Your Biggest Vision Season 2 Ep. 2- Vik Harrison, Founder of The Branded Startup

Vik Harrison is the co-founder of the non-profit organization, Charity: water and the founder of her company, The Branded Startup. Tune in to this episode to hear Vik’s journey from moving to the U.S. at the age of 9 to fulfilling her vision and starting her own business. She is one of the biggest visionaries I know and provides so much wisdom for anyone with a dream and a vision!

 

Tune in to this episode to hear: 

  • The inspirational story Vik shares about her entrepreneurship journey
  • How her business, The Branded Startup evolved into what it is today
  • Some of Vik’s go-to books, habits and tips!
Tune in to episode 2 of the Your Biggest Vision show to hear Vik Harrison, founder of The Branded Startup talk about her journey as an entrepreneur.
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Transcript of Episode

Leah Gervais: Hey visionaries. Welcome back to the your biggest vision show. I am your host Leah Gervais today we have the honor of having one of the biggest visionaries I know her and her husband have built a hugely envisioned brand and business, Vik Harrison. Hi, Vik.

 

Vik Harrison: Hi, hey Leah.

 

Leah Gervais: How are you?

 

Vik Harrison: Doing well. Doing well. I hear the sirens. So we are in New York city for sure.

 

Leah Gervais: Yeah, we are. So guys, thank you guys for bearing with me. I’m sorry it’s loud, but for a little bit of background. Uh, they can, I kind of have a great story of how we met. So I interned at charity water, um, years and years ago and we’ll give you guys some background on, on Matt and how she’s involved with it and everything. But when I was at NYU, I was an intern. I loved charity, water. I still love charity water and sing its praises all the time. And Vick co-founded it with her husband, Scott Harrison. And um, just a little anecdote at the time, charity water was located in Soho in New York city. And I remember walking around down there and seeing the Dominic hotel, which at the time was, was the Trump Soho and thinking, Oh my God, that’s a pretty [inaudible] hotel in New York. Wouldn’t it be so great to get married there? And it just kind of, you weren’t there be sick. So it really came full circle. Yeah, it’s awesome. So anyway, uh, we have kind of known each other for years. We’re both here in New York and um, we have the privilege of hearing about charity water as well, at what vague as what Vik is up to now. So like why don’t you take us back a little bit to before charity water you, um, what’d you come to New York city to do? Where are you from?

 

Vik Harrison: Yeah, so my family came here from Russia, St. Petersburg, Russia. When I was nine years old. I immigrated to the U.S. um, we moved to Brooklyn, spoke no English, had to learn all the things, went to, um, yeah, I went to fourth grade, like six months into it. Uh, started speaking English. My parents were, uh, artists back in Russia and that was one of the reasons they fled communism because, uh, just really oppressive country to live in. And we came to to New York looking for free to amend a different life. And my parents always encouraged me to continue my creativity. I was also really creative, just, um, uh, from a young age because that’s in my family’s genes. And at the same time I was an only child of immigrants, so they wanted me to make sure that I didn’t start as an artist. So kind of pushed me into this new field back then called computer art, which is now basically everything we do is on computers.

 

But back then I remember getting my first like crappy PC. But, the sort of idea of graphic design really captured my imagination from a very, from the very start. So I went to school of visual arts in New York city to study graphic design and motion graphics and, uh, and my parents were super proud of me. I was kind of very clear on, um, in my, in my mind that I would be on this track to go into marketing advertising. And in New York that’s uh, you know, Madison Avenue madman and this is the, the, the Mecca of marketing advertising. So, uh, I get this internship randomly through my boyfriend, uh, at the time at a boutique design studio and over the summer after my junior year of college and I am bartending at night, um, cocktail waitressing and, um, then waking up in the morning, going to my first real job thinking I am, this is so incredible.

 

I’m actually working in the field that I am also studying. And it was just so fabulous in the beginning because design studios are creative places and there’s, um, kind of this, there is this air of creativity and fun and um, all of the machines you could ever want, like laptops and computers and the fastest processors and gadgets and lunches catered. And we go to, we started going to, um, big ad agencies because we would contract for, uh, we would do contract work for the biggest ad agencies in New York, like Ogilvy and Saatchi and widen Kennedy and we back then and we, I start to realize like I’m walking the halls of the most prestigious marketing agencies while all of my friends are still in, in, um, in college. So what happened is I actually got hired in the middle of that internship for a full time gig and my boss convinced me, he said, you don’t need to go back to college because what you need to learn are going to learn by doing the work and the portfolio is a, of your work is what’s going to get you in any job in your career.

 

So the earlier you can start, like you don’t need a diploma, you don’t need a degree in this field specifically. I don’t say that that’s obviously not the case for every field. If you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you probably didn’t need that piece of paper. But, and yeah, I think, you know, still true today in graphic design and, and, and, uh, creative direction in any, any of those creative fields. Uh, your college degree and where you went to college matters very little. What matters is your body of work. So anyway, about a year into this glamorous lifestyle that I just think this can’t get any better. My parents are telling all their friends, Victoria is working in a marketing agency, you know, um, I just, um, I buy all the outfits. I’m like playing the part, just thinking I’m on this fast track to become a creative director.

 

One day I’m going to have my own office. I’m going to be doing commercial shoots with celebrities for big brands, you know, and we were sort of, we were doing a little bit of that already. Uh, I was like a junior sitting in the corner, but observing, like I remember going to a Victoria’s secret shoot with literally the biggest models in the world, in a studio in Brooklyn, thinking, Kimberly, this is my life. Uh, anyway, so about a year and a half into this career, I start to realize that, so our slogan for this, for this, um, studio was create desire. And our logo was this bunny with a carrot hanging on, a stick in front of the bunny and basically forever out of reach. And it starts to Dawn on me that what we’re actually doing is we’re creating desire for these massive companies. We’re mass marketing products and that are not changing people’s lives that are arguably even maybe making people’s lives worse because they’re creating a false illusion that if you buy this lipstick, you’ll feel more beautiful.

 

Or if you just go and buy the new model of this car, uh, your life will magically fixed itself. And in fact, these people are going into credit card debt. I’m making purchases to create an identity for themselves that is shallow and not reveal. And so as a 24 year old, uh, idealistic kind of person, I’m going to start to, I start to realize this, this job and this career is going to, you know, the better I get it at my job, the more, uh, crap I sell to people who don’t really need any more crap. And it’s, you know, and, and, and it’s a road to for me, um, a very, uh, very meaningless life. And I, and I really kinda, it just kinda hit me and started to weigh on me. So I was going into work still at the same job, but every day, like my filter, it’s like, it’s switched from seeing all the beauty, all the coolness, all the glamour to now seeing the, the deceitful ways in which marketing is often created.

 

And not all marketing, but still, you know, today, like just the, the, the psychology in the way that very smart marketers think it’s very manipulative and it is very sophisticated and meant to play on, you know, people’s deepest fears and deepest wants and desires and manipulate those to get you to buy a certain product or service. And so, um, yeah, I starts fairly miserable and that’s where, that’s where enter charity water. So, um, I was talking to a nextdoor neighbor of mine one day about all this time I was living, I moved into the East village with, with my, um, a friend from high school. So we were living in a total dump on 11th street and second in like an old tenement house where yeah, like when I was interning at charity water, I lived on ninth then. And first it’s, it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s fun. East village is like where everyone starts out. I felt like it was, and the cheapest place in New York, but also really fun. You’re right, like st Mark’s place. I always, I have fond memories of some of the restaurants there and everything. So, uh, so what I started doing is I also went through a breakup. At this time I broke up with a boyfriend of mine who we’d moved in together into this crappy apartment. 

 

Um, after my high school friend decided to move out because she couldn’t afford anymore. Anyway. So, uh, my boyfriend then, and I break up because I kind of, I was chasing like the New York lifestyle. I was, I wanted, I boyfriend who drove a nice car and had money and worked on wall street. I was just going after all the wrong things in life. So I had this great guy who loved me, who was so serious about our relationship and I, I was not serious about it, this in the same way and I really hurt him. And so that kind of propelled me feeling like I’m the crappiest person alive and working in this job where I’m selling people crap they don’t need, I just treated a wonderful person like crap. And now he broke up with me. And so I’ve got nothing to lose. Like I, I’ve got to do a life check.

 

So, you know, in a way, I wasn’t 25 yet, but it was like a quarter life crisis for me. Uh, I think now looking back, so I started to try and look for volunteer opportunities just to really, uh, make myself feel better about my life and find ways to give back and to serve, uh, just to make myself feel like I’m a good person again. And I did a couple of random things like volunteered at a soup kitchen and uh, did a couple of, just one to a little different, you know, one off volunteer things and it was, it feel good for the time being, but I realized like I’m just one volunteer in a sea of a thousand for these New York based nonprofits. Right. And I can’t really create any change, lasting change here. So at this time I talk, I’m talking to a nextdoor neighbor of mine who tells me about Scott. He said, I have this friend who just got back from living in Africa for two years. You should meet with him. He’s starting a nonprofit to help people get clean water around the wall. And I remember thinking like, why people don’t have clean water? I had no idea. I literally from me, Africa at the time was like a mythical, I couldn’t believe that.

Um, yeah, that, that I had no idea how people were living around the world essentially. Right. While, while our, what a crazy story, if your neighbor wouldn’t have introduced you, you never would’ve met Scott. Take it off. You guys have to do like give a toast to him at your wedding or something. Well, this was a guy I was kind of having a fling with. So not all, like they take him till the cows come home, so they’re there. You, uh, you realize, you know, this feels kind of bottomless. This feels kind of emotionless. I think so many people can relate to this feeling, you know, that’s, that’s kind of the path I went down after I graduated from college. I really thought I wanted to go to law school and my dream was to go to law school, like be a lawyer for a little while and then eventually be an, it has an attorney for a nonprofit or something that I really loved and, or start a nonprofit or something. And you know, I get into law school and I’m looking at how much it’s going to cost me and I’m like, okay, so I am going to need to start a nonprofit for myself because this is going to be so much money to pay it off. So you know, I’ve had to face the reality of having to spend like five, maybe 10 if not more years doing corporate law in order to fund law school.

 

And then thinking about, well what am I? Am I really going to spend like five to 10 to maybe even more years of my life doing something that I so fundamentally find it unfulfilling? And it’s a hard moment, especially when you know, just like you, you’ve done everything to get to that place and you feel like you’ve done so much right. And it can be really easy to look at other people in New York and feel like they’re already doing so many successful things. Are you really going to go back to square one where you don’t know anything or what you want to do? So when you decided to leave your job and you know, go all in with charity water, were you, were you afraid at that time or were you like this, I’m gonna do this and that’s the end of it.

 

Oh my gosh. Yeah, I was, and this is how God works, which I think is fabulous and incredible. I was, um, I was afraid and I for sure thought I had this like ridiculous understanding of what working in a nonprofit, well, maybe it wasn’t even that ridiculous. Maybe it was actually pretty founded, but that’s nothing how nothing like what charity water turned out to be. But essentially, you know, I thought, okay, if I go work for this nonprofit, I’m going to have to throw out all my nice clothes. I’m going to be like so stupid, right? I’m going to be traveling to like these horrible places that are so sad and my heart’s just going to break every day and it’s going to be miserable, but I will be fulfilled and I’ll be helping people. I really thought that working for nonprofit meant like carrying boxes.

 

And I don’t know what I thought, but I definitely literally had no, never expected. That’s when I met Scott would be like, Oh, the thing we need the most is a graphic designer. Right. So, you know, I really, I remember, uh, talking about this, like I was ready to throw out all my nice clothes and buy sneakers because I thought we would be, yeah. Like running around the city and uh, you know, he was, he was doing these big public shows to take people water crisis. I’m like, okay, I guess I’ll be just driving trucks and putting pictures. He goes to me when I first met, met him, he said, you, we’re, I’m, I imagine a charity that is like, that works like a marketing agency that I want to create a movement. I want to make a charity really cool and a well branded with excellence.

And I’m thinking, this is amazing. I can, I can use you. You’re telling me I can use the same skills, just do it for something that has meaning and tremendous impact. That’s crazy. And I still repeat this quote all the time because it’s my favorite quote of all time by a writer named David Berman. He says the same design that fuels mass over consumption has the power to repair the world. And I love that because I heard that right around this time and I’m like, Oh my gosh. The same design, the same talent and skill that I’ve been using to um, yeah, to, to sell crap to people that don’t really need more crap. I’m going to, I can use the same thing, the same skills and talents to do good in the world. So that, that was that. But with know, still there was definitely a fear, a huge fear of, yeah. First of all, I started working for Scott for free for six months. Um, I would just show up after my, my marketing job, I would walk to Soho to his loft where he was camped out, um, living w w with like basically broke with his ex nightclub promoter roommate. He would come home at 11 o’clock at night and start doing Coke on the coffee table. While, so we joke sometimes the charity water started in a drug den.

 

Like back then, his life had just turned around. He just got back from Africa. And before that he was his nightclub promoter for 10 years. So the only person he knew that would take him in and let him live with him for free with his old nightclub guy who was still doing nightclubs. Uh, anyway, so, um, so I start showing up every day and literally Scott’s like Keith just doesn’t even know I exist. So I’m in love with this guy by the way as well. Um, fall in love with this wonderful, passionate, you know, uh, he’s, he’s, he’s got this huge energy, this big personality and this young girl, very shy, uh, and I just take orders from him. Literally. He’s like, could you make me a flyer? Could you make me business cards? Could you start figuring out and learning HTML and CSS? Because back then there was no Squarespace or Wix or anything to build your website on.

 

So I’m like, gonna go learn HTML, I’ll learn how to use a camera, I’ll learn how to make video, I’ll go to Africa and I’ll shoot it. Like I did all the things and the first six months I was not getting paid at all and I was single and I had no kids. And of course I know that situation doesn’t apply to everyone, but I was in a position to be able to work for free for half a year until a board member, a current board member, um, finally recognized how important it was for charity water to have this role of kind of creative director, designer. And she paid for a year of my salary and that’s how I was able to quit my job. Wow. Yeah.

 

So from the outside look again, one of the things that I still talk about as the reason I think charity water is so successful and obviously you would know, you know better than me, but for my point of view, it has been because of what you just said, Scott’s vision was that it was going to function like this startup. It was going to have the same vibe. It was gonna have the same branding. And, um, from what I understand, you guys dedicated more to marketing, graphic design and social media than was the norm by far for nonprofits at the time. So it sounds like you had someone who really noticed the potential in that, but did you guys struggle with convincing people you raise money from and even other staff members? Like was, was there attention there or did you guys just know from the beginning this is going to be our key? 

 

Yeah, we knew from the beginning and because we have this model that we’ve always had from the very start, which, which is that our operating dollars are separate in a different bank account from the water dollars, right? So any and every dollar, every penny that people, the public donates to clean water projects goes to clean water projects and our staff salaries and our, our video budgets and our marketing budget, everything else comes out of a separate bank account. But, um, because we had shown, we started slowly and, and, and uh, very in a, in very small ways showing using design that would get people to notice donors would actually notice and wants to learn more because they had never seen a charity using design and creativity the way that we were like a marketing agency and then, and in fact, you know, so, so, so we very rarely got donors who would ask, well, why are you spending so much? They, it was the opposite. People were constantly saying way to go, this is what um, more charities need to do. Everyone, you know, and a lot of our donors were people obviously who had started their own businesses. So they know the importance of marketing and advertising and good design and good copy and clear messaging. They, they know that so people get it right. So is this exact, you know, sort of women that you guys have the charity water and one of the reasons it is what it is today, what inspired you to start your own business now? And this is what you really focus on. I’d love to hear more about where that came from and what it is you do now. Yeah. So I have a coaching platform called the branded startup. And we work, we me right now, it’s just me say the beginning of the, we is like my different personalities.

 

Leah Gervais: Yeah, totally. Uh, I work with purpose driven entrepreneurs on brand strategy and on their marketing and design. And, uh, I just, I, I help, um, and, and really now, I’ve just made the decision very recently that, you know what, I have so much knowledge and experience in the nonprofit world specifically, and so many nonprofits look up to charity water because of the way we’ve been able to use marketing, branding, and it’s paid off because we are, we’re raising $70 million every this year. We’ll raise $75 million, which is a huge, um, budget that most nonprofits wish. You know, they could, they could raise that much. So obviously the model has worked. It’s paid off. Uh, and so, so, you know, um, I get, we used to get asked to charity water every day to, uh, sit down with various startup nonprofits and help mentor them and advise them. And so, uh, I started the, I started the branded startup a year and a half ago thinking I’m just going to start, um, talking about brand, the importance of branding, advertising, marketing for just startups in general.

 

But, um, my journey to kind of really deciding to focus on nonprofits was it was like God was pulling me there all of this time. And even Scott every, every day, he’s like, babe, when you’re ready, I’m, I’m telling you, when you’re ready to focus on nonprofits specifically, you will, you’ll blow up. Like, you will have so much interest. And I be like, no, no, no. I want to keep it broad. I worked in a nonprofit for 10 years. I’m gonna, I know what’s best. And God’s like, yeah, but I know it’s bad. I know it’s bad. So anyway, what are the reasons? So, so I left charity water nine and a half years in. Um, it was an amazing decade. I call it a decade, it was a little short short of that. But just seeing this thing grow from Scott’s couch, me, him together.

 

Then third employee, fourth now a hundred, um, you know, helping 10 million people. We just marked our 10. We, we celebrated 10 million people served with clean water law in September. Uh, which was a huge milestone. And so I got to see this like crazy rocket ship growth and, uh, how, uh, you know, to operationalize growth and how to start delegating and cold, you know, creating the culture, uh, around, around the office, et cetera. So, uh, I just, I felt like my work there had come to an end in a really positive, good way. I don’t have any FOMO. I am, I still feel like I get to celebrate every huge win in milestone at charity water, even though I’m no longer there. So I sort of have the best of this, like kind of where so many of my best friends still work there. Like Lauren Letta who, you know, uh, and R she, she’s our COO and, uh, and I get to go in the office whenever I want.

 

My kids love playing there, so it’s still a home. Uh, but, but I left really because I had, I was pregnant. I had my first, I was pregnant with Emma. I wanted a more flexible, I wanted a more flexible life. I wanted to be able to pick up my kids from school and spend those early years with them. And you know, charity water is a full on, especially the rural. I had, I had a team of 10. I had, if I, you know, I had to be in the office every day, so, um, and Scott was all for it. So now it’s fun because as you know, I mean, we get to work from anywhere and take and interact with all the people we want on zoom and on video. And, um, it’s, it’s, it’s a fun, flexible style of work, although it does have its own,

 

Oh no, it comes through. Yeah. There’s no one telling you what to do, which is great, but it’s also scary. Yeah, well, yeah, I hear you. So, um, it’s amazing. First of all, congratulations on all the growth of charity water. Congratulations on your two kids. Congratulations on starting your own business. What you’ve done is incredibly inspiring and I’m really grateful that you’ve been here to share your story, especially as a working mother in Manhattan, which you often don’t hear in the same sentence. Yeah. So it’s been incredible to hear this. And so I know that you focus mostly on nonprofits and that’s, you know, where your, where your bread and butter is. But almost everyone listening to this podcast is an entrepreneur and I think that they in their own way consider themselves still purposeful driven entrepreneurs even if they’re not technically filed as a nonprofit because a lot of them do this from an impact point of view.

 

And you know, a lot of them, especially the people I work with, uh, decide to take, pull the plug and start their own businesses because similar to you, they saw something monumental happened in their life and they feel really pulled to explore that and grow that and make it happen for other people. So from that standpoint, especially people that are in the, like, I have one to five employees is going for me right now. Um, it can be really easy to put marketing to the back burner because I think a lot of people don’t get into this knowing marketing, they don’t get into this to be marketers and they’re hesitant to spend money on marketing. So for those people in the, in the earlier phases, what advice do you have for them about the mindset of prioritizing marketing and maybe the first few things to spend on that you think are working well? Right now we’re just focused on even, and I know it’s changing all the time, which I’m sure is like a joy and a challenge. 

 

Yeah, I know, I think, well listen, I think the kind of nitty gritty stuff is changing all the time. What’s the newest like funnel platform, email, whoever put the bigger picture of marketing? It’s just storytelling, you know, it’s just creating and organizing your unique story in the most, uh, clear, attractive and uh, understandable way. Uh, that is speaking to a specific group of people who’s just, you know, and it’s, I talk about the manipulation. I mean marketing is, you know, it is manipulation in a way. I mean, you are, um, you’re taking somebody who is going about their daily life and you know, if you are successful, you want to get inside of their head, understand their fears and hopes and give them something that you know, that you, that you make, that you create your content, your product, whatever that is. Um, but lead them there, you know, to lead them to your product, you first have to start, you have to meet them where they’re at, right.

 

Right on the other side of the bridge yet. Yeah. You can’t sit, sit and talk about your offers, um, and expect people to magically know that that’s what they need. Sometimes, like I talked to nonprofits all the time that are like, I need to raise more money. Of course you do. That’s why started your thing. But let me just go all the way back down the sort of, okay, so in order to, okay, so they’re, they’re wanting to raise more money. What I do is teach marketing and branding, which by the way is how you raise more money. They don’t really, they’re not there right now. They’re just like, I don’t know how I’m going to help the next 10 people that are looking that I want to serve next month. So I start them there. Sam. Hey, if you want to raise more money, you need to attract more donors in order to attract more donors, you need to get much clearer on your offers and how these donors can engage with you in order to get more clear on how they can engage with you.

 

You need to fix the mess that is on your website. Because as a donor, I get there, I have no idea what you’re saying to me because there’s conflicting messaging and very unclear big words and no story. There’s no human touch. And so I sort of lead them back six, seven steps out to, okay, so actually what I really need is like some clarity on and simplicity of messaging that’s going to really resonate anyway. So in that way, you know, you’re sort of manipulating someone too. But, but the, the, the difference is, you know, if we ha if we’re, if we’re providing a service or a product that is going to make the world a better place that’s actually going to deliver on the promise, not some type of, you know, I always say like lipstick or stupid gadget that’s, that’s not going to improve someone’s life. Like we’re actually, most of us and people who are listening, you know, Leah, they, I know are, they’re selling a product that is, um, that could dramatically improve people’s lives, their businesses change, their, um, you know, changed their mindset. If it’s a, coaching is a perfect example, but of course, you know, you have to first figure out like, what are people, um, what are, what are people’s current felt needs that I can use to then lead them towards my product? That’s really gonna help them.

 

So I think the mindset there is very, you know, the most important thing is, um, you know, I always talk about Don Miller in the hero’s journey. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his book, but it’s such a wonderful kind of visual tool for that. Um, that the, that every good story has a hero who faces, who’s faced with a challenge, who is transformed at the end of the story by guide. And you know, Don always talks about how when we first started our businesses, we think we’re the hero and we take pictures of ourselves and they put them on our website and we talk about our mission and what we’re interested in. And that’s important. But, um, a good, every good marketer knows that actually if you really want to have a breakthrough with your audience, um, that really resonates. Your job is to put yourself in the position of the guide and look at your audience, that person, they’re the hero and what journey are they on right now?

 

What are their felt needs and challenges right now? Then you become the guide that helps bring them along on that journey to create that transformation. And, um, and I think that’s a, that’s a really big sort of mindset shift for most people. Oh, I’m not, this isn’t about me actually. This is about my customer. Um, you know, like a real, uh, a recent example, I was talking to a, uh, a man yesterday who starting a, uh, a company that’s a tech company helping kids donate, uh, make micro donations through, uh, in home speakers like Alexa and Google, Google home. So the idea is teaching kids values and he created this website that is very much in his taste, very like masculine and minimal and very sleek. And it looks great. But I’m like, if you are, your primary audience is talking to parents. Yeah. We want to teach a little kids the value of generosity at an early age.

 

I want your, I want you to get inside their brain. Like your website should be playful. It should. You could still have, you know, some of your tastes in it, but I want to see where’s like the kid’s spirit and this website you’re marketing to families with kids. And that shift I think is is what most people struggle to make in the beginning. Yeah, I love everything you’re saying. And there’s two things I really want to pull out here. The first of which is that marketing isn’t actually that complicated. It’s also not changing all the time. I think, you know, I have a lot of people, clients, customers otherwise ask me what is, you know, how, how do you make the most sales or like what’s the best email format? And a lot of the times, you know, I can give my ticks and my trips, I like ticks and tricks on the mind. I’m like my treats and a, and that is helpful, but at the end of the day it’s really not all that complicated. It’s about storytelling and meeting people where they’re at. And I also love the storytelling piece because it keeps you out of a competitive frame of mind and out of worrying that other people are doing something better or differently. Because if you are going with your story that’s already something no one else can replicate and then just made a video about this. No one can steal your story. It’s the one thing no one can steal. Yeah, exactly. It’s the one thing, and I think you know, these days on social media it can be really easy to get all freaked out about, well have someone else done something better than me? Have they already done it before? Should I even bother? Well do they have your story? And if not, then you really do have a unique energy. You might not realize it. And do they have your personality and your quirks and your,

 

yeah, if you’re, you know, I always tell people like lean into your, lean into who you are and um, and that sounds so like cliche be yourself. But it’s so true because I think we do tend to, in the beginning, cause we were afraid because it’s new. We tend to try and copy and I did it too. We want to copy how someone else did their video or how someone else talks, whether it’s talking really fast or making really short, like edgy. I’m just thinking about video cause that’s sort of top of mind for me. I also, I think video is a great, it’s a great format in general to tell your story in, in all the myriad of ways that you can use video. Um, but yeah, but I think eventually you sort of realize I, I can’t, it’s not sustainable for me to do anything that’s not natural for me. Um, and in fact, you know, people are going to be attracted to my whatever it is. Like, you know, you can have, if you’re like Gary Vaynerchuk and you are an intense person, then be that. If you’re really kind sweet girl from the South, but you still want to talk about this stuff, Gary V talks about go do that because guess what, people who are put off by Gary, we would love your personality.

 

Leah Gervais: Exactly. Exactly. So do you with your clients, you know, um, like I said, most people listening are more [inaudible], more personal branded. Like it’s very much there’s, which I know your businesses, but not all nonprofits are nonetheless. Do you see fears come up around marketing and putting yourself out there and being vulnerable and telling your story and how have you dealt with that and how do you help people deal with that?

 

Oh, totally. Oh my gosh, yes. It is just natural in the beginning and it feels weird. And uh, we dealt with it at charity water when Scott was sort of having to stand in front of the camera and you and be the face of charity water. Um, I mean he, he, it came more naturally to him than I think to most people, but it was still awkward in the beginning for him to, and people, you know, the fear of like, Oh, well I don’t want to make this about me. But in the beginning, that’s the thing is I always say this to all of my nonprofits and to the supplies. Absolutely. Tim for-profits 100% any startup in the beginning before you have stories of customers transformations. Like if you’re just starting out, you don’t have those stories yet. The only like you need a human connection, the only human story you have is your own.

 

You and before, you know, I think of it, there’s a wonderful book called Captivology and it talks about how, how, how do you attract and sustain an attraction of an audience. Um, it starts with a match. It starts with a tiny flame. So you think of yourself, you’re the match, right? And again, cheesy analogy, but like you gotta let your shine, your light shine. Like you have to be the, you have to make sure that like you are on fire, passionate about whatever you are building because that’s the only way you’re going to then light up a twig that’s then going to light up a whatever, the next bigger piece of wood.

 

But in this book, Captivology the author talks about, he’s like, the whole idea came to him when he was building a bonfire outdoors and camping. He’s like, you know, it starts with that match. But so many people are like, well, I’m just going to put the vision out there on my website, but I’m going to be completely invisible here. I’m not going to tell my story. I’m not going to show up on video. I’m not going to speak. I’m just going to, and they expect the bonfire to start, but they haven’t ever let them, they haven’t put themselves, you know, on fire as the match, like star, it’s not gonna just start by itself. So I think, you know, to the extent to which you can be that passionate match in the beginning, then you let the twig, then you let the first piece of firewood, that’s the word.

 

Then that will, um, attract more, you know, then people will start to see, to see that this is burning consistent consistently, right, not going out, not like you don’t disappear for six months and then try again. Like you kind of have to have a level of consistency and everyone talks about it. I also don’t think that you have to be like militant about it. Like, I have kids, I can’t make one video a week. There’s no way. Um, I probably need to, you know, get more serious about it as I grow. But in the beginning it’s like just any, as much as you can, right. Like, but don’t kill yourself to do it, et cetera. So, um, then that, you know, that analogy then that people, when people see that this fire has been burning for a little while, they’re like, okay, I’m going to come check it out and you know, and then it gets bigger. I’m going to come check it out and then it gets bigger and then it, it eventually explodes into this like movement. Yeah. Yeah. Ah, this is so awesome. And it’s so funny that you bring that up because when I started urban 20 something, I remember emailing some blogger I looked up to and was like, um,

 

I want this to be anonymous. Like, do you think that’ll work? I just want it to be about being a 20 something in New York in general. I think, thank God that one person was like, no, I don’t think it’ll work because now and now it’s just a funny looking back because urban twenty-something is so me. Like it couldn’t be more about, you know, my story and journey and it’s just, it’s so funny how, um, you know, you can put that into words really nicely. I didn’t realize how much I was blocking myself. It’s, it’s crazy. Um, okay. Well you are amazing. This is so powerful. And I could talk to you about this all day, but I have a few your biggest vision questions for you. Are you ready? Yes. Okay. What do you do to keep your vision strong when you’re just having the worst day?

 

Oh, I have a quiet time. I just rest by the time I sometimes literally just need a nap when I feel like, Oh my gosh, the levels of whatever the happy hormone is, are plummeting in the middle of a day. I know that’s, that’s me needing a nap or like a shower. Just something very, um, self care, eat. And usually within a half hour to an hour I’m back and I’m like, okay, jump out of the couch, like ready to go again. But I used to, uh, get, definitely let the, I used to let those, I used to overvalue those feelings and think, Oh my gosh, it’s me then my passionate, Oh no, what if you know, what, what if I’m on the wrong track? Why do I feel like this? So I think, um, you know, there’s so much in our culture today that talks about productivity and calendar blocking and do the most you can every single day. But I think rest is seriously the biggest, the best medicine and sometimes just a little bit of it, you know, reignites us way more than powering through or drinking that sixth cup of coffee can.

 

Leah Gervais: Yeah. Oh, definitely. Especially when you’re a mother, I can only imagine you need your rest. Do you have, well, actually my first question before is what in your career are you most proud of so far?

 

I am most proud of. Um, I mean in this current phase of building the branded startup, I mean, I’m obviously proud of the fact that we serve 10 million people with clean water through charity, water and that, um, we didn’t do anything major to mess it up because so many organizations as we see sometimes with the recent we work stuff right, uh, they get big and then scandal or something happens or the founder like falls apart. So I’m very proud that we were humble all throughout the growth of charity water to really, no, we didn’t have all the answers to seek help to ask for, you know, people in our community to come alongside us to help us, to check us when we were, whatever going, going down the wrong path. So I’m proud of not blowing charity water up up until this point. But in the current, uh, where I’m at now, I’m really most proud of, you know, like I mentioned in the beginning, like three to three months ago, I stopped working in my own strength because I realized that I was, I thought I, you know, if I just worked hard enough, did the right routine, woke up at five in the morning to do miracle morning, did all the things that I would have the strength to come up with my own perfect strategy for how to grow this thing and how to love doing it every day.

 

Cause I honestly had a moment like the six month time in the middle of, in the beginning of this year really where I was like, I don’t love doing this anymore. I just started, but I really feel like something is off and not in alignment here. And I started praying and I just said, you know what, God, um, for the longest time I thought I, I had to make all of this work in my own strength with my own wisdom, with my own like tips and tricks and things that I found on the internet, my own research. But actually, um, I don’t know. It’s not working. It hasn’t been successful. What I have done in my own strength is not working. And I said, just God, please tell me what, what to do. What if, if it is nonprofits that you want me to work with, help me feel passionate about it.

 

And I swear gods was like, okay, now that you’ve let go of the steering wheel a little bit, I am going to drive faster and better than you have ever been able to do yourself. And he literally like changed my heart about working with nonprofits because in the beginning I was like, I don’t, my profits are so hard to convince. They don’t know how to get out of their own way often. And that’s why we started charity water because we were so disillusioned with nonprofits. But now that we have this position of influence, they actually listened to me, which was amazing, and do what I tell them to do to get out of their own way and help themselves. So I, you know, anyway. And so I got the passion that I needed and people started to just reach out out of the blue. And now I, and I got so much clarity around the content I should be creating because that’s the other thing.

 

I was sort of talking to everyone and no one, and now that I am talking specifically to nonprofits, I’m like, I have 110 pieces of content that I can create tomorrow. Like that I have so many ideas, you know, because when you know specifically who you’re speaking to, you do, you get all that clarity and it’s amazing. So, um, that’s what I’m most proud of is, is the most counterintuitive thing is like, I’m proud of letting go of my pride. 

 

Leah Gervais: Yeah, no, I mean, that’s so, so inspiring and hugely informative and important. Awesome. Do you have a GoTo, I know you mentioned some great ones here, but do you have a go to business book or podcast that has helped you as an entrepreneur?

 

Vik Harrison: So definitely some business books. Um, I, like I said, this book Captivology is amazing. Uh, I think, um, self care wise, my, my mentor from afar, John Mark Homer who is a pastor in, uh, Portland, Oregon just came out with a book called the ruthless elimination of hurry. I think it’s, it came out yesterday, but we got some advance copies a few months ago and that has just been like the most counterintuitive and amazing secret tool for me is just like, stop hurting around so much rest and the answers will come faster, is amazing. It’s really counter-cultural because everybody at these days values, hurry, values productivity. And he’s, he’s basically saying like, this is madness. We have to stop. It’s not healthy and it’s not working. Um, anyway, so, so Captivology ruthless elimination of hurry. And the one that I just keep going back to is building a StoryBrand. 

 

Vik Harrison: Yeah. I just think that one is so, um, it just is a step-by-step, really clear way of how to market, um, with empathy and, um, from the point of view of your consumer, your customers. So yeah.

Leah Gervais: Awesome. Awesome. Where can people find out more about you and your work, the branded startup.com. Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your story and taking the time to be with us. Congratulations on all your success and hugely informative marketing mindset shifts and tips. I really appreciate it and I know everyone’s going to love this episode, so thank you. 

 

Vik Harrison: Thanks Leah. Thank you. All right, visionaries. Here is your biggest vision and have an awesome day.

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