From Influencer to Founder: Krista LeRay's Journey to Building Penny Linn Designs

June 12, 2024

Krista LeRay first made a name for herself as a lifestyle influencer, sharing her daily outfits and adventures with her social followers. But after falling back in love with needlepoint during the pandemic, she spotted an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to this traditional craft. Enter Penny Linn Designs - the needlepoint kit company Krista built from scratch, combining her eye for design with her knack for creating content that resonates. Fast forward to today, and Penny Linn has grown into a multi-million dollar brand, with Krista at the helm as Founder and CEO.

For many influencers, the idea of starting a business feels like a natural evolution. After all, when you've spent years building a loyal community and honing your skills in content creation, marketing, and connecting with an audience, you've got a leg up in the entrepreneurship game. But taking that leap from influencer to founder isn’t simple. It means stepping into a whole new world of product development, team building, financial planning - not to mention pushing past the inevitable self-doubt and imposter syndrome. In this episode of The Marketing Factor, Krista shares raw insights on what it takes to make the jump from content creator to business owner, and how her influencer background has shaped her approach every step of the way.

You’ll want to listen to my full conversation with Krista here:

In the meantime, here are 5 nuggets of wisdom she shared about her journey from influencer to boss:

1. Leveraging influencer skills to connect with customers as a founder

Krista's a pro at engaging with her audience - it's what made her a kick-ass influencer in the first place. And she's brought over that lesson to Penny Linn, always looking for ways to connect with her customers on a personal level. Here's how she breaks it down:

"I always say, you need to find a way to connect with your customers. And the best way to do that is to talk to them face to face - to get on Instagram, to get on stories, to get on lives, to get on TikTok and talk to them in different ways. I think connecting and having that personal touch really does separate big brands."

Most founders don't take the time to engage with their audience like this, but for Krista, it's a no-brainer. Her consistent, authentic communication has helped her build the kind of ride-or-die community for Penny Linn that most brands only dream of.

2. Applying content creation experience to marketing a new business

Krista's influencer background has been key for getting the word out about Penny Linn, especially on newer platforms like TikTok. She puts it like this:

"Because I had this background in talking to my phone for the past 10 years, I hopped on TikTok... I knew that I needed to have a catchy opening phrase and I needed to show people right away. I hopped on TikTok and I'd already had a TikTok platform, through the blog and my personal one, but it really shifted to needlepoint."

Knowing what kind of content hits on each platform and being able to whip up attention-grabbing videos on the fly has helped Krista create buzz for Penny Linn without spending a ton on marketing. It just goes to show how valuable those influencer content skills can be when you're trying to get a new business off the ground. You need to know when to shift, and that’s exactly what Krista did.

3. Translating a loyal influencer following into early traction for a new business

One of the coolest things about starting a business as an influencer is that you've already got a bunch of die-hard fans who are ready to support whatever you do. Krista saw this firsthand when she launched Penny Linn:

"I started on Instagram, I had kind of pushed people from my platform over there. There's also a really large needlepoint community, especially during COVID - everyone's getting into needlepointing. So it was just the perfect storm, in many ways... Within the first 10 minutes, we had sold like $20,000 of stuff and I was like, 'Holy crap, maybe we're onto something.'"

When your followers are already bought into who you are and what you stand for, they'll be first in line to snap up whatever you're selling. Krista was able to tap into her existing fan base and the tight-knit needlepoint community to generate major sales and momentum for Penny Linn right from the jump. That kind of early success is a total game-changer for a new business.

4. The challenges of learning to run a growing business as a new founder

Even though Krista's killing it, she's definitely had some "WTF am I doing?!" moments as she's transitioned from influencer to head honcho:

"I still feel like to this day, I kind of need that mentorship because I don't know how to run a multimillion dollar business that we are today. I don't know if it's a little bit of imposter syndrome, but I never fully feel like I should be doing this or running this."

It's refreshing to hear someone as successful as Krista admit that running a fast-growing company isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Her story is a good reminder that every founder, no matter how well they might be doing, is learning as they go - and that it's OK to ask for help along the way.

5. Pushing past fear to make bold investments that enable growth

As Penny Linn has blown up, Krista's had to get used to placing bigger bets and throwing down cash, even when it's scary as hell. She explains:

"It was really scary at first, but I'm a lot more comfortable now outsourcing what I can for my own sanity, my health, my family, our employees... By investing more in marketing, we're able to again invest more in employees and product. It was just like this revolving door of putting money out. I guess you have to spend money to make money."

Krista's willingness to feel the fear and invest in the business anyway - in marketing, people, infrastructure, all of it - has taken Penny Linn to a whole new level. Her journey is proof that you can't be afraid to put your money where your mouth is if you want big results.

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