Paulina Karpis

Co-Founder of brunchwork

Paulina Karpis is the cofounder and CEO of brunchwork. The company delivers modern business education via a two-month Business Intensive, membership, and free newsletter. brunchwork educates tens of thousands of millennial professionals annually.

Prior to Covid, 100% of brunchwork’s revenue came from live experiences in NY, SF and LA. While most of their competitors shut down after Covid, brunchwork quickly and successfully pivoted to an online program.

Today, brunchwork is a top-rated, global, online business education program.

Paulina has been featured and celebrated in Business Insider, Forbes, NY Post, Fast Company, Fortune, and many more outlets.

Where did the idea for Brunchwork come from?

I started looking into MBA programs while I was working in finance at J.P. Morgan. I couldn’t believe how expensive, outdated and time consuming they all were. The cost of the programs didn’t fit with their value.

I became obsessed with finding a solution. It seemed like such a big opportunity that hadn’t even been talked about yet. There had to be a better alternative to the broken grad school system.

My cofounder and I started building a program that had even more benefits than the MBA without the cost. We launched brunchwork in 2015, and have been able to offer modern business education to thousands of professionals annually through our two-month Business intensive and membership.

Our customers get access to a vibrant network, career opportunities and advice from top industry leaders.

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

A typical day for an entrepreneur isn’t very glamorous. It’s really just answering a lot of emails and calls. I always hope there will be time at the end of the day for me to exercise or cook dinner.

I make it more productive by prioritizing. There’s always an endless amount of work to get done, so focusing on upcoming deadlines is really important.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas are meaningless without execution so staying organized is key. Also being ruthless about timelines and owning your responsibilities. I try to make sure I prioritize the right idea, and then work on bringing it to life. I use tools like the ICE framework to help me analyze what ideas would be most worthwhile to focus my energy on.

I would recommend starting small. Keep it simple and test out the market demand before you do a full blown launch. You really only need a minimal viable version of your idea in the beginning.

What’s one trend that excites you?

There’s so much opportunity in the digital space right now because of Covid. People are more open to online events and education than ever before. Before Covid we did live, in-person events, and now we’ve pivoted completely to online education. When an online program is done well it can be a very rewarding experience. We’ve made sure to prioritize connection and interaction within our programs.

What’s also exciting right now are the dialogues taking place. The pandemic has magnified the flaws within the traditional education system. People are starting to see the value in more accessible and affordable education alternatives.

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

Getting in a workout. Being an entrepreneur can be really stressful, especially right now with the constantly changing landscape from the pandemic. It’s important to take the time to clear your head and get away from your desk. Any kind of movement helps, even a walk outside.
There will always be more to work on with your business, but you need to prioritize your health too.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Get comfortable with rejection. Rejection is a normal part of life, especially if you’re trying to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before. There’s a silver lining in it – it gives you a thicker skin. If you’re not getting rejected it means you’re not trying hard enough.

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

I believe that raising venture capital is a bad idea for most early stage startups. This idea that you need to raise capital as quickly and as fast as you can is actually a myth and it won’t pan out well if you don’t have a solid market fit.
We’ve been able to build a national audience in the tens of thousands without raising any outside capital. It gave us the flexibility in 2020 to stay lean and pivot as the market shifted.\

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

Talk to and listen to your customer! After every touchpoint we’re constantly communicating with our customers whether it be through emails or during our events. Customer feedback is critical. Find out what drives and motivates them. Ask them their input on what you’re doing well and where they think you could improve.

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

Always keeping a finger to our customer’s pulse to understand what they want. Before Covid, our customers were looking for a network and skills development. Now they need accessibility and connection more than ever. Understanding this shift in their needs helped us successfully pivot during the pandemic.

I’m also a firm believer in qualitative data. There’s always a time and place for this kind of data to help you better understand your customer.

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

We were an in-person speaker events business when Covid hit. Had we not acted quickly we would have faced closing just like our competitors. Because we had been keeping a close eye on our customer, we were able to understand their shift in needs and pivot to an online space that could accommodate them.

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

There is a big need right now for better virtual meeting platforms. Ones that can crack the water cooler and make conversations more organic. There’s limitations with the current virtual platforms out there. Zoom for example, doesn’t let you have side conversations. We need platforms that can solve things like that.

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

I recently invested in lighting and microphones to upgrade our digital set-up. brunchwork pivoted to online programs, so we needed our classes and workshops to look professional. We wanted our virtual events to reflect the quality our customers have come to expect from us.

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

I’ve been finding a lot of value in Calendly. It’s a scheduling software so it cuts down the time spent going back and forth trying to find meeting times that will work for everyone.

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

Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love From Day One by Emily Heyward. It’s a really powerful book. We recommend it to the customers in our Business Intensive.

Branding is critical for every business. Her book shows that a lot of things in a modern company are table stakes. As a bare minimum you need good UX, superior customer service and fast delivery.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is from Steve Jobs. He says, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

It reminds me to just trust the process. The startup journey is anything but straightforward. You never know what twists and turns will hit. This quote helps keep me grounded.

Key Learnings:

  • Stay close to your customer. Communicate and listen after every touchpoint.
  • Don’t rush into venture capital. Celebrate your revenue instead.
  • Don’t fear rejection. It’s a marker of growth and hard work.