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August 3, 2020

The dirt on owning your own business

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I am a traveling storyteller; a photographer & educator telling epic life stories around the globe. We are based out of Kansas City or wherever you're from.  Proving you can be both a goofball & romantic. If not adventuring, you can find me cuddling with my fur babies on the couch with my laptop & a cold glass of milk, renovating an old vintage trailer of some sort with my husband or climbing trees with our kids outdoors.

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I am going to be adding interviews of some of my favorite entrepreneurs to help continue to inspire you all as you start up your businesses or dream up what a life of freedom and business ownership looks like for you.

Excited to announce that my first “interview” (hello pre podcast?) is with one of my favorite humans, Carolyn Campbell.

 

……….Ever heard of Ultrapom Event Rental? I’m sure you have. Whether in Kansas City or the United States, they’ve rapidly grown to an incredibly well known status faster than any other company I’ve witnessed personally.

When I first started my photography endeavor, I would do all these really fun photo shoots and collaborations with creative teams full of people I admired. Carolyn was one of them. I always chose her for rentals. I remember feeling like I was the only one who was using her items (as if she wasn’t already super popular from the get-go).

We were younger businesses together (me starting in 2009 and Carolyn in 2011). I loved that.

I remember going to her personal home here in Kansas City near us, climbing through charming decor and household items in her GARAGE. We would sift through shelves of the best organization she had at the time. We dreamed a lot of events and weddings brainstorming unique trends and Carolyn was always pushing to be the first to come up with the next hot items.

And she nailed it!

I quickly watched her go from her garage > a small building > to a bigger building > to OWNING buildings and now I jokingly say she has an Ikea size warehouse that needs hover boards to get around in. Her staff quickly grew to so many I can’t even count. Her creativity, humor and wit, the way she ran her business and showed up to everything, her personality and likability by literally EVERYONE just took Kansas City by storm.

 

Her business is a hot commodity. There is not a single wedding or event we do anymore where Ultrapom isn’t there, big or small.

I’ve admired her for so many years, as a friend, a business woman and an extension of my team through collaborations. I seriously adore her and am excited to share this in depth interview with her.


1. When did you first consider yourself an entrepreneur?

“It was actually several years into my business before I felt like I was really an entrepreneur and not just someone faking it, or a hobby. I think I started seeing myself as an entrepreneur once I had some real experience in the field and could speak confidently about the industry.”

 

2. What made you want to start a rental company?

“I had moved back to the USA to help take care of my grandparents at the end of their lives and had a lot of time on my hands. I was burnt out on my previous career in urban design and planning, wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but was thinking about the wedding industry a lot.  I was helping several friends with their weddings and one night while I was sewing table runners, I thought ‘Why doesn’t someone rent stuff like this out?’ And my next thought was ‘Why don’t *I* rent stuff like this out?’ I apparently had the exact same thought as a lot of other people as there were a bunch of specialty rental companies founded that same year (2011)!”

 

3. How did the Ultrapom brand come about?

“I knew I wanted something memorable and copyrightable but with a broad enough name that I could easily pivot or expand if needed, as well as wanted to ensure it was something that could exist without me (so not my name). I also wanted it to be concise and an easy website address. There was an early internet show called Homestar Runner that my friends and I loved, and one character was named Pom-Pom.  An expression on the show was ‘seriously, Pom-Pom?’  which my friends and I started using ourselves, but putting our names in (i.e. ‘seriously, Carolynpom?’) Pom flows well with .com so I just messed around with prefixes until I had the nonsense word Ultrapom. What I DIDN’T take into account is that the ‘m’ in Ultrapom can look like an ‘r-n’…” 

[Oh my! I, Jana am dying laughing through this answer. I never thought of or heard of this actually.]

 

4. What challenges did you face as a new small business owner when you started?

“You don’t know what you don’t know.  I had no idea how hard rentals are.  People think it’s all fun design creative all the time, but it’s 99% a logistics game.  And very expensive to start! I’m also the personality that thinks everything will just work out.  It usually does, but there is actually a whole lot of work to make sure it does.”

 

5. How did you begin to add team members and what qualities must they have to be a part of the Ultrapom Family?

“I wanted people that I would enjoy working with, and would represent my company and values well. Also, it is not in my skillset to provide structure, so it is important to me to hire people who are very good at structuring their own work, who are self-starters.”

 

6. What do you feel is your super power that allowed you to grow so rapidly in the Kansas City/USA wedding and event market?

“I’m very good at projecting confidence, even when I don’t have it. And I’m a social butterfly with terrible FOMO that doesn’t want to miss out on anything – so I meet a lot of people.  Also, I was on site doing the deliveries for years, making relationships.  And I valued and respected those relationships (still do!) – and showed that by being a helper to people.”

 

7. If you could go back to “first year in business Carolyn” what would you tell her to be ready for or what advise would you give her?

“Very candidly? ‘Don’t do it.”‘ Rentals are very hard business.  It’s a ton of work, constantly, with not a lot of return on investment for a long time. Also, spend more time setting up your business structure from the beginning. Plan for growth.”

 

8. How has the covid pandemic affected you and how have you stayed positive during this time?

“Oh good lord.  It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.  When everything first started shutting down, I had some of the worst anxiety of my life, and I am not an anxious person by nature.  It was truly scary. It still is, if I think about the rest of the year too much.  There have definitely been days where I just read a book all day to escape reality.  But we have also used this time to work on getting our inventory in order, and to do some improvements to our website. Realizing that this can be the pause we have always wanted to do the things we never had time to do has really helped my mental state.”

 

9. What are some sustainability and eco conscious practices you have implemented in your business and why?

“One of the main reasons why I wanted to start a rental company was because I saw so much waste from people buying a ton of stuff just for one day, and that’s where our tagline comes from – we love to share!  Sharing means there is less stuff and less waste. We also have worked with Bridging the Gap to do a workplace audit of our processes to see how we can reduce waste and recycle more.  It was very valuable – and free!”

[Carolyn this is truly incredible. Thank you for being considerate of this! – Jana]

 

10. What advice would you give other women who want to start their own business?

“Go to the Small Business Development Center – either at UMKC or JCCC – and get paired up with a small business advisor.  It’s free!  And they can help you have all the tools you need to start a business. And women – you’re straight up a boss.  Not a girl boss, or a boss babe.  Don’t qualify your inherent worth as a leader by separating yourself out from men – we are bosses.”

[This is a powerful answer. Thank you for encouraging women to be a BOSS period! I love this. -Jana]

 

11. What is Ultrapom’s strengths and weaknesses you could share to help other entrepreneurs to live their best business life?

“Ahh, not sure if I want others to know my business’ weaknesses!  Our strength is definitely our commitment to our clients and other industry partners.  We will do whatever we can to make sure your event is successful. Our weakness is probably mostly due to me – I am very much a ‘what’s the next thing?’ without taking the time to get all the ducks in a row and have processes worked out.”

 

12. Do you feel you’re living your super power and what you’ve always dreamed? What are some other hobbies we might not know Carolyn has?

“My dream has been, since my early twenties, to devote my life to fostering community.  When I was younger, fresh out of architecture school, I thought getting the built environment right was the main focus for encouraging community.  I had dreams of building my own city! I still do – but I have learned in my ripe old age that though the built environment is important, there is a whole lot more that goes into having a strong and dynamic community than just the town planning or well considered buildings. So all that backstory is really just to say that in many ways I am living my super power of fostering community in the wedding industry through my words and actions, though I am hopeful to eventually expand beyond our industry! Little known fact: I have my real estate salesperson license.  I LOVE real estate, and dabble in commercial real estate sales, very very part time.  Also, I am very much a Jill of All Trades, Master of None, so I have done almost every craft or art out there, but only long enough to get good at it, then I am done.  My current craft is crocheting.”

[I would say you are quite the queen of fostering community. I so love and admire this about you and 100% agree. – Jana]

 

13. Any wild or hilarious stories that have ever happened you’ve witnessed during Ultrapom events?

“We’ve said that Ultrapom should have its own reality show!  There’s always something going on, and every day is different.  We don’t attend the actual events, we show up before, set things up, and get out.  But we are often there at the end, to pick things up. I think my favorite was when we came to pick up a backyard wedding at a house off of Ward Parkway the NEXT DAY, and found a groomsman passed out on a table in the backyard.”

 

14. How do you balance personal life and work life?

“As the wise Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said ‘You can’t have it all at once. Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all.’  That’s what I aspire to – the long plan of having it all. When Ultrapom is at full steam, my house is a mess and I don’t see my family much. But when things are slow, I make sure to do a ton with my family.  (My house is still a mess though.) The most important part to having work/life balance is a true partner in life, and my husband is exactly that. He parents and does household stuff at least as much as, if not more than, me.  He takes up the slack when I need it, and I do the same for him.”

 

15. Anything else we should know or you want to share about being an entrepreneur/small business/mom?

“Maybe for those that don’t have kids yet and/or a fledgling business- cherish all the time you have and use it to your advantage. You think you are SO BUSY now, but it only gets more full when your business gets bigger and you have kids.”

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