Kristina Karlsson, 42, is the founder of stationery brand, kikki.K.
She was inspired to set up the business in 2001 after noticing a gap in the market for stylish and practical home office products.
With no prior knowledge of the market but a desire to create products that took their inspiration from her native Sweden’s design aesthetic, Kristina set about growing her brand – and now has nearly 80 boutiques around the world. We spoke to her about 3am lists, mentors and her holy hour…
Hi Kristina! What led you to set up kikki.K?
About 15 years ago I was a little bit unsure of what I was going to do with my life. One night at about 3am I woke up for the 5th time, complaining and whinging to my partner. He suggested we write down a list of what was important to me in a career and on that list I wrote that I wanted to be able to drive to work, to be very excited (not just on Monday mornings but on all mornings), I wanted to work with Swedish design, I wanted to make $500 a week and I also wanted to have a business of my own. We now call this my 3am list! The next day I thought that if I wanted to have my own business I needed an office, so I went out to buy some supplies but there was nothing that I wanted. So then I got depressed for a few minutes but that quickly turned into excitement. We’ve now got 80 stores around the world with London next on the list!
How did you learn about the industry?
This was very new to me and I did it the hard way but it’s been such an amazing journey and I’ve learnt so much along the way. Since I didn’t know anything about the industry, I’ve had many mentors. Mentors are like friends; you get different things from each one of them. I’ve had mentors for specific things; one of them is Gillian Franklyn who I saw do a talk on raising capital and I’ve ended up having some amazing support from her.
What is a normal work day like for you?
An ideal work day starts at 5am for me, but this doesn’t always happen! I call 5-6am my holy hour, where I set aside time to write, read, think and meditate. It’s just time for me which is really inspiring. Between 6 and 7am I like to exercise. When I get in the door at 7, I’m then set for the day because I feel like I’ve had my ‘me’ time so regardless of how crazy the day gets I’ve had that. I then take the kids to school and I’ll be in the office before 9am. I don’t check my emails from 9-10.30am and in that time I work on three projects for a solid 90 minutes. I find that having that time without email works really well. If it were a Wednesday, I’d spend the day with my design team in meetings where all the designers present where they’re at with their ranges because we drop new products every three weeks. I think we have about 26 ranges per year. I am to get home for 5.30pm in time to have dinner with my kids.
What sets your products apart from other brands?
The Swedish design; it’s all packaged and designed beautifully but the content is very important to us too. We design everything from scratch, so everything is hand illustrated; I think it’s just that we put so much work into the design. One of my favourite products is the 101 Dreams Journal because I believe regardless of anyone’s situation, everyone can dream. I meet my entrepreneurs group once a month and we often share our dreams; it could be something as simple as ‘I want to do yoga everyday’. We also run workshops about how to set up goals in a smart way and make sure that they happen. When I was in New York, I bought this beautiful book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Reuben. We asked whether we could re-design the cover just for our stores so we sell it now. We then created a whole range of products around it too.
How did you get to where you are today?
I think my passion. We had issues with funding in the early days and boring things like book-keeping but those things become fun when you have passion for what you’re doing. In the early days, on the weekends when everyone would be getting ready to go out I couldn’t wait to go to the warehouse and organize everything! I really loved it so it wasn’t a chore for me. When we had just a few shops I’d go in with a bottle of wine and rearrange it all! I love that I still have that passion. I also don’t take no for an answer. It’s an easy thing to say and people laugh but there is always a way! In our head office we have a quote that says, ‘don’t say no, say how’. I’m not saying you should say yes to absolutely everything but if it’s important to you you’ll always find a way.
Are there any negative aspects to your job?
I feel like there’s so much more we could do, so not being able to do it all is one of the worst things. We only have 24 hours so that’s a negative but that’s also just life. I’m always torn on where to spend my time because I have young kids as well so it’s trying to balance everything which can be hard. It’s like that for everyone though. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to bring my kids with me when I travel so I get to see them as much as I can and they also get to see the world.
Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
You have to find what you’re passionate about; find your vision and don’t take no for an answer. And look after your health! If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.