Happy birthday, Brilliantly Warm! Lessons from a Female Founder Featuring Kristen Carbone
“I’ve had to learn that I don’t believe in failure. If you gain new understanding about something, then it’s a success.” ~ Kristen Carbone
In honor of Brilliantly Warm’s first birthday, we sat down with our very own Kristen Carbone—founder of Brilliantly.
After years of talking with women in the breast cancer community, working with a team of engineers and a whole lot of learning, Kristen launched Brilliantly Warm in June of 2021.
But through the creation of Brilliantly Warm, Kristen’s mission was always to develop much more than just a product. She wanted Brilliantly to be a space for women and allies from all walks of life to come together to support, elevate, share experiences, and inspire one another.
This week, we sit down with Kristen to learn more about her experience as a female founder, and how we can use that to fuel our own dreams and desires.
What has your journey creating Brilliantly Warm been like?
Starting Brilliantly has been such a challenging and rewarding undertaking.
Many challenges I faced are because I made a mid-career shift from working in the arts, to working in tech. I knew almost nothing about building a business or creating a physical product when I started.
I had to learn entirely new skills. Most notably, fundraising, engineering (even if it was only a little, so I could advocate for the product), and marketing.
But the rewarding parts of founding Brilliantly are even more multifaceted than the challenges.
I’ve met amazing women with whom I have shared or overlapping experiences. They’ve made me feel less isolated and alone when confronting my hereditary health struggles, and my grief of losing my mother.
Through this community, I now feel understood and heard in a way that I never imagined possible.
The confidence I’ve built is another rewarding aspect of this journey. While I’m not sure I can call this business a success yet, I’ve encountered many micro-successes along the way that have made me feel more capable and accomplished.
The time I’ve spent learning and connecting with people has truly helped me grow as a person. I’m grateful for even the most difficult moments of this experience.
This current moment is really exciting and expansive.
Since we launched Brilliantly Warm a year ago, we’ve learned many women use it not only for chronic health conditions—but because they’re tired of sitting at their desk bundled up at work or for outdoor activities like skiing or running. Nursing moms also love Brilliantly Warm, and report that it helps ease discomfort and aids with let down. We even have users who put Brilliantly Warm in their pants when they have menstrual cramps.
Watching Brilliantly evolve and grow into a company that can help all kinds of people feel more comfortable is so incredibly rewarding.
If you could describe entrepreneurship using three words, what would they be and why?
Tenacity. Sometimes success happens because you just don’t give up. Slow down when you need to, but always keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Passion. If you’re passionate about your mission it’s a heck of a lot easier to maintain energy and excitement when things get hard.
Optimism. You have to be an optimistic person if you’re going to found a startup. You need to believe that change is possible, and that even after you get a “no” from hundreds of investors that you’ll eventually get a “yes”. Finding the silver lining and learning from every difficult situation is key.
If you were just starting your entrepreneurship journey today, what do you wish someone would’ve told you right from the start?
The time it takes to start a business.
Building a business takes exponentially more time than I originally thought. And that isn’t always convenient. An investor might want to talk during your cousin’s baby shower or you might need to do a customer service support call in the middle of your child’s holiday concert.
I had no idea how much time each day it would take or how quickly the years would pass. I don’t regret it, of course, but it has made me realize even more than I already did that each second is precious.
In honor of the 1 year birthday of the launch of Brilliantly Warm, could you tell us 5 key lessons you’ve learned along the way?
1: I am not alone. There have been countless moments in my life before Brilliantly when I felt truly alone in my experience. I now know that I never have to feel that way again. It was a painful and beautiful lesson.
2: Achieving my goals takes the dedication of many people. From interns to engineers, and let’s not forget my Junior Staffers, hundreds of people have been part of bringing Brilliantly Warm to fruition. The list is simply too long to fully call out, but I’ve leaned on mentors and advisors for strategic support and skills. Industry experts have helped build this product and co-create our programmatic offerings—and my friends have bolstered me even on the most challenging days. It truly takes a village to build something new.
3: Be afraid, but do it anyway. There are many parts of starting a business that are scary and when I take a deep breath and face them head on—even if it doesn’t work out—I feel proud. I’ve had to learn that I don’t believe in failure. If you learn something, then it’s a success. Some days that’s easier to embrace than others.
4: Self care. In the early days of any company, the founder is the company. And to build a healthy business, you need a healthy founder. Starting out, I lost myself to Brilliantly for quite a while and I wish someone had told me to put myself first.
5: Gender-bias. I was surprised to encounter all of the gender-bias I’ve experienced in the startup world—especially surrounding fundraising. Because of these experiences, I feel even more committed to helping women. I want to be part of flipping the power structure and making the future for female founders and women in general a little bit easier.
Is there a quote you look to for inspiration/motivation on your journey as a female founder?
There’s a quote from Tina Fey that says, “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”
That feels like a guiding light for me in all areas of my life. I try to say yes and be part of crafting a thoughtful solution. I don’t like to waste time thinking about what-if's or what won’t work. I’d rather try, learn, try something new, and see if things get a little better along the way.
Any podcasts or groups you recommend that other female founders should look to for advice or inspiration?
There are so many amazing resources for female founders. First, I’d encourage any woman starting a business to join a community that will help you realize your vision. I love Dreamers and Doers and The Fourth Floor for finding mentors, like-minded founders, PR opportunities, and tons of valuable learning resources.
For podcasts, my favorite is Alex Batdorf’s Get Shit Done. She interviews other founders who give practical, thoughtful information about their businesses and best practices—and they’re never dry or boring. I love entertaining education!
What has been the most rewarding part of your whole entrepreneurship journey thus far?
Without a doubt, the people I’ve met while building this business are what make the experience amazing, joyful, and full of beauty.
It’s all sort of bittersweet for me though. It’s because of breast cancer, losing my mother, and having a mastectomy that I am here running this company.
But I love being here, I love the group of women I seek to serve, and I love collaborating behind the scenes with all the talented, brilliant people working tirelessly to move this effort forward.
If you want to learn more about Kristen and her inspiration behind creating Brilliantly Warm, be sure to check out our Founder’s Story.
From all of us over here at Brilliantly, thank you so much for sticking by our side this past year.
It’s been an absolute honor helping build this community and getting to know such inspiring, supportive, and remarkable women on a mission to change lives.
We can’t wait to share all the amazing opportunities in store for the Brilliantly Community this upcoming year! Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you’re always up to date on all the new things happening over at Brilliantly.
Stay warm. Stay bold. Stay brilliant.