Making Something From Nothing: Emily Mishler of the Cultivated Group On How To Go From Idea To Launch
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Self-Awareness & Personal Responsibility can be two of our biggest assets. Personal responsibility and self-accountability are muscles that are strengthened by use, and must be active in order for us to employ the incredible power of choice. In order to choose joy, our desires must be greater than the fear that has suppressed them. If you’re going to be successful, you have to learn to master your fear (focusing on something you’re afraid of) and rely on your ability to trust yourself in being led, choosing, seeking, and finding joy. When we look externally for fulfillment, joy, or purpose; we limit our ability to dream, achieve, grow, and become — based on those external constituents’ perspectives, expectations, and limitations. My advice? Go inward continually, relentlessly, gracefully. See and experience the beauty within and without — breathe there, live there, grow there, become there.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Mishler of The Cultivated Group.
Born and raised in the rural Midwest of the United States, Emily Mishler is an intrepid optimist with a keen sense of adventure, eye for design, hand in the start-up world, and heart for philanthropy. She is the driving force behind The Cultivated Group and the world of Esmè the Curious Cat — on a mission to ignite and empower individuals and organizations to: “be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Specializing in business development, creative strategic planning, and fundraising, Emily launched her first company at the age of 22 and has since raised and distributed over $20M of private investment for private clients, for-profit entities and NGO’s.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Absolutely! It’s a pleasure to be here — thanks for having us. I’ve always had a knack for adventure, an insatiable curiosity, a creative flair, and a heart for helping others — and my career has absolutely been an extension of that. I grew up on a farm in the middle of the rural United States. We lived very modestly and simply — serving others and giving of what we had was ingrained in our family’s “culture” from a very young age.
I grew up in a very small town in the middle of the Midwest United States. I come from a family of farmers and values like hard work (sometimes to a fault), exploration, diligence, tenacity, and grit were instilled in me from a very young age. Those rural “roots” were a piece of the inspiration behind our companies’ name: The Cultivated Group.
Hindsight tends to be 20/20 and all the dots tend to connect looking backward and that’s certainly a trend amidst my own eclectic career path. While I studied Communication and Design at University, helping others through different opportunities was always a focal point. A series of decisions that I perceived to be big risks (at the time) and chose to jump and lean into, whilst always keeping my eyes and ears open for possibility and opportunity were huge contributing factors as my career and life’s mission has continued to unfold. Doors and opportunities presented themselves, to which I bet on myself and said “yes” (albeit sometimes with a bit of fear!) and based on my passions, experiences, and drive to influence the world for the better — stumbled into corporate philanthropy as a career. In August of 2018, I completed a MBA with a concentration in Philanthropy and shortly thereafter, began a new chapter of life in travelling the world and running my own location-independent, impact-driven companies.
Proudly housing four separate companies under the “Cultivated” umbrella, we’re redefining business as usual for businesses all over the globe (and even in outer space!). Each subsidiary equips organizations and individuals with the tools, skills, resources, frameworks, and funding they need to function fully as profitable, healthy businesses. Our team connects the business brain to the servant-leaders’ heart that’s at the forefront of the business of doing good. The work The Cultivated Group focuses on is all impact-based, which means at the end of the day our goal is to make the world a better place and use businesses and the influence we all have in our day-to-day lives to be the vessels for doing so.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world” is one that’s provided a lot of inspiration and a discerning lens as the journey of my life has unfolded. In fact, through our companies at The Cultivated Group and through The Elevated Method, we’re redefining the phrase “business as usual”. We believe doing the right thing is always the right move to make and through our clients and our work, we’re activating and empowering the change they wish to see in the world. Our companies and team are on a mission to bridge the gap between the great ideas, access to opportunity, and taking action to change and preserve this beautiful world in which we live — one challenge at a time. Our focus isn’t overnight success: our focus is the consistency of thought and expansion of dreams and resources. This, when applied over time through massive action, creates sustainable systems that influence positive and inclusive change: we empower and equip our clients to become forces for good in this world. We use a combined approach of both services and products to equip our clients with the tools and skills they need and an extra set of hands (in some cases) to be able to make thoughtful choices when building, stewarding, enhancing, growing, and scaling their businesses.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
You know, that’s an interesting question. Things really began to shift for me when I stopped listening to others’ metrics of success and began living in tandem and cohesion with my own. The way we’ve experienced it, our lives shift internally before we experience external results. And the decision was simple: I leaned into living my life on my terms. I stopped playing by the rules of someone else’s game, and I stopped playing their game entirely — and began making my own. A huge takeaway? Never downplay yourself to make up for someone else’s mediocrity. That being said, I enjoy learning from others’ stories and experiences: particularly Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. Both being intelligent and brilliant women of influence and integrity, their ability to engage fully in life (and vulnerability) has inspired the way I “show up” in life tremendously. Given the opportunity, I’d love to sit down with them for a coffee or meal and believe we could learn much from each other!
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
The way we see it, seeking perfection and perfectionism are not one in the same. The pursuit of excellence and having extraordinary standards is absolutely a part of being successful, but those do not require us to engage in perfectionistic thinking or habits. Those that make the leap from good to great and then from great to exceptional have as a part of their process standards of excellence. That is where elevated standards and excellence intersect. Elevated standards and the pursuit of excellence may also inherently benefit our growth!
The procrastination and feelings of “paralysis” that engaging in perfectionistic thinking can result in have the ability to be incredibly negative. Oftentimes, what we’ve seen is, when perfectionistic standards are employed (as opposed to standards of excellence) they often result in a slow of progress, increase in stress, and the restriction of creativity. We can often feel paralyzed or “stuck” in our feelings of seeming inferiority, and incapability to achieve our desired outcomes, and in doing so create a self-fulfilling feeling of paralysis.
The “paralysis of perfectionism” is something my team, clients and I talk about often. We have incredibly high standards for the quality and character of the people we work with, and also the results of our work. Setting goals and holding ourselves to standards of excellence is a different game than employing and projecting expectations of perfection — and that’s something we hold ourselves accountable for.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
Fortunately we live in the age of the internet, so a quick search of your idea may bring up relevant results. At the end of the day, we’ve come to realize that it isn’t always about the novelty of the idea — oftentimes the difference between success and failure is the energy that’s poured into the project itself; the frequency.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
- Self-Awareness & Personal Responsibility can be two of our biggest assets.
Personal responsibility and self-accountability are muscles that are strengthened by use, and must be active in order for us to employ the incredible power of choice. In order to choose joy, our desires must be greater than the fear that has suppressed them. If you’re going to be successful, you have to learn to master your fear (focusing on something you’re afraid of) and rely on your ability to trust yourself in being led, choosing, seeking, and finding joy. When we look externally for fulfillment, joy, or purpose; we limit our ability to dream, achieve, grow, and become — based on those external constituents’ perspectives, expectations, and limitations. My advice? Go inward continually, relentlessly, gracefully. See and experience the beauty within and without — breathe there, live there, grow there, become there.
2. The Importance of Consistent Focus & Grace.
We’re all human: including you. In my experience, perfectionism can be a double-edged sword and is a razor’s edge between pursuit of excellence and holding ourselves, and others, to unattainable standards. The dictionary defines perfectionism as “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection” and, I’d agree! As much as it’s contradictory to a lot of what we hear and the kind of results we’d like to see, our aim has always been deliberate, consistent focus and aligned action. Consistency is the difference between becoming wildly successful and getting stuck in a spiral of perfectionism.
3. If you don’t begin, you’ll never finish.
If you never do anything to make progress in the direction of your dreams, you’ll inherently stop yourself from even the possibility of bringing them into fruition. With many things in life, there often isn’t a “right time”. Rather than waiting until you “feel motivated” or it’s the “perfect time,” stop waiting around. Often opportunities need to be seized and created rather than simply taken.
4. Momentum Compounds & Progress is a Habit.
Ideal outcomes exist, perfection doesn’t. Deliberate choice is more powerful than failure. Action begets action. Everything happens one right next step after the other. If the obtaining of the final product seems to be too much, just begin with the next right step. Stop looking and waiting for motivation and do something. Take action–aligned, inspired action–and the motivation will follow. And although there often aren’t perfect times, there do tend to be opportunities that unfold at more opportune times than others. It may not make “the jump” less scary, but it has the potential to soften the landing a bit.
5. Everything is a lesson.
Didn’t get the job? Lesson. Got the second date? Lesson. Procrastinated on the report and were so stressed you didn’t produce your best work? Lesson. The quality of the life we choose, the places and environments in which we work, and what we tolerate as acceptable in our lives dictate the perspectives we obtain and the life experience we have. Once you begin to see everything as a lesson that leads you to a “more right” direction down the path that you are on, failure becomes obsolete. Failure instantly becomes a non-option. There is always a silver lining, it just may require a bit of creativity to identify and gather tidbits from. When failure becomes obsolete, it unlocks an entirely new dimension of living–what’s the worst that could happen?
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
We’ll make sure your team receives our contact information before the interview is over. Please feel free to reach out to our team — we have experience in many of these processes and systems you’re speaking about and would love to help if we can!
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Recognizing the difference between invention and innovation is the first step, from our perspective!
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
At the end of the day, this is a very personal choice. It depends what you’re creating, your skillset, who’s already on “your team”, and what the end goal(s) look like (amongst many other things). That’s something we offer on an application basis and we are very selective with who we work with — as you should be! Make sure you know what you need (or have someone who can help you discern that), understand what you’re signing on for (before you sign) and have a good understanding of outcomes and deliverables that are a result of the exchange/relationship. Bringing a consultant or firm in necessitates that you be ready and able to contribute what they need to do their “job” — just as a baseline!
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
As we’re growing our portfolio of impact-driven companies and leaning into learning, adding tremendous value, and contributing along the way — something I’m incredibly proud of is our ability to invest with integrity. Our core values, mission, and vision are at the heart and core of who we are, and how we operate as The Cultivated Group and each of our subsidiaries — AND as a part of our investment strategy. You don’t know what you don’t know, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you understand what’s going on to the best of your ability. Your role as a founder or executive isn’t to be all-knowing — your role is to surround yourself with the integral experts who are going to equip and enable the vision of the company to evolve into its fullness; whether that is advisors, employees, board members, advocates, or allies. The times I’ve fumbled and stumbled the most have been the times at which I was too proud to ask questions or didn’t listen to my intuition or the “nudges” I was intuitively receiving. At the end of the day, even when everything else feels “on” — don’t forget or hesitate to trust your gut; mine has never led me wrong.
Have an idea of the long-term play at-hand — A few questions to consider:
- What is your goal? Your goals will drive your decisions to raise investment or not.
- What are you building? For what purpose? What problem are you solving? Why?
- What are you willing to contribute? What do you need in order to make this happen? What does success look like? What are you willing to put up with?
- Would you prefer to build to be able to exit or not? Is your ambition to grow your company forever or to exit in a couple years? What does your potential for growth look like? How much control is it important for you to maintain? What kind of flexibility do you want or need?
Break it down into bite-sized, measurable pieces and hold yourself and your team accountable to document progress, process, successes, and lessons.
- If you receive funding of any sort, what kind of a runway would that create for you, your team, and your product? What would the result be?
Where do you see your business in the next year? Developing a strategic plan determines which direction you want your organization to take, then maps a route to get there. A strategic plan doesn’t just set your fundraising goals for the year. It articulates your mission and values, then puts a plan in place to hit your targets across fundraising, advocacy, and education. Unfortunately, roughly one-third of nonprofits report not having a strategic plan in place (or even knowing if one exists). A business plan doesn’t have to be formal, long, scary, or set in stone. Many of the folks we chat with don’t have formal business education and what’s great? You don’t need one to build a business! A business plan helps to communicate with stakeholders where you’re at, who’s on board, where you’re headed, how you’ll get there, and what you’ll need throughout the journey and upon arrival. We have a thorough (and fun!) workbook to get you started: here! 5–10 years down the road, do you know exactly where you’ll be? Good, us either. Building out a strategic plan isn’t about mapping out every single piece of the company’s journey you’re building, but it is about orienting your compass to True North, plotting out the next few moves (years) of the journey on a map, and communicating that to everyone who needs to know. This provides a pulse on the direction you’d like to go, and a basic framework of how you plan to get there with measurable success milestones along the way. Curious? Here’s a quick template to get the juices flowing.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The work The Cultivated Group focuses on is all impact-based, which means at the end of the day our goal is to make the world a better place and use businesses and the influence we all have in our day-to-day lives to be the vessels for doing so — so inherently in the nature of “how” we work; making the world a better place is at the root of what we do and who we are. We’re thrilled to be working on projects in a few different industries and sectors that are all impact-based. Because we believe life happens in the full spectrum and we understand that sometimes founders need the right tools and guidance to activate and ignite their ideas, we recently launched a product offering of download-able business building tools to move the needle in business and life. We’re providing equitable access to business consulting without the hourly fee through a new branch of our companies called The Elevated Method. We’re transforming businesses from the inside-out, creating through purpose with intention: we’re elevating the art of living.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Thank you — that’s very kind. If I could inspire a movement, as simple as it sounds, it would be one of leading our lives with kindness, consideration, and thoughtfulness. Each of us has different experiences, all of which have inherent value, and if we’re open to it there is much we can learn from one another! That is how we begin to change the world: first through extending that kindness, thoughtfulness, and consideration inward; and then outward.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d absolutely love to have lunch with Sara Blakely and her husband, Jesse Itzler. Not only have they both been incredibly successful individually, the pair seems to have “figured out life” too. Raising a family together, encouraging one another, and making the world better along the way. I’d love to be able to learn from and create with them!
How can our readers follow your progress online?
The Cultivated Group
The Elevated Method
Esmè the Curious Cat:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Making Something From Nothing: Emily Mishler of the Cultivated Group On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.