how i get it done

You Can Be Shy and Still Be a CEO

Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Shilla Kim-Parker is the co-founder and CEO of Thrilling, an online marketplace that puts items from various small vintage boutiques into one easy-to-navigate shopping platform. Founded in 2018, the business has been a massive success and now hosts over 300 stores from 100 cities across the United States, 95 percent of which are owned by women and people of color. Parker’s mission with Thrilling — inspired by her grandparents, who started the first Black-owned business in their North Carolina town — is to support mom-and-pop shops that are often ignored by larger tech industries and to make sustainable shopping easier. Over the pandemic, Thrilling temporarily cut its commissions from sales to provide as much relief as it could to the businesses it supports and, in some cases, was able to completely replace shops’ in-store income, all while massively improving sales on Thrilling’s site. Kim-Parker lives in South Salem, New York, with her husband and two children. Here’s how she gets it done. 

On her morning routine: 
My mornings typically start around 5:30 a.m. I have two boys, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, who are my alarm clock. I either hear them calling for me or they’re jumping into my bed. I quickly glance at my phone to see if I received any pressing messages overnight via email or Slack. Then it’s at least an hour and a half of kids’ needs: toothbrushing, changing clothes, making breakfast, getting their things for camp ready. It’s usually 7:30 a.m. at the earliest when I can brush my teeth and make myself a cup of coffee. I’m not really a breakfast person, so it’s usually just coffee and a multivitamin. I like to start the day with at least an hour of block time where I can just focus on my agenda and high-level strategy for Thrilling, ways that we can move our mission forward. Around 10 a.m., I’ll have a late breakfast: Greek yogurt with granola, fruit, and honey. Decision fatigue is real, and I like to focus my attention on the harder decisions I have to make. I usually eat the same thing every day, I wear my hair the same, and I have about ten outfits in my closet to choose from. I’m a proud outfit repeater. I will often switch them out, but I like having a limited closet. It’s easier and more sustainable.

On starting her own business: 
I am proudly and unapologetically ambitious. It was difficult to leave a stable job to do entrepreneurship. I didn’t have safety nets, and the stats for finding funding as a Black woman are abysmal. I always had this urge, throughout all the twists and turns of my career, to build something with my own two hands. I was pregnant with my second kid at a really great job at Disney, and I’d been working on the idea for Thrilling on nights and weekends for over a year. Part of it was my love for secondhand shopping and then my empathy for small businesses’ needs and then my alarm for the climate crisis and finding a way to help us all do our part to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle. Then I met my co-founder and CTO [Brad Mallow]; he had just come off a sabbatical after traveling with his wife, and he’s an e-commerce engineer who shares the same vision and values as I do. It felt like, Now or never. On the journey, you really do have to go through hundreds and hundreds of conversations to find those souls who get it and believe in you and see your vision. You’re gonna talk to ignorant people, to people who underestimate and condescend to you. I don’t like suggesting to folks to brush things [like that] off. I think it’s valid to have that experience and to be hardened by it, but I always try my best to pick myself back up and see if there are any parts of those conversations that I can use to help me be smarter and stronger the next time.

On the best and worst parts of the job: 
We have a team internally, on a board level, and of investors who all inspire me in their own ways. We get to be engaged in the work that we do and then we also get to serve the small-business community, and we have these amazing shoppers. It helps steel your nerves and strengthen your resolve about picking yourself back up and getting back into the fight. Most of my job is making decisions all day. It’s a lot of bushwhacking and brush clearing and constantly having to be present. By far, the hardest part of my job is the limited resources. You have a small team with finite bandwidth. You constantly have to make decisions around what it is that folks are working on and in what order [should it be prioritized]? It’s more brutal than it sounds because it’s always Sophie’s Choice. It is all these urgent needs from our constituents and our customers. I didn’t appreciate how much of a job that is. It’s constantly battling those decisions up.

On being fearless: 
I’m naturally shy. In order to engage in speaking opportunities and other types of engagements, it takes me a lot of prep and meditation. As CEO and co-founder, you really have to be chief evangelist, chief ambassador, and cheerleader and just show up. It’s a duty and an obligation that I’m proud to take on, but it is something I have to psych myself up for because it doesn’t come naturally. It’s often romanticized that people can show up and be naturally effusive and charming, but if that’s not you, embrace that and make the space you need to prepare so you have confidence and perform how you want to perform. Sometimes, there’s nothing that helps you get over it except diving in, facing it, and doing it a lot. Taylor Swift has a quotewhere she says, “Fearless isn’t the absence of fear; it’s having the fear but jumping in anyway,” so I think taking that leap, getting as many reps in as possible, is a great way to manage that anxiety.

On her favorite place: 
Right now, it’s the kitchen table. My kids seem to be hungry all the time, so I’m always like, What can I make that is superfast and that they will eat? But I do like to experiment a bit. I will usually Google a quick recipe and try to make something from whatever is in the fridge.

On her end-of-day routine: 
From dinnertime until my kids go to sleep, I like to keep work separate. There’s really no such thing as work-life balance, but I try to remain present in everything I do, whether it’s reading to my kids or talking to a colleague about a tough work decision. I love guilty-pleasure TV, usually a cooking show like Top Chef, and a glass of wine to decompress. I like doing cardio dance routines on YouTube for exercise when I can squeeze it in, usually at night. When I was younger, I used to romanticize not getting sleep and still managing to be super-productive. Turning 40, I finally learned that lesson. In order to perform at my best and to manage my anxiety, I need a solid night’s sleep. I will take melatonin every night around 11 p.m., just to make sure I’m able to get that every night.

You Can Be Shy and Still Be a CEO