I am so thrilled to welcome Kelly Kolar to the show today and we will be talking about carrying your brand into space and experiential design that’s data driven. 

Kelly Kolar is the president and founder of Kolar + Kolar Experience Institute™, an award-winning design strategy firm that specializes in insights, interiors, and experiential design.

For more than three decades, Kelly and her team have been cultivating data-driven transformations, helping brands unleash their souls in space to uncover their true potential and create impactful environments. Kelly is passionate about finding new and better ways to connect people, places, and brands—from healing environments focused on the patient and family experience to global workplaces that blend corporate and cultural identity.

Welcome Kelly!

An integrated brand experience has greater meaning and impact.

– Kelly Kolar, President & Founder of Kolar + Kolar Experience Institute ™

Here’s what you can expect to hear in this episode:

  • Kelly’s background and her speciality
  • How Kelly works to unleash the soul into space
  • Translating your brand into a physical space plays a part in both longevity and impact
  • Kelly’s method to gather data to drive her interior and design decisions
  • The common thread across multiple industries
  • Kelly’s advice as a self-made 7/8 figure entrepreneur for those who are scaling their companies and working towards those numbers and success

Resources Mentioned In
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Please share your background and what you specialize in

I actually started my career as a student winning a design competition; I designed the look for the 1988 city of Cincinnati Bicentennial. What was so exciting about that was as a senior, I graduated and won a big design competition; it was like a rocket ship career took off for me, I was immediately then hired as the design director to actually implement my thesis to commission.

Of course, after 1988 was over, I had another year to put everything in the Historical Society. Then I was out of a job. So while I had co-opped, and actually had this special assignment for two years with the city, I decided that I really knew that I was destined to have my own company; I was either going to go to grad school or start a company.

I think the deciding factor for me, as a designer, you know, you have those aha moments in your life, you hope you have more aha moments as well, once you experience one, you know exactly what that’s like, right? It electrifies you through your body. You know, some people have that when I see a sunset or sunrise.

For me, it was actually on New Year’s Eve of 1988, of standing on the side of a building, overlooking our city’s Fountain Square. It’s kind of the Crossroads of our downtown. And it was 40,000 people, they were coming together, ready to ring in the new year. We did projection mapping on the side of buildings you know, this is almost 30-40 years ago.

So think of how progressive the technology was, and just see a community come together to celebrate its birthday and the power of design to enhance an inlet and live that experience for them. I was like, that’s what I want to do. And then, I started my company. So that was 33 years ago now.

When you say, ‘unleash the soul into space,’ what do you mean by that?

It really goes back to those types of soul moments that I was describing as I overlooked our Fountain Square on New Year’s Eve and saw our city come together. It’s really a very interesting term. I’m going to use a big $5 word here in Latin, it’s called genus, loci, or spirit, a place. And if you study back historically, even back into Roman times, or even back even for the early days when families would gather around a campfire, it’s all about creating a place for you and your people.

So companies, communities, universities, all can reflect society, culture, and history, and create an architecture of the space. So we, as I give an example from the 1980s Bicentennial, creating an entire interactive experience for those for those citizens.

But you know, even like a neighborhood, a small neighborhood or an urban district, you know, can be designed to celebrate its characteristic and its cultural identity. So just think of when I designed a headquarters in China for Procter and Gamble for the 2008 Olympics, how do we make the cultural relevance that this was an American global corporation, but it actually was moving and building its headquarters in the heart of the capital city of Beijing in China, so how do you make something culturally relevant.

So it reflects the people that it serves even simple things like perfect gates and the Chinese gates to a neighborhood that traditionally considers it, then it makes it a China, a Chinatown, that city. There are lots of ways that you can reflect the society, the culture, the vision, the mission, the history, to create that architecture of place.

And so what we do in our company is because we’re empathy-based, and all the work that we do is, we really start out by listening. We want to tap into that essence, or the spirit of not only the place but also the people. Then we bring it to life through purposeful design and interiors, architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, plaza design, whatever it is that we’re trying to create, we want to make sure that it reflects that soul of a city, the soul of a neighborhood, soul of a company. And we use our data-driven analytics to get those insights to inform the best solutions, not only for our clients but also for the communities that they serve.

Because today, as you know, we have a live work play anywhere, timeframe, that we’re living through this post-pandemic world, which is so exciting. There’s so much new technology, and so many things are transitioning as we work everywhere. Every business has a role that it plays with its citizenship and the community that it serves.

So if I’m working for a university, what is the face of the university to the citizens of Pittsburgh, what is the face of the hospital to the community that it serves? So really looking at the quality of the design and the impact of the design, every single thing tells a story, including architecture. So that’s how we tap into building the spirit of place.

My audience is entrepreneurs and CEOs who are working to cultivate solid brands that have longevity and impact- how does translating their brand into a physical space play a part in that?

A lot of people think of a brand just as the logo, the color palette, the tone of voice, the assets, the photography. And those are the brand assets or counterparts or visual tools that people use to express a brand, whether it’s digitally or in print.

But we use different tools to express it in interiors and architecture. So think about that we have to translate right through different tools, paint, form, transparency, by the use of glass, etc. So we have a different toolkit that we use to connect to the brand.

All brand starts with the mission, the vision, and values are the essence of the brand. We are a brand-led company. Architects are not taught about branding and how to build a brand muscle. Obviously, brand builders like you and I know how to build brands that tell the story and speak to the audiences that they serve. And so we think of a brand as the centerpiece of everything we do. And then how do you integrate or weave it into the places that it serves?

So whether you’re branding a neighborhood, an entertainment district, or new development, or you’re defining architectural landmarks for our city like I just recently did with defining the cathedral or the affection call it Kathy on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, or what are the gateways? I talked about those China gates, right? What is the gateway? What’s on arrival moment? What’s an aha moment? You know, you’re there.

It’s not necessarily the border, you know, the physical border; when you walk through a door, you may feel a sense of place and that you’ve arrived even before there’s maybe a threshold. And then, what is the role of art? To tell the story to create that soul? What are the destinations within the building? What are the environmental graphics or tools that you’re using digitally or physically in the space to tell the story?

And then, on top of that, how do you layer the events, the activation, and the programming with the people to bring the sense of celebration and community together to create and coalesce that idea of our brand? So we think of brand experience, right? Not just the brand part? We think of the experience holistically.

The result that you get really is an integrated brand experience that has greater meaning and impact when the brand is woven into current plans, programs and places. So you can have a great brand, you yourself as a creative could build a great brand. But if the people that are embodying the brand don’t know how to use it, and don’t know how to translate that, so that every day, it’s a reminder of how they’re winning in business, or how they’re winning as a community, the brand can be wasted, because it’s really only playing on one channel in one medium, right.

So for us, it’s really important that the physical brand expression builds off of the brands that you build, which I love. You’re an expert on that; I don’t build the brands; I bring them to life, right?

We work a lot in the healthcare setting. And people always ask me how to create healing spaces. There’s been a lot of research about the role that art plays in healing and the role of lighting and tools and architecture that can create a sense of calm or positive distraction if they’re using digital gaming, you know, so there’s a lot of ways to engage in space, but for us to really create that healing space.

For me, it all started back when I was a new mother. Mmy baby was three days old, my daughter, and she spiked a fever. I called the pediatrician and they said, you have to immediately go to the emergency room.

So as I rushed to the emergency room with my daughter, not really knowing what was wrong, you enter a world, especially in an emergency department, you enter a world that, for me was cold, sterile, unfamiliar, and intimidating. So here you are; you’re at your most vulnerable time with your child. And you’re in an environment, that everything is spinning around you rushing, they’re sick people everywhere, and that makes an impact.

I mean, they say like Maya Angelou, I just love her for what she has said, and I listened so much to a lot of her work as I read it, you know, people might not remember what you said, they might not remember what you did. They’ll always remember how you made them feel. For me, space has a feeling. And that’s what leads to spaces for healing.

Something I so appreciated about your work is that you don’t just say that space has an impact- you use data to drive your interior and design decisions. Can you tell me how you gather data, what that looks like, and how it informs the design?

It’s really about measuring the emotional intelligence of space. So for those of you that are data geeks on the podcast here today, I want to talk a little bit about quantitative data versus qualitative data. I’ll give you a couple of examples of that.

So on the quantitive side, there are tons of market research companies; we work a lot with different market research companies, the demographic, the psychographic, the income levels, the personas, you know, who are we targeting with our brand, right? Of what they’re users of the space are, who are the customers that they want to serve, which are other users for us in a hospital setting. So we understand all of those pieces, what are the age, what are the backgrounds or the income levels, we have all that hard data.

But what we do is not only understand who the end users are, we start to build the qualitative experience. We can measure things from the first arrival moment through a parking garage, down to literally a Wayfinding experience. Was it easy to navigate? Did it create a sense of warmth, calm, welcoming, and soothing? Which are the brand attributes of that particular hospital? Was it cold, uninviting, intimidating, loud, or fearful? So with sentiment analysis and a carefully curated set of questions, we have several modules that we use in brand building around space.

We’ve templated this now. So not every project is completely custom; we have a template approach, which is great. We have several modules for you to pick from that you can utilize. But we have the base modules that we want to measure the qualitative aspects of it. So we do various different types of methodology for that; we may do surveys, or I’ll use the hospital setting again, they might be using the Gallup, they might be using an exit and exit survey, a lot of institutions like that are already using large bodies of data to gather input from their customers.

What we do is we go in, and we add our modules as roll-up questions inside of these different areas that they’re already measuring. Now, if no one’s measuring anything, obviously, we use our own database, but mostly the size companies and organizations that we’re working with, like national banks, national hospitals, that type of thing.

They’re already measuring a lot of things like clinical delivery, did you take your medicine? Did you get better? Do you return to the hospital? We measure those things are and things specifically around the experience of space. How did it make you feel?

So in a sentiment analysis situation, sometimes we even run live focus groups with 50 people on a teleprompter right with us. We take all of that verbatim data, and then we sift and sort it; we use different software. We go through and then we analyze what we heard and what we learned as we ask specific questions.

We’ll go back to the hospital analogy. So think of the registration process at a hospital; you’ve already parked, you’ve made it through, hopefully, the nice portal to get you to the building that’s going to serve you, you get into the waiting room, and now you’re in the waiting room, now you have to register.

So the registration experience can be intimidating. It also can be aggravating. So if you’re a frequent flyer, you don’t necessarily want to sit there and wait in the waiting line for first-time visitors because you’ve already been there, they don’t have your data, you go to the hospital every month for treatment, you should be able to swipe in, and we already know who you are, we know where you’re going, you already know where you’re going.

So it’s like having two different paths of travel, right? But for those two different types of users, we will design a set of questions, and they’ll tell us the story. So the person that’s a first-time visitor may say I came to the waiting room for the first time; I found the registrar woman very impersonal, and not friendly and not welcoming. But I thought the process was easy. I really liked it; there wasn’t a long line, and I was actually able to get through and make it on time for my appointment.

So think of that sentence, those sentences. There are some negatives, and there are some positives. So in the negatives, I can’t necessarily fix the people side of the place, right? But I have used net promoter score as another tool to actually literally measure the success of the customer service as they do in the Apple Store, right? Every Apple Genius has a net promoter score on how well he’s serving the customer. Right after that person leaves, they get a little survey 123 – how am I doing happy face, smiley face, or negative face.

So you can do interventions, you know, we can give scripts, we help organizations rebuild their narrative and how they want to talk to the patient with empathy, and calm and endearing pieces. Of course, everybody has a bad day. But there are ways that you can literally manage the brand so others don’t manage it for you.

It’s really important that you manage your brand message. Because remember, it’s not what we say; it’s what they say, exactly real-time sentiment analysis. Real-time interventions, you can literally capture someone before they have the power to go to their phone.

When you’re in an institution that’s working to be in the top three or top five medical care facilities in the world, you want to make darn sure you’re in touch with those in the community that you’re serving. So those are some of the things that we help the organizations that we serve, craft and draft and actually implement best-in-class experiences literally touch point by touch point, whether you’re working at the garage for the first time, you’re walking through the threshold for the first time, or you’re actually interacting with a staff person, all the way to you repeating and ending your journey back, we measure the impact of place at every step of that journey.

The other thing is back on the other side, we do actually measure on a scale pre and post-occupancy metrics. So we not only do verbatims and sentiment analysis like that, but we also do have a series of questions.

So when we renovate a clinic or a corporate headquarters, for example, we do take a measurement before how much does this reflect the values of the brand? The mission, the vision, the values? Does it reflect their story? Or post? How much does it reflect it now, because when we use the insights from the pre, that tells us where the gaps are.

Let me give you some examples. On the physical side, we were working with a large, heavy metal manufacturer, super gritty work, right? They’ve got a factory out back; they have corporate offices in the front.

But the distance between the offices and the factory, they’re constantly going back and forth, right? So the buildings were built back in the 50s. It was a campus; they had about three buildings; we actually did measure several of their campuses across the United States. Each one was a little different based on the era or decade that the buildings were built, right?

So the main campus was really started in the late 30s. Then they bolted on building after building after building that kind of reminded me a little like a maze with where’s my cheese? You literally could not find your way in; you could hardly find your way out. I think it was a trick that they tested on new employees. But what we learned by working with them is that we also study work patterns and personas of workstyle preferences.

So in a in a corporate setting like that, but also as a factory component, we can literally look at the programming of the different types of people that they have, if it’s a call center, or it’s a manufacturing plant, or if it’s a marketing team, or it’s an operations team. Or if it’s a sales team. Each of those teams has a very different function in a business.

So by nature, some of them are more collaborative and have different needs, even with technology today in cyberspace. So this particular campus, we did an overall metric audit, I’ll give you one data point – 85% of the people, more than 60% of their day needed to be spent in a collaborative setting to get their work done. Either with the factory workers, the people that are actually doing the hard work in the back collaborating with them, or them being back there, throughout their day, they needed to be able to work with their teams.

Yet, physically, when we programmed out the space, there was only about 18% of space available for collaboration. Everything was so low, offices, or conference rooms, that did not have access to capital. So when you go to a senior leadership team, and you say to them, look 85% of your people need collaboration throughout most parts of their day, but you only have 15% of your physical space available.

Then the CEO had told me in the original stakeholder interview, yeah, it’s like my people, just they’re not really getting like what I’m talking about. How do I reinforce the messages besides town hall meetings? They need to be able to remember every day what we’re building and how we’re focused on where we’re going. So he literally had physical barriers, just within the workspace, to be able to achieve that goal as a CEO.

So as CEOs and entrepreneurs, you and I understand that, right? How do I get my teams to stay on track with where we’re heading to know the mission, the vision, the values, but most importantly, get the work done? So by just physically transforming that campus, we created a hub and spoke concept. We created an open forum in the center.

We just renovated one building. It’s got the workplace cafe, and it’s got collaboration whiteboard spaces, and it has open areas for the students and the interns and multigenerational people to work, and co-work together. Now that centerpiece of their campus is busy as a hive. Everybody, whether they’re booking the rooms, working in the cafe, working with the CEO saying hello to the co-ops, it just changed their whole culture.

You’re working across so many interesting industries. What would you say they all have in common?

It’s always that intersection of people process in place. A lot of people are measuring the people, you know, whether it’s the Gallup engagement survey, or whatever the HR performance surveys are, a lot of people are measuring the process, especially in healthcare. It’s built on a manufacturing model.

They literally measure down to how many steps it takes for the doctor to touch the patient to get back to go to wash their hands; like its evidence-based design, we have evidence-based designers on our staff, very technical. They measure everything about the process that it takes to get to help you heal and get better.

But not a lot of people are measuring the role that space plays as an enabler in creating that outcome for the people. The respite and the needs of the workers, and there’s a crisis on our health care workers right now. You go into a hospital, and we see less than 5% of space available for employees to take a breath and get away from their own PTSD of the work they do every day.

We know there are gaps when I see people eating in their cars and talking on their phones, nurses, and doctors. I already know before I even walk in the door what I am, because there’s no place for them to be people. So, now we’ve gotten to the place now we have millions of data points, we have longitudinal studies, and we know what it takes to create a holistic experience around health and wellbeing.

But quite honestly, before that pandemic, working across sectors, I really couldn’t get our healthcare clients to talk about the workplace. Even though 50% of hospitals’ workspace really like for the employees, and the admin staff, they were really just still as mission-based, organization, servant-hearted, they were really focused on the care of the clinical care and the care side.

But then I also couldn’t speak, and over on the corporate workplace side, I really couldn’t get them to dial into wellness, and well-being and the role of light and access to daylight like I have right now. The role of these things too for you to be able to have a well-balanced life and the role that nature plays that light plays, your sleep patterns, your ergonomics of your space, all of those things, a lot of them really weren’t focused on the wellness piece, and also the social norms that are needed a culture building, you feel a sense of community, and the tribe.

So with the pandemic, both of these things for me, came together. And it is that’s why we’ve doubled our company last year, we’re again, getting ready to probably double again, we we have so many of the most interesting projects right now, whether I’m doing a global headquarters and an NGO in Geneva, Switzerland, helping an organization that as a global sustainable organization, actually make sure and ensure that all of their spaces and places are actually the most globally sustainable, so that they’re talking to walk and they’re walking the talk.

Because previously, again, pre and post, the space itself did not reflect the organization’s mission of who they are, and what they do. So I’m working at that level, helping organizations reimagine, reinvigorate and renew, and get in touch with who they really are, what they do, through the use of interiors and architecture, down to working in really hard-hit urban corridors in the public sector.

We did a lot of studies with Drexel University during the pandemic. We found during the pandemic and with the murder of George Floyd, you know, obviously, me being a diverse business myself and coming from Detroit, I saw firsthand the impact of our small minority of women-owned businesses in my own city.

So, today we’re actually working with Community Development Corporations actually to reimagine and renew and reinvigorate their streets, their plazas, their parks, their empty storefronts, and how we can pilot and prototype our way to the future to create pipelines for entrepreneurs to go from clicks to bricks. So I work a lot with cities and communities and CDCs to also help them reimagine the city of the future that they want to build.

By the way, it’s a methodology. People process in place; it just is changed. In just the environment, whether it’s a hospital, a community corridor, a business district, or a corporate workplace setting, it’s still the same methodology, but obviously very different people, very different processes, and very different places. But the way we do what we do is the same.

I’m someone who’s known to fly the cities for one day. If I’m going to be working in that city, and helping that corporation bring to life, its corporate cultural identity and how it connects. Whether it’s in Jakarta, Indonesia, or Seoul, Korea, I have to be able to inhale the soul of the city to know the city. How it needs to reflect that and how the corporation is going to be successful there. We all know these things, and we all can be in touch with them.

If we just dial up our empathy, our understanding and our listening, we can definitely create better, more creative and connected work for the communities that we serve.

As a self-made 7/8 figure entrepreneur, what advice can you leave for those who are scaling their companies and working towards those numbers and success right now?

Just since I’ve been in business for three decades, I think every stage of your business, whether you’re in the first stage of the go-go stage or you’re in the second stage of the maturing stage, which is the maturing and starting to scale stage, or if you’re moving more towards the sunset stage, but you now want to create a legacy firm, there’s always one thing that is so important.

Whether you’re scaling at whatever stage, you’re scaling. There’s a lot of common denominators about scaling. One of them is that you need to clearly define your goals and what success looks like and break them down into smaller actionable steps.

So we have a leaderboard, we live in our leaderboard, what institutions have I not worked for, that are my dream to work for. Identifying your target market, your target audience, and even the leaders that you want to be associated with, and then breaking down the path to get there. So important, no matter what stage of business you’re at.

The second thing is to always remember to embrace continuous learning. You don’t know what you don’t know. I always remembered thinking to myself, every time, like when I got to my first million into my second million, oh, my gosh, like all of my systems needed to change, all of my resources need to change, all of my marketing strategies needed to change.

Sometimes you outgrow the systems that you have because those systems may have worked when you have 1 million or 2 million, but they don’t work at five. Right? So recognizing the amount of change at every single step of your scale strategy is super important so that things don’t break or get left behind.

I think that’s another big learning that I’ve had; I really wish somebody had told me that I was working on outdated software and trying to find tools that could do five things. I’m still doing tools; I just kept adding on tools versus finding a new tool to do it all together. I think that’s one other big piece about embracing your continuous learning and don’t be afraid.

The second thing about the being afraid part, since back to you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know what you look like the 5 million 10 million our business, I don’t either. I don’t know how to look at a template, which is what I’m scaling to, is thinking about talking to your mentors and your peers, talking to other people, find your tribe.

Whether you’re involved in WIPO, the Women’s Presidents Organization, or you’re involved in WeBank, I am serving as a second vice chair of WeBank on the forum; I’m the co-chair of companies of purpose for the Women’s Business collaborative, every facet of your business, you need different types of mentors that you can trust.

If you don’t have a board of advisors, build a personal board of advisors. Those are the people that believe in you and will help you. If you don’t have a board of advisors for your company, I highly recommend having a board of advisors. I added one six years ago. Prior to that, I only used the personal method. It’s really helped me keep on my game and keep focused and bring in people that have outside knowledge that can help pull me where I want to go.

Because they know what it looks like at that vista. Think of it like a mountain. You got to the first $1 million mountain, now you get up at the top, you look out, you’re like, oh my god, there’s like 20 more mountains out there. Yeah. Right, I’d like to get there.

That’s why you need to find other people that can help you summit that. I think that probably the most important piece for me is finding the right mentors to help guide me. You need those Sherpas. You need those guides to get you there.

Then the last thing is already talked about the process. I’ve talked about the people; I’m always people process in place.

By the way, of course, I think the most important thing to me is really being in touch with the market and being willing to fail your way to success. I mean, I’ll just share one really interesting thing about a failure that now has turned out to be the best thing that happened to our company.

So when we were launching, you know, we already were doing the insights, right as our company, but we hadn’t actually pulled it out. We weren’t sure if it should it be a separate company. Should it be a separate Institute just to an R&D? What should our insights work be now that we know that we had such a valuable asset and it became our differentiator?

Design is our hallmark, but our data-driven analytics and our methodology is our differentiator in business. So during the pandemic, we decided to pull out our insights and analytics and put our research into an institute. So we formed the Kolar Experience Institute.

During the pandemic, I launched this thing in the middle of the pandemic; of course, I was planning on launching it before the pandemic, so I pivoted to a whole digital strategy. At first I didn’t realize this, and it was great; it was something new and exciting. I went to conferences and talked about it. Then I started to cause what we call brand ossification. 

Ihired a marketing team, after about a year of us having the Institute out there as the go-to market strategy. I hired another marketing company, a marketing firm, as a matter of fact, a branding firm. They’re amazing in Cincinnati, and they helped us do our stakeholder customer interviews. Staying in touch with your customer is the message here. So that if you’re making mistakes, you can always course correct.

What we did is we did these interviews with our customer, the customer, the voice of the customer. What came back was, because I do practice in those different sectors, I was causing brand confusion in different sectors.

So think about the word of it, just by the word Institute. They’re like, okay, Kolar, I know what that means. Okay, experience. That’s a little fuzzy but we understand coworker’s experiences. But the word Institute was causing lots of questions. So because he has half of us are professors at our alma mater, University of Cincinnati and Design School, my academic partners thought that I was actually starting an institute, and I was getting people requesting me to go after grants with them.

As a 501c3 they assumed that I was a 501c3 then I had more brand confusion. This is hilarious. In my large financial institution clients and the corporate world, they thought they now had to buy our secret sauce, which is our data-driven analytics from a separate company. Wait a minute; we just want to hire Kolar to do it all like you did forever.

I was like, oh, my gosh, I’m causing different markets to respond to throwing that thing out there, like wet paint, differently. Then just jumping back to the healthcare space, which we were in, they seemed to understand it. I feel like the most they wanted to see how they can help us further our datasets because they’re always about continuous learning as organizations.

So when you do something, don’t be afraid, though, to make a mistake like that. You got to try stuff. You got to try it. Remember, it’s not what I say. It’s what they say, manage your method message, or others will manage it for you.

Most importantly, though, is that you know when to course correct. So we immediately restructured our go-to-market strategy for Kolar by creating three separate business units, insights, and analytics, interiors and experiences, and our insights analytics. So it’s only like two years old, even though we’ve been studying data for 15 years.

But our actual Insights is only a couple of years old, and by clarifying our service offerings we do everything end to end and then solve all of those gaps that I just described. But the Institute has not gone away; it was really never a separate company. It never was anything other than a marketing initiative and a way that we can start to put publish white papers and share our research about what we’re learning through our work with our clients.

But for me, in the journey that I met, immediately, I suddenly saw a light bulb moment, like, oh, this is amazing. I actually, right now, today, it’s serving fine, it’s just a marketing initiative inside the business, we have that as a tab on our website, you can go check it out.

But for me, in the future, I could see that being the thing that I retire to institute, right, because, again, I’m in that scaling stage of my business, and the plan is that we want to scale the business and continue to build it as another legacy firm with the team that I have for the next 30 years.

But this allows me to not necessarily be running the day-to-day as a CEO and founder; I can just be the founder someday and just go to my institute where I can continue to teach and lecture and do workshops and help organizations thrive and create design teaching elements, I teach just like baking a lot of help helping people use breakthrough and innovative solutions in their businesses as I use in mind. I see that as kind of my future.

It’s a little fuzzy right now, but that’s kind of my plan; I think it feels really good; that’s like a perfect place for me to go, right? I always thought I was gonna teach anyway; I was gonna be in the back of the room, right? Obviously, I wasn’t afraid to put it out there.

Remember, it’s not what I say. It’s what the market said. So I didn’t want to damage the brand, the already existing Kolar brand. So I do that all the time I even start I’ve even started new companies outside of Kolar just to experiment in a new market. I’ll open up, you know, a new joint venture like I’ve had joint ventures in Asia, I do all kinds of things like that, as an entrepreneur, you constantly have to be ahead.

You have to look at being ahead and to be ahead and not to fail. You have to be willing to experiment and fail. So you can learn what the right answer is. So experimenting or innovating outside of your existing business so that you don’t disrupt the amazing company that you already have, innovate outside and then bring that innovation in.

That’s definitely the way I have succeeded that way, literally, for decades. I mean, I could show pivotal moments in the company where I did those exact things. And I think a lot of us are afraid to change. But I think if you can find a way to change an experiment outside, so you’re not, the fear will be moved right? It’s a small prototype; we prototype everything.

In fact, how I actually drive change inside my own organization is I remind people, oh, we’re just going to prototype this. 

Image of a girl smiling with a red jacket. Next to her is white text on a black background that says, "...the power of design to enhance and enliven that experience for them, I was like, that's what I want. I'm going to be a part of that." - Kelly Kolar, President & Founder of Kolar + Kolar Experience Institute.

Kelly Kolar bio

Kelly Kolar is the President and Founder of Kolar Design, a woman-owned award-winning design strategy firm that specializes in insights, interiors, and experiential design. With over 33 years of experience in environmental design, Kelly is a thought leader known for her innovative solutions that bring brands to life. As a purpose-driven business owner, she is committed to supporting minority-owned businesses, changing lives and communities. Kolar uses data-driven analytics to measure the impact of space on people and is passionate about finding new and better ways to connect people, places, and processes—from healing environments focused on the patient and family experience to global workplaces that blend corporate and cultural identity.

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