Meet Cary Walski: the entrepreneur behind Copilot. Cary’s not only a Pollenite running a company, but is also one of the 14 values-driven businesses that have come together in support of Pollen’s mission to invest in human connection. Together, they challenge Pollenites to raise $15,000 by Give to the Max Day on November 16, which they will match dollar for dollar. Match the hive and donate today.
Cary Walski and is the owner and nerd-in-chief at Copilot, which helps mission-driven people and organizations inspire empathy to create change. Using code, design, and story—Copilot work with clients to create online experiences that move audiences to action on the web, and in the world.
How long have you been running your business? When did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship has always been in me, but the first experience I can remember is launching a pretty half-baked ice cream slinging venture at age 11 during a unit on commerce. I don’t know that I sold even one cone, much to the dismay of my mom, my sole financial backer. But I was hooked.
Copilot has been up and going for over 10 years, and thanks to the tremendous network of our friends and clients, the business has grown steadily year after year. I’m proud to run a woman-owned and managed web development and online communications firm.
What were some of the greatest risks you took as a small business owner?
Although my choice to quit my full-time job and focus on my own business certainly made my parents sweat, what’s most remarkable I think about my story is how risky it was not to start my own business. This is because of the privileges I have as a well-educated, well-connected, white person who graduated with zero college debt thanks to her parents. I can’t stress enough how my success comes from, yes, my own effort, and also where I am coming from.
Acknowledging these advantages does not in any way denude the work or the success I’ve had. Instead it motivates me, and I hope it motivates you too. I see a big part of my work in creating a future where everyone has the freedom to take risks because they know they will still have health insurance, their kids will still have enough to eat, and a good school to attend.
It’s not an accident so many of the biggest tech companies are started by a bunch of young, well-educated, middle class, single, childless white dudes in a relative’s garage.
Could you imagine a world where everyone could afford to take the risks that I have? What problems couldn’t we solve if everyone had that opportunity? The safety net could be a sail, not a snare.
Do you have a favorite mantra or quote to keep you going and inspired?
This question reminds me of the only time I’ve ever wanted to punch a nun. I was working a 10-hour day at my first nonprofit job at Hillel, the Jewish Student Center at the University of Minnesota. I was tired. I was grumpy. It was already past five o’clock. Unfortunately, like so many nonprofit employees, the “other tasks as assigned” portion of my job description was taking on maddening, Sisyphean dimensions.
That’s why I was busy summoning all my butt-clenching type A energy meticulously arranging an assortment of teas and sweet breads for an interfaith leadership meeting that was about to happen in the conference room when a nun walked up to me and said with an unpardonable incandescence, “Look at you! Well, don’t you have the gift of service!?”
That desire to serve—to produce good products, to help my clients inspire change—that drive is what has helped them, and ultimately Copilot, to be successful.
And I am grateful for that gift, and for every opportunity to share it.
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