence, you gotta be talking, you gotta be out there. No you don't, you actually dont.

Kim Kaupe:
You know, Warren Buffet's not doing Instagram Stories, he's done just fine. I think that there's this pressure that everyone has to be doing it. And if that's your personality type or you're an introvert or you just don't like putting yourself out there or don't want your face plastered, you want it to be about the business. Don't don't.

Kim Kaupe:
I don't know who made up the rule that you have to push this if it's beat up my publicist the employee more. But you know it's like don't do it. And I think people are waiting to hear that they have permission to not do it. Because I think a lot of people feel forced into being out on platforms when maybe they don't want to be or have an interest to be.

Brian Scordato :
I appreciate that because I do not do that stuff.

Kim Kaupe:
Great.

Brian Scordato :
And I don't like it and I'm not good at it. The way I think about it is, You talked earlier where you're saying like you asked your clients, your clients got you more clients. That for me is a much better way to borrow customers for me.

Kim Kaupe:
Totally.

Brian Scordato :
To sort of do that sort of thing rather than try to blast out to social media. So I guess you just answered that question as to what founders, we get this alot.

Kim Kaupe:
I'm not naming them, I'm not tattling on anybody.

Brian Scordato :
But I like a question I get a lot is, especially early on people say as the founder of a company, should I elevate myself or should I be in the background just do the company work. Is it valuable for them to be a very public face of the company or not. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Kim Kaupe:
I think it depends. I think it depends on what business they have, what product they have. I think what's obviously popular in the last couple years is that personal authentic story for a business. That if I find a business and I say oh these are nice pantyhose let me buy them. I might buy them, I may not buy them again.

But I hear Sarah Blakely's story and how she started from nothing and how was her first patent and her mom helped her Violet. You all of a sudden feel a connection that that when you go to pick between pantyhose you're like I'm going to pick these because you know I resonate with that that woman and she was so wonderful and I think that founder's story has a lot of impact.

Kim Kaupe:
And that can be whether you're shopping at Whole Foods or looking at things online that if there is some sort of founder-y type story you think "wow you know back to the roots ,like I love what they're doing". I know that I'm going to buy their cereal in Whole Foods instead of somebody else's because I love their mission. And I wouldn't know about that mission unless the founder's had gone out there and really made their faces part of the story.

Kim Kaupe:
And I think it just depends on the product you have and why you're doing. Some products call for it and services call for it more than others. You know I don't think I need to see the founder of Dropbox. I think it's just I use dropbox. It's great. I don't. His face isn't going to encourage me to use dropbox more. But if I'm buying cereal in a store that might drive a lot of infinity. So I think it just depends on a definite valuable for sure that our story can be really strong.

Brian Scordato :
Cool, I want to be cognizant of time. I've got two final questions.

Kim Kaupe:
OK. Dun dun dun.

Brian Scordato :
So the first one is for it's sortof a broader question and it's about founders that, it can really be any type of founder. So is there any advice that you would give to people who are currently in their job, they're working on something on the side.

Kim Kaupe:
Yeah.

Brian Scordato :
Is there some type of advice you would give them like business fundamentals or something.

Kim Kaupe:
Business fundamentals if you're starting a business. Definitely start with a side hustle. That's #1 for sure Two, I would say absorb as much learning as you can. There's tons of great Websites, podcasts like this. Books. absorb as much as possible. You are not reinventing the wheel. Someone has done whatever it is you're doing before you. Learn from them. Iterate on what they did and I think also again, ask for help as much as possible. The power of asking is huge.

Kim Kaupe:
Have fun. That's also the thing that people again forget in there you know, pressure to make it successful they forget that it's supposed to be a fun process. And then I also develop your own personal values and stick with them. I think a lot of times people can get their values wrapped up in the business.

Kim Kaupe:
One of the biggest mistakes I see for people who are starting up a company is they think that they are the business and when people say you no the business, they start to lose their own self-worth. Oh they didn't like me. Oh they didn't like me. They think I'm an idiot, they think I'm any trash. They think this and that's easy. Time to question me. I think realizing that you are not your business ,people are saying no to your business. They're not saying no to you. You are a separate entity and I think having that from the start is going to change your life.

Brian Scordato :
That is so important. That's like probably my favorite thing you've said today, that's awesome. The last one that I've asked every founder, it's obviously a perspective based question. You need to start a taco truck tomorrow. How would you approach it?

Kim Kaupe:
Go to Taco Bell. Get all the tacos, put them in a truck and call it Kim's Tacos.

Brian Scordato :
That's good.

Kim Kaupe:
Right?

Brian Scordato :
Yeah, that's good.

Kim Kaupe:
But in all seriousness I think, I think what I've learned most about my business is so much of it is not reinventing the wheel. And that's a very over exaggerated example but I cannot tell you how much in the beginning I thought that I was a pioneer. I was like the Christopher Columbus of agencies and after eight years I realized everyone's done it before me. There are different variations, learn from these people, tweak what they've done.

Kim Kaupe:
But if there is a plan that you saw that someone else do that would work perfectly for your business. Do it. Just do it. There's no, there's room for all of us in this entrepreneurial community and I truly believe that a rising tide lifts all ships. And if another marketing agency does well, it just means that we're all gonna do well.

Brian Scordato :
I would love a Taco Bell truck.

Kim Kaupe:
Me too.

Brian Scordato :
Um this was awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming by.

Kim Kaupe:
It's been super fun.

Brian Scordato :
Yeah thank you.

Brian Scordato :
Thanks for listening. We're back with a solo episode for next week. Have a great forth.

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Episode Description:

Today, we’re speaking with Kim Kaupe, the founder of Superfan. Superfan was built to give fans unparalleled opportunity for engagement. Superfan works with clients like the Red Sox, Shawn Mendes, Carrie Underwood, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett, and way more.

Kim has built Superfan over the past eight years with $0 in funding. Additionally, she’s built a powerful personal brand that has her LinkedIn startup videos amassing 10s of thousands of views, and has placed her on all sorts of 30 under 30 lists. She talks about where personal brand is important for founders, how to build a startup without funding, how to make tough decisions, team building, and more.

Show Notes:

The Superfan Company

 
 

You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes and here on gettacklebox.com/idea-to-startup.



Brian Scordato