Dr. Kara Larson is the CEO of COZYMIND and took some time out to talk with The Industry Leaders and provide some golden rules for business owners in 2023.
What's your industry?
Talent Retention & Business Performance
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
My background is in biomedical engineering, project management, intellectual property, and (funnily enough) yoga! All of these different industries have led me to ask the questions "How can I work simpler and with more energy? How can I balance my physical and emotional health with my career success?" Asking these questions and finding bite-sized solutions to these questions for myself and others has led me to starting up CozyMind with my close friend and business partner, Joaquin Hourbeigt.
What does an average day look like for you?
My day to day looks like waking up around 7am, drinking some hot water with astragalus root or herbal tea and taking a CDP-choline supplement. Then I get some sunlight and fresh air taking my Samoyed, Flynn for his morning walk (or a joint run). Next, I go to a cafe and do some coffee-shop work or work from home. At least once a week, my morning work time becomes misc. errand time.
Most running days, I work from home and cook a nice home-made breakfast before starting work at 9am. I break for lunch around noon/1pm and allow myself a good 90- minutes so that I can take a meditative break (yoga, tea ceremony, meditation) and have space to cook a meal, go out to a meal with a friend, or run a couple of errands. By 3pm I'm working another 2-3 hours before breaking for a Flynn walk followed by cooking dinner, an evening workout, or a meet-up with a friend. When at home, I wind down around 9pm, put on my red-light shifted glasses, make some immunity or Ayurvedic herbal tea, get in pj's and do some Spanish studying, journaling, yin yoga or reading. I fall asleep between 10-11pm.
How do you balance the needs of your business with the needs of your personal life?
1. Counter to the "work first" mindset, I make sure to be aware of and prioritize my physical and emotional health. If I have depleted energy, the business will have depleted energy. I do practice what I preach and I use what we at CozyMind call "brain breaks" which are 5-10 minute mindfulness practices that I do between work sessions or meetings that let me logical mind rest and boost my mental and physical energy. I avoid drinking alcohol more than 1-2x per month and put quality foods (like local organic produce) in my body. I get an average of 8-9 hours of sleep each night and do 2 hours of cardio every week.
2. I focus on quality time (full energetic presence , no phones), with loved ones vs. quantity of time. I check-in on those in my life regularly (weekly or monthly depending) and avoid making the assumption that everything is ok with them because they were ok last time.
3. I have a high level of integrity with my schedule and I plan for the unknown. Something I teach in our "get organized program" that I use daily is to have white space in my schedule to account for tasks that take longer than expected or events that pop up unexpectedly. I will often plan out only 3 out of 5 full days of the week (including my workouts, chores, commuting time, eating time, etc.) and leave 2 days worth of space when I can. It is easy to fill space with my backlog of future tasks but it is very hard to create new space. So I do the hard thing first. I create space.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
Ask the people what they want first. Then build it! :D Not the other way around ;) It is so so easy to think you have all the answers and to start making a product thinking "everyone will buy it!" before confirming with your target audience that what you are making is what they need. I called up friends and family this past December asking for thoughts on a group organizational program. I got AMAZING feedback and this is how our "Get Organized" program that we launched this April was born! And some people I consulted on for feedback ended up being clients!
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
We have really struggled to get traction with new clients and to land larger clients that will give us financial security. Three things have really helped us start to overcome this barrier:
1. Rebranding: Last year I was part of an accelerator program. It was a $25k program (biggest investment I've made in the company) to support with branding clarity, signature talk, product suite, and stage outreach. We had access to small group feedback with other businesses in the program and 1-1 coaching feedback from CEO's of 6-figure businesses. Initially, we were marketing ourselves as a workplace mindfulness company. However, what we really are is a talent retention and business performance company. This mindset and branding shift has opened up more doors to us in terms of client interest and has guided us to create some successful new programs for getting organized, emotional excellence/communication, and diversity.
2. Team proximity: Joaquin and I had been running CozyMind from two countries (me in the USA and him in Spain) However, last year I took the steps to secure myself a visa and moved to Barcelona, Spain so that we could be in the same city and run both local and digital programs together. Being in the same city and working literally side-by-side has been huge for us, especially in terms of opportunities for local clients!
3. Dedicated focus: I've been running CozyMind as a side project until November of 2022 when my last contract working position ended. I often want to reach for the crutch of contract work. Especially, since CozyMind isn't at a stage where I can rely on it to meet my financial goals and I need to pull money from savings to support myself and the business. However, now that I am full-time CozyMind and we are seeing all this new momentum (and income), it's clear that me not being full-time CozyMind was hindering our growth. I learned that sometimes doing what is most uncomfortable (or what have I been avoiding) is exactly what the company needs to start thriving.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
Rising Strong- Brene Brown, How Are You, Really? - Jenna Kutcher, Atomic Habits- James Clear, The Productivity Project- Chris Baily, Sleep Smarter- Shawn Stevenson, The Super Human Academy Podcast- Jonathan Levi
What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful business owner or executive to have?
Magnetism/Passion (Attract people in and care about what you do/the impact you have), Authenticity/Vulnerability (Speak from the heart/share vs. tell), Integrity/Dependability (Deliver on promises), Empowerment (Ability to teach, empower others, and build teams)
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a business owner?
Be patient. Be flexible. Ask for support & feedback.
What are the top three things you think are essential for business success?
Balancing approachability with excellence- you as a leader internally of the company and your company as a provider of products and services need to balance excellence in quality with user approachability. You can have high quality material but if it isn't delivered well to your target audience it is useless in creating an impact.
Visibility- your ideal clients need to be able to find you
Adaptability- your products and services need to meet the current needs of your clients and may shift based on global events
Do you think someone can be a great business owner without having many years of experience first?
Yes, but being a great business owner requires more than just the ability to do the client work. You need to be someone with technical ability and soft skills like emotional intelligence. Someone who can balance company goals/vision, team building, program management, marketing/networking, and the day-to-day work with clients. I'm also realizing that my role as CEO is to be the face of the company and to lean into visibility in a way I hadn't initially anticipated.
In general, do you think the world is producing better business owners in 2023 than it was fifty years ago?
I think both yes and no. In digitizing business, we've lowered the barrier to entry. Thus, there are more people with businesses than 50 years ago since having a physical store-front (and the associated costs for this) isn't required. More people running businesses means that there are more less than desirable businesses out there. However, with social media and the internet, there is more information on how to run a successful business (learning from mentorship) and a certain level of social accountability that I do think is leading to better businesses and business-client communication.
Where should people follow you to find out more about your work?