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Rachel Brooks believes experiences are your “most important asset”

“As founders, we work a lot,” said Rachel Brooks, co-founder of Citizen Made, an online commerce platform for makers of all types. So for fun, she goes on adventures. “It all stems from asking questions and saying yes to an opportunity.”

Be curious, be adventurous

During her presentation last week at our Big Kansas City event, Brooks encouraged the audience repeatedly to give in to curiosity and seek out adventure. Saying yes to her curiosity throughout the years has led to a self-taught knowledge of HTML in middle school, international travel in high school, studying fashion design in Spain during college and building a menswear line as a young professional.

The menswear line in particular, Brooks noted, took her to places she’d never expected to go, like Japan or “this old Polish lady’s basement at 5:30 a.m. to pick up samples.” For Citizen Made, she may be learning how to make dance costumes because she could or “using a convent as a crash pad with Brazilian nuns who wear bike shorts.”

Adventures give you unique context

Letting curiosity take you on adventures, she said, means you’ll end up “seeing the world in a lot of different ways that you uniquely are able to see. The more experiences you have, the more you’ll start to see gaps that no one else can see. At least, not like you can.”

“Context is the single most important asset that any of us have in this room,” Brooks said. It’s our experiences, she said, that enables people to understand different parts of the world, why businesses are broken and what’s really hard for people to do.

Brooks called this unique knowledge our intellectual thumbprint. “That thing is broken and I can’t believe no one else in the world is seeing this,” she said. “How can I fix that? I’m gonna fix that.”

At a Barclay Center concert in Brooklyn last year, Jay-Z made a statement that hit home for Brooks. He said that he believes everybody is uniquely amazing and the best in the world at one thing. “When you find out what that one thing is for you,” she said, “and you accept that nagging thing into your life, you become the best in the world at it, and nobody else can solve its problem but you.”

For Brooks, that thing is fixing the retail model. The supply chain, she pointed out, was designed 100 years ago and hasn’t changed since. “For about five years, that something was pulling at me.” Citizen Made is a pivot from her menswear line to answer that need.

Unique context can unlock your obssession

“I don’t really believe in going out and looking for the career you’re really passionate about,” she said. “There’s nothing out there that has the label ‘passion’ on it. Nothing will grab you and say, ‘Hey, I’m your passion, don’t quit.’ Nothing will do that for you.”

Brooks argued that what we should be looking for is obsession. Passion, she said, is what manifests from that obsession. It’s how you feel about the work, rather than the work itself.

“Say yes to a lot of things,” she said. “When you find your one thing, you’ll feel compelled to do it and do it right and do it well.”

Big Kansas City is a two-and-a-half-day event that aims to inspire, educate and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the heart of the Midwest. Produced by Silicon Prairie News, it’s part of the Big Series, the nation’s most ambitious events on innovation and entrepreneurship.


Credits: Video by Quadrant5. Snippet photo by Kenny Johnson Photography.

The Big Kansas City Video Series is presented by NIC, Inc.

NIC Inc. is the nation’s leading provider of official government portals, online services, and secure payment processing solutions. The company’s innovative eGovernment services help reduce costs and increase efficiencies for government agencies, citizens, and businesses across the country.

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