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Secrets of Success: Karen Hill Krolow and Helen Tyler

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Karen Hill Krolow (above, right) and Helen Tyler (left), the cofounders of H&K The Poppet Company. The women brought varied backgrounds to their company—Karen was a high school art teacher and a corporate VP, while Helen has a background in the film/TV/online distribution, music, retail and hospitality industries. Karen, from Wisconsin, and Helen, from England, had their Aha! moment after eating in a chilly air-conditioned restaurant. They realized women needed a “portable garment that was practical, protected & packable, but stylish and flattering.” So after making their prototype out of a shower curtain and safety pins, the Pocket Poppet was born. The Pocket Poppet is an open-front travel cardigan that folds into its own attached water-repellent pocket for portability.

They launched the company in 2012. Karen heads up fulfillment and handles budgeting and forecasting for the company, while Helen has primary responsibility for product development, production and marketing as well as finding and engaging partners for sourcing, production and sales. You can find them on Twitter @thepocketpoppet. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Karen Hill Krolow: I wanted to be an art teacher and a mom.

Helen Tyler: As a teenager I wanted to be an actress and singer/choreographer. Why did you start your own business?

Karen: The desire to have my own business was born from the desire to have something of my own in the wake of a very traumatic divorce. I needed to stretch myself creatively and challenge myself by doing something I had never done before.

Helen: Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs with family-owned businesses I had always fought the idea of being a cog in the corporate world. Once the idea for the Pocket Poppet “popped” into my head it unleashed a fire in me! I knew I had to make it a reality and after making a prototype, Karen and I formed H&K The Poppet Company. My creativity was sparked and the ideas just keep coming. It is so much more rewarding putting your time, energy and passion into something that you are creating, rather than working for someone else. Actually realizing that I am an entrepreneur at heart gave me a better understanding of myself. We have had a department store in my family for almost 100 years, and researching my family history and seeing that many of my extended family members also had their own businesses helped me understand my own desire for freedom of expression and creativity. Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Karen: Success for me is defined by meeting the goals I set up in the question above: I have stretched myself and I have challenged myself. These two things make me feel successful. And along the way I have learned a great deal about an industry I knew little about. This hands-on education makes me feel successful, too. It’s not all about the money.

Helen: Yes! The day of our launch party, June 5th, 2013, I stopped for a moment and thought, “What if nobody comes to the launch? If they do come, what if they don’t like the Pocket Poppet?” The pivotal moment was when we opened the doors and within 45 minutes there were 200 people trying on and lining up to purchase Poppets! The pop-up Poppet Shop was a hive of activity and excitement, and the response was amazing! It was a major confidence booster and the beginning of a crazy journey. What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Karen: “This is the secret—you don’t do this yourself—all the people you make happy will make your dreams come true. Understand this and you’ll never have to worry about what the future holds for you.”

Helen: I would advise people who are thinking of starting their own businesses to make sure that they are passionate about their idea and to understand that it takes a lot of time, work and energy to make it happen. Working on your own business is all-consuming; you have to wear many hats and be flexible in order to keep moving and growing. It will be the biggest learning experience and a constant roller coaster ride! A great piece of advice I received from Jay Arbetman owner of the Sourcing District, which is a great reminder in times of frustration, is to remember that we have an invention and that we need to forge our own way. What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Karen: Hire good service companies—you can’t do it all yourself!

Helen: To network, be kind, connect, organize and appreciate that other people’s businesses, ideas or inventions are just as important to them as ours is to us. Have great customer service and really communicate with your customers. Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?

Karen: As the economy continues to grow, more opportunities will present themselves across all businesses.

Helen: I believe small businesses will continue to expand and grow. The big box market is so saturated, I feel that people are going back to appreciating and embracing local businesses, Made in the USA products, and the quality and story behind the small business. What’s your favorite book?

Karen: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Burton. This is a children’s book about a small boy who saves an antiquated steam shovel from the scrapyard. The lesson is: Hard work, perseverance, and creativity can pay off in unexpected ways. I probably read this to my son 100 times!

Helen: Rocket Branding by Ian Miller Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Karen: “Avoid negative people for they are the great destroyers of self confidence and self esteem. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.”

Helen: “The most difficult journeys often take us where we were meant to go.”