Kristen Carbone

Founder of Brilliantly

Kristen Carbone is committed to making the lives of the people around her more comfortable, fulfilling and beautiful. After a decade long career working in curatorial departments in Museums across New York and New England she founded Brilliantly, a platform dedicated to meeting the long term, quality of life issues faced by women who’ve had an experience with breast cancer. A writer, public speaker, and solution finder, Kristen serves on the Advisory Council for the Breasties, and is a member of Dreamers & Doers, The Fourth Floor, Female Founders Community. In addition to her work at Brilliantly, Kristen is an avid jigsaw puzzler, gardener, and list maker. She currently resides in Providence, Rhode Island with her two children.

Where did the idea for Brilliantly come from?

Brilliantly started with trying to solve a problem for myself. After my mastectomy and implant reconstruction, one of the things that bothered me was feeling constantly cold. After countless failed attempts to jerry-rig something, I set my mind on designing a sustainable solution to help women like myself feel physically better. Through countless conversations, I also recognized that the opportunity to help women feel better was much bigger and have started a portrait project, a corrective exercise program, and hosted numerous events about quality of life issues faced by this community. I wanted to broaden the scope of what’s out there for navigating life after an experience with breast cancer.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I have two kids, so my day starts with making everyone breakfast and with drinking lots of coffee before we dive into anything that looks like work. Being productive, I’ve found, is a discipline. Before I start doing anything I always check my calendar and make a to do list for the day. I time block so I can be sure that there’s moments for my kids, myself and work every day. I tend to do a block of work in the morning and take a break mid-day for lunch and doing something fun with my kids or going to yoga before doing another big block of work.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My background is in the arts and have a collaborative personality, so bringing ideas to life is always about finding the right people. When I first was thinking about making Brilliantly Warm, our flagship product, I assembled a list of people in my network with professional expertise in the areas where I knew I needed help. Then I invited those people to a brainstorming session over dinner. It was the first meeting of what became my advisory board and truly a core reasons that this business came to fruition. People say things “take a village” but creating Brilliantly took an entire city.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am simply delighted to be part of the tide change that’s happening in women’s health. Women are finally stopping being stoic about our health and wellness struggles. As more and more women talk about fertility, maternal health, body image, cancer, etc. innovators and change makers are creating products and services to improve these experiences. It’s pretty awesome.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Honestly, the most important habit I have is getting rest. I sleep at least 6 or 7 hours a night. When I’m worn down, I can’t focus and do my best work. My other habit is an almost religious devotion to my google calendar.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t forget to have fun. For as long as I can remember I’ve been rushing towards an achievement and sometimes I lose sight of that it’s the process of getting there that’s my life. I only get to do all of this once and slowing down to enjoy it is ok.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I love multitasking. I honestly think I’m better at doing things when I have multiple things happening. I’m aware that research shows that’s not true, but I totally disagree.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Have I mentioned my google calendar?! Seriously, other than that, I tell every new or struggling entrepreneur to create a small accountability/support and advisory group. It’s absolutely critical to have people who get it so you feel less isolated and alone on days that are a struggle or when something great happens. Challenges are overcome by diversity in thinking and victories are best when they’re shared.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I schedule time to zoom out because most days I’m stuck doing tactical work. Creating space and time to think strategically is essential. I have regular meetings with advisors and other founders for discussing how to keep on track for reaching my biggest goals.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest failure was not taking care of myself. In the early days of Brilliantly I was still working a day job. I’d get up around 4am and work until I had to get the kids ready for school. Then I’d go to work, pick up the kids, make dinner, play and then would settle back into working once the kids were in bed until after midnight. I fell apart. I was exhausted and sick and generally miserable. It wasn’t until I believed enough in myself, in my idea enough, to leave my day job and reclaim my time. Even with the enormous added financial stress, I felt better right away. Without my 9 – 5, I certainly wasn’t working too much less, but I could go to yoga or for a walk in the middle of the day or prep a proper dinner between calls. I had to put my health first or I wasn’t going to be able to keep going.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d like for someone to create a new tool in the sharing economy for kid things.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I just started up my yoga membership again. I haven’t gone since COVID started and I’m beyond excited to start again. It’s consistently been my favorite way to keep my mind and body in check since I started practicing in 2003.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

This is really becoming a love letter to my google calendar. I use it to track pretty much everything from my kid’s schedules to visitors to birthdays to work calls. I’d be lost without it. It’s color-coded and each different calendar has a different scheduled reminder- I get a ping ten minutes before a call, but a week before birthdays. It helps me manage all my personal and professional commitments.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I think everyone should read are Haven Kimmel’s A Girl Named Zippy. I’ve read it at least a dozen times and laugh out loud every time. There are no shortage of experts who can help founders with business advice, but nothing is more important that a founder’s state of mind. For me staying sane starts with laughing.

What is your favorite quote?

“Everything doesn’t happen for a reason, but we can find meaning in everything.” As someone who has experienced great loss, and works in a community of people who’ve been affected by cancer, it’s difficult to believe that there’s a reason for any of it. I have found though that if you’re looking for it, there is meaning in everything. We can learn lessons from even our most painful experiences.

Key Learnings:

  • Staying healthy and happy is the best way to be productive.
  • Have a mission you feel passionate about serving.
  • Create a group of trusted advisors who give critical feedback and strategic advice.