Kim Freid: Creating a Treasure Chest of Love

Kim Fried, CEO Project TreasureKim Freid is the first to admit she’s a lucky person. Starting out as a Kelly Girl temp, she was in the right place at the right time to get hooked up with a great job opportunity that launched her career. She’s married to a man who stepped back from his career to look after their kids and manage the household while she moved up the professional ladder. And when Freid “retired” from her job at the tender age of 37, her stock appreciation rights were such that she could focus on making her Second Act more meaningful and fulfilling.

But while luck definitely played a role in Freid’s success, it was only one factor. This active mother-of-five is an entrepreneurial businesswoman, balancing multiple projects and volunteer work with her online keepsake chest gift business. “I have never been one to sit still. We own and operate a couple of franchises but Project Treasure is my passion. I long for the day when it can consume the hours I need to work. I am a bit of a workaholic.”

Freid went to college for one year but dropped out when she realized it wasn’t for her, “It didn’t move fast enough and didn’t pay me so I quit and became a temp.” Based in Sacramento, California, she was placed with FEMA, the US disaster response and recovery agency, to manage the processing center’s front desk during the nearby Northridge earthquake. Due to the scope of the quake, a large number of FEMA employees were being brought in from other parts of the US to help out. “I became known as the ‘housing person’. I stumbled upon a new temporary housing firm called CRS Temporary Housing and referred a lot of FEMA staff there. But when the need expanded to cover the actual disaster area, CRS had no one in place to continue to get the business. I boldly suggested I could be that person and within days became the company’s third employee.”

Based in Northern California, CRS Temporary Housing only serviced that area until Freid got them into Southern California. From there, things just took off. The company slowly expanded, and 16 years later, with Freid as President of the company, the once small agency had grown to be the largest furnished housing provider to the insurance industry in the US with over 100 employees and bringing in $100 million in revenue.

“It was quite a run. I absolutely loved it because we were really helping people. It’s always been important to me to be doing something that made a difference. Our typical client was someone who had a fire or flood in their home and the insurance company was trying to find them a place to live while they rebuilt. Later, as I moved up through the company, my passion became focusing on our employees who worked with these people on a daily basis. We were extremely successful because of that, our personal touch and the staff dedication.”

Kim Freid, Family ShotFour men owned the small business when Freid came on board. Seeing what she was capable of, they stepped back from operations and gave her the freedom to run the company. When she was offered the position of Vice President, her husband stepped up to the plate: “Jason worked for the Dial Corporation and they had put him through an MBA. But pretty early on I was offered a big promotion. We had two small kids at the time and both of us wanted a big family. I lived to work, he worked to live so he said ‘Kim, why don’t you go for it! You can’t turn down this opportunity. I will stay home.’ I always thought it was so ironic, there I was with no college education running a company and he was probably the most over-qualified stay-at-home dad coaching Little League.”

But after 16 years, one of the owners decided to get more involved in day-to-day operations. “We were on excellent terms, but he was interested in leading and I am a leader and admittedly not a very good co-leader. I felt, although we had the same destination in mind, we both had different paths. Because we were both leading, the ship was zigzagging across the ocean and it was impacting our progress. Technically it was his company and, even though I had built so much of it, rather than create too much tension in what had been a wonderful relationship, I decided to go.”

Freid’s financial position was a key deciding factor. Due to the company’s explosive growth under her leadership, she had built a comfortable stock appreciation rights package that would enable her to “retire” at the age of 37. Rather than staying on and hoping for the best, possibly risking her retirement cushion should the company go into decline, she decided to cash in and spend time with her kids.

“There wasn’t a day at CRS that I didn’t love my job. It was a fabulous career but it was better to leave wanting more rather than leave wishing I had left earlier. It was time for me to enjoy the life we had built.”

While at CRS, Freid had created a signature gift she would give to friends, family and colleagues, a kind of “love box” for new moms or farewell present forShot 25D_E departing employees, for example. “In the case of a mother-to-be, I would get everyone who knew her to write a letter to her baby telling the baby why they were so lucky to have her as a mom. Or on someone’s birthday I might get friends to write ‘what I love about you’ notes that I would print out in different styles and put in a decorated box.”

Shortly before she left CRS, Freid made a box for her Aunt Linda who had started her battle with cancer. Hitting “reply all” to her uncle’s email about her aunt’s condition, Freid reached at least 100 people asking them to send her “a note of encouragement to Linda” that would be gathered into a box to be presented to her on her first day of chemo. “I got a great response. That was one of my favorite boxes because I learned so much about my aunt. More incredibly my cousin, Jeff, flew to Arizona, box in hand saying ‘this is the most incredible thing, you have to market this.’ At the time, I was newly retired but searching for inspiration for my next move because I am unable to sit still. He convinced me people could really benefit from this and so, after some time, we launched Project Treasure.”

Together the pair recruited a “technology mastermind” and slowly developed a business plan and online process to create the “boxes of love”. “Having three of us was great because we bounced ideas off each other and balanced our strengths and weaknesses. It turned into something I would never have dreamed of when I was making these boxes in my kitchen.”

Launched in 2011, Project Treasure’s initial marketing plan was to use limited advertising but rather to work with disease-fighting non-profits and research organizations who would promote the box and in return get $5 per sale attributed to them. “So while they are marketing for us, it is also a means of fund raising for the organization,” Freid explains. “What I knew was that every time I had made a box for someone, within one year, they had done the same things for someone else. So I knew we could count on some organic growth.”

But many NGOs are understandably particular about what they endorse. And even explaining the objective behind the box to bigger organizations has been difficult. “It’s going to take some time to get the word out and help overcome the belief that we are trying to capitalize on devastating illnesses like cancer. So now we are focusing more on individuals and smaller organizations. We know this is a powerful thing. We are using technology to make the world a better place, helping people reconnect in a more personal, meaningful way.”

Freid is in this for the long haul. She and her partners have all had careers or are still actively working. Project Treasure’s system is easy and flawless but the struggle has been to raise awareness. Seeing that 80% of people who have received a box have turned around and sent one, she is confident the business will come. But even if takes ten years, she doesn’t seem to mind, “This is not my ticket. I get paid with the thank-you notes of people who have received a box of love, the 80-year-old who writes, ‘this is the best gift I have ever received, I cannot hope to receive anything more beautiful than this’… that is a deposit into my heart.”

Watch a 3-minute video to learn more about Project Treasure  on the homepage of the site:

Freid’s Tips for Starting an Online Biz:

  • Surround yourself with tech experts.  It is impossible to stay up on all the latest and greatest innovations in this world unless that is what you were born to do.  Make sure these tech experts are as passionate about your product as you are.
  • Be willing to reinvent often.  Things are constantly changing on the World Wide Web.  If you don’t change with them, you will quickly become irrelevant.
  • Personal touches are imperative.  Your online business must have the heart and soul that a non-tech business offers through its people. This can be done with photos, videos and verbiage but most importantly with your interaction and availability to your customers.

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