Krystyn Harrison of Prosper on setting your soul on fire and turning strategy into execution
Krystyn Harrison is the Founder and CEO of Prosper, the first interview coaching platform that makes interview-prep simple, fun, and accessible on-the-go. It’s like an “interview coach in your pocket”. Krystyn is a former strategy consultant from the globally recognized firm A.T Kearney, who has a passion for design and building businesses – from startups to large corporations. Before starting Prosper, Krystyn built and sold her own experience design agency. She holds an Honors of Business Administration and MBA from Ivey Business School.
Looking back five/ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
Ten years ago, I was a naïve entrepreneur. Being really into board sports, I was running an E-commerce business that sold knit hats to snowboarders. I realized quickly, however, that I knew very little about business after not being able to articulate the cost of goods of my hats to a potential customer. It was then I realized, I needed to go to business school to learn more about how business worked. After business school, I ended up in the media world for a few years, but left to go complete my MBA. I went into my MBA wanting to get into consulting and thankfully ended up working at A.T Kearney as a strategy consultant for a few years. That was an amazing experience, which taught me a lot about digital customer experience design, but I still felt the need to go and build something myself. Post- consulting, I started and grew a small design firm, called Unison that was purchased by Versett Inc., one of Prosper’s very first investors. Unison, is what enabled me to invest in Prosper. I’ve always had a vision for wanting to be independent and design a life that I love and that is what has taken me to where I am today.
Tell me about Prosper. How did you come up with the big idea to get the company going and what did you do at the beginning to start getting the idea off the ground? Where are you focused now?
Prosper is a personalized interview coaching platform that coaches young professionals through every step of their job search – from their very first networking event through to signing their offer letter. We believe everyone should be able to access a coach to motivate, guide and hold them accountable throughout their job search. I started Prosper to help job-seekers build their confidence to go after their dream job. Something that I’ve always cared deeply about was looking for a way to help close the confidence gap that may hold people back from ‘going after it!’ At Prosper, we’ve designed an experience that is built to help you deal with self-doubt, boost your confidence, and storytelling skills – discretely and accessibly. Our mission is to help young professionals take their career into their own hands and give them the tools they need to thrive in their career. We’ve intentionally designed a digital coaching model to be more affordable to level the playing field to help more people realize their potential. That is something I’m really excited about!
Right now, we are focused on building partnerships with schools, like Ivey Business School, to help them build out a virtual coaching model to support the great coaching they already provide. And, we are starting to fund-raise to continue to invest in product and expand our business internationally.
What was the transition like from working at a top strategy consulting firm to becoming an entrepreneur?
As a strategy consultant, you don’t often find yourself executing on the work you do with your clients. That isn’t the job. When I first made the jump to being a full time entrepreneur, I quickly realized that execution is everything to take something from idea to reality. Being an entrepreneur has made me grow a lot as a business person and you develop a different kind of philosophy to getting things done. I think of it like compound interest. By acting consistently every day and building on the things that you had done the day prior, the good work that you do stacks on top of itself as long as it aligns to the strategy of where you are going – like compound interest. It’s like laying the bricks of a house. Being a consultant was quite helpful in that respect because as a consultant, you are taught to break down a problem into its various parts so you can tackle them more effectively.
What have been some of the most important business lessons that you have had to learn the hard way? How have they made you more successful?
As a founder, you have to be all in and fully committed to the journey – not the exit. In the past when I’ve thought about building a business, I admittedly was more excited by a large market opportunity and the exit than I was about the problem we were solving.
The other thing I learned is that everything in a startup will feel urgent, but there is always more time to be thoughtful – especially when it comes to hiring the right people. If I had taken more time in the past to invest in hiring based on cultural fit and values, I would have avoided a lot of rough patches. With Prosper, it took me nearly 6 months to build my founding team and I’m thrilled to say everyone is here because they are passionate about the problem, excited to serve our users, and ready to build for the long-term.
What does leadership look like to you? What makes a great leader?
I believe that leadership is something that is earned. It’s not something that is just granted to you based on your title or where you went to school. Leaders are able to recognize the intrinsic strengths in others and open doors for them in order to be successful. I believe any leader should ask a simple question: “how can I help you do your best work?”. That is something that I’ve picked up on from many people who I look up to and aspire to be like. I see my job as the leader of Prosper as just that; building genuine connections with my team no matter where they are and helping them be at their best.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
Go out and explore your options against the backdrop of where your strengths are. Take the time to understand who you are, what motivates you and what that ‘thing’ is that ultimately sets your soul on fire. For me, I realized that being able to create and build something was that ‘thing’ and sometimes, you just need to test stuff out to understand what that is for you. Everyone has an intrinsic strength and once you find what that is and focus it in a productive direction, things become clearer. We are often told these days that we need to be good at everything. I felt that way when I was in consulting – you’re trained to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’, but it is actually impossible for someone to be good at everything. In my experience, if you specialize in something that you are great at and enjoy, you will find fulfillment and be able to excel. If you find something that excites you, listen to yourself and explore it!