I met entrepreneur Kristi Zuhlke while participating in an accelerator program for female tech founders. She was the guest of honor at a roundtable and, when she sat down and started sharing the story of building her business — for maybe the first and only time across all of my experiences interacting with founders in the startup world — I felt as though she was actually telling the truth. No puffery, no self-aggrandizement, no smoke and mirrors: just the facts. The hardships, the triumphs, the emotional topographies of building something new and convincing others to see the value in it. I met with her a number of times afterwards, and was continuously struck by her earnestness. There was no beating around the bush with Kristi: she was refreshingly straight-forward. And she was also exceptionally generous. When Mr. Magpie and I started fundraising for our business, she made legitimate connections to top Chicago investors for us. She put her neck out there, talking enthusiastically about our product and urging her investor connections to sit down with us to hear what we had to say. And the response was universal: “Any friend of Kristi’s is worth meeting.”
So you can probably tell while Kristi is this month’s woman of substance.
Kristi is a serial entrepreneur with an exit under her belt. She launched her first business while still in college. After graduating, she joined Procter & Gamble, where she worked with billion-dollar brands like Gillette and Always. In 2011, Kristi launched a smartphone app technology that analyzed moles for characteristics of skin cancer, which she in turn sold in 2012 (#badass). Kristi is now CEO and Founder of her third business, KnowledgeHound, a technology designed to “cure corporate amnesia and create data democratization.” She came up with the idea while working at Proctor & Gamble, when the GM asked her, “What percentage of men shave in the shower?” “I’m sure we know it,” she replied, but was then surprised to find that they did not have that data on hand. She started realizing that companies spend millions of dollars on product research and market studies every year, but that information in turn dies with the end of a marketing campaign and is impossible to ferret out again for future use.
Kristi has raised over $4M in funding for her business (#badass again — and you should read what she has to say about the role of gender in raising her first round!) and has an impressive roster of Fortune 1000 clients across a range sectors.
There aren’t too many founders who successfully launch a business, close a seed round, and then close a Series A round in short order. There are even fewer female founders who do so. Kristi is the real deal.
Below, her answers to my Proust Questionnaire.
Your favorite qualities in a woman.
I don’t often think in terms of gender when it comes to noting the qualities of people I admire. That said, my favorite quality in powerful female founders is conviction in their decision-making. They do not stand down when someone challenges them and can speak with eloquence and strength to get people onboard with their vision and beliefs.
Your favorite heroine.
My mother, who survived both raising me and battling breast cancer.
Your main fault.
Fault? I struggle with that word. It’s not one that I let enter my vocabulary. I have found that as a CEO with strengths in vision, sales, product, and relationship management, I need to surround myself with others who are stronger at operations and finance.
Your greatest strength.
My optimism. As an entrepreneur, you get knocked down on a daily basis. You have to see the glass half full to make it through founding a company.
Your idea of happiness.
The way I feel most loved is spending time with others. Happiness is hanging out with family and friends who are dear to me.
Your idea of misery.
I am an extrovert, so being on an island by myself would be miserable.
Currently at the top of your shopping lust list.
I am moving into a new condo and am in need of some living room furniture. Boring. I know.
Desert island beauty product.
If it’s deserted then I really don’t need a beauty item besides endless amounts of sunscreen.
Last thing you bought.
A Lyft ride. I love that company. Ridesharing has provided so many ways for people to earn money with flexibility.
I feel most empowered wearing…
My leather jacket.
Favorite Magpie post.
This one. I love simple fashion. It’s perfect for a woman on the go who doesn’t like to spend time thinking about what to wear.
Below, a few products I’ve curated that are inspired by the fearless, on-the-go Kristi Zuhlke. Click on each item for details, or see links below!
T by Alexander Wang Twist Blouse // M. Gemi Flats // TDE Monogrammed iPhone Case (OBSESSED) // Clarins Sunscreen // Leuchtterm Notebook // Etoile Isabel Marant Leather Jacket (on super sale!) // Illesteva Sunglasses (major covet of mine) // Kiehl’s Lip Balm // Striped Tee // Golden Goose Sneakers.
P.S. When I was running my business, my daily uniform was dark wash denim and a statement blouse (this or this — marked wayyyy down right now!) OR a well-cut dress (I would have worn this — on super sale! — or this…can you tell I’m still not over the pearl trend?) with pointed toe flats. I am also obsessing over this but just don’t know that I’d wear it as often now that I wear more casual stuff day-to-day. LOVE.