Lynn Hart talks to entrepreneur Kat Kuczynska and how she came to start InvestedMe and dealing with the life challenges.

Lynn:
Hello and welcome to the Female Entrepreneurs’ Show. My name is Lynne Hart on KWIB radio. Today we’re joined by Kat Kuczynska – Founder and owner of InvestedMe. Hello Kat!

Kat:
Hi

Lynn:
It’s great to meet you and thanks for joining us. Can I start by asking a bit about your early life? I understand you studied mathematics and computer science?

Kat:
Yes. That was the choice I had to make in Grammar School where we started specialising within our school environment. I was always a little bit of a geek and a tomboy so I guess actually joining a class where we had some guys that were looking at studying towards engineering degrees and all that, so naturally, I joined that class. There was quite a lot of emphasis on the science, mathematics, IT and computing, physics etc so it was always something that came quite naturally to me.

Lynn:
What is quite unusual for girls to be studying (or liking) mathematics?

Kat:
Not so much unusual but there were definitely more boys picking up these types of subjects. I guess for us it was actually good because there were less of us and we always had colleagues in our class who would look after us.

Lynn:
Where did you go to school?

Kat:
In Poland. I come from a small town very, very close to the Eastern border of Poland. A very woody, countryside set up.

Lynn:
It sounds amazing. Was it a happy childhood growing up.

Kat:
It definitely wasn’t perfect… I come from a broken family; my parents got divorced very early to the point that I can’t actually remember too much of it. I was seven when they started to separate. At the same time, I can’t really say that I had an unhappy childhood. We used to do all the things that maybe kids these days don’t – climbing trees, running in the woods, getting hands, knees and feet dirty and coming back in the evening. The town where I lived was very safe so everyone knew everyone so there was no problem with the kids being out all day and coming back at 9 or 10 at night.

Lynn:
So what was it that brought you to the UK?

Kat:
I came to the UK following my ex-boyfriend. His family were relocating back to Glasgow and I guess I just followed him. It was supposed to be temporary. I essentially took a year out of Uni before I even started. I was hoping to polish up my English and then go back to Poland and study in English in Poland. That was the plan. Then me and my ex-boyfriend went down separate paths and I moved, started a new job and met loads of friends; I had the time of my life and there was no way I could go back. Then I met someone else and the rest is history! 13 years later and I’m still here!

Lynn:
My goodness! What sort of jobs were you doing?

Kat:
When I first came over, I was a waitress and studying English essentially. Very quickly I got a job as Cabin Crew – I can’t say I was dreaming of getting a job as Cabin Crew member but it was just something that I came across. Then I moved to Aberdeen to start flying.

Lynn:
Was it with Virgin?

Kat:
No, it was actually for Eastern Airways so that was my first airline job. I had the time of my life. Eastern Airways is a small business type airline but there wasn’t many of us there. As crew and pilots, I moved into a big house where I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Aberdeen. I moved in with four pilots and they are virtually still my family even now. We were all quite young and stuck in Aberdeen where none of us really wanted to be but we made the most of it. I didn’t really want to leave from that point as we had so much fun! They’re still my really good friends today.

Lynn:
It sounds amazing! So where did you go from there? What was your next job?

Kat:
For my next job, I moved to Manchester and flew with Monarch. Then I was about to go for an interview with Virgin Atlantic but that was 2008, just as the recession was kicking in. Two days before my interview, Virgin cancelled the recruitment process so I just found a temporary job. I hadn’t planned to go into logistics and transport but just found this temporary job to tide me over, not for a minute realising it would define the next seven or eight years of my career.

Lynn:
What was the job that you really enjoyed at that stage?

Kat:
I started working for Roadways Container Logistics – this was container haulage and I really started from nothing. I was an admin clerk almost but I got pretty good at planning and organising the transport – I guess with my slightly obsessive mind! This type of job with the detail, planning and organising of things came very naturally to me and I started progressing very quickly in Roadways. I stayed there for a year and a half and was promoted and life was good, although it was very busy.

Then, when Virgin Atlantic contacted me twenty months later, inviting me for an interview, I thought “there’s no way I’m going to get the job – I’ve forgotten how to be nice to people!” I just thought that I might as well go for the interview as they probably won’t take me on anyway. Then, I got the job and I had a difficult decision to make: I had a job that I really liked and then I had a choice to stay in the current job and keep getting promoted and go to these amazing places on my holiday or, taking time out from my career move to go and work for Virgin and be paid for travelling the world.

I decided to go and travel the world and get paid for it. So Virgin was tricky for me in that very quickly I didn’t really enjoy the job. I don’t enjoy jobs where I don’t challenge myself and I was struggling in that environment. I was struggling with doing all these amazing things when I was abroad but coming back and just telling my family and friends about it. It almost felt like I had this amazing life but nobody to share it with. It was a tricky love/hate relationship with my career because I loved being abroad and I loved travelling but at the same time, I didn’t have time for horse riding, I couldn’t have a dog with that set up because I was constantly travelling but I can’t regret this time in my life. I met some wonderful people and I have done things I never thought I’d do. We had absolutely crazy times when we were abroad… getting lost in Tokyo… and others… it was a bonkers time and a real rollercoaster of emotions.

Lynn:
So how long did you remain flying with Virgin?

Kat:
About a year and a half. Then I went back into more of a career environment. I was really missing being challenged mentally. For me, Virgin wasn’t delivering that even though the lifestyle was fantastic. Out of all the airlines back then, and certainly when I was with Virgin, they were probably the best airline to work for; they really, really did look after us. I was stepping away from a lot of perks!

Lynn:
That is quite hard but obviously the decision was that you wanted to be challenged mentally more than anything else.

Kat:
Yes – it really was a career that I could stay in long-term that I wanted. I guess I knew that – it was a very conscious choice that I made but I’m still very grateful for the time and the adventures and travels that I had.

Lynn:
Of course; you’ve got to travel and have to do these things while you’re young! From there you went to work for…

Kat:
ACN. ACN is one of the biggest exporters in the UK, recycling paper. We used to supply our own mills in China. Nine Dragons was essentially one of the biggest manufacturers of paper and recyclables in the world. It was a massive operation and I was there as a logistics co-ordinator. I was playing to my strengths, back organising and obsessing over details and controlling various factors that tend to go wrong. With my natural strength, I always enjoyed that type of work and controlling things – almost a bit of OCD really. It was a career that I found very easy even though the dark side of it was perhaps forgetting about my own wellbeing, working myself into the ground doing 14 hour days for long periods of time. Obviously in the corporate setting, your boss isn’t going to complain if you are doing 12-14 hour days. That continued for a couple of years.

Lynn:
Gosh, that sounds like hard work but you obviously enjoyed it too.

Kat:
Yes, at the time, I was still chasing this thing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and I had a certain reputation I had to live up to in the industry. I was very much in the typical rat race that you can imagine, constantly chasing one thing after another, nothing was ever good enough for me. I always had to be promoted and I was always driven by my own ambition. This continued for a good couple of years. It certainly served my career well.

Lynn:
Yes, and good experience of course. Then you went to work for Innovate FM?

Kat:
Yes. This was already when I was starting to look at changing my careers. So, I got a job much closer to home, hoping to start taking time. I guess I wanted this last change thinking I could stay in the corporate industry for a little longer before quitting and starting something on my own. But I very much decided very quickly that being employed was getting more and more and difficult for me as I always had my own ideas of what I wanted to do. I wasn’t necessarily the easiest person for my boss to manage when I had different ideas about what I wanted to be pursuing. I think it just came to a point when I thought I’m just not doing this anymore; it’s time to leave and do my own thing.

Lynn:
So what happened next?

Kat:
So next… at that point, I was already re-qualifying. It was already a couple of years after my crisis and I just quit and started on my own.

Lynn:
Can you tell us about your crisis?

Kat:
Okay…. So, halfway through my chasing the ‘next thing’, and around the time of the pinnacle of my perceived success in the corporate world, I was diagnosed with very late stage cancer four days after my 26th birthday. It was certainly not something that I was expecting. The next couple of weeks were a rollercoaster of emotions. My parents flew over to be with me and they were divorced so we had a few dramas as well as my illness to deal with! They were just really upset and it was difficult as we had so many people in the house. We didn’t know if was cancer – there was point where the doctors couldn’t figure out what it was and were considering doing surgery just to open me up and look at the mass that they couldn’t quite identify. Then, within 3 weeks it became clear what the diagnosis was so I was diagnosed with late stage 3B Hodgkin lymphoma.

I think the most difficult thing for me back then wasn’t actually the diagnosis. I remember I was sat in the doctor’s room and my mum was there with me. She doesn’t speak English very well but she certainly understood ‘cancer’. It was watching her face when we were getting the diagnosis that was the hardest thing. Until today, that’s probably been the toughest period in my life – watching my mum getting the news that her baby is very, very ill. She’s a nurse as well in the medical field so she knew what it meant. It wasn’t just dealing with me, it was watching my whole family fall apart.

Lynn:
They say that it is often not you but watching everyone else and having to watch everyone else’s feeling and emotions as you must have a sense of responsibility in a way because you are causing it. But what can you do about it… absolutely nothing!

Kat:
It was absolutely unreal. There were times when I knew they wanted to be there for me but it would almost be easier for them not to be there simply because I had this thing where I could deal with it myself but dealing with watching my parents’ heartbreak was too much. Certainly, when you are being diagnosed it absolutely not just you; it’s watching your whole family fall apart and get really worried. Obviously throughout the treatment, you have got setbacks pretty much all the time, infections etc so the whole idea of death suddenly has to be discussed with your parents and they don’t want to talk about it.

It was just really bizarre and a very surreal time.

Lynn:
Especially looking back on it now, it must be have felt that you were living in a totally different place – almost in a bubble.

Kat:
Exactly, I love the word you’ve used – bubble. I wasn’t very conscious about my life when I was in my corporate career. Now looking back, I realise that I was chasing quite shallow things in life. It was very much about status and proving myself to some arbitrary figures in my imagination as to what I should be like. It’s really the whole cancer drama that has made me look differently at life. Certainly with family and all that, it helped but I very much started questioning everything in my life. I started realising that the things I was chasing very, very passionately before were things weren’t actually the things I cared about. Life was too short to be doing these things. I really started looking at ways of designing the life I wanted to live rather than the life I thought my parents would be proud of.

Lynn:
So it really forced you to take charge of your own life and to make decisions for yourself?

Kat:
Absolutely! I know that if someone is going through cancer or has been touched by cancer and lost someone to it, I appreciate it might not be a nice thing to hear but for me it was the best thing that could have happened. I’m pretty sure that if it didn’t happen, I would still be in the rat race. For me, I needed something big to make me rethink my life and cancer was certainly that for me.

Lynn:
Wow – that’s incredible. What a story to tell! So once you’ve thankfully come through the treatment and cancer, what was your next step? What did you decide to do?

Kat:
The very first thing I did when I was still ill was that I started investing in property. I’d already had some money in mutual funds. I was already playing a little in the stock markets and I always enjoyed the financial type of things. I’ve got spreadsheets for pretty much every aspect of my life so that shouldn’t be surprising. It wasn’t really that serious and at that point, I started investing in property, still very much expecting that I’d be investing for my family to have something when I would no longer be there. A couple of months into the treatment when I thought it started looking like I might actually survive this, I thought ‘well, what do I actually want out of life?’ It certainly wasn’t a 9-5 job. At that point I’d already started studying and re-qualifying and looking very heavily into self-development and securing the financial future – the financial security and freedom that I guess I felt I didn’t have during my cancer. For me, I guess that crisis wasn’t just a life crisis; I also had some worries about finances as I couldn’t work for a good couple of months. Chemo drains you, especially with some aggressive types of cancer that I had. I had very aggressive chemo so was very, very ill all the time. For me. I suddenly had to consider what is going to happen with my mortgages and loans if I can’t work.

I obviously had this realisation very, very early in my life when I was 26. When I realised that I needed to be in this wheel to make money to live, I started looking at what would need to happen for me to set up my life so I don’t need to work for another single day in my life. Entrepreneurship and running my own business was the only way forward really. This was the only thing I could see as the only way to do it. This was the way I could be my own boss rather than annoying my current bosses with my own idea of what should be happening in business.

Lynn:
How did you feel when you resigned and walked away from that last corporate job then?

Kat:
It was exciting, absolutely scary. Bearing in mind that all my parents wanted me to do was to stay in the job, get married and have kids and a secure job. They all thought that I was bonkers. For me, it was all about opportunity and I had some very, very tough times in the first few years of my business. Certainly for me, it was about excitement and opportunity and I knew it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing – and it wasn’t!

When I quit in the very first year of my business, I also lost a dog that was the only thing I was getting up for when I had cancer. Four days before I started chemo, I got a puppy. He was the best therapist I could hope for. He was virtually the only thing I would get out of bed for in the morning when I was ill.

In the first year of business, I lost him but I also spent £2,500 trying to save his life. Then two months later, my property was left damaged by the tenants who left owing rent arrears. It was a big drama. Then just before Christmas, my house was broken into and a lot of cash that I’d earnt that day was stolen so I had a difficult first year.

Lynn:
But did that make you more determined?

Kat:
It did! It did at the time but it wasn’t the end of the trouble. We went into the start of the second year of the business about that time and I’d already had 4 properties – my residential home and three buy-to-lets. All of that was managed by another company and they didn’t do a very good job – they didn’t take deposits from the tenants, they didn’t vet them properly – so from the beginning I had all three properties that were basically all damaged and all the tenants left with rent arrears. I very quickly started clocking 5 digit debts.

Lynn:
Someone else could have given up at that stage – why didn’t you?

Kat:
There was no way I was going back to a soul destroying 9-5 job. For me, it wasn’t an option and for me, after cancer, that was probably the lowest point of my life. I was carrying five jobs to make ends meet because my business was simply not making enough money to cope with the onslaught of bills that were coming up. It was me and my boyfriend who were renovating the houses and at that point, I didn’t have the money to sue the company that left me in that mess. They walked away the moment the problems started. I didn’t have the money to pay to renovate the properties either so me and my partner stepped up and actually done the work ourselves. At some point I had two houses that were empty and it was very, very difficult. I think that, at that point, 95% of my family and friends were absolutely adamant that I was a loser and I should have gone back to work. Although on the outside I didn’t have stuff put together, it was awful and my closest family just wanted me to go back to a full time job. There was, however, just something in me and I wouldn’t give up – I guess I’m pretty stubborn that way. Almost the fact that some people didn’t believe in me gave me that determination. There was no way that I was going to give them the satisfaction and I was going to prove them wrong.

Lynn:
In a way, that made you find an inner strength to keep you going.

Kat:
Yes, that really started to make me look at everything about money. You would think that with all the issues I had with money that I would suddenly stop emotional spending but that didn’t really stop. The more difficult my life got, the more tempted I was to spend to make myself feel a little better. It was at that point that I really started looking at everything about money; how I manage it how I spent it, how I saved it and how I invested. Even though I was investing already, I re-looked at everything around my properties because at the end of the day, I was only one signature away from bankruptcy. It got so bad that I actually printed the form that you need to declare bankruptcy. I filled it all in and, yes, I remember being sat at my desk in floods of tears thinking “I can’t do this anymore!”.

It got so bad that I was just ready to let the banks take the property away as I couldn’t handle any more. I guess when I started realising what the repercussion of this decision would be that I decided to give it one more go, one more shot and to look at everything properly; to dig really deep into where are my money beliefs coming from and where does my emotional spending come from, how we make and save money… everything. I didn’t leave a stone unturned and it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. There were a lot of things that I had to fix in my finances and the way I was spending.

Lynn:
And this is how you came to form your company InvestedMe?

Kat:
Yes. InvestedMe was really born out of my whole struggles and money isn’t just about what it can buy us. We’ve got a relationship with money that we don’t like talking about sometimes but, at the end of the day, in the modern world, we all need it to give us life we actually want. Certain things, certainly creating time to spend on your hobbies and families need money to allow you to create that time. I became really fascinated with the whole subject of how money actually works in the current world.

Our irrational decisions when we spend – and there are a lot of them. We are not rational creatures when it comes to money. Looking into investing and how it works, I became fascinated with the idea of financial freedom. I know how much anxiety that you can get when you don’t have your finances sorted and how that affects your self-esteem even. I was really, really deeply unhappy when I was skint. I felt a lot of shame about it because I felt I shouldn’t be in that situation – I should have had my life sorted and way more together. I think that there are a lot of us out there – and I know from speaking to my clients – who, from the outside world look like they are a success but underneath it, they have these feelings and are perhaps hiding their finances because it’s not something we are taught about and not something we talk openly about. It really is a taboo subject and it definitely shouldn’t be.

Lynn:
So how do you help people today? What services do you offer?

Kat:
So right now I work with people in three ways. I essentially created a course called “Smart Money Lab” that puts together all the knowledge and wisdom that I’ve learned from reading well over thirty books on personal finance and investing. It almost takes someone who doesn’t know too much about money or investing to the point when they can start managing their own money. It’s almost like a crash course on everything you need to know to be able to manage your own money.

If they then want to learn more then there is a lot more you can do and go into

It’s very much more about a good foundation course to tell you how money functions in the current world. How to get out of debt if you are in debt and then really starting to look at investing and how to manage your own money. That’s the course and then I also do the course and two intensive sessions with me.

I then also have a four months mentoring programme and people can work 1:1 with me to look at how they can secure their own financial freedom and what types of things they want to be investing in and how they can get started. It’s very much the accountability and mentoring where I take them through pretty much the journey I’ve been on and to get them started.

Lynn:
That’s wonderful. How do people access the course?

Kat:
The course can be found on my website  – www.investedme.com –and you can always reach out to me by email.

Lynn:
That sounds amazing. Thank you very much for coming today to tell us about yourself – we’ve really enjoyed speaking with you and we look forward to speaking with you again soon. For now that’s all we’ve got time for on the Female Entrepreneur Show on KWIB radio.

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