In Conversation with Katy Tinney, Kerry Solmonsen, and Shelly Tinney-Miller of Cancer Cartel

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Describe your business in a few words?

Fashion Funds the Fight – we are cleaning up the cost of cancer by cleaning out the closet! Cancer Cartel is a nonprofit that provides funding to people who are struggling financially due to a cancer diagnosis.  We fund the cost of living, which cancer dramatically increases!

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

We are three brave cancer survivors who knew that we were called to do more. When you survive, it changes you. We could take the gifts that we have been given and combine them to build a creative, fashion-based nonprofit that will change the financial landscape of people fighting cancer. So instead of talking about it, we did it. And it has been a whirlwind of joy, and hard work, ever since.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

We are three experienced business people. Katy is a lifelong entrepreneur, owning multiple small businesses. Shelly has a background in corporate finance, but knew she was made to use that skill-set to do something more significant. Kerry comes from a customer service and business development background. The combination of skills that these three of us possess complement and are a recipe for success. 

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Katy absolutely did. Shelly found the drive to start after she left the corporate world. In the business development world, Kerry caught the entrepreneur spirit. The timing of Cancer Cartel was perfect for all three of us.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

We had pretty clear marketing objectives and brand identity created when we launched. That being said, we learned a LOT as our first year progressed. We started with social media, and though building it has taken longer than we thought, we have a remarkable group of followers and some great people who have been lending us their expertise. We have never done any “pay for followers” or “like for like” promotions, as we want this to be grass-roots, hard earned success. We have done some media, had a local news feature, and have been featured on a few podcasts, and know that those channels will be of great importance to our future.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

A big mistake we made early on was taking things very personally if people said “no” or didn’t follow through on a promise. We believed in our mission so much, that we had a hard time when people didn’t want to support us. We now know that rejection can be protection, and the people who are truly meant to align with our cause are the ones we want on the Cancer Cartel team. 

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

We are most proud of overcoming the challenges that we faced in fundraising due to the pandemic. We were worried when all of our 2020 events were cancelled. We weren’t sure how we were going to raise money to support all of the people who needed us. Covid made the financial pressure of cancer even worse, so we were even more driven to help. So, we got creative and raised money in other ways and managed to help many people who needed it!

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

Right now, it is just the three of us. But, in the future, the most important thing will be culture fit. Skills are important, but many can be taught. We want people who are committed to our mission and understand the culture and environment we are trying to create. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We have been impacted in too many ways to list. The nonprofit world has been especially hard hit, as charitable gifts are one of the first things people cut when their financial situation changes. We also had to cancel some events that had incredible fundraising potential, which was tough. But we also look at Covid as a blessing in disguise, as the three of us had more time together to work on creating the future of Cancer Cartel. We also connected with many incredible people who we may not have been able to during “normal” times.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We are launching the Cancer Cartel Closet Challenge in February. (Think Ice-bucket Challenge only with Fashion!) We have some pretty fabulous fashionistas slated to participate, and we think some of your readers would love to join as well! Check out Cancer Cartel Closet Challenge on our website or in the highlights on our Instagram page.  

Over the next few years, we have extremely high goals. Our big goal in 2021 is to secure grants and sponsorships to fund our overhead costs. We have been doing this as volunteers for over a year, and know, with some funding, we will be able to achieve our goals of giving away 11 million dollars to those who are struggling. Our commitment to giving 100% of donor funds to our grant recipients, means we have to secure overhead funding from other sources. So, in addition to giving away money, this is high on our priority list. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Everything you can dream, anyone you want to talk to, overcoming any challenge- it is all possible.  Even in the midst of chaos and fear. Love wins. And when you do everything from a place of love, there is nothing you cannot do. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

People are generally good. They want to help. If you reach out with a compelling cause, people will jump right on board and do what they can.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

We are all three big believers in positive affirmations and visualization. We love a good motivational quote or a guided meditation. Building something from nothing takes some serious time and mental toughness, but we know the value of self-care.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

At this phase in our journey, it is much more work than life. But this work gives us life. It fills our cup instead of draining it. Thankfully we have very supportive families and do our best to really make the most of the time we have when we aren’t working.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

We started Cancer Cartel with nothing. We are three women with a dream. We did not have a financial backer nor are we experienced philanthropists.  This is a pure grass-roots movement. 

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

Set up your day, use a planner or a google calendar, or both! Know your why. If it won’t get you closer to your mission, or doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it. Know your skills. If you aren’t good at it, get help! There are people that can do the things you can’t- find them!

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Women are the future. The age of male dominance in the nonprofit space is coming to a close. We want to pave the way for the women of the future who dream of making a big difference in the world.  We are coming into an age where vulnerability is actually strength and love is the power behind everything. We are very proud to be part of this time and this movement.

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