Posted: October 01, 2011
GENxyz Top Five: Krista Paul
CU Leed's school graduate created a business around frequent flier milesBy Lisa Ryckman
If there's such a thing as a born entrepreneur, then Krista Paul is it.
"I remember when we were quite young, we used to go to the convenience store on the corner after our dance classes," says Chelsea Palmer, who has known Paul since age 4 and nominated her as one of Colorado's most influential young professionals.
"She had the bright idea to use all of her allowance to buy as many large Jolly Ranchers as she could. Then she would take them with her on the bus the next morning and sell them to all of the kids at a 300 percent markup."
"It was an awesome market," Paul says, laughing.
Now 32, the high-flying founder of UsingMiles.com has come a long way since then, all the while staying true to her inner entrepreneur. After graduating with highest honors from the CU Leed's School of Business, Paul worked at various companies in the Bay Area, including Coca-Cola, then followed her head and heart to start a business based on her own frustrating experience with frequent flier miles.
"I personally lost a ton of miles because I'm not organized enough to keep track of them," Paul says. "I thought, ‘Shoot, if I'm having this problem, then I bet a lot of other people are having the same problem."
UsingMiles.com was born, and Paul was accepted into the Techstars program in Boulder, a three-month incubator that chooses 10 companies per year out of more than 600 applicants for mentorship. That kind of support makes all the difference, Paul says.
"You are never going to know the answers to many of the problems you're going to encounter," she says. "Mentors can save lots of heartache and lots of time."
Paul's young company raised $2.7 million earlier this year, giving her the opportunity to shift from fundraising - and surviving - to "building a rock star team and a world-class product," Palmer says.
She's definitely on the right track: Entrepreneur magazine named UsingMiles.com one of its 2011"100 Brilliant Companies."
Paul has already started giving back to the business community, doing everything from mentoring other entrepreneurs in the Founders Institute and Techstars to delivering motivational speeches to would-be entrepreneurs.
"The first thing I tell them is, you need to get started and just start building it now," Paul says. "Don't get caught up in all the details - ‘I've got to raise money, I've got to quit my job.' That's the reason a lot of people don't ever get started. You don't have to quit your day job or raise money, not today. Once you get it started, the answers will come."
Paul gives back in other ways as well, particularly to organizations that help children. She has trained to be a court-appointed special advocate for child dependents of the court in California, and she has worked at the Ronald McDonald House and helped organize and build a playground in a low-income Denver neighborhood.
Doing all this comes easy to Paul, described by Palmer as passionate, determined and blessed with endless energy.
"We are sort of paving roads never paved before," Paul says. "It's a blessing and a curse to be a first mover - nobody's done it before, so you don't have the technical support you need. But if you have a really, really interesting concept, and you do it correctly, you'll be successful.
"And you'll be the first to do it."
Lisa Ryckman is the online editor at cobizmag.com.