Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Gabe Karp, a Keynote Speaker, based in Huntington Woods, MI, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I help companies unlock their potential by seeking out and embracing the healthy conflicts that fuel growth, success, and happiness. My customers include any organization that works hard to innovate in a competitive market, attract and retain exceptional talent, build lasting client relationships, and basically do anything they can to grow and sustain a successful business.

What most people get wrong about conflict is that it’s a bad thing that should be avoided at all costs. Several powerful factors contribute to that belief, but it’s a flawed premise. The reality is that conflict is inevitable. The only question is whether we’ll engage it in a healthy way to drive progress or allow toxic conflict to hold us back.

Unfortunately, many business cultures are engineered to avoid conflict, which is a recipe for disaster. It's a real shame because if you think back to a time in your life when you achieved any kind of success— whether it was overcoming some external threat, navigating through personal or professional adversity, etc.— you realize that you achieved that success by engaging the conflict in a healthy way. So we all should do that more often, and I've written a book and given keynote presentations that offer simple yet powerfully effective tools to do just that.

Tell us about yourself

I spent the first ten years of my career as a trial lawyer. I then joined a small tech startup as one of the key executives who grew the company into one of the top digital promotions companies in the world. After our successful exit, I joined the world of venture capital and currently sit on the boards of several companies. I've negotiated business and finance deals in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and I’ve worked with CEOs to resolve conflicts ranging from clients wanting to cancel multimillion-dollar contracts to underperforming team members requesting pay raises and everything in between. Regardless of how big or small the conflict is, the same patterns play out over and over.

I’ve always been comfortable dealing with conflict and navigating tense situations. I have grown the most from those experiences, both personally and professionally. At the same time, I’ve found that many people are very uncomfortable with conflict, so they fear and avoid it. As I began to mentor others and encourage them to embrace conflict in a productive way, people would tell me that the tactics I had shared were extremely helpful to them as they navigated difficult conversations, tense situations, and other conflicts.

Encouraged by their success, I analyzed my methods from an academic viewpoint, researched the physiological and psychological sources of conflict, and developed more tactics. After giving several speeches on the topic, I was inspired to dive deeper and write a book. Now I speak to companies, conferences, and other groups about how they can embrace the challenges confronting their organizations to drive innovation, growth, and success.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Negotiating the sale of our company to a private equity firm ranks pretty high on my list of accomplishments. But what I am most proud of— what I find most fulfilling— are contributions I've made to the successes of those I've led and mentored. I've mentored people who have gone on to be phenomenal leaders themselves, and they credit me for playing an important role in their career paths. Of course, they might just be saying that to be nice, but I choose to believe it because it makes me happy.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Leading a business can be a very lonely path. The glamorous moments of entrepreneurship are few and far between. The real work is the daily effort that can feel like pushing a huge boulder uphill, putting forth a tremendous amount of effort without seeing any reward. As a business leader, you certainly have people working for you who can share in the "misery," so to speak. But that's not the same as confronting those challenges alongside someone who's in the same position as you (rather than reporting to you), and it can feel lonely. I've heard from sole founders of businesses that they find this to be one of the most challenging things about running a business.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Passion. I wouldn't start a business unless you're so passionate about it that you can't not do it. You should be kicking off the sheets in the morning and jumping out of bed because you cannot accept a world in which you are not starting your business. I guarantee that you will run into a wall at 100 mph more than once, and when that happens the third or fourth time, the only thing that will make you get up and start running again is passion.
  2. Patience. Overnight successes in business are the stuff of fantasy. It's just not realistic. I once heard someone refer to a particular business as "a ten-year overnight success," which I think perfectly sums up the point. It takes time to build something of value. That's not to say it necessarily takes ten years to build a successful business, but that success will not be measured in weeks, months, or quarters. It takes years to build something worthwhile, and deluding yourself in that fact isn't going to help anyone.
  3. Fun. This is close to passion but not quite the same thing. There are a couple of things I think I do exceptionally well and that provides a great deal of value to others, but that I genuinely don't like doing. Building a business around those things is a bad idea. At the risk of sounding all spiritual, we have a limited amount of time in life, and one of the most common regrets voiced by people on their deathbed is that they wish they had spent more time having fun and doing things they loved. So I wouldn't pick a business to start just because you think it'll be successful you should also pick something that's fun.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

My hope — and what I put a great deal of effort into making a reality — is that people learn to communicate more effectively in all areas of life. When they find themselves caught up in a conflict, I want people to have the tools to identify what is driving it, how to detox it, and then leverage it to fuel success. I hope that people not only view conflict as a driver of personal and professional growth but that they seek it out as an opportunity to strengthen relationships. Ideally, I hope that people share the tools they learn with others and encourage them to engage in genuine, meaningful, productive relationships that enjoy all the benefits of healthy conflict.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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