Kari Block: Starting a business, ignoring the haters & inspiring women

Kari Warberg Block followed her father’s footsteps in becoming an entrepreneur; but they didn’t always agree.

For instance, as an entomologist, her father loved bugs. Kari grew up to create a bug and rodent repellent.

“For me it was natural to make repellent, after living with them [bugs] as a kid,” she said. “Now that he’s dead and gone, it’s very similar in a way. I’m redeeming the work that he did, putting chemicals all over everything.”

In fact, Kari’s repellent was the first to steer away from using poisonous chemicals. Her product Fresh Cab was the first and only botanical rodent repellent regulated for indoor use by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2007.

Today, you can find the sweet-smelling repellent on the shelves of over 25,000 retailers, including Ace Hardware, Lowes and John Deere. In 2013, Kari brought in over $40 million in revenue, and her company EarthKind was named in Inc. 500’s fastest growing companies.

Her success has given her numerous opportunities, including a recent trip to Kenya with President Obama, Daymond John, Airbnb founder Brian Chasky, Kiva founder Hannah Kiva and others.

Kari speaks on the Dave Ramsey show, on a podcast called EntreLeadership

Kari speaks on the Dave Ramsey show, on a podcast called EntreLeadership

Do your thing, ignore the haters

Block’s entrepreneurial streak started when she was young. At 11, she decided she didn’t like waking up at 6 AM to deliver her paper route.

“I made deals with a bunch of kids that liked to deliver but they didn’t like the business side. So I got a paper route distribution business going,” she said.

From there it was a balloon and singing gram delivery service, at 18. Then a furniture moving business.

Her pest control venture didn’t come about until she experienced farm life for the first time, while dating a farmer in Western North Dakota. When she went to sit in his tractor one afternoon, she felt a mouse scurry up into her lap. Disgusted, she sprayed the entire tractor with a perfume that used to give her splitting headaches. They watched three mice scurry out.

Turns out, the smell worked to keep the mice away without killing them. Kari went on to marry the farmer and have two kids, and when the perfume ran out, she started dipping pine cones in essential oils. When that worked, she sold them to friends and neighbors in drop-string bags.

Some neighbors were skeptical.

“I had neighbors who told me that I was crazy. They said they had to be honest, and said they would never buy it. I believed it, but then something would hit me and I’d say ‘you can’t stop now Kari.’ A pet’s life or a kid getting poisoned is worth $11,” she said. “I really found value in what I did. Look for the value in what you do. That’s where you’re going to find your cash flow.”

Now, Kari hopes to use her success as an inspiration to other women. As former chair of the Women in Business Council for the State of North Dakota, Block has studied the role of women in business extensively – and found that role models play a huge part.

“One of my things that I’m most interested in working on is the value of female role models. Getting those stories out in media, so that our young girls say ‘I can do that too!’” she said. “Half of leading is seeing. The head game that goes on is hugely important.”

Kari Block

Kari speaking about women-owned businesses

More than “Marrying Well”

That’s another area Kari and her dad used to butt heads on.

“My dad would just say ‘marry well,'” Kari said. “That never made sense with me.”

What many women don’t realize, Kari said, is that female participation is healthy for the economy. Research shows that businesses with women in leadership actually do better than those without, she said.

“Boards with women on them perform 6% better financially, if there’s an equal portion of women and men on a board,” Kari said. “There’s diversity because they look at things so differently. It’s really good for business. It’s good for everyone.”

There is a thoroughness to how women operate that Kari, and other prominent investors like Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary, see as valuable in the workforce.

“O’Leary says he invests in women because women make better leaders. Because they are more thorough and less ‘cowboy-ish,'” Kari said. “Women have a tendency to think how everything touches everything else.”

Her own personal role models include Annita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop and one of the first retailers to sell skincare, and Burt’s Bees founders Roxanne Quimby and Burt Shavitz.

Women’s Startup Weekend 2014

One way Kari seeks to encourage women to pursue their ideas is through North Dakota Women’s Startup Weekend, an event she is joining as a mentor and judge for the third time this year, April 22- 24.

For other women out there who have ideas they want to pursue, Kari has a few pieces of advice. A quote that motivated her comes from Teddy Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you’re at.”

“I had every reason not to do it myself. You tell yourself ‘I don’t have experience, I don’t have money.’ You look at everything you don’t have. I looked at what I did have. I had a farm. I bought a 99 cent pack of pumpkin seed, and sold pumpkins for my first money for a patent,” she said.

“I started with what I had. All you have to do is take the first step.”


Learn more about Women’s Startup Weekend here.

Feature photo courtesy of bizwomenrock.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

, Feature