About the Episode: 

What I love about Kristi is that she is building a new business model, and new way to work. That involves focusing on family benefits, including allowing new parents to bring their baby to work.

Some people might shy away from that kind of thinking, worried that it will hinder the productivity. Instead, Kristi supports family values in every aspect of her life. Who would not want to work for a boss like Kristi? 

Kristi covers how she has some top evening routines including:

  • Putting her phone away when she gets home
  • Having dinner ready by 5:30PM every day

She also covers how she had major mom guilt because she felt she needed to cook her kids meals, but how she learned to outsource that so that she was not so stressed out.

Enjoy this episode with a ton of great parenting AND business tips!

Question: If you could go ahead and introduce yourself.

My name is Kristi Piehl, founder and CEO of Media Minefield. We’re a news-driven public relation firm based in Minnetonka, Minnesota. We specialize in earned media meaning that our clients are interested in getting their message out to their local or national media.

I have a very different approach on how that looks like.  There are 15 of us in Minneapolis who are growing quickly, moving into a new office in another month and are looking to expand into regional and other offices across the country.  We have 75 media markets right now, and are working on any given month with more than 50 clients.

Question: How did you get started and how did the business expand?

I started the company in 2010. My background is as a television reporter, so I have worked in five different TV stations across the country, and did my 12-year career at the ABC station in Minneapolis. I was laid off in a massive lay off that hit and it totally rocked me. I did not expect my career would end like that - it’s the only thing I ever thought I would do in my life was to do that line of work.

Once we had our kids and we’re pretty settled, I got job offers in media to move to other parts of the country - that wasn’t something we were interested in doing with our family. I felt like there’s an opportunity to do something else. I took some time off to spend with my kids a little bit more and then started exploring.

I wanted to get down to what was my passion and what I was really supposed to do.  I actually took a class at my church and during the class it was about how you take your background and help people. This business happened and came to me then I called my husband and I told him I’m going to start a business and he said “Great!”

It was just fantastic. It was crazy really. I have no business trying a business. I am an English major, I’ve had 12 years as a TV reporter, and he said “Great!” which was really pivotal and a key in all of this. There are other people who were very supportive of me in this idea.

And I spent the first year really figuring out what the approach should be. I had worked in the media and I really felt like traditional public relations was missing when I need it as a reporter and I wanted to figure out a new system, new approach, a new path to get the businesses and the different clients the results that they were looking for.

And that’s what I spent the first year figuring out. And I did a lot of pro bono works and a lot discounted works.  I wasn’t working full time then – one of my children wasn’t in school yet, and then within a year I hired my first employee and it really ballooned from there.

Question: When was that “Aha” moment when you realized that “Oh my goodness I have this business” and “I’m really on my way to that path of success?”

I can’t complete the exact minute, but there was a time about probably two and a half years in, when all of a sudden I had many employees and their families.

Let me back up. When I started, I could have failed, it was just me. It would have been okay – I didn’t risk much to start the company.

Several years in with a bunch of employees and their families being supported by this company, it dawned on me that “Oh no, failing at this point doesn’t just impact me. It impacts the whole bunch of people”.

And honestly I felt not equipped. It was like “What am I doing?” and “This is what I’m going to be doing probably for the rest of my career”, and I got to get it together. And I could see the path that we were on as far as the growth, and as far as the approach, and there’s no one in the marketplace doing what we were doing, and hiring the way I’m hiring, so, now what? So that for me, really,

the “Aha” moment was I need help, I need help for me as a leader. So I got a mentor, and I joined a group of other entrepreneurs for support and a place to bounce ideas off and to push me to get better.So for me the “Aha” moment was “If I’m doing this, I’m doing it as hard and as best as I can and that means I need to go get some help”.

Question: What did it look like in terms of trying to balance things when you were first starting off versus today?

When I started the company, my older son was in school and I started September, and my other son was in pre-school, and I had the time and energy to put into this. And my husband was travelling at that point and my kids went to bed early. So I had capacity in the evenings, I had capacity during the day to think about how this would look. And the more I did it the more excited I got about the approach and the clients I was working with. It was an easier proposition for me at the time. I really want to be full time until my youngest is in kindergarten and I ended up going full time before that business required it. Now my kids’ are-- my oldest is going to be 13 in December and my youngest is 8 1/2, they don’t require the constant care that they used to. So if there’s a couple of hours where I need to do something and it’s after school, they could be home by themselves and that’s okay. The way that our child care works – my husband is very successful on his own right, but can be a little flexible. He mostly works from home and is able to then flex and work early in the morning and flex and work later at night and after the kids go to bed.  So that he picks up the boys two days a week, and then the other three days my older son is in sport, so he fetch them after school, and my youngest son goes to a homework club. So he has the leverage to do homework.

So it takes a village, but his support has allowed me from the very beginning to build this company.

Question: Do you work at home or when you get home? How does your evening look like?

I certainly could work more and do more but, I don’t believe that this business should come at the expense of my family. So I put up very specific boundaries around my time and it’s an exception if I’m working in the evening, if I’m working on the weekends. I like to leave the office between 5:00 and 5:30.

It’s a priority to eat dinner together. My goal is to put my phone down when I get home and spend concentrated time with my kids. I’d be lying if I say I do it every night coz’ I don’t, but I really want the time that I’m with them for them to feel like they’re the most important thing in my life.

We try not to talk business at home, or around them. I occasionally do, and some of them I really like them to hear, because I think it’s good for them to hear all aspects of what’s happening with the business and not just mom has an office. So it’s a dance, every day is a dance. Every day looks a little bit different and it depends upon my meetings and if my husband needs to travel.

Question: Do you have any extra help or do you outsource any task at home to help get things done?

Absolutely. You know when my kids were little we had a nanny. We don’t anymore, we just don’t need it at this point, but what we do outsource now is someone who does our meals – and it took me honestly a long time to be okay with that coz’ as I got busier, I just felt like what kind of mother am I if I can’t even feed my kids. And a good friend of mine, who’s also an entrepreneur, she said “You’re basically being ridiculous. Your kids don’t care where the food comes from“, and it’s really important that we do it together and that resonated with me.

So we do have meals that are prepared for us and that’s been a huge help because when I come home, sometimes my husband grills, but a lot of the times we’re eating food that’s been prepared and that works well - because as soon as I got home we can get down and have that meal and talk about what their day was like.

And get into our evening routine.

And I don’t-- I hate cleaning. I’ve always hated cleaning so I don’t clean my house. And the woman who cleans our house, bless her, she loves it. She just think it’s fantastic. I will happily come home to a clean house occasionally. That’s wonderful!

So those are the things I outsource.

Question: What is the biggest struggle you encounter when you try to balance your family life, personal life and your work life?

For me the temptation would be to overdo it in one aspect of my life, so I’m a maximizer and I’m an achiever. So I certainly could get sucked in and work all the time. I certainly could get sucked to feeling terrible that I’m not volunteering at school all the time.

So for me the challenge is trying to balance and really everyday “Okay, what’s most important today?”.

And this is something that my mentor has worked with me on, “What’s your list today?”, “What can you give to someone else?”, “What do you need to do?”, “When does it need to get done?”, because

I can get bogged down in the details and be doing things that I shouldn’t be doing that other people in the office can do better than I can so I can really focus on what I am good at and what I should be doing.

Question: How do you prioritize when you think about business, family, mental & physical health?

For me they all work together. All of those pieces have to be in some kind of balance meaning I’m juggling them all at the same time – I don’t think that I can be effective at home or at work if I am mentally, emotionally, spiritually unhealthy so those are things that I certainly value and work to keep in check.

And as far as if something would happen with my family I would leave work immediately just like I would ask any of my employees to do. The “family-first” policy is what we have here, and that’s something that I worked into all the workplace policies we have, so I won’t hold myself to any different standard. So for me, it’s all about juggling.

Question: What are you most proud of in your profeThe most proud ssional life and in your personal life?

I’m very passionate about changing the discussion around workplace policies and having that family-first policy. For example we have new parent policy which means if you have a new baby they’re welcome in the office until that baby is mobile. And we have unlimited vacation and sick time and all sorts of things that are really unconventional. And I am passionate about all of those things.

The most proud moment of the professional life has been when the employees voted this company one of the best - a hundred plus places to work in Minnesota. And we’re recognized with that. That was a crowning achievement and it was a little overwhelming to walk into the dinner for all of the folks and companies who won, and to know that we were recognized as that which wasn’t a vision of mine but that of the employees who voted us there.

Question: So have you had a lot of employees bring their babies?

This is the first one.  We took the policy into effect and nobody was pregnant and there was no talk of babies, but it was clear that we’ve got a bunch of employees here and chances are we need to address this. And when there’s a growing and starting company, the first thing I wasn’t thinking about is the new parent policy.  So he’s the first one - baby Jack is here, and he’s doing really well here and I stand by the policy. We do have occasionally other folks bring their kids and I did a couple of weeks ago. I had a meeting and my son was off of school, so my 8-year-old was sitting at my office, reading just for a couple of hours then I brought him home.  I would rather him be here than at home by himself coz’ he’s too young.

Question: What would you say you’re most proud of in your personal life?

My husband is my prom date twice. So we’ve been together - we actually got married and we went to Mexico for our honeymoon coz’ I wasn’t old enough to drink. We’ve been together at least 20 years this summer and I’m proud of that because we beat the odds. We’ve moved all over the country. I’m proud that when people hear “Really? Your prom date? That worked out?”. It worked out and I’m so grateful that it did.

Question: Do you have any mentors or people that have inspired how you live?

At the ‘aha!’ moment that we talked about earlier, when I realized “Oh gosh, I’m going to need some help here dong this well”, and I have a responsibility to do it well, I was looking for a mentor and I’ve interviewed some folks and I just wasn’t feeling the connection. So when I sat down and really thought about what am I looking for in someone? So I was looking for a woman because I think that there are some unique challenges that are resulted to guilt or balance or any of those things that I think only a woman can speak into.

So I was looking for a woman who was a working women, and I was looking for someone who wasn’t necessarily a professional coach or mentor, but someone who could challenge me and I didn’t want a yes person. I wanted someone who could make me think.

And after interviewing some folks, there was a woman who I knew – actually she attended our church at the time, and every time I would pass her on the hallway she would say to me “Have you thought about this?”, and she’s fascinated by this company starting and seeing it grow. She was challenging me and pushing me and making me think different. So I took her out to lunch, and I said, “You know what, here’s what I’m looking for, I’m looking for someone-- twice a month, who would spend 1 hour to 90 minutes with me. We’ll take it seriously. I want to pay you, and I want your support, and I want you to challenge me, and I want you to help me think differently, and I want to get better, I want you to help me get better”. And whenever I’m making a big decision to work, she’s one of the people that I consult and she doesn’t tell me what she thinks she would do, she gets me to make the decision just quicker.

And it’s very valuable for me to take the 90-minute twice a month out of the day-to-day and sit away from my computer and electronics and talk about business, coz’ I do feel like my primary job is working on the business and making the business better and growing.

So she allows me to do that and it’s just nice knowing that there’s someone who I can reach out to and who I can totally be completely honest with. Before her, I was doing that with my husband and it’s not fair because then our conversation were kind of dominated by work and he didn’t really have all the pieces. So I would kind of do a fly by with him when there’s something really great or something terrible. And if you’re not in all of the time, it’s difficult to jump in and help during a - crisis is too strong of a word, but when something needs to be dealt with immediately. She gives me that faith.

And I’m also in an entrepreneurs group.

There’s a small group with six of us, and we get together for 4 hours every month and do a retreat. It’s a big time commitment. They know all aspects of what I’m doing here and are doing the same thing, and are very successful and we help each other. And it’s just important because it’s easy – and I don’t know if men feel like this. I’ve talked to many women entrepreneurs and CEO’s and they feel like this, kind of alone, they’re the only one trying to do this, so it’s nice having a circle of people around who get it and know about it.

And some of my very closest friends happen to be female entrepreneurs who are making a go at business and doing a great job, so they’re inspiring around me. It’s wonderful to be in a room of people regularly where you think “Oh gosh I could learn so much from you”.

Question: For your monthly group how did that come about?

It’s through Entrepreneurs’ Organization, so it’s a global organization. At that point, during the “oh my goodness”, “Aha” kind of time, my husband was having lunch with a good friend, who’s a lawyer, and the law firm that he works with sponsors this group. And so my husband was telling him, “This business is going and Kristie’s feeling a little bit like “Gosh, this is what I’m doing now and what happened?”” And so he said, ”Oh, she should totally join this group”. So that’s how it all happened. The time was excellent.

Question: To you what does it mean to have it all and do you feel like you do have it all?

That’s an interesting question, and I get asked a lot when I’m around younger women, college students, business students. I’m disappointed that they’re still asking the question, because no one ask men that question. And it’s surprising to me that women who are 18, 19, 20, 25, that’s where they start with, “What’s it like to have it all?”.

And I like to reframe what that means, so for me, that means loving what you do all hours of the day and it does not mean you love every task because there are stuff at work that’s not as fun but I do love all of the roles in my life and all of the big pictures stuff I do at home and in here.

Whatever the task, I do love all of the roles that I play, so for me it’s really about defining the dreams of what does have it all mean – coz’ I have folks that I know who stays home with their kids, they’re home schooled, they certainly can have it all if that’s what their definition is. For me it’s about is running this company, keeping my boundaries in place, maintaining my marriage and being a present mother and growing the company. For me that’s what having it all means because I want to love all the roles in my life. And so then, yes, by that definition I do. And I want to create a place, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to create a place where I can empower other women, other parents, other men, to feel like they can really have a life outside of work. And that they can love what their passions and other things that they do in their life, and so they can maintain some kind of balance.

Question: If you could sum it up into one advice or several insights, for people who are chasing this dream, what would it be?

It would be, be clear about what you really want. Ten times thinking about what your ultimate goal is. I was meeting with a woman earlier this week and she’s very successful and she said, “You know this is what I always wanted, and now that I’m here I’m not sure I want it”. I think that happens a lot when the dream is, “Oh, I’m just going to be successful”. What does that really mean? And where do you really want to be successful and what are you willing to do to make that happen”. I’m in a small group with some younger women and they talk about the travel and the work, and the struggle, and all that in, and I think many, many folks feel it.

And when I was in TV, my life wasn’t in this kind of balance as it is now. It was a struggle, and I thought I had it all then and I had my dream job, I have kids, I’m married to this guy who is fantastic and yet I didn’t feel successful. I feel like a failure coz’ I wasn’t doing good at the time. So I think it’s about defining it and not putting so many parameters around that you can’t go outside of that, because I think many of us, and I think women are maybe more guilty on this, they don’t dream big enough,

they don’t aspire high enough, and I don’t think that’s something on a business card. I think you just in general, to spend a lot of time being intentional around what the dream is and take the steps to get there and don’t take no along the way.

Question: Any last insight that you want to share which you feel is something very important?

The one thing, when it comes to entrepreneur part of this, it’s disappointing to me that more women aren’t starting businesses. For me, at the time, there’s a lot of women out there who, they’re not the primary breadwinners. So in many cases they got nothing to lose to start a company and yet I hear a lot of women and say “Oh, I can’t believe you did that and it’s working”, and “I had a dream 20 years ago”, or “I had a dream 10 years ago”. And I don’t know if the men around them aren’t supportive, or the women around them aren’t supportive, or we aren’t empowering each other to do it.

But I’m just surprised at how few women do it, and how rarely it’s a success because in many ways we’re well-equipped and being a mother you’re juggling anyway so that’s nothing new to us.

How to learn more about Kristie


call: 612.924.3780 / 1.866.480.4754