Winsome Kirton, CEO of


Tell us about yourself. What makes you uniquely you? Can you tell me a bit about your background, your hobbies, your human experience?

I'm a founder and I'm an entrepreneur of two businesses. But beyond that, I'm a mother, a wife, a sister. I'm just, you know, yeah, just kind of hanging out here. So I, as you know, as far as hobbies go, I enjoy painting. I'm an artist. I'm a creative individual and I love interior design.

A lot of that pulls through the work that I do. But yeah, I don't know. I think I'm just a normal human being, surviving and thriving at a few things as well.

Tell me all about Pack Elephant and more recently, your jump into the deep end of eCommerce with What are these brands focused on and how are they uniquely position in the marketplace?

So Pack Elephant is my first business. It's a corporate gift-boxing business that elevates products from diverse zones, focused on social impact, and environmentally sustainable brands. We have a focus on local sourcing, and are really just trying to help, our enterprise customers scale their sourcing from these types of businesses through the vehicle of corporate gifting and gift boxes specifically.

I launched a new brand,, this year in 2023. I actually have been stepping away from Pack Elephant and into this new role with, which has a very similar mission to Pack Elephant, but we're actually going a step further with the ESG mission. leverages AI to help build out an ESG super graph with every merchant that we're working with in our marketplace. The goal is ultimately to be able to tag for ESG alignment every business in the USA. So that's It's a marketplace, it's an e-commerce channel. There are a lot of features that help businesses on both sides, transact with each other. But that's really the differentiating point, is the data and analytics that go into it as well.

You once had a career in Advertising and Marketing for corporate big brands. Your experience with Gifts & Entertainment as a perk of the career path was unique. Tell us a bit about your vision for completely challenging this as it lead to you dedicating your full attention to a mission that disrupts this traditional corporate culture.

No, not by chance. All the stars did have to align. With my experience in advertising, I worked for a few different agencies on the media side. So I was a digital media director for some bigger holding companies. And then I also kind of worked for a smaller company as well that has grown since I've left. But with all of this, I was on the receiving and giving end of corporate gifting pretty frequently. was receiving items from the vendors that we worked with, gifting our clients, receiving gifts from my employer for different appreciation events. I was always an active member of various Employee Resource Groups that would require some sort of sourcing as well. So the idea of gifting, you really think about like the holidays and you think about specific, landmark anniversary gifts. But when you think about sourcing in general, it's happening around us all the time.

A lot of the organizations I work with are trying to be intentional about the way they source these items and they really care. But when it comes down to it. It's really time intensive and difficult to source from vendors that live in our communities. And I wanted to just alleviate that and help make it much more convenient. Because if it were Amazon easy to source all of these things from the local businesses, the small mom and pop shops and the diverse owned businesses that we genuinely care about then we would actually put our money where our values are and that's just what's been driving both businesses.

Mission driven is an individual ethos. It is a way of living, interacting and impacting the world around you. Tell us a bit about your past, and what influenced you to dedicate your extended career and passions to mission driven work with not 1, not 2, but 3 endeavors simultaneously with Pack Elephant Retail, Pack and now

It was something I just always have cared about deeply. It goes back to my roots in college. I was a visual studies major. I am an artist. I'm a creator. There's so many creative people living and breathing around us, trying to make a living and oftentimes they just don't have the access that they need to really scale their businesses.

Like the networks with these corporate purchasers, these buying teams, is hard to break into. I'm directly answering your question, but I think that I've seen this from multiple sides of the table. I've been the person with Pack Elephant specifically trying to break into these enterprise sales channels. It's very hard. I've been the person on the side of sourcing and in my past life in advertising, I was responsible for sourcing at times when I'm like, this is not my day job. I have so many other things on my plate, like why, you know, Starbucks gift card. I love, no shade on Starbucks, but it's one of those things where. when it's kind of piled on top of a list of things that you're already responsible for.

When working on Pack Elephant, I was also doing a ton of sourcing from these small businesses and even though it was the core of the business model, it still was incredibly time consuming. So I don't know. This is... my experience, my personal experience, living through these different challenges, and then being a woman of color, you know, in corporate America and realizing that it's, we're not well represented at the table. It has made me want to dedicate my work towards uplifting people who, like me, are not often at the table.

In early 2022, through a referral, you were introduced to Mike and I. I wonder if you could recap your early experience with us. I am sure you did your due diligence, but why did you ultimately select COAK to be your earliest architecture and build partner for what is now, Like what was the mindset and position as you are about to jump into the role of “Tech Founder” full on?

We were just becoming technology focused and we were in pursuit of someone to partner with that could help bring us from this very, kind of, brick and mortar operations heavy business, into the digital space with an e-commerce tool that would allow our customers to do more, and in a more streamlined way, interface with our merchants. I feel like when I was introduced to Cause of a Kind, one of the things that initially just really was a delight was the fact that I was going to have the opportunity to work, you know, hand in hand with you, to be able to have Mike as the fractional CTO on our team was a huge, huge value add because there are so many tools in the marketplace. There's so many things to evaluate in the landscape.

Being someone that is not technology focused, it's just incredibly daunting. I felt that I would have this partnership with two individuals, not to mention your team, but with two individuals specifically that were really listening to what our needs were and willing to walk side by side with us to make the best decisions for our brand. I think that was just different than anything else that we had seen in the marketplace when we're looking for engineers through this recruiting platform that introduced us. They even said, and the reason that they made the intro was like, “hey, you know when you know your project and it's super well defined and you know exactly the type of talent that you need to execute, like we got you. But if you need someone to help you wade through this decision-making process, like we think that Cause of a Kind, Mike and Justin are probably gonna be better suited to help you at this point in your journey.” So, I mean, that's exactly why we went with Cause of a Kind is why we selected your agency to work with us.

Working with you was so illuminating because we got to see kind of the underbelly of the tech process. And that enabled me to start identifying where we needed to augment, but then also really focus on bringing individuals with certain skill sets and expertise. So That process, it was a little bit of a messy process on our side, I can't lie. You know, it wasn't all like rainbows and sunshine, like finding the right fit. But ultimately we did hire three in-house engineers, were contracted with them and they are full-time, focused on front-end architecture and then back-end integrations. So those are kind of the three different areas that each of them own.

Cause of a Kind was super helpful because we were able to, well, first of all, you built the backbone of what it is that we ultimately launched and have in market today. But being able to have experts on your team help with that knowledge transfer was, critical. If we didn't have that bridge, then we would not have been able to get to where we are right now.

So, I don't know, hopefully like staying focused on answering the question that you asked, but yeah, building out our team, you know, was, it really would not have been possible without going through some of the dev process with your team understanding how everything ultimately was being built and transitioning that knowledge was a big part of the process.

It is no secret that there are significant climate challenges, social injustices, and deep humanitarian issues impacting the entire world. Pack Elephant and take a very visible stance in the market around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Shopping Local, Decreasing carbon footprints, and increasing opportunities for the micro artisan, small main street business, and minority makers and manufacturers. How do you see Pack Elephant and amplifying solutions for solving some of these global challenges?

The reason that we spun off the technology into is just that because we are genuinely trying to tackle this at a global scale. And, you know,, it's a really layered challenge. So on the surface, there are all of these issues. And we really want to be the brand that helps enterprise customers put their money where their values are when they talk about wanting to make a positive impact on people and on our planet. And now, when you unpack that a little bit, many of the organizations that we work with have already made some really public statements about their commitments. They have built out supplier diversity teams within their procurement department. They have, you know, someone that is leading DE&I internally. They have ESG goals that they're trying to meet. They have already put stakes in the ground and they've made, they're making noise about it and that's awesome. That's where we want people to be.

That said, there is still a huge disconnect between these big statements that are being made by organizations and the actual needle moving, especially within our communities when you look at small businesses. Only about 3.5%, it's about three and a half percent of dollars that are going through the supply chain are being spent with diverse owned businesses. Only 4% of those dollars are being spent with small businesses. So,'s mission is to change that. We want to be the disruptors in the space that allow these large enterprises to really effectively source from these businesses that they do want to support. Now, why aren't they supporting them? Like, why is there this gap in the marketplace? A big part of this. challenge is that it's hard to discover and identify and then partner with small businesses that don't have the infrastructure to plug into these mega systems. You know, when you think about small businesses. they're only gonna be categorized as a black-owned business or a woman-owned or other diverse-owned business if they hold these certifications, which by the way can run up to $1,000 annually. These businesses are operating in a way that is sustainable. They're using upcycled materials. They're making commitments, but they might not be. green certified, they might not be B Corp certified. So because they're not certified, they're not being picked up by the large enterprises. The large enterprises are here saying, we wanna work with these businesses, where are they?

They exist, they're doing the right thing and they wanna work with the large enterprises, but there's a bridge. makes it easy for large enterprises to identify, to transact with and measure the impact of their spend with these small businesses who otherwise are just falling through the cracks of our ESG ecosystem. And, you know, certifications are a beautiful thing. Like, I think we need that. We need some sort of accountability, you know, but at the same time, this system that has been created to help uplift these businesses is the same system that unfortunately is creating barriers for them. So our approach with is really to help break down this barrier. And we're tapping innovative technologies to do so. We're actually using AI off the shelf, but we're also building our own heuristic for ESG semantic analysis to help build out an ESG super graph for all of the businesses that we work with. Because we want to be able to create a profile, an ESG profile that is easy for these small businesses to... to access and to market and it's not going to ever replace the certification system per se, but I mean, think of it as an on-ramp.

Think of it as the first step that a small business can take to making sure that the good that they're doing, all of the hard work that they're putting towards being sustainable can actually be recognized by larger organizations that really do genuinely wanna work.

Not only are you a career powerhouse, multi time entrepreneur, employer, and distinguished member of your community, you are also a wife and a mother. How do you find balance? What is it like to be a founder in not only business, but also in family?

Yes, managing it all is challenging. I'm not going to lie. I feel crazy at times for trying to take it all on. But I think the way that I'm able to manage it, I have two babies, two boys under two, to be specific, is to delegate and to surround myself with a support system so that I can trust other people to help. My husband's awesome at making sure that he's incredibly involved. He's equally as busy as I am, he's a doctor. But he also is just amazing at making sure that all of the responsibilities of the household don't fall on my shoulders. He definitely helps a lot. And now we have an au pair as well who helps with the kids too. So she will help get them ready in the morning.

They do go to daycare, she helps in the evening. You know, it's something, we have a 360 kind of support system that we've built around ourselves here in Michigan because our families aren't here to help. But I would say to any entrepreneur, you know, it's, I always, before I had kids, would say like, oh, I'm not gonna have kids because I, you know, really want to be career driven and there's no way to do both. The secret is there is a way to do both. And that is to surround yourself with a support system that you trust. It's the same as growing a business and in hiring people that you trust to delegate to.

If you try and take the weight of the world on your shoulders all the time, you're gonna feel that and it's gonna manifest itself in ways that you really don't want it to. So being proactive about building a support system, it's just, yeah, it's been my lifeline.

Speaking of family, you went a step further than most as far as your families involvement with your business. Your brother, Rey is also a large part of the leadership team for Pack Elephant and now He has an entirely different and specialized set of skills. What is it like to have Rey as a part of the team?

Well, you know, having a kind of almost like a co-founder relationship is like a marriage in a lot of ways, right? So I'm not surprised that you thought that. There's a lot that we need to be on the same page about. We do have disagreements sometimes, but I would say that probably a unique part of my relationship with Rey is we have he's always been like the perfect. balancing weight to my energy in our whole life, like always. I've been always kind of the visionary pie in the sky, dreamer, and he's been the realest that will keep me down to earth. He's also an incredibly talented individual. I trust him personally, obviously with a lot, but professionally, I have no qualms about letting him into like the innermost circle of my businesses. He has an incredible background in finance. He's now in the venture capital world. He brings a prospectus to the table that really helps keep me driven towards growth. I'm going to say that again. He has a background in finance that he can bring to the table and ensure that we're always thinking about growth of the organization, whether that was Pack Elephant and now So yeah, I mean, I know it's a little bit unorthodox to have your brother as an advisor, as a board member on your company, but even if... Yeah, I don't know. I think that he has been like such a rock for both of the organizations. I wouldn't have it any other way.

What does Winsome want to be known for ultimately? What is the most grandiose goal that you have for yourself?

I could see myself on like a Nobel Prize stage for impacting global commerce. And like not in a way that's like profit first in a way that's people first and in a way that inspires young people to go into a creative pathway that they can turn into small enterprise to inspire people that are looking for second leases on life. To go and pursue a dream that maybe they have when they were a young kid and never had the security to do. I see something recognizable for me and when I think grandiosity, I think “why not me”.

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