14 July 2024 Last updated at 03:25 GMT

From Dragon's Den to Mean Girls

The Mean Girls CEO Krista Whitley Castellarin shares her entrepreneurial journey with Marketing Eye, talking reality TV, PR, dog grooming, drag queens and more.

From dipping her toe in dog grooming to featuring on popular program Dragon’s Den, it appears Castellarin has done it all. Her appearance on the TV show made history after she received a $200,000 investment for 10 per cent of her grooming business, Fabulous Furballs. 

Today, she runs hybrid engagement agency The Mean Girls, helping American businesses grow through advertising, marketing, public relations, social media and a variety of other outlets.

However, her journey wasn’t without its bumps as she juggled motherhood with her entrepreneurial desires and reality TV appearances.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My first venture was born out of consumer frustration.  I wish I could tell you I did all kinds of market research or even created a business plan, but I went into a dog boutique, tried to purchase a cashmere dog sweater for my freezing toy dog, and had a terrible customer service experience. 

I spent my entire honeymoon ranting to my new husband - who I had just relocated from sunny Las Vegas to freezing Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for- that the people of Canada deserved better customer service.  He said: "Why not you?" and my first business, Fabulous Furballs, was born.  I was inspired by the idea that there was a better way and consumers deserved a better customer service experience.  

How long have you been in business?
The Mean Girls is my second venture.  My first, Fabulous Furballs, grew 981% from year one to year three and won Profit Magazine's #9 fastest growing company in Canada. 

During the first 24 months, I was:
  • Pregnant for 18 months
  • Starred on Animal Planet's hit show "Groomer Has It"
  • Produced my own reality TV show
  • Developed my own line of pet products
  • Franchised the entire concept
  • Bought the only licensed grooming vocational school in Western Canada
I was so focused on the growth of that company that I didn't focus on who I was choosing to work for me or to become my franchisees.  By the time I was being featured on Dragon's Den pitching how great our company was, I realized I had come to hate the people I worked with and what I was doing.  The entire fur empire imploded into a ball of hateful fluff. 

After thirty miserable days of sulking and grieving for what I had built (and a couple of terrible news articles about what an awful human being I was), I was determined no entrepreneur should ever feel that alone again.  I created The Mean Girls to help companies grow in a healthy way and called it The Mean Girls because I never wanted to forget how dreadful it felt to be on the receiving end of that hate.  

Why did you choose to go on a reality television show?
Initially, I didn't choose to go on a reality TV show.  I went to a grooming expo in Hershey, Pennsylvania with my husband and some of our grooming students.  The grooming students all wanted to try out for the show, but you had to be an American citizen. 

Since they couldn't try out, I did it for them and was cast almost immediately.  In hindsight, I realize how naive I was, but the entire experience was a great way for me to learn video production from the ground up and led to me being able to co-produce my own reality TV show.  Reality television is advertising you can't pay for and I appreciate it for the good and bad.  

What is the biggest business lesson that you have ever learnt?
The biggest lesson I learned was to bet on yourself and bet big.  Sure, I made mistakes, but I also had some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime victories that fed my spirit and drove me to pick myself up off the floor when I was down.  It can be lonely at the top as a CEO, but I have found a tight network of fellow renegades in my EO network and friends in the Downtown Project.   

What is the biggest obstacle as a woman that you have had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle has been overcoming the assumption that my husband is my partner or the decision maker.  I've had to stop bringing him with me to new client meetings because he does work for me, but he owns 0% of my business.  Sometimes it's hard for traditional business people to believe that the captain of the ship is this enthusiastic, former high school cheerleader.  

You employ predominantly males in the workplace – is this an industry-based influenced outcome or do you subscribe to men being better performers in your particular business?
I have found that employing predominantly males is just a better fit for my strong personality.  The majority of my work force is actually gay drag queens and I adore their honesty and authenticity.  They naturally see the world differently and have attention to detail that you don't get with everyone. Gay drag queens aren't a culture match for every organization, but they sparkle and shine in ours.   

Tell us about your business in 100 words.
I was born walking fast, talking fast, and thinking fast, so helping companies grow fast is where The Mean Girls team thrives. We specialize in a holistic approach, from conversation-starting business cards to award-winning video production. Brands hire us based on our reputation for caring about your business growth just as much as you and your team do.

Follow Krista and The Mean Girls on Twitter here.


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