CEO SPOTLIGHT

From Army Officer to Entrepreneur

By: Meghan Traynor

Kirby Atwell always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but he also felt called to serve in the military just as his father, grandparents, and great-grandparents had done. While Kirby knew he didn’t want to make the military a career, he knew for certain he wanted to serve. After attending West Point for four years and serving six years as an officer in the U.S. Army, Kirby got out of the military and immediately started his real estate business.

Ready to start something of his own, Kirby launched Green Vet Homes, a “real estate business that buys, rehabs, and rents properties with a mission of supporting veterans.” Green Vet Homes supports veterans by either renting their rehab properties to homeless veterans or by donating 10% of profits to a veteran-related cause. After successfully running Green Vet Homes for four years, Kirby decided to launch his second business, Living Off Rentals, to teach others how they can generate enough income to comfortably live off their rental properties. Since launching his second business in January, Kirby has seen great success in such a short amount of time that we just had to know his secrets!

Most importantly, Kirby’s advice for other small business owners, or those who are thinking of starting a small business, is to “keep things as simple as possible.” How, you ask? Avoid scaling. Kirby learned firsthand from a previous business he had that scaling is not the key to success. His previous business scaled too quickly, and he wished he had paid more attention to turning a profit instead of just getting bigger. In his current businesses Kirby intentionally keeps things smaller, all his staff is contracted, and things are running a lot more smoothly! But wait. How can you grow your business and keep things small? (more…)

2020-12-31T16:50:03+00:00December 31st, 2020|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

Bringing a Big-City Amenity to a Small Town

By: Heatherlynn Akins

When Tim and Courtney Madden met, they were young students at Penn State who dated but then went their separate ways. Little did they know their story was only just beginning and would, eventually, lead to Courtney starting her own business with Tim acting in many advisory and support roles for that business. In the eight years between Penn State and reconnecting in 1998, Tim joined the Navy and served as a diving officer on the USS Salvor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii before starting an IT career first in Denver and then for Colorado Mountain College in the small, mountain town of Glenwood Springs. Courtney spent nine months in Madrid after graduation before returning to the States via Dallas, TX where she settled into a career as a fifth-grade bilingual teacher as well as a middle school Spanish teacher. When they married in 1999, the couple decided to make Glenwood Springs their home, where they could be near the world-class skiing resorts of Vail and Aspen. Four children later and the Maddens have become well-known fixtures in their community.

In early 2019, Courtney decided she was ready for a career change and started looking into various opportunities. A family friend, entrepreneur Johnathan Gorst, was looking to start a new restaurant delivery venture and the two began talking about the possibilities of teaming up. Before they could start operations, however, life happened, and Johnathan and his family moved to New York. Courtney was left with a concept and a desire to open KraveKar, a restaurant delivery company that contracts with locally owned restaurants to deliver meals to both hometown residents and the many tourists who flock to the town annually. It was a service not previously available to the town, but one many out-of-town visitors from the big cities expected and many residents longed for.

The idea is simple: A customer uses the KraveKar app or website to select a restaurant and places an order. Then Courtney and her team of dedicated drivers pick up the food and deliver it wherever the customer chooses, whether that’s home, a hotel, a park, or the world’s largest hot springs pool, which just so happens to be a major tourist attraction in town. While it works similarly to many of the national companies who offer this service, KraveKar comes with that small-business attention to detail. If part of your order is missing when it’s delivered, Courtney and her team will go back, pick up the missing items, and deliver them as part of their service. They’re also actively involved in the entire process, from cultivating relationships with local restaurants to driving the car that delivers your food. Courtney doesn’t believe in a hands-off leadership approach. (more…)

2020-09-24T20:22:41+00:00September 24th, 2020|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

From Mermaid to Tent Keeper, One Small Business Owner’s Hope to Bring Joy to Women Everywhere

By: Meredith Flory

Military spouses often find themselves needing to use their degrees, job training, and career experiences creatively. Aj Smit, the Armed Forces Insurance 2020 Lackland Air Force Base Spouse of the Year, certainly found a way to use her theater degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a dream from childhood to spread joy wherever she is stationed.

Smit has been a military spouse for eight years, living in Hawaii, Germany, Mississippi, and now Texas, but growing up in Northern Iowa she dreamed of the ocean. She remembers, “I always wanted to be a mermaid growing up, like people want to be a teacher or astronaut.” While she knew it probably wasn’t possible, she says, “[I] saved my birthday wish each year for this absurd thought, that I could be a mermaid someday.” She remembers wishing each birthday from ages 4 to 22, “Dear God, please let me become a mermaid. I don’t even need to breathe underwater, just the fins would be fantastic.” Then on her 23rd birthday, while looking for mermaid books, she “came across another article about a professional mermaid” and was immediately excited to find that, yes, in fact, people will pay you to be a mermaid. Soon after she got a monofin—a fin that both of your feet are attached to—and later added a tail, beginning her career as a professional mermaid.

She loves bringing “joy, whimsy and wonder to the world.” One of Smit’s early business avenues was performing for mermaid birthday parties. She explains, “At Hickam Air Force Base we could swim out farther down from where the kid’s party would be, and I would tell the adults where my treasure chest was so they could grab it from the hidden spot.” The chest would have books and treasures for the children, and Smit would know which child was the birthday child and call him or her by name as she swam into the party. She would lead games, swimming, and songs and “teach them to speak like dolphins (a lot of high-pitched yodeling, sorry parents), and they would just glow from happiness.”

As her career choice was unique, and military spouses move often, opening her own business seemed like the best way to continue performing. Because her talents and skills were focused on the arts, Smit’s challenge was the paperwork, record keeping, and other administrative duties required when running your own small business. She shares of growing as a businesswoman, “It’s something I’m always reminding myself of, and if people can take that from the get-go and be organized and make sure to keep your paperwork straight, everything else will be easier.”

Smit’s business, In-Joy Productions, has grown to include mermaid and fairy parties, storytelling, henna, and Red Tent events.  (more…)

2020-07-06T20:38:33+00:00July 6th, 2020|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

From Ski Lift Operator to Small Business Owner

By: Heatherlynn Akins

When Julie Kiddoo decided to take a year off after graduating from college in 1994 and moved to the Vail Valley in Colorado, she never thought she’d one day be a small business owner. Her parents had moved from their home state of Minnesota to Vail, and Julie thought it’d be a great idea to stay with them for the ski season. Little did she know that that decision would turn into a 25-year-long adventure in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, after meeting her husband when they both worked as ski lift operators in 1995.

Initially, Julie stayed in the ski industry. She held several jobs from the aforementioned ski lift operator to Vail Ski Patrol to guest services. Eventually, she started her own seasonal gardening business, which she operated for 12 summers before she took the plunge into full-time small business ownership. She’d been teaching yoga classes at a local club and felt limited in her capacity to lead and develop programs on a bigger scale. “I had fallen in love with Baptiste Yoga, which is the style of yoga we offer, and knew that I wanted to be able to share the practice and methodology without any constraints,” she says.

Julie knew how personal the journey to self-growth and self-recovery could be. She also knew how rich and meaningful yoga could be to that journey. Still, she held back, wondering if opening her own studio was really the right thing to do. Fearing the unknown and potential failure, and now a mom to two children, Julie just couldn’t pull the trigger on her dream. When one of her favorite yoga teachers and mentors was getting ready to open her second studio, Julie decided to ask her about what it was like to step into the shoes of a small business owner. She recalls her mentor telling her, “Fear will be present, but the risk of not doing it at all is far greater than the risk of doing it and failing.” It was at that moment that Julie knew it was time, regardless of the risk involved.

In 2012, Julie opened Revolution Power Yoga in Avon, Colorado, a small town located near Vail. “The biggest challenge,” she says, “was opening a yoga studio in a brand-new market, not knowing if it would succeed.” The second biggest challenge, and one nearly as great, was finding a location that would meet her needs. It is a challenge to be a full-time resident in a mountain resort town. Space is at a premium and, as everyone knows, location is everything. Luckily, everything fell into place and Julie and her family never looked back. (more…)

2020-03-25T19:24:59+00:00March 25th, 2020|

Taking Care of Business – Jessica Bertsch, President of Powerhouse Planning

By: Julie H. Kirchner

Jessica Bertsch married her “Coastie” (that’s U.S. Coast Guard) husband, Fritz, 14 years ago, and as a family, they have moved six times. Only now, each time Jessica moves with her husband’s career, she takes hers with her—a blessing that she worked hard to create for herself just over seven years ago when she started Powerhouse Planning. Jessica’s Powerhouse has since grown to become an unwaveringly talented freelance team at the forefront of providing virtual workforce solutions for client businesses.

Jessica and Fritz have three children, including Quint (8), Gracie (4), and Auvie (3). When Fritz is underway with the Coast Guard, Jessica handles the household and the kids, along with keeping her business running successfully. She definitely doesn’t want to make this sound like it’s all a piece of cake, though—and that if you’re not doing it all and still feeling “balanced,” then you’re doing it wrong. No way. Jessica remains firmly rooted in the reality of the hard work and the personal resolve involved. “My husband has been at sea over a quarter of our marriage, so I’ve done a lot of parenting, and a lot of building a business, solo,” she says.

“I want people to be excited about where they are in their journey and to always be improving.” – Jessica Bertsch

Founder and President, Powerhouse Planning, LLC

This month, Powerhouse is focusing on the topic of self-care for freelancers and business owners. So, how does a CEO, military wife, and mother of three take care of herself?

Jessica says, “I feel like I’m the healthiest that I have been since I started Powerhouse, but it is ongoing. I have done everything you read about. I’ve set office hours—I used to be the lady who took the laptop to the couch when we were watching TV and relaxing. I set more realistic expectations for myself—the other side of this is that I value other peoples’ time and space. It’s okay to slow down, because of the way our culture is. Because of the way our virtual workforce is.”

Jessica also works to practice self-care by staying true to her boundaries, and she starts off every morning by reading a devotional to “get started on the right focus every day.” When asked if she uses reminders or time organizers to help her keep the most important things in focus, she laughs, “Yes! All the things. People would be overwhelmed if they saw my life, ‘for real.’ I am crazy organized, and I have to be, because of how our life is.” She also gives credit to her mom, who flies in and helps out when Fritz is at sea.

What other self-care habits help Jessica feel balanced, healthy, and put together? “A girlfriend once told me, ‘Jess, you’re kind of a “yes” person.’ And I am. Because someone told me that and called me out on that, I’m kind of aware that I don’t have to volunteer for everything,” she says. And now, Jess says, “I take a moment, whenever I do say ‘No,’ to feel proud of myself, because I’m being balanced on my priorities.” (more…)

2020-01-14T18:47:00+00:00January 14th, 2020|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

How Vacation Planning—and Family Memories—Made a Successful Business

 By: Meredith Flory

When Regina Edry moved back home to Augusta, Georgia from Ohio in 2016, she did not plan on opening her own interior design business and becoming a “Superhost” for Airbnb, yet now her business is focused on helping people plan their travel, sell their home through staging, and make other property decisions.

Working as a caretaker, she owned a home, but she wasn’t spending a lot of time in it due to often working nights. Inspired by Gammy, a spunky elderly woman she cared for who taught Edry how “attitude is everything,” and encouraged by her mother Kathy, a business owner herself, Edry decided to rent out her “cute little house on the hill.” As Edry began to have more and more people interested in staying in the rental home, she gradually moved in with her mother and purchased another property to renovate and rent out.

Edry’s father passed away unexpectedly a few years ago, but it was his influence of making memories for her family that motivated her to be a hostess who connects with her guests. She now owns three rental properties and puts flourishing touches on each to make every stay feel special. She recalls that when she was in high school, her dad decided the family would take a trip for Father’s Day, and the family decided to rent a home on Jekyll Island. It became a twenty-year tradition for her family, and Edry remembers the joy and expectation she and her siblings had of staying at a property each year and looking through the art, bookshelves, and decorations, clues to unraveling the mystery of who the families were that owned these homes. Continuing these stays has been a way for her family to “see our dad everywhere” as they visit his favorite places on the island. Now, Edry wants to “take care of guests in a personal way” that helps their own families make precious memories.

In fact, she does have people rent from her multiple times, and she says that renting a guest house through a company like Airbnb, or other forms of staying with a host, allows you to experience a community in a more close-up way than a traditional hotel stay, whether it’s for business, a family vacation, a getaway with friends, or another travel need. For example, Edry has gotten to know a family that has stayed in one of her properties seven times as they’ve needed to be in the area for their son’s medical care, and she is praying for their son’s health with her own community.

(more…)

2019-09-30T19:03:01+00:00September 30th, 2019|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

The Creative CEO: Leslie Brians of Leslie Brians Designs

By: Rheanna Bernard

When Leslie Brians graduated from Texas A&M with a master’s in architecture, she married her spouse, who was in the military. She quickly realized that she would have to get creative with her career and that her degree would only get her so far in the crazy world of the Army. In her seven years as an Army spouse, she has worked in fashion, marketing, public affairs, and web design. The uniqueness of her life as a military spouse has created a perfect environment for creativeness and for Leslie to expand herself as an “artist” and as a professional in her fields. Creativeness is a key element to successful business. Even if you aren’t in a creative business, being creative can set you apart and keep you on the quest for growth. Leslie has done just that.

In 2016, Brians set out to create her own business, which she says was “the only natural next step in my professional career.” Leslie Brians Designs provides branding services to companies and nonprofits looking for an on-trend yet classic aesthetic for their online and print brands. Working from home, and for yourself, can be challenging, but Leslie fuels herself by feeding her creativity and challenging herself. “I love taking a simple idea and really turning it into something unique and beautiful,” she says. Brians acknowledges that it isn’t only her creativity she is fueling, but that of her clients as well. Her designs tell a story for each of the brands she works with. She says, “I make it my goal with each and every client to make sure their branding reflects the special story behind their business—the hard work and grit and dreams and finished product.”

(more…)

2019-06-30T21:08:34+00:00June 30th, 2019|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

He Turns Water Bottles into Fashionable Bags: How This CEO Balances It All

By: Karen Pinkston

Hamilton Perkins knows firsthand that being a CEO and an entrepreneur is grueling. At 30 years old, he launched a sustainable business that makes fashionable bags and totes out of recycled water bottles and billboard covers.

After receiving $10,000 on a Kickstarter campaign in less than a week, Perkins officially launched the Hamilton Perkins Collection in 2017. Since then, he’s sold thousands of bags in the U.S. and around the world. Major retaliators like Nordstrom, West Elm, and Zappos signed up to sell Perkins’ eco-friendly bags. And the media has taken note. Forbes, The Washington Post, and Money magazine have all covered his story of making functional fashion from water bottles.

But Perkins knows having a sustainable business also requires having a sustainable life. Powerhouse Planning caught up with Perkins to see how he manages his own stress and wellness as a CEO.

Q. What’s a typical day like for you?

I start at the gym to do something physical. Then, I have time for planning out my day. I try to do my hardest work in the morning, the work that requires the most mental horsepower. I do all the heavy lifting before noon, and focus on more routine tasks in the afternoon. By the end of the day, I move into some type of networking or speaking event.

Q. CEOs have a lot to manage, all aspects of a business. Do you have any hacks that keep you feeling more in control?

Daily journaling is a hack for me. It’s easy to jump in the hamster wheel and keep on going. But it’s important to take the time to reflect and see what we have accomplished as a team. Make plans to hit your goals. Practice gratitude by celebrating even the smallest wins.

(more…)

2019-04-15T20:11:28+00:00April 15th, 2019|

Co-Founder Incorporates Social Responsibility into Business Practices

By: Meredith Flory

When thinking of ways to fight poverty, our minds may initially drift to charitable giving, political work, or volunteering, but we should also consider what impact our spending habits have on workers around the world. Business leader Andy Lower is doing just that by demonstrating how entrepreneurship can be used to empower workers in developing countries.

Lower’s career has always been focused on market-based approaches to eradicating extreme poverty, but a catastrophic event on the news led him to refocus and make changes in his personal and professional life.

“In 2013, I was leading a foundation, transitioning them from traditional grant making to investing in early-stage social businesses that were having an impact on extreme poverty. Rather than just giving money away, we wanted to invest both time and money that would lead to long-term, sustainable impact on extreme poverty,” he explained.

Later that year, a building collapse in Bangladesh resulted in the deaths of 1,134 people “who were making cheap clothes for Western consumers,” Lower says. That event changed him.

“I was personally confronted about the glaring disparity between words and action, specifically regarding our clothing. How can it be culturally acceptable to buy clothes that we know are made in sweatshops when we claim to care about issues of extreme poverty? I had various excuses/reasons that I used to justify not buying in line with my values, so I decided to go all in, and gave away all my clothes and built a new wardrobe from scratch only of clothes where we knew that everyone had been treated fairly,” he said.

(more…)

2019-02-23T19:16:49+00:00February 23rd, 2019|

Nurturing Small Businesses and Small Humans

By: Lakesha Cole

I caught myself this morning putting on makeup with one hand, the other occupied with a toddler whining because she can’t wear red lipstick to school, all the while remaining fully engrossed in a foreign conversation about anime with my STEM-loving 13-year-old daughter. I’m a work-from-home-mom, author, speaker, and retail entrepreneur. These post-military days, I raise my kids in Tampa, Florida and run businesses in North Carolina and Virginia. Are you exhausted yet?

Moms everywhere are making it happen and “having it all,” concurrently starting and nurturing small businesses and small humans—both of which are never-ending jobs.

Meet Tiffany Eve Lawrence, mommy and founder of Covered Cubs. She’s a Marine spouse and mom to twin 6-year-old daughters, Lyla and Ava. She’s known among her friends as the outgoing and outspoken one who makes friends easily. Her interpersonal skills suited her well for military life and led her to start her own business. Tiffany is hands down one of the most genuine and inspiring examples of mom entrepreneur success I could share with you today.

(more…)

2018-10-30T14:16:13+00:00October 25th, 2018|