Kristen Carbone Brilliantly
Kristen Carbone, founder of Brilliantly. (Credit: Courtesy of Brilliantly)

When Kristen Carbone’s mother passed away of metastatic breast cancer at age 49, she decided to undergo a preventative mastectomy in 2013. In the years following, Carbone felt “a profound shift in my identity and connection with my body,” especially as it related to temperature regulation. In particular, she found herself feeling cold most of the time. After some digging, the Providence, Rhode Island, mother of two discovered  many other women in the breast cancer community who’d had the same surgery that also struggled to stay warm. To help them all, Carbone designed a heating technology that could be worn under clothes – she launched Brilliantly to sell her warming pieces for customers to comfortably wear under their clothes for as long as they  need to do so.

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

How is your business different from others in your industry?

I believe Brilliantly is part of a sea change in women’s health startups. There are a group of female founders addressing underserved issues who are pioneering products and business models that haven’t been seen before. With Brilliantly, I’ve created a genuine, authentic brand that sells a product unlike anything else on the market. While there are, of course, many heated garments – and even some other tech solutions for warming – none of them are invisible under any outfit.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

I am beyond proud that we were able to launch in 2021 despite all of the Covid-related setbacks we faced, like supply chain issues and funding limitations. Getting our product out on the market was such a huge milestone, and we learned that said market is actually much bigger than I’d imagined.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Figuring out how to keep the business going when the pandemic started. In February 2020, we’d just finished a major round of user testing, synthesized the feedback and made a plan for the final phase of research and development so we could begin production. The investors who’d verbally agreed to support Brilliantly in February and early March all backed out in the first week of lockdowns. I was unsure about how I’d continue making progress during such an uncertain time. Eventually, I found an engineering firm that joined us as a strategic partner – together, we conducted the final phase of research and development, and manufactured our first run of product.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

I am a single mom of two adolescent children – and twice, since starting up, we’ve lost our housing. With both my personal life and the business, I’ve been dedicated to keeping things steady even through the most challenging times. Finding calmness, clarity and strength when things are difficult is my superpower.

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

Don’t try to do everything alone! Build a community with other entrepreneurs who are at similar stages, and create accountability for one another. Ask the people in your life who are experts in your skill gaps to be advisors. Talk to the people who you want to be your customers – so you can confirm, at every step, that you’re creating something they’ll love and find useful.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

By reading messages from customers who have been helped by Brilliantly. Knowing my work has real meaning is critical. Also, I have a small group of trusted friends who I call when I need a pep-talk or some tough love – or to strategize on a pivot.

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days? 

That depends on why the day was tough!

Who is your most important role model?

My mother, Lisa. She remains my guiding light. My passion for serving others and personal development comes from her. And, my dedication to this effort is in her honor. It feels like I am running the business for both of us. ◼

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