We had the good fortune of connecting with Kari Kraakevik and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kari, how do you think about risk?
“With great risk comes great reward.” – Thomas Jefferson. Risk has been everything in my business, I came to Colorado fresh out of Pepperdine University on a full ride and stipend to attend University of Colorado, Boulder’s prestigious Music Composition Masters program. While obtaining my master’s my focus primarily on large-scale productions that were exclusively interdisciplinary. Working with dance, visual arts, theater and even children’s choirs–I really thought I would stay in academia forever, become a tenured professor and have this very stable life! Little did I know what was in store for me! During my masters, all of my large scale musical compositions (some for over 90 performers) were successfully and completely funded with grants, donations and commissions. I realized I was very good at organizing people, and getting funding! So, I started thinking beyond academia… Shortly after Graduation, in 2013, surviving on just an adjunct faculty’s stipend, I realized how much I loved creating with kids, organizing events and truly making a difference on both a micro level and macro level. My private students (of about 40 at the time) and then my classroom students at CU, and their parents were very supportive of this new avenue, this dream and became seminal to the creation of Reel Kids. One of my students at the time told me her old acting teacher was done teaching.. and that his space “reel kids’ which was in a bath and body works building (complete with apple-blossom smell), was going to be vacant soon.. With not more than $700.00 in all of my combined bank accounts, I contacted the past owner, Tommy, and offered a measly 12k to purchase a trade name and take over a lease, my first huge risk. With zero experience negotiating, not a business class or degree in hand, I was shocked that he said ‘yes!’ Now to come up with money… um.. that was hard. With my cover letter filled with collaborative arts dreams and class descriptions (some of which I never even used) I spent five days meeting parents of students begging for loans. In less than a week, I received $70,000.00 all four different families, all loans with great interest rates etc… all people that believed in me. Now, I had to believe me! Second Risk…. During the iconic Boulder Flood, I signed a lease take over, and headed to the same bath and body works space that Tommy had previously, put up a beautiful sign “Reel kids.” It looked like it hadn’t ever been cleaned–the dust was so thick on the floor we had to sand the entire floor and refinish it– just to clean the floors. And the smell… smelled like a high school girls locker room, filled with a mix of over-saturated body sprays ‘country apple’ to be exact– the scent was ingrained in the walls, even after layers of paint! I still smell it today… Boulder was flooding, highways were dead, I had no idea the state of our house–all my focus was on transforming Reel Kids so we could open in a mere two weeks. The amount of nights I slept at Reel Kids with some family members, or students bringing food and coffee was innumerable. My 100lb self sledge hammered cash registers, sinks, walls, and with the help of families and students, built what is now “Reel Kids.” But the risk didn’t stop there, having not even paid back my her original loans for Reel Kids, In 2015, an opportunity knocked… and I further immersed myself into the world of female entrepreneurs. I still was teaching at Metro University in Denver, to make money to pay my loans, and I adored Reel Kids…. It seemed like the absolutely incorrect time to take on more debt, more responsibility, more RISK.. but… opportunity knocked. One of my student’s parents at Reel Kids, owned a music school in Boulder. I remember the first time I attended their “shows” and was astonished at the talent. Having taught voice on the side this entire time (again to make money to pay back loans) I knew the level of talent this owner must have had… So when it was casually introduced as an interest for selling… with negative money in my bank account (which is so terrifying)…I jumped, begged, borrowed more thousands of dollars and bought the long-standing music school, Wildflower School of Voice. After two years owning that business, I grew out of it, took another risk, and expanded (rented more space and hired more faculty) the Wildflower to what is now called ‘Boulder Music.’ This was the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. To be in SO much debt already and to see this opportunity… It was the largest risk and has had the most successful reward! My school currently offers lessons in voice, composition, piano, guitar and performance, for both children and adults. With my two combined businesses, she serves over 220 weekly students! Final Risk? Reel Kids has GROWN to be two hands that are practically living on top of eachother. One side, a highly competitive educational theater, graduating actors that attend prestigious schools like Yale, Vassar, Brandeis, Berklee and more… and the other side, a technical-behind-the-scenes-side, focused on video editing, scriptwriting, filming, videography, and design. Our dressing room for shows doubles as a ten- partition computer lab for our young editors… and it’s not uncommon during show week for a innocent young editor to find his/her workstation peppered with remnants of the show the night prior; bras draped on computers and fake eyelashes stuck to keyboards… We need more space! Having just finished paying back one of my original loans from 8 years ago, I am finding my next big risk is around the corner.. I need a new space, a space that has more room for my collaborative, creative, genius students… How in the world will I figure that out? Who needs more space after a pandemic… me, of course, that makes sense–NOT. But it’s true, even during this pandemic Reel kids has flourished…and though I still don’t have the money.. I do need to find more space.. This uncomfortable risk I’m not sure at all how I am going to complete! BUT, Loopnet is my best friend, and I do have faith in my community, my product and most importantly myself. The antithesis of Thomas Jefferson’s quote is also true “Without Great Risk comes NO reward” and I want the reward, so bring on the risk!
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I believe what sets me apart from others is my drive, my creativity, and my unique ability to connect to children and the community at large in a way that fosters a sense of togetherness needed more than ever in these times. There are several things, but what stands out to me but perhaps the most is how successful we have been through the covid pandemic. We have not had one shut down, exposure or issue related to the crisis, which I firmly believe is a testament to not only my willingness to bravely face this challenge but the incredible support of my staff and community. We are an inclusive organization that truly has a place for everyone. I love it when a cast list comes out from our company, and I have no idea who the lead is, I don’t recognize the names! That’s who we are and what we stand for: Artistic, Fair, Supportive and Collaborative. I’m also proud of the fact that my companies attract and maintain faculty (some for over eight years now) of the highest quality and have former students consistently return and take both teaching and managerial positions. I think this cycle speaks for itself and is one of the things I’m most happy about.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In Denver, I’ve had the opportunity to both perform and attend Dazzle’s new location: 1512 Curtis Street, Denver, Colorado 80202–it’ san incredible jazz club (one of the only ones in Denver) and their new location is just beautiful. In Boulder, I love the The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, 1770 13th St, Boulder, Colorado 80302–Completely built by hand without the use of any power tools, the Teahouse was constructed in Dushanbe, Tajikistan as a gift to their sister city, Boulder. It was disassembled, crated up, and sent halfway around the world to be rebuilt in Boulder as a symbol of friendship and cultural exploration. The elaborate and creative teahouse now sits as a reminder to the citizens of Boulder to value cultural diversity, global cooperation, and international friendship. As a Tea Connoisseur myself, I am so pleased with their selection of loose leaf teas!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I could not have done any of this with out the endless support of my long-time faculty whom I adore so very much. Every single one of them has been integral in my success and the success of my incredible students: Kelly Mcallister, Theater/Troupe Devin Sarno, Theater Ellie Griffin, Theater/ Troupe Jocelyn Leroux, Theater, Choreographer Jo Gerlick, Theater, Joshua Rich, Theater, Business Manager, Music Instruction Tonya Ingerson, Theater, Music Instruction George Lacson, Sound Design, Music Instructor Teresa Suydam, Music Instructor, Brittany Wright, Music Instructor Becca Spence, Music Instructor, Thomas Dow, Music instructor Kevin Taylor, Technical Directing Josh Zyzniewski, Technical Directing
Other: My other business 🙂 Boulder Music www.mybouldermusic.com