From Mackay to Manhattan, Karen’s voice was catapulted across the world to all of our devices as the voice of the Australian GPS. Read how directions in the car led to directions in life and business in this week’s AWNY Startup Story.
Would you be able to provide us with some background information about you and the The GPS Girl brand?
From the age of 7 growing up in Mackay in North Queensland, my one and only passion was music. The most influential and important person to me was Olivia Newton-John, and she inspired me to become a professional singer and move to America. I would sing and play piano, be in the school musical and perform at any opportunity, and ultimately moved to NYC in 2000 specifically to build my singer/songwriter career. Along the way I had a life-long love with personal development. In Brisbane, I studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, then moved to Sydney where I lived for ten years, speaking and singing on literally thousands of commercials, performing two to five nights per week in five star hotels and venues and performing on live television.
How long did you have the idea for this business and why did you decide to start The GPS Girl brand?
When I was 24, I attended a weekend motivational seminar which was life changing. The idea I could have something to do with the way my life would go was intoxicating, and from then on I was reading, listening to and surrounding myself with uplifting material and people. In 2002, after moving to NYC I was asked to audition for a voice-over job. The client was looking for a native, Australian, female, voice-over artist living in the North East of the United States. I read the description and thought “this is a description of me.” I went to the audition and booked the job on the spot. Spending 50 hours in the studio over a three week period, a text-to-speech voice system was created which has now ended up in over a billion GPS devices, smartphones, software programs, cruise ships and elevators around the world. As you might imagine, this was a totally unexpected development in my singer/songwriter career.
People would come up to me very excited to discover “I” was the voice in their car. It was clear to me there was something in this, but it took me a while to put it together. Ultimately I made the connection between directions in the car and directions in life and created the registered trademarked empowerment brand “The GPS Girl.” Now I travel extensively to work with individuals and groups who want to navigate change powerfully, by Recalculating when things do not go as planned. I have discovered this message is transformational, timely and universal. The kinds of conferences I keynote for are all over the map in terms of industry and location. It seems everyone is dealing with major disruption and need tools to manage change.
What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?
What a question! In some ways I am still waiting for this moment. I have a national television appearance airing on November 29th which I have to say is a pretty spectacular experience. When it has aired I look forward to sharing all the dish on it! It was surreal a couple of years ago when I was a clue in The New York Times crossword puzzle. Quite a lot of people tell me I had really made it then. I mean, how completely crazy.
What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business in New York?
Like most of us moving to the other side of the world, I could write a thesis to answer this question. Trying to get a grasp on the way things are done here takes time. One of the big pluses is the enthusiasm of New Yorkers. I find people in life and in business here to be extremely open and helpful; genuinely interested in making connections to help others succeed. On the flip side, not having the base network I had in Australia and having to start again has been major. In Australia I found it was not always well received to be a ‘go for it’ kind of person, so I held myself back, tried not to be ‘too much’. Here, this is embraced, and it has been quite the process for me to remember it is seen as a positive to be crystal clear, ambitious and driven. To sum it up, wherever you are in the world, it is our own limits getting in the way.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
Social media has been heaven sent for me. I love to keep connected and Facebook in particular has been extraordinary for my business. I am able to stay in touch with Aussie clients and American clients wherever I am, and this leads to booking business so much more easily. When I am visiting Australia I let my community online know there is availability to have me speak or sing at events, and the process is infinitely easier than before SM. My media strategy has been key in building value in my brand and continues to be one of my favorite strategies of marketing my business.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
There is a long list of AWNY members who opened doors for me along the way. For someone wanting to come to NYC or new to the city, I would highly recommend plugging in with the Aussie network. It takes an extraordinary level of commitment and emotional work to not only come here but to stay and thrive here. Aussies understand what it can take, and I have found the support to be off the charts.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
Hire a business coach. Immediately. It has only been 5 years since I hired my first business coach and it was an absolute game changer. The one thing I would say to my 19 year old self is to do this pronto. I would also suggest always connecting with others with a view to what you can do to add value to their lives and businesses. Of course we all want to do well and forward our own business, but if you look for how you can be of service to others along the way, it is incredible how quickly people show up to help us in return.
Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business, and why?
Being Australian is a huge part of my persona and business. My speaking voice and accent is key, so it is very important I maintain the Aussie accent and not let any Americanisms creep in, which, after sixteen years here can tend to happen. My brand is an international brand, and I am proud to be a walking ambassador for Australia wherever I go. Sometimes I teach my audience “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” and make them honorary Australians.
What is next for The GPS Girl?
On December 7th I am performing a holiday concert in NYC at Stage 72 at The Triad on 72nd Street. This is one of my favorite times of the year and we could all use an opportunity to be together, share some beautiful music and be in the holiday spirit. Beyond this, I love creative projects and have quite a few on the go. I am working on a memoir-style business book, a one woman show “Mackay to Manhattan”, and a talk show project. For more information visit thegpsgirl.com and connect on FB, Twitter, Instagram with @thegpsgirl
Do you have any special offers for the AWNY community?
We have a fabulous special offer – AWNY members who get their tickets in advance and attend Karen’s Destination: Christmas Holiday Concert on Wednesday, December 7th at 9PM will receive an autographed copy of her Christmas album Destination Christmas on the night. Just mention AWNY after the show for your CD.
Follow The GPS Girl at:
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/thegpsgirl
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