'Recognize When You Need Help' – the Aha Moment Parachute's Founder Learned From Her Mentor
In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
When Ariel Kaye received an unexpected invitation to a fancy dinner packed with Los Angeles heavy hitters and influencers, she anticipated having a great time. She did not anticipate walking away with a new mentor. But that’s exactly what happened when the founder of Parachute -- a purveyor of cozy, chic bedding and homewares -- met the dinner’s organizer, Kelly Mullens Brown, the president of strategy, marketing and communications for Ryan Seacrest Enterprises. As their relationship grew, the women became more than professional contacts and developed a symbiotic friendship, and Mullens Brown even signed on as a formal advisor to Kaye’s startup. Here, they talk about making the most of relationships, taking care of yourself first and paying it forward.
Women Entrepreneur: So I understand you guys first met primarily because Kelly is a fan of Parachute?
KMB: I had just remodeled my house, and I wanted to use all California artisans, because I’m a weirdo. I came across Ariel’s space in Venice, and I was so excited and just started ordering stuff. And for work, I was organizing a dinner and really wanted to invite a lot of women entrepreneurs.
AK: I was so confused as to why I was being invited to this really cool dinner. It was only a few months into the business, and I had definitely not been invited to anything cool!
KMB: Los Angeles was becoming a kind of hotbed of entrepreneurs doing interesting things. My boss, Ryan Seacrest, had been working with Ford at the time, and Ford’s CEO, Mark Fields, wanted to get away from Detroit and meet some entrepreneurs. So I got to invite a bunch of young people, some companies we’d invested in, others that were just on my radar because I’m a geek.
AK: I was so grateful and had an amazing time and met a ton of really amazing people. I followed up with Kelly afterwards, because I realized she was so well-connected and had already been so generous. I didn’t know if she’d accept an offer to have breakfast, but she did, and we really hit it off.
KMB: We do a monthly breakfast now.
AK: We talked about ways we could work together, and Kelly is absolutely a connector and kept talking about people she knew whom I should meet. I’m certainly not the first person she’s advised or been a mentor to, so she really understood where I was in my process. I had just raised some capital and was navigating that process along with working on branding and marketing -- and Kelly is an expert in all of those things. There are a lot of people involved in business whom you can show varying degrees of vulnerability to, and Kelly is someone I can open up to and talk about more than just work -- because there’s more than work in the world.
KMB: I’m older and wiser now, but when I was coming of age there weren’t a lot of people who helped me along the way, even though I have many, many great women friends. But a couple of years ago, I kind of made it a point [to mentor women entrepreneurs]. In my job I deal mostly with men, and I love them, but I told Ryan I wanted to form more strategic relationships on my own to give back to female entrepreneurs. And he was like, Great, do it! So I’ve done that. It’s rewarding to find someone as smart and as passionate as Ariel, and I try to provide tangible advice and give her access to other people who could be helpful to her. Entrepreneurship is really lonely. You’re making a million decisions a day, and you need resources -- not just capital and manufacturers, but human capital.
WE: Ariel, you’re a solo founder. How important has building a network been as you navigate growing your company alone?
AK: It’s invaluable. I talk candidly about it a lot, because it’s important for people to know that it’s normal to feel alone and isolated, but there are ways to get through those moments. It’s about being thoughtful about your relationships. There are people I turn to if I’m having a problem with investors. There are others I turn to if I’m having a problem with personnel. Being a solo founder is a huge burden. I love that pressure and excitement, but it’s important to recognize when you need help.
KMB: I spend a lot of time saying, “It’s going to be okay. You got this.” And in turn, she does that for me, too. Just because you’re at the top doesn’t mean you don’t need to hear that.
AK: Sometimes all you need to hear is that someone cares for you and is rooting for you.
KMB: A lot of young women entrepreneurs stop seeing themselves as an important asset to invest in, whether that means self-care and taking vacation and spending more time with your partner, or just making sure that, from an investment perspective, she’s thinking about her future and two steps ahead. It’s great to push yourself, but don’t do it to the point of misery, and pay yourself a market-level salary. No one will ever tell you to work less or pay yourself more, but I will. No one reminds you to take care of yourself -- well, maybe they say it to guys, but they haven’t said it to any women entrepreneurs I know.
AK: There have been times, during fundraising, specifically, when Kelly has been really helpful thinking through deals and contracts and making sure I’m being protected. She’s done a lot of contracts in her work, which feels like a foreign language to me, so being able to understand and have support from someone who’s patient is so important.
WE: Has working with Kelly inspired you to pay it forward in a really active way?
AK: I am very grateful for anyone that’s given me time and a resource. I’m part of the All Raise Female Founder Office Hours, and I try to meet with people as much as I can. I don’t pretend to know everything, but there is advice I can share through a phone call or coffee. And it’s always reciprocal -- I never leave a conversation not having learned something.