Karley Cunningham cracks the code to activate and accelerate the innate potential of Canadian businesses.
A West Coast LGBTQ Impact Entrepreneur, Market Disruptor, and Endurance Athlete, Karley recently secured Federal Government funding to unleash the untapped power of SMEs to transform Canadian business.
Karley was selected as one of 34 British Columbian successful applicants in Canada's first-ever Women's Entrepreneurship Strategy funding. In BC alone, there were over 1,000 applications.
Karley’s cracked the code that reveals the unique set of tools that puts purpose into action, unifies everyone and everything to harness an organization’s full potential to accelerate business growth and success.
PH: Tell us what this funding opportunity has allowed you to do?
I have been able to codify, systemize and digitize my proven methodology. The result is that geography is no longer a barrier; we can deliver it virtually anywhere in the world. And given the recent pandemic, this couldn't be timelier and more critical to support small and mid-sized businesses worldwide.
This funding has allowed me to close the gap between where my business was and where I knew it could be. The same goes for me. Moreover, it opened up bigger, previously unimagined business opportunities. It allowed me to build a team of experts around me to produce the necessary deliverables. It has afforded me the coaching support needed to overcome some of my barriers and pushed me beyond my comfort zone where growth occurs, and the real magic happens.
In doing so, we’re setting up to exponentially increase the likelihood of survival for start-ups, accelerate the growth of established businesses, and boost business sustainability and success across the country and abroad. Our method can accelerate any organization in any industry or sector.
I wanted to codify and systemize our proven methodology and license it to other consultants and coaches across North America. However, it was an advisor through the Women's Enterprise Centre who said, "They're offering you $100,000. They want to see a big return; you need to think bigger."
Back to the drawing board I went and imagined beyond what I currently thought was possible. I discovered several further applications and streams of delivery by digitizing it, and that opened up the world. More importantly, the ability to make our system accessible to all sizes of businesses through various methods of delivery. [Shown below, Karley with Minister Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade.]
PH: What has been your greatest challenge and top lesson learned throughout this funding process?
I had to move fast but accurately and sustainably with multiple priorities to juggle. I'd planned to scale back my client load for the six months of the project, but despite my intentions, the business grew – the sparks created fire! This was a good lesson in kinetic energy – the project created positive energy, which transferred into my everyday business, accelerating both forward.
A good friend and mastermind colleague reminded me when I was awarded this project, "You've been training for this your whole life – you're an endurance athlete. You know how to prepare for this, what to expect, and how to get through it." What she meant was, as an endurance athlete, I know how to prepare for a big, prolonged event/race. I know how to tap into the courage, resilience, and grit to persevere no matter what challenge arises and get it done. I know how to focus on the next step, plan for what's coming, endure the tough slogs of the hard tasks (the slow, grinding, mind-torturing uphills), use the momentum when its there (the downhills), and rest in the space of the easy and known tasks (the flats). And, at the very end, pull everything I have left to get the project across the finish line.
My top lesson learned along the way is: You are never alone. People want to help.
So many people in so many ways have helped me to succeed both in this project and beyond. My sister passed away suddenly in the middle of it, and my life was completely turned upside down. The project stress alone had pushed me to my limits. I seriously contemplated quitting at least twice early on – and then this unimaginable loss. Thinking about all the friends, family, strategic partners and how they stepped up, created scaffolding-like support around me so I wouldn't crumble under the pressure and grief, is awe-inspiring. It fills my eyes with tears and my heart with gratitude.
PH: Tell us more about the journey of Karley. If 2020 is the 'race' you have been preparing for your entire life, give us a bird's eye view of your preparation. What has brought you to this exact place, and why you are perfectly aligned as the Canadian PowHERhouse undertaking the impact you are making now in Canada and beyond.
As a former pro elite athlete, I am competitive and performance-driven. I was selected to be one of the next, top pairs figure skaters at the age of seven, placing me on center stage at an early age. Performing in front of large audiences under pressure was a skill and passion that I formed as a child. I went on to transfer my enthusiasm for being in front of an audience to a love for igniting and activating the entrepreneurial fire through thought-provoking talks to empower business leaders.
Competitive sport has been a constant in my life. An avid trail runner and mountain biker, I am a two-time finisher of the BC Bike Race, a seven-day, 325 km, mountain bike stage race. A secret to my success is taking lessons I learn on the trails, as an athlete, and applying them to business and life as an entrepreneur. When I'm not focusing on the business or expanding my network, I'm challenging myself on the single-track trails of the Pacific Northwest, usually with my wife who is also an endurance athlete.
PH: Tell us more about the journey as a wife for your wife.
I could not have done this without the support of my wife, Elise. We're a good team. We discuss all of the significant life things that we take on. When talking through this project - the pros, the cons, the risks, the time it would take - Elise said to me, "You supported me through my one-year masters program. This is going to be your masters," and she was 100% behind my applying for the funding. Through this project Elise took on 99% of all of our 'life work' – taking care of our home, our pup and me; and I'm forever grateful. It truly is a partnership.
PH: Tell us about your journey as a sister who lost a sister.
In the middle of this project, the biggest one yet in my almost-20-year entrepreneurial journey, my little sister lost her battle with cancer at only 35.
Leah had been fighting for five years, and while we knew that she was starting to lose the battle, her death was sudden, just two days before I was supposed to fly home to spend time with her for a week. I missed seeing her one last time, hugging her one last time by less than 48 hours. I was shattered.
Our whole family was completely devastated. We spent most of the month of December navigating her death, the first time I'd ever lost anyone close to me. Elise and I were flying back and forth to Ontario, trying to navigate my grief, support my family, and work with them from afar to plan her celebration of life.
Leah was, is, and always will be my inspiration. She was so incredibly brave and could've said, "I'm done. I can't do this," or, "I'm scared, and I don't know how to do this," but Leah didn't quit life and the series of cruel things cancer threw at her for five years. She just kept on fighting right until the moment her heart gave out on her.
Her courage and fight were what inspired me to not pack this project in at the time of her death. It would've been an easy decision at the time. Leah taught me that what you want is worth fighting for and that life can be way shorter than you ever expected.
Getting my methodology out to the world is what I want, especially in this time of growing global turmoil. With the pandemic, global warming, stock market crash – humanity and the planet are in crisis. Our current systems, institutions and outdated forms of leadership are all failing us. I believe that it's the entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) who are the ones who are going to solve the problems and save the world. My purpose is to fuel entrepreneurial fire and support SMB survival, growth and success.
PH: Let's talk more about your journey as an Endurance Athlete. What are your top learnings from sport that you have now transferred to business and what to share with others?
Operating at a high-intensity all the time does not produce high-performing results. I see this with athletes and business owners all the time. Often, they run or operate at 80% - 100% of their max all day, every day and think this is going to yield optimal results. All this gets you is less productivity, less creativity, and decreased results over time, leading to burnout. I've met more business owners in the last ten years who are suffering from adrenal fatigue than I have athletes (who also suffer greatly from it when they don't train properly). Going hard all the time is not the answer.
Through sport, I have learned about periodized training. Which in a nutshell is training in different intensity zones during the course of a week (most of which is in the lower zones). You progressively build up your endurance and overtime and taking a rest week every 3 – 4 weeks.
Operating in life and business this way too is ingenious. While it's easy to get caught up in giving it your all every single day, it can often lead to a place you didn't plan to be – burnout. Or at the very least, a constant state of fatigue that you can't seem to get over. That's why productivity and performance suffers.
PH: Let's talk more about your journey as a Community Builder.
Community is everything. I have woven together a community of brilliant humans, who are experts in their space; this includes our clients. I support this community by keeping a pulse on individual and community needs, hosting networking events, prompting the start-up of mastermind groups and being there to help when needed.
My business coach Pam Slim has been a pivotal teacher for how to foster a thriving community; in fact, her next book is all about this. She, along with my wife, have been the foundation of the scaffolding around me for this project. Often, it's as much about having people skilled in providing emotional support as well as the business acumen to get through a project like this. Pam is very good at holding me steady – I'm high-energy, highly emotionally-tuned, and in big stakes and high-pressure situations, I can struggle with anxiety.
There were two particular 2 or 3 am "Stuff this, I'm out" or "Tell me why I shouldn't throw in the towel and just take the loss before I'm in too deep" emails. And Pam was awesome. She always responded with, "First, you are sovereign. You are always and ultimately in control. However…" Then she'd give me 6 – 10 damn solid reasons why I shouldn't quit. And every time, by the time I got to the second or third bullet point I would sigh and think, "Yeah, you're right," and take a deep breath, reground myself and keep going.
I could not have achieved what I have, in an insanely short amount of time, interrupted by life-altering events, without Elise, my family, and my community.
This project has really amplified for me just how much my community is there for me. Everyone has been cheering me on, been a part of the scaffolding around me, helping me, answering questions, filling my knowledge gaps, and they lifted me up when all felt like it was going sideways when my sister passed away.
I could not have done it without them. Sincere gratitude goes out to all of them.
Why is what you’ve just built so relevant right now?
All of the institutional systems we’ve believed in and relied on for the past century are crumbling beneath us; I believe that it’s the SMEs who have the agility, passion and grit to reinvent the systems and create the change that the world needs.
In the past 12 months alone, our global community has experienced a domino effect of global crises - political, climate, refugee, systemic racism, the pandemic, and economic meltdown. All of this has turned up the heat on SMEs to deliver.
Up until now, in a booming and stable economy businesses have been able to get away with a lack of clarity, purpose and the fundamental underpinnings any business needs to succeed if they have had a solid product or service that could deliver a decent customer experience. This is no longer the case.
In the new era of business, clarity, purpose, direction and commitment to strategic, brave, and decisive action is critical to…
- Stand out and cut through the noise
- Attract the right clients, team member, partners and investors
- Marketing success
- Align and unify your team
- Create a culture that retains top talent
- Build a leading brand
- Be seen as having the best solution in the market
- Outpace the competition
- Build a thriving business that takes care of its people, community and out planet
Whether you are a team of one or 100, customers, partners and investors don’t have the band-width for anything that isn’t clear, impact-driven, or lacks an obvious, meaningful or valuable solution. If a business is going to make it through the next twelve months and thrive in the new era of business that we’ve been thrust into, now is the time for businesses to gain an understanding of who they are, what they stand for, and the difference they make for those they serve.
Savvy business leaders are wiping their whiteboards clean, reinventing their businesses. They know there’s no return to ‘normal’. We’re entering the ‘new normal’ at the speed of optic fibre and they’re racing to figure out how to evolve and adapt in this high-demand, low touch world. My system has been helping businesses evolve, adapt and thrive for over ten years. If you’re a motivated business owner, we can help you put the underpinnings for success in place needed to succeed in this new era of business.
We help business owners and leaders draw out and reveal the authentic, fundamental beliefs and truths of their business and we weave them together with our unique methodology to form absolute clarity and one strategy that comes before and directs all others.
But we don’t stop there.
We TEACH our clients how to convert and use the components of their core strategy as a powerful, practical, implementable set of tools to unify and synchronize everyone in their business and drive everything they do.
2030 Look Back - It's 2030. You and I are sitting on a deck reminiscing back at this time (2020) as well as the impact you have made through the vehicle of your business in the past decade. What is that specific impact? What are you most proud of and how has that changed, elevated, or impacted humanity?
Historically, what we do has only been accessible to businesses with reliable revenue or startups with funding. We’re out to change that.
“We’re committed to helping startups, micro-businesses and marginalized groups tackle the choke-point that stunts the pace and potential of their growth.”
By 2030, I want ours to be the go-to system for developing the fundamental underpinnings for surefire business success around the globe. We’ll achieve through licensing and in partnership with incubators, accelerators, and business support organizations. I’m confident that together, we can open up my system to ensure it is accessible to all business owners who need it.
Small businesses make up 97%+ of all businesses in countries like Canada, the U.S., Australia and Mexico. Small business leaders are the innovators and impacters who are stepping beyond capitalist structures to create a better future for our children and grandchildren. By ensuring their survival of these businesses, we ensure our own.
Want to BOOST your business?
Here’s how you can work with Karley:
Motivated Business Owners
If you’re the owner of an established business and are seeking to re-invent and re-strategize to set yourself up to thrive in the new era of business ahead, let’s chat.
If your startup is poised for growth, ready to scale and seeking investors/capital, let’s have a conversation to ensure you’re pitch and positioning is ready to win.
Consultants, Coaches & Small Agency Owners
If you are looking for a surefire way to solidify your revenue stream, attract new clients and add a new, innovative and lucrative line of business, let’s talk licensing.
Fellow Champions of Canadian Business
Directors of business incubators, accelerators, or government service-delivery partners, if you are keen to find out more about our system and how it can be added to your service offering for cohorts of startups and scaling businesses let’s book a call.