Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs Episode 16: “Pursue Passion” with Melissa Unsell-Smith

In this episode of “Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs” I spoke with Melissa Unsell-Smith, data protection expert, 3x founder & current owner of Rectify and Catalytic Icon. Melissa shared her journey in founding each business while deepening her connection to both her professional skills/expertise AND purposeful passion.

Katherine Morales: Hey, everyone. Thank you so much for being here. This is episode 16 of Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs. And I’m here with Melissa Unsell-Smith. She is a data protection expert and three-time founder. So her current companies are Rectify and Catalytic Icon. We’re going to hear much more about those in a minute, but I do want to explain as I do with each episode, what is an authentic conversation? What are we here to do?

So, I describe authenticity as the Good & Growing that lives within all of us. And what the bold guests on our show decide to do and choose to do is share that journey. So what is that authentic story from, what has been growing and what are the hurdles you’ve overcome to get to the good? These are the stories we live out every day in our businesses and in the entrepreneurial journey.

So thank you so much for being here, Melissa, and being willing and courageous to share your story. You can say hello, and then I just want to put up our topic today, which is Pursue Passion. So, what does that mean to you? And thank again, thank you for being here.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Thank you for having me, Katherine. I’m so excited to be here. And pursuing passion for me is really leaning into purpose, meaning, alignment for you. And I’m so excited to dive into this topic today, because I’ve definitely had kind of series of ebbs and flows with my own personal passion.

Katherine Morales: Oh, my goodness. Okay. Well, we want to dive into the ebbs and flows. So I mean, three-time founder, I am sure it’s somewhere in there. I mean, has every business been a passion business or where did this come to you? And what moment did you really connect with, “Okay, it is about passion in business.”?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yeah, thank you for asking that. I think when I reflect back on my journey of entrepreneurship, I have owned three businesses. And when I really take a moment to reflect and look back, I can honestly say, my very first foray into entrepreneurship was right out of college.

Katherine Morales: Wow.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: And so, I was very young. And in my younger years and leading up to college, I had so much finesse and so much, I don’t know. I was just flamboyant out there passionate about lots of things, mainly hobbies and things that I had gotten into at a young age. And then I had this door of entrepreneurship open right out of college, and I decided to go for it and take it. But it took me a lot of thinking about it, and I decided to walk through that door.

Current day, looking back on that, I wasn’t truly passionate about the industry that that business was in and the clients we were serving. I was really, really talented and really, really good at what we were offering and doing and the products and services we were offering. But current day, my current day self looking back, I can honestly say, true passion wasn’t necessarily there. But I think what was in replace of that was this true talent and perhaps inspiration and opportunity that I was leaning into at that moment in my life.

Katherine Morales: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So down the path, you start Rectify.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yes.

Katherine Morales: And when did business three come and why?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: So Rectify came out of another opportunity that myself and my co-founders had. And with this I had a lot more passionate alignment. It was in an industry data privacy software that I was really passionate about and had a lot of knowledge and expertise. And just felt like a sense of purpose and meaning for myself. And so, leaning into that. But that was layered with struggles, challenges, as any business is, a very interesting opportunity. But that one, yes, had a little more passion, structure, meaning, purpose layered into it.

Katherine Morales: And the latest venture, tell us about that.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Latest venture, which is Catalytic Icon is really something that stemmed out of me investing time, really reflecting on leaning into meaning, purpose, and passion, even more so, like in a fourth dimension beyond three-dimensional. And-

Katherine Morales: What prompted that?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Over the course of the challenging years that we’ve all experienced, I kind of hit the pause button and reflected on my entire life.

Katherine Morales: Are you talking the big C, COVID? Is that what you’re talking about?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yes. I know. The pandemic.

Katherine Morales: Those challenging years.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Those challenging years of the pandemic.

Katherine Morales: So, right around the great pivot of and pause? Okay.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Exactly. The great pivot and pause. And I definitely took a moment in time to reflect and be very introspective, and really thinking even more about, “What am I put here on this earth to do? Who am I to really serve? What is my legacy-”

Katherine Morales: I got goosebumps as you said that. Yeah.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: “… going to be?” Yeah.

Katherine Morales: Yeah.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: And Katherine, I know you have kiddos. I’m married, I don’t have kids. I need my legacy to look like something other than procreating. And so, I think about that a lot. It’s like, “What am I going to leave on this earth?” And so at this moment in time, I am really leaning into… Catalytic Icon is serving other entrepreneurs, making sure that we can accelerate the pace at which they reach success. And having this comradery and fellowship that is sometimes missing. And just like you, I know we’re aligned on this, having authentic conversations about building a business, and not putting on a facade-

Katherine Morales: Hence, being here.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: … everything’s perfect.

Katherine Morales: I love it. And I love how you said, “Accelerate the pace to reach success.” So, how does that acceleration align, or how does that live with passion? Are the two unequal footing or?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I think that lives with something that’s innately in me. I’m an efficiency and automation expert, so I am all about, how can we reach this milestone the quickest? And how can I help entrepreneurs do that? So, that’s kind of my own personality profile layered with my talents that’s kind of layered into that passion of, “Let’s do this as quick as possible and as authentically as possible.”

Katherine Morales: So I mean, I want to follow that thread because is… I love what you’re building with Catalytic Icon, and I want even more so for everyone to understand, what is the vision? Let me just ask this statement. If more businesses can accelerate the path, or excuse me, pace to success, what will happen then? What do you see being different?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Oh, I love just having the opportunity to allow people to reach that level of success, whatever that means for them, by the way. In revenue, profitability, I see that as creating a very cohesifide, amazing, prolific economic profile and economic society for everyone to participate in. That also means that the more profitable you are, the more money you make, the more you can actually lean into expressing your true self and putting boundaries around your time and around your values.

And so, I see the vision of that just as entrepreneurs having the opportunity to lean into living life to the fullest outside of this kind of hustle culture, burnout culture that we’re seeing so much of. I mean, that is what I want for the world, that’s also what I want for myself. And so because I desire that for myself, I want to help steward not only myself on that path, but others as well.

Katherine Morales:  Yeah. Well, beautiful. Yeah, definitely. I love that you… Thank you for taking us on the journey through the businesses. And it sounds like as you’re pursuing, I mean, who knows, maybe there’s another business, but for right now, as you’re pursuing this path, you’re deepening that connection to your passion. And your skills co-aligned. Right?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yes.

Katherine Morales: They can happen together, which is beautiful. So you know what I mean, in connecting with this truth in you, pursue passion and it can be aligned with what I’m doing in business, how is this igniting within… Take us to, what is Catalytic Icon? How do you do what you’re doing in creating? Right?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I’m happy to share. So with Catalytic Icon, I love just creating a container for people to have authentic, vulnerable conversations, not only about business life, but about personal life and community life. And I think that’s so important. And so whatever that container looks like right now, that is hosting virtual conversations in a virtual format. In the future, I would love to host those in an in real life experience. And just opening up the space for people to really interact with peers.

I’m often surprised at how many entrepreneurs don’t really plug into communities or connect with peers. Sometimes we just work in a silo. I think as entrepreneurs, we are automatically have this self-reliance, knowing that we can accomplish and conquer everything. But it’s so important to step out of that self-reliance and plug into a community of peers, again, so you can expose your blind spots, so you can learn from others’ mistakes and mitigate those for yourself. And that’s the way we accelerate the pace of success so much quicker.

And also having something to aspire to. And I like layering in my communities with entrepreneurs that are aspirational. And they can give back by sharing their journey. And then having entrepreneurs too, that are on the beginning stage of their journey for them to lean into creating that for themselves. And I think that’s a beautiful ecosystem to have and it’s really hard to find.

Katherine Morales: I mean absolutely beautiful, what you’re creating. And I know that we’ve already talked about more opportunities for us, because I am right with you, sister.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yes. I love it.

Katherine Morales: Obviously this show and creating authentic conversations. So, beautiful vision. I love what you’re pursuing and building. So, you’ve had several of these shows and episodes of your own. Is passion a topic that has come up? And if so, how within your shows and your connections?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I think it does come up without the word being proliferated so much. But I think that you can definitely sense when people talk about in our conversations, their businesses, this true connection to it, and this drive to make it happen. And it’s not only with the services and the products that these entrepreneurs are offering, it is the impact and the ripples that makes. And you can just see people light up when they talk about it.

And I think I’m always inspired by that because I have been in situations, many years ago in the past, when I was on this execution mode of executing my first business without that passion totally layered in. And if I look back, I can really notice how I portrayed myself and how I talked about the business. It was kind of stoic with not a lot of emotion there. And you can feel that and sense that from people. And so when I host shows for Catalytic Icon and we dive into these conversations, I think that’s so illuminating just to see the innate drive connection to what people are doing, and beyond that, the ripples they’re creating in the world. And I think that’s really special and that’s one of the best things about entrepreneurship, right?

Katherine Morales: Yes, absolutely. I love even, I can feel it as you’re speaking about it, so I’m sure others can too. And I know some people will hear this just on audio, some will actually see this podcast. But I love when you talked about passion, you did a wave in the air. As if it’s this energy and this softness, and I saw passion. It’s how you see it and it’s beautiful.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I love it.

Katherine Morales: Yeah.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Thank you.

Katherine Morales: Just an interesting observation I made there.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I’m talking with my hands, everybody.

Katherine Morales: Yeah, it’s beautiful. And. I just want to say too, in reflecting on the journey, and certainly I think that was part of you’re growing to the good. The growing was through the stoic or through the… just connecting with your skills. I feel that a lot of times when you’re younger, as you described, it wasn’t that you had no passion, it’s just that that passion often lives outside of work. But what I think is beautiful in the journey you’ve taken, and I feel it’s true for so many people, if you’re willing to pursue it, is that the more years you live, the more business you’re in, you really realize that they can align. That they can coexist, right?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yeah.

Katherine Morales: Yeah, I love it.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I think more so than ever, we’re in a human landscape where people are realizing there can be complete alignment of passion, purpose, meaning with what you do for entrepreneurship. And I just said that word, and I feel like it’s important for me to share, my word of 2023 is alignment. It’s like, what are those pieces that align-

Katherine Morales: Yes, yes.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: … to what is meaningful to me? And so of course, I lived that opportunity where, yes, you’re exactly right. My passion lied outside of my work, but that work was still amazing. Great experiences, great challenges, great successes.

And also it’s really interesting, because I had an opportunity to speak on a panel a few weeks ago. And when I was preparing for that, I really wanted to just take the lens backwards on owning my different businesses. And there was also a moment in time… Because these businesses that I’ve owned are technology, they’re software, so women in tech. There was a good chunk of my years that I leveraged so much of my energy to be something that I really wasn’t. And I don’t say I wasn’t always showing up as myself, but I mimicked my behavior to others. For example, male counterparts or other tech entrepreneurs that were so much further along than I was.

And I found myself kind of shifting to this masculine energy kind of being something that I truly wasn’t. And trying to be something that I thought I needed to be for others, and the way I needed to work for others running these type of businesses. And it does take that moment of just thinking about that and reflecting about that. And I don’t regret doing that. I think we’ve all done that, in some capacity or other. But now I’m just in that moment where I’m leaning into a more feminine approach to business. And it’s really beautiful and delightful to kind of go down this path now.

Katherine Morales: That’s absolutely beautiful. Yeah, I think there is… Thank you for also talking about the masculine and feminine energy. And yeah, I feel that wave too. And I want to thank Donna for sharing. Donna Cravotta was a guest a couple months ago, and so Donna said that she agrees that we’re in a time where people want to do more meaningful work and have meaningful relationships. So, I feel that. Yeah, thank you for sharing, Donna. And I’m sure you agree, that’s everything that’s… You can’t align with passion without having that feel personal and having that be purposeful. So, I love that all of it has been aligning for you.

And excuse me, I want to say, so for the viewers, for the people that are attuned, if they are feeling this kind of disconnection, if you will, this with self and business or self and purpose and passion… I feel like it’s kind of like this undercurrent, if you will, for change and growth, but wanting it to be meaningful. What would you say to them? What advice?

Katherine Morales: Maybe they haven’t reached their powerful pause yet that you got in COVID, but maybe this is their time.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Right. I love the opportunity for a powerful pause, and that would be really my advice to the audience, because I have personally experienced how beneficial that can be. I know that I really hit the pause button because I wanted to open my own aperture of awareness. And since 2018, I have been going on what I call, my personal CEO retreats.

And at first I was doing this two nights, three days, once a year, and I would just go to a cabin in the hills and have complete solitude, no digital devices, no human interaction, complete solitude and serenity. Maybe listen to music, but not really. And you would be amazed at, one, how apprehensive you feel doing that, by the way. Driving up and going, “I have to spend how many days by myself, with myself?” It’s really scary.

But taking the time to do that is so inspirational and meaningful. And now current day, I do my CEO retreats twice a year, five nights, six days. And you would be amazed at the clarity, the awareness, and just the increased consciousness you can get for not only your business, but your personal life and your community life. And that for me, has been a blessing to be able to do that. But I think if anyone can take a moment for powerful pause, whether it’s spending a whole day locked in a room in your house with no disruptions, that could be very meaningful, just to think about what you want, what you’re passionate about, and what’s meaningful to you.

Katherine Morales: Oh, my gosh. Well, I know everyone’s probably like, “Oh my gosh, give me some of that.” So yeah, I know you have something that will guide people through that. So I’m going to share that on the screen here, and you can speak to it. But what can they expect in this CEO retreat ebook that you put together? Is it like, where do you go or how do you do it? Just share a little more.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yeah. So I’ve had so many people ask me about my retreat, so I’ve created an ebook. And please check it out and download it. Basically-

Katherine Morales: I will be.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: … it gives you all of the things that I’ve done on my previous retreats. So it kind of gives you some prompts to think about, to journal.

Katherine Morales: Love it.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: I tell you what to bring. I even share my own… I log everything I do on my retreat, so it gives you my personal log. So, it’s kind of a guidepost. Everyone’s retreat’s going to be-

Katherine Morales: Beautiful.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: … different, but at least you can kind of see what I’ve done and create something meaningful around what you want to do for yourself.

Katherine Morales: I absolutely love this. I think it’s brilliant, and I’m so excited to download it myself. And I obviously want to share, I know everyone’s obviously enjoying you because I know I am. And you have this light that just shines, and I appreciate you sharing it here on the show. And so, they can find you at Correct?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yes, they can.

Katherine Morales: And you’re active. I know we connected through LinkedIn, so I know you’re super active there, as well as Instagram @catalytic-icon. So, any last pieces of advice that you want to offer or last words? Otherwise, I think we’ll wrap up and I guess I’ll share next month’s episode. But I mean, have you had a lot of settings where you’ve talked about passion? How has this felt for you, to unfold this topic and to speak about your journey in this way?

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Yeah, I think it’s beautiful. And I thank you for bringing up this topic, because sometimes we dismiss it. And so I do want to say, I think passion changes as we grow, flourish, and prosper in our lives. And that’s okay for it to change as we grow and flourish. And you just have to honor where you’re at and honor where you want to go. That’s what it’s all about.

Katherine Morales: Amen. Yeah, I love that. Thank you for speaking to that. And my word for the year is, evolve, so it’s all about the progression and honoring where you’re at. So, beautiful, beautiful.

Well, thank you so much for sharing your journey, this message. It’s so powerful. It is our powerful pause for those who tuned in and for us. And I think it does take courage to share the journey, the bumps, the bruises, and the growth. So, thank you for doing that vulnerably and authentically.

And yes, our next episode, I hope you all will tune in. It’ll be next month on May 18th at 1:30 ET with Sebastian Cruze. And he’s a very exciting person as well. And we’re going to be talking about “Dive in the Depth” so that should be a wonderful conversation as well.

And I just, yeah, thank you so much. I hope you all will connect with Melissa. I certainly have loved connecting with her. And yeah, she’s a wonderful person to dive into as well.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Thank you, Katherine.

Katherine Morales: Thank you for being here.

Melissa Unsell-Smith: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Katherine Morales: Okay. Bye, y’all.