Aunia Kahn is the CEO of Rise Visible. With 24 years in the field, she is a highly sought-after digital marketer, strategist, public speaker, and digital influencer. Rise Visible has been named Top-Ranking Woman-Owned Digital Agency by Clutch, Best SEO Agency in Eugene 2022 by Expertise, and is a certified disabled and woman-owned business. She is also an internationally recognized and awarded visual artist, photographer, and author who has shown in over 300 exhibitions in over 10 countries; at places such as San Diego Art Institute, iMOCA, and the St. Louis Art Museum. She founded Create for Healing and the Oregon Disabled Business Owners Association. Aunia also identifies as a disabled business owner surviving and thriving with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Type 3), Mast Cell Disease, Dysautonomia, POTS, PTSD, etc.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I was born and raised in “the Mitten”, a.k.a. Michigan. I currently live in Oregon and love it here, but also love my home state and all the good memories I have gathered there. Most of my youth was spent nerding-out reading, playing in the woods and the creek in my neighborhood, burning leaves with magnifying glasses while biking freehanded claiming to the clouds I was Princess Leia; as long as I was home before dark. No one cared but me, and I was fine with that. Those were the great moments of my life that covered up the challenging home environment that was part of my world. At home, my life was anything but free, joyful, and triumphant. I made it through the other side, with some scars – but I still hang into those good-feeling moments, even if few and far between. They were more than some people ever have.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship was something always in my blood but I didn’t know it until I got backed into a corner. I even have a picture of myself, around the age of six or seven, where I’m sitting at my grandma’s dining room table with an old dial-up phone taking orders from fake people who wanted to buy wallpaper from the wallpaper books I had stacked next to me. The interesting thing is, that the home I grew up in was not encourage that kind of behavior. My family seemed to be more focused on me getting a good job that was financially supportive. I get it, entrepreneurship is hard, but it was never the focus of how you get to adulthood and survive. When I hit my early 20s, I decided to move from Michigan to St. Louis. I wanted to move away from my family environment and get some clarity on who I wanted to be without the impact of my family, friends, or state of origin. Once I got to Saint Louis, I put out some job applications and was called for an interview. On my way to the interview, it was obvious to me how strange it was living in a new state, not knowing the roads or where I was even going, and then going to meet a bunch of perfect strangers. After I got to the office within about an hour I heard somebody screaming from the break room, and when I went back there – it was the events of 9/11 unfolding on the television. After a short bit of time, I asked my boss if I could go home and I never returned. For a while, I went and volunteered at the Red Cross, and by the time I started running out of money I started my journey back to finding employment. Unfortunately, the job market had completely plummeted as well as my health had become quite challenging. Both of those circumstances backed me in a corner and made me have to consider different options. The interesting thing is, back in 1998, I had a good friend of mine who worked for a web design company who gave me a really nice PC with a bunch of wonderful software like Adobe Photoshop, Dream Weaver, and flash because their company had upgraded to brand new computers and software. I’d use that software to create a bunch of really interesting and fun things but I never considered it for professional gain. At this moment, knowing I had to make decisions, I thought back about all the things I had designed. I had spent years designing websites and creating graphics for different projects and I thought perhaps I could show my portfolio to a local agency and start working towards a job in the web and graphic design industry. Lucky me, I secured an interview at an agency that was referred to me by a friend. However, within a very short time during the interview, it was obvious that my portfolio fell flat and I didn’t have a professional enough portfolio for them to consider me. I was ultimately bummed, but it made a lot of sense. At that moment I decided to consider a solopreneurship and started to work on getting clients that were friends, family, and other referrals for small jobs. Here I am 24 years later still building websites, doing graphic design and digital marketing.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
There are so many lessons that I would love to share with a start-up founder because anybody who starts a business learns so much every step of the way. I have to be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint the one bit of advice that I feel is pivotal. Mostly because everybody’s journey is so specific. One of the biggest lessons I feel is important to learn is remembering that everybody is in it for themselves. By this, I mean keeping a devoted focus on your goals first and conservatively with the time and energy placed towards anything else. Personally for me, as somebody who has always been empathetic, understanding, transparent, and open to vulnerability – these are qualities I would never change, but they have to be utilized in a way that helps elevate you and not makes you someone people will prey upon. Finding the fine line between being an empathetic person that relates to the world and being a person strong in their convictions and boundaries is a really important balance to acquire. There are always going to be people that are cutthroat, and it’s often hard for people who couldn’t imagine doing that to somebody that this could even exist. We have to remember that people will meet us where they are not where we want them to be. We also have to be very in tune with the people we connect with and learn about their values, moral compass, and communication styles, and really start to understand if certain partnerships have a long-term value. It is important to make sure that you also understand your value, morals, communication style, and what type of people and businesses you want to work with. Identifying those key things as well as having solid boundaries are going to create immeasurable success. Unfortunately, people can become majorly successful by treating people horribly bad, and sure there are people who will become wildly successful who are extremely empathetic and may become doormats, but finding an in-between that balances empathy with unremarkable strength, confidence and boundaries will get you farther.