I Always Knew I Wanted to Start My Own Company: An Interview with Katherine Hague
This is part of our Entrepreneur Interview series.
A born entrepreneur, Katherine Hague fought hard to get what she wanted from a young age. With a firm belief that everyone has to start somewhere and in the face of the unknown, self-doubt, and rejection - Katherine has proven that everything really does happen for a reason. At 23, her first company, ShopLocket, has already been acquired. Below, she shares with us her journey and some valuable lessons learnt along the way.
Testing Your Product is Key
1. In a nutshell, Shoplocket is about helping people sell their products. A pretty simple idea, but it’s got such a diverse execution. Where did your big idea come from? Can you tell us about the journey from idea → acquisition over the last couple of years?
ShopLocket started off 2.5 years ago as a dead simple way for people to sell one or two products online. The idea evolved out of work I was doing in my spare time as a Shopify theme developer while working as Marketing Manager at a Toronto hardware startup. I had noticed that it was incredibly hard to sell professionally from an existing website - sellers were often forced to create a brand new site just to be able to sell their products.
When ShopLocket launched, we tested a lot of different customer verticals, from crafts to blogging, to hardware. The solution was well received, but hadn’t yet found any repeatable successes within any particular vertical. That was until last January when we added “pre-order” as a feature for Toronto’s InteraXon, who had just come off their wildly successful Indiegogo campaign. They needed to be able to collect credit cards and charge them when the product was ready to ship while exhibiting at CES last year. Their sales in that week were better than any seller we’d had before and we realized that we were on to something. After that, I moved down to San Francisco for a few months and interviewed as many crowdfunding grads and hardware startups as possible. We started rolling out the “pre-orders” feature to more and more customers on a one-off basis and our transaction volume started growing rapidly. We realized we had pinpointed exactly what this market needed. We shifted our focus entirely to crowdfunding alumni looking at taking pre-orders on their site, later narrowing even further to hardware. We launched an interview series with successful hardware founders in May 2013, and publicly launched pre-orders in September.
PCH may be a global manufacturing company, building product for some of the world’s largest brands, but it still maintains a truly entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to the next generation of hardware entrepreneurs. I first heard about PCH at the launch of their Highway1 incubator at the Start Conference in San Francisco in June 2013. I continued following the company and by the end of 2013 I had met a number of PCH employees through events in the hardware community. I even had the chance to meet with PCH co-founder Liam Casey in their Shenzhen office on a trip I made to China in October. The more people I spoke with, the more we all realized how much our vision for the hardware ecosystem, the future of commerce, and our passion for entrepreneurs aligned with PCH. At the end of 2013, the opportunity to join forces presented itself and after a lot of soul searching and careful consideration we decided that the best thing for us, our team and investors was to join forces and create a truly world-class end to end solution that would take entrepreneurs from concept to consumer.
You Have to Start Somewhere
2. What is the hardest part about being an entrepreneur? When did you decide to take this path?
I always knew I wanted to start my own company, at least for as long as I can remember. I started a number of small companies in high school and university, but they never really developed past an initial concept, or past the first few customers. Either I’d realize the idea wasn’t a real hit, or I’d realize it wasn’t what I wanted to be working on. In lieu of a great idea, I found myself starting a digital media consultancy, planning events for other entrepreneurs and eventually got a job in marketing out of university.
I think the hardest part during the first few years of trying to start a company was the frustration of trying so many different angles, but simply not being able to cut it. You’d put in so much effort, you’d learn so much, but then it wouldn’t work and you’d have this little voice in the back of your head telling you maybe you’re just not cut out for it. Making it through those moments, the constant feeling of self-doubt, was incredibly difficult.
When I did end up starting ShopLocket 10 months out of university, it was one of the first startup ideas that rolled naturally out of an area that I had experience and confidence in. I didn’t force it like I had so many times before. The more I worked on ShopLocket, the more momentum it picked up — something that had never happened to me before.
But even though ShopLocket picked up momentum quickly, there were countless times in the entrepreneurial maze that we’d hit a dead end and have to reset our course. Each time you push forward, you show the confidence and the consistency that your customers, team, and investors require — but that little voice in your head doesn’t go away. That constant struggle with the unknowns, “will we make it?” “will we figure it out," “what will life look like in 12 months?” That was the hardest part.
Everything Happens for a Reason
3. Back in ‘12 you interviewed at YC and didn’t get in. Some might call that a failure but I don’t believe you’ve ever looked at it that way. What did you take away from that process?
I still think that getting into YC could have been a great opportunity for ShopLocket, but I know that we would be a completely different company had we gone down that path — for better or for worse. It was only because we didn’t get into YC that we were able to go on the journey we ended up going on and it's why we have the team and company we have today.
Not getting into YC, was simply one of the many challenges our entrepreneurial journey threw at us. They are opportunities to learn and to re-assess your true passion for the company and the mission. I became a much stronger, more adaptable person every time we’d overcome a moment of short-term failure.
It wasn’t just looking back that I can say it wasn’t a failure — it didn’t even seem like one at the time. Coming out of that interview I felt more determined than even to make ShopLocket a success.
4. Relatively speaking, it’s safe to say you’d be considered a ‘young’ entrepreneur by most. How did you learn so much so quickly?
I may ‘only’ be 23 but I’ve spent the last eight years deeply engrained in the startup community. I think the only thing that makes me different is that I was driven to start very young. A lot of people don’t even start thinking about what they should be doing until they are 23. I was lucky enough to know from a very young age what direction I wanted to run in and I spent years trying, failing, and trying again in order to get where I am today. By no means was this an overnight success story. I recommend to other young people that they find ways to get real experience as early as possible. Volunteer, attend events, take contract work, and most importantly build your network — you never know when you might need it.
Become Inspired by Talking to Entrepreneurs
5. Where do you go for inspiration? What keeps you feeling inspired?
One of the biggest sources of inspirations for me is talking to other entrepreneurs. Whether it was in my days of event planning, or as a consultant, or now with ShopLocket, I always find a way to build working with other entrepreneurs into my life. Not only do I find talking to other entrepreneurs inspiring, it pushes me to do better in my own work, but I also find great comfort in hearing about other people’s personal and professional challenges and how they have conquered them.
One of my favorite projects at ShopLocket right now is our Stories series. I’ve interviewed over 40 entrepreneurs this year, detailing their entrepreneurial journey. I always recommend the series, available on our website, to anyone looking for inspiration!
PR Helps Brand Building
6. In understanding what Onboardly does (PR and content marketing for startups), how have you used either strategies (or both) to grow Shoplocket?
We’ve always had luck with PR, it has helped us in building a brand, raising money and in increasing our overall exposure. We had great support from Onboardly’s Heather Anne Carson in our early days and today a lot of our luck with PR has come from our willingness to put ourselves out there. If there is a speaking spot available, a contest to be entered, an introduction on the table — we’ll seize the opportunity.
One thing that a lot of people don’t often understand is that exposure has its benefits but it doesn’t necessarily convert into sign-ups from your target customers. For us content marketing through our ShopLocket Stories interviews and through our Blueprint Launch Academy guide have both been incredibly effective for this.
When it comes to content strategy you can’t be short sighted. Content is often a long-term play. Take our stories and launch academy for example. They have gotten wide distribution, but only months after our first interview did we start noticing the true benefits of the content. They built credibility in the minds of our target consumers, kept them coming back to our site, and when the time came to use a solution like ours, we were top of mind. For us, there really is no better marketing than that.
Hire Employees Who Will be a Good Fit
7. Any tips, tricks, or things you have never shared before (that you will for us) that have helped you launch or grow your company?
One of the best pieces of advice I can give is how we look at hiring at ShopLocket. Ultimately, you can have people who are smart and work hard, but if they aren’t a good culture fit, it isn’t going to work out. The question we ask ourselves before we hire someone is, “Would I sit next to this person on an airplane?” If the answer to that question is no, we don’t hire that person.
At a startup, you spend too much time together to not enjoy each other’s company. Not everyone you want to sit next to has to be funny or have a big personality, but if you couldn’t sit next to them on a four hour flight, how are you going to work with them every day?