September 11, 2019 4:00 am Published by

Episode 23:

Krista O’Malley has swum with Humpback whales, run marathons, and is known for her passion for the pursuit of excellence, enthusiasm, straight talk, and obsessive attention to detail. This is fitting for the CEO and Principal of cmnd+m, a Minnesota-based brand experience design firm, as all of these characteristics are necessary for best-in-class design and innovation in an industry tasked with perpetually creating what’s next for brand-to-consumer experiences. The company was immediately successful with its inaugural project, not only bringing Google into the world of retail but also receiving an RDI International Design Award. Under Krista’s leadership, the business experienced phenomenal growth, going from an unknown start-up to an internationally-operating company in less than 3 years. This amazing start resulted in Krista being recognized as a Midwest Finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Although a St. Paul native, Krista is a Badger at heart (go Bucky!) having graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Krista has recently started her own charitable foundation and is involved with several business organizations including WPO (Women’s President’s Organization) and the Committee of 200 (C200). Krista has received a Woman to Watch Award from the Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal, as well as multiple awards in other industries, including the MEDA CPP Partner of the Year Award. When she has free time, Krista enjoys professional-level shopping, paper arts, antiquing, and relaxing at the cabin.

What You Will Learn:

  • The path that led Krista from running a successful construction company to opening a brand experience design firm and making it thrive
  • The “platinum rule” and how it applies to brand experience design
  • What the grueling process of growing a business can be like and why it’s so important to have friends and family to support you
  • Finding respite amidst the chaos of being an entrepreneur
  • Krista’s love of creativity and how that applies to her life and work
  • Krista’s best advice and lessons for prospective female entrepreneurs
  • Why you should surround yourself with people who challenge you and aren’t afraid to disagree with you


Female Entrepreneurs | Maintaining Your Sanity When Starting a Business, with Krista O’Malley

Starting a Business While Running a Business

As far as female entrepreneurs go, Krista O’Malley stands as one of the most impressive I’ve met. While running a construction company with her family, Krista caught the idea of opening an experience design firm and running it at the same time. Krista believed that having the infrastructure and momentum of already running a business makes it easier to start a new business. I don’t agree, but I LOVE the tenacity required to do something like that. 

It wasn’t easy. Krista shares deeply about how she was working seven days a week, 15 hours a day to get her experience design firm, cmnd+m, off the ground and up and running. Krista is a hard, hard worker, and she ran that business like an unstoppable engine. It wasn’t until her voice of reason, her significant other, told her that he was worried about her that she had an epiphany two days later in the parking lot of a gas station. What a place to learn that sometimes, even when running a business, you have to stop and let the engine cool off!

Krista credits her success and remaining sanity to the generous support of her family. Because of them, she’s always had a fallback plan, a couch to sleep on, and people to talk to. This is a lesson we can all follow better: use your support system whenever you need it.

Creativity and Challenge

We’ve all been taught from a young age to follow the golden rule: treat others how you would like to be treated. According to Krista, however, female entrepreneurs should do one better when working with clients and follow the platinum rule: treat others how THEY want to be treated. This is especially important in experience design and speaks to an intimate knowledge of your clients and what it is they want to get out of your services.

Creativity fits in nicely here. Krista has always been a creative person, and the opportunity to flex those muscles and experiment with new, exciting ideas is an appeal that drew her to experience design in the first place. Oftentimes, that creativity can come out in the face of challenge. Surrounding yourself with people who challenge your ideas is a brilliant way to begin thinking in ways you wouldn’t normally. Krista and I don’t agree on everything, and yet our friendship continues to grow because of how much respect we have for each other.

Lessons to Learn

Krista has plenty of lessons to share to other female entrepreneurs from her path as a successful business owner. One of them relates back to avoiding burnout and staying on top of your game. Krista’s best practices in this department include things like meditation, exercise, and taking a pontoon boat ride on a lake during a summer’s day. She has found that activities like this help her to focus, relax, and center herself, making her more capable of tackling her many responsibilities.

On the less relaxing parts of the journey, Krista reminds herself to have fun, be unafraid of difficult conversations, and remain a lifelong learner. The challenges of the day-to-day, paired with the challenges of being a successful entrepreneur, are just a little bit easier when you surround yourself with the right people and stick to being a student of life, for life.

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