Start A Business With What You Know

Start A Business With What You Know

Kate Isler
Devin Miller
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs

Start A Business With What You Know

Start a business in an area that you know. You have a network, and you are passionate about it. It does not matter what you see as a business opportunity, people are going to invest in you as the beginning of a business. The only way they are going to invest in you is if you're authentic and you know what you are doing. You can read about it all you want but, It comes from your heart.


The Inventive Journey

Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.

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start a business in an area that you know you have a network and you're passionate about because it doesn't matter what you see as a business opportunity people are going to invest in you as the beginning of a business and the only way they're going to invest in you is if you're authentic and you know what you're doing and you can read about it all you want but it comes really from your heart [Music] 

hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks now if and if you ever need help with yours just go to and we're always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast kate isler if i say or isler eisler i'm going to say eisler and kate is you know i don't know not a normal journey but i don't know what a normal journey eve even is so everybody's journey is a bit different but she is a i think a 2008 college graduate but i think there was a big gap between there was a reasonably large gap between high school and going to college but backing up a bit from there so she grew up um for uh 10 years in a hotel her dad was an innkeeper at the hotel grew up in the south and then from there kicked or kicked up on seattle or went up to seattle and did that for a period of time just 21 went up and did that for a period of time worked for an advertising firm um told her had a friend told her that she should apply to be for a startup at i think microsoft at the time and night in 1989 and then uh went uh went and worked for france it worked in france for a period of time she'll get into that a bit more worked abroad after 20 years there came back into the u.s founded a startup for digital health and then during this time when back to school got a degree graduated and then decided to kind of celebrate women in the workplace and so that is kind of uh letter to where she's at today so with that much is a high and quick level overview welcome on the podcast kate


thank you so much i appreciate it and i have to say i'm a 2018 graduate so i'm a new college graduate all right i i think i meant to say 2018 if i did not so my apologies but um so now so kicking it off or diving a bit back in your history take us back to a little bit of staying in a hotel is your dad's an innkeeper and how that kind of or where your journey started from there so i never really think of myself until very recently as an entrepreneur i was kind of a um i learned about people from growing up in a really public place and so how to watch people how to you know understand how to work with them and i kind of made my own way i never you know if the rule wasn't written down that it was a rule well you know i kind of went around and thought why don't i try that and so you know living in a hotel in that public place taught me a lot about that and so as i started my journey as a young adult i just you know sort of picked what seemed interesting to me and and as you said you know moved around a lot when i was a child but then pixie out on a map and thought this is a great place to live so is it just one of those kind of like when you see in the movie i'll throw a darter oh put my finger down randomly and no that sounds good almost um i had met a friend i went to um a little bit of an alternative high school program and i had met a friend from seattle and i was enamored with her life it seemed so urban and so interesting and so i thought well that sounds like fun i'll do that and so i knew one person and so packed up you know sort of everything i owned and came to seattle with you know very little and found a job pretty quickly um and sort of started my life here 

so when so when you pack up come to seattle and you're saying okay this sounds like a great place so how did you go about finding a job in a city that you didn't really have any connections or know anybody and it was just kind of a new place how to just or make that jump into working life 

so i had studied photography and i had a aa degree that i had finished in colorado and so i went to work at a film lab and you know it was as simple as that just a retail film lab and then i was uh um i got another big my first office job as a receptionist for sure that was you know high high profile receptionist and worked at a film lab on the weekends and just sort of started a network and started meeting people and trying to figure out what i wanted to do and advertising looked like fun as the next move and so i did work for a local ad agency a small one in seattle and the woman who i had taken her job had gone to work for some tech company and about two years into it she called me and said i've never met you but i know the job you're doing and we're looking for people with your skill set at this tech company so do you want to come interview and so it said i did and i was like oh my gosh you know i don't it was you know a different commute and i didn't know anything about technology but i figured what the heck and so i started with microsoft you know in 1989 the end of 1989 and there were about 3 000 people worldwide and it was kind of all hands on deck and it was a ton of fun you know we all were trying to solve problems and really trying to make bill gates's vision of a computer in every office and in every home real and it was roll up your sleeves and jump in and so i think 

so you worked with microsoft now for how long did you stay there 

well i did two tours of duty so i did um about 10 years the first time and about 10 years the second time and i had a break of almost five years in between so i after i had been there a few years i got an email about um a guy who was moving to france for a big promotion and i was like if he can do that i totally can do that so i raised my hand and they said how about the middle east and i'm like wait a minute what what what are you talking about and so i talked my husband into quitting his job we had a baby at the time and we moved to dubai long before it was vegas so in 1993 we landed in dubai um so now and so again now you're so but that was still with microsoft is that correct that you're saying okay now i have this opportunity i want to go see a bit of the world or a change of scenery type of thing so i'll continue to work with microsoft but i'll do it you know for at a foreign location for a while and i think you stayed foreign for was it 20 years is that about right basically yeah in different countries different subsidiaries and it was very much very entrepreneurial compared to the big corporate environment that happens in the us because we were i was in subsidiaries from you know 20 people up to 200 people and so it was a really different operation and we were all very concerned with all the things that entrepreneurs are concerned with which was how do we make money how do we make customers happy because we were on the front lines and so it was a it was really fun so i did 10 years left and went and worked for a startup for a few and then came back um but again overseas in the subsidiaries and so i left there in 2014 for the final time so now question so what you know so a long time you were stationed abroad worked with microsoft for quite a long time in doing that what made you decide okay i've had enough or i want to try something else or i'm coming back to the states and doing that what was kind of that pivotal point or that decision maker point so really the catalyst was more personal than business to come back i had three children by that time and you know they were getting to the point one was going to college and one was you know going to high school and so it was just time it was just time to make a change and when i got back to the us and got into the big corporate mechanism i was miserable and you know i was like this has been great and i realized what great training some of it had been and thought you know how hard can a startup be i say that in jest because yeah little did you know that uh startups are not always as easy as they appear oh my goodness and so i gave it a shot and worked for um ran a digital health startup a friend of a friend had an idea he had money set up but the investor wouldn't give him any money until he had somebody to run the business so i jumped in and i think i made every mistake that a first-time founder makes you know i spent too much money too fast i um assumed that because the market opportunity was great that everyone would love my product you know all the things so so now you see say okay i'm going to do a startup i'm going to try my hand at it it's not as hard as it looks and you know find out it is it is as hard as it looks type of a thing and so where did you go so you did the the startup for a period of time and then you know for with the digital health and then you did did that one wind down when you decided to go to school or kind of how did you transition or say okay i did that for a period of time now i'm going to go back and get a degree well it was kind of in the middle of all of that i was feeling like you know i'm running this startup and i feel like you know i have some unfinished personal business and so i would stop every friday afternoon about five o'clock and do homework and so i took i had to go to class one of the classes and then i had two online classes to do and so i um would stop work and write papers and you know read and do all my homework on the weekends and then engage again sunday night i'd be back to startup ceo and so it was a and i didn't tell anyone because you know i'm sure that investors definitely don't want to hear great you're running my business spending my money and you're going to school and so that was you know i was very cagey about that but you know when i finished that that was sort of the last year and i was running out of money and i had raised a few times but you know it was really clear that we were not getting the momentum we needed to go forward and you know i was sort of frustrated and a very good friend from europe had moved here and said why don't we celebrate international women's day in the us and i thought oh my gosh well that will make us all feel better let's do that and so um you know after you know quite a while i started a non-profit to say you know let's celebrate and so we host an annual event every year the thursday before international women's day so this year it's march 4th and it's a virtual event and it really is to talk about women's contributions and entrepreneurial contributions are a huge piece of that and so you know we do that and i will say sort of fast forwarding ran that non-profit for a while until covet hit and as a result of cobit i started looking around and thinking there is no e-commerce site that is focused on women's business and so i started a new startup in may so no go ahead no 

as you do in a pandemic start a business that's right well you know i always look you know anytime there's a change in the marketplace meaning something shakes things up people have to adjust they have to pivot you know you always kind of have a couple different options one is you kind of hunker down try and wait it out and hope that things go back to normal or two a lot of times when you have a change in the marketplace you say it it re it reveals the chinks in the armor things that people can improve or otherwise doing that when business is well and things are profitable that nobody ever thinks to do when you hit it you know that adjustment then it presents those opportunities so i always think that anytime there's change in the op in the marketplace it's a great time to figure out how to how to start a business or how to you know navigate or pivot to to incorporate that into what you're doing so as you now you know so you get the marketplace and i think it's uh the the is that right 

that's right 

so you get that up and going and you've been doing that for a few months and i assume you're building it growing it and it's focused kind of on a marketplace for women-owned or women-run uh businesses is that right it is and it's really an interesting uh evolution and how quickly it's gone 

some of it is all the lessons that i learned that i did wrong in the first startup i now know that and so i you know i'm very respectful of oh my gosh we're not going to make that decision but with the w marketplace we launched in 2000 or we launched september 29th and we have our goal was to have 300 products on the site women owned um merchants and service providers and non-profits to list women's resources and so right now we have over 2 000 products on the site and over 300 merchants and service providers and the interesting thing about this as you just pointed out the change in the marketplace is there is no question that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women and i see such an opportunity to create a new normal because as women are leaving the workforce there is a lot of effort to say put them back to work help them with virtual job fairs and those sorts of things but to me that isn't you know no one is saying those jobs are coming back and so my approach is let's create a new normal let's create entrepreneurs that are either starting businesses pivoting businesses or scaling them online because that's where our economy is going and i will tell you last night we welcomed 42 new merchants and service providers in a partnership with the small business development center in southern california that are on the marketplace that actually got orders their first day on the marketplace and so i think it's the new normal i mean let's you know let's shift things to where women are that they can you know build their own businesses why not no i definitely think that uh makes great sense now one or a couple questions i i've always kind of wondered just now going to the you know the women marketplace and that type of a thing is you know 

i guess the first question i'll back up is was this one where it was self-funded or did you have investors come on or you know how did you kind of get things up and going in order to get the marketplace launched 

so a little of both so we started self-funding i talked to a friend of mine when i had the idea that was being laid off and she said i'm about to be affected and so i want a piece of this and so we bootstrapped um until december and we were growing so quickly that we thought our mvp would last us six to nine months and so once in it was really clear that we had leveraged some off-the-shelf platforms that we were outgrowing the functionality very quickly and so we opened a round of funding in on december 1st and closed it on december 3rd so and one question i kind of really came up on that is you know when we are listening it i i guess quote-unquote typical investors or you know some investors they would raise the issue of hey you're cutting off kind of half the marketplace place right in the sense that it's now it's a women run it's probably i'm making assumptions so correct me where i'm wrong but a women-centric marketplace in the sense that you know how about half of the world is going to be you know men or the others or the other sex type of thing so how do you did you did you run into that did you have to face it were investors or people you're reaching out to very positive and supportive or was it kind of a mixture or kind of how did you deal with hey we we're niching down or focusing on this part of the marketplace was it an advantage was it disadvantage or was it indifferent 

no there's a couple of things there is um one of the lessons that i learned was to pick my investors wisely and so and i think that's a really key because no one invests cold right you have a relationship and you have to cultivate that relationship over time and so we picked our investors very wisely and when we approach people the fact is is that you know half of the population is male but 60 of the new businesses started are by female 40 of those are women of color and they make on average twice as much revenue faster than men's businesses and so you know there is some fact in it and there's some finance that you have to back up your story and so when we looked at that and said you know here are the facts that um we will appeal to our audience not only from a merchant and service provider but from a consumer women make 85 of consumer purchasing decisions but are rarely marketed to and so you know we put all those business facts together so when we think about women for women that is 50 of the population but from an economic force they could be much stronger and so we use data and i think that that's a really important thing is because you have to have the passion but you also have to have the numbers to back that up no and i think that's that's a great point i think that you know any business you're in whether it's a you know women's marketplace or women-owned in a women-owned businesses or you're in tech or you're in medical devices or whatever that might be is you know there's a difference between just getting money from an investor trying to just get money wherever it comes versus actually doing your homework finding investors that one fit your mission and what you're doing but also two that's kind of fits their investment strategy because not all investors are created equal they're all having different strategies they're all having different focuses or things that their fund goes towards and also that they can add that value back to you guys so it's not just money but it's for the business that they can have those connections or support or contacts they'll help to grow the business so i think that that mirrors a lot of of what you found as well that's so right um the other thing is i think that you forget as a founder because you know we are very money and investment driven on some levels for sure because we need to pay the bills and we need to pay the people and you know that there's some anxiety around that to look for money but also don't forget that you are going into business with these people they're going to be around and so your investors have to be people that not only are advantageous to your business but that you want to be involved in your business for the long haul because if you're going to have a successful business they're going to be there and you know their opinion counts their input counts and i think that that's one of the lessons that i learned right off the bat that there were people in my first startup that i might not have ever done business with you know all things being even i think that's a really interesting piece 

no and i i definitely agree so now so now you've we've kind of brought up to you've got the business launch you know building it you brought on 2 000 plus you know different products or in different uh vendors and whatnot so kind of looking now six to 12 months in the future kind of where do you see things headed next where things you know how how do you see that playing out and what's kind of the plan 

i think that you know we are experimenting with some really exciting things we did as i said we we brought on a bunch of new merchants and service providers last night and we did a live broadcast and so we're almost doing um w market tv allowing women to present their products through our platform in on a video so that you can get to know them and i think that that's a really unique move in the market you know we all think okay well amazon's the big gorilla around but that's one shopping venue i think that there is lots of room for others and i think that we are in a place where 2.1 million women are out of the workforce and looking for either to support one another or to get into business and so i see us continuing to grow very quickly because there's a need for it we've had you know to to grow as quickly as we have in such a short period says there's pent-up demand yeah i mean i see us growing and i'm really excited about it and i do want to point out that we are women owned but we're also gender balanced and so if there is a business that is not necessarily a big business but even a bigger business that as good gender hygiene meaning good policies diversity in their leadership team their employee scores are good we will not turn them away so i think that that's that's a great great trajectory and a lot of opportunity 

i mean i think that too often people a bit get scared off by the amazon and say oh they dominate there's you know there's that's a marketplace to be and there's no other opportunity and yet i think that now you're closing the door on a lot of opportunity that you can grow the business you can explore the things that amazon isn't doing and that they they're not interested or doesn't fit within their business model means it provides a lot of opportunity so i think it's great that that's the trajectory and that's where you guys are headed well as we've kind of now wrapped through your journey it always is a good transition to talk a little bit about the two last questions i always have at the end of each podcast so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it 

oh my gosh i thought of these and i have a few one is the the confession of i lo i announced a version of windows windows 3-0 that was one of the biggest versions six weeks before it was ever supposed to be announced and i did it in a big way in the press so that was kind of bad but more recently um i got wrong i got investors that were not helpful to my business and that big mistake as we've just talked about you know partners in there that didn't agree with my business decisions and it was difficult 

um no i and i like the point and it's probably really first of all the the first one i'm making him announce you know it's always it's funny in the sense that it you know first of all it's kind of funny to look back saying that was a big mistake but also it's easy to do you know i've done we you do a newsletter or you do you know a marketing campaign and it's easy to when you're doing things to get the date wrong or just put it in that one little spot and it's and then you can't take it back and so it's always one to know but i think the bigger one that i like to talk about is you know the investors and kind of almost hitting the point we had is that you know don't just look for investors for money because you when you take on investor dollars you're really taking on additional partner in the relationship of the business they now have ownership they have partial control depending on how much you give up and they are certainly going to have input to your business which can be absolutely beneficial and worthwhile or it can be the worst mistake ever because they are now pushing you in a direction that you don't want to go or it's not good for the business and now you've given up some of that control or sometimes if you sell off the majority of your company over a period of time to enough investors you've given up complete control and now they're going in a direction that it's no longer even fun or what you envisioned or it's not the right decision so i definitely think being judicious about bringing on investors and not just thinking about it as a sole source of revenue but also a way to either help or hinder the business is a great lesson to learn so now as we jump to the second question which is if you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business would be the one piece of advice you'd give them 

start a business in an area that you know you have a network and you're passionate about because it doesn't matter what you see as a business opportunity people are going to invest in you as the beginning of a business and the only way they're going to invest in you is if you're authentic and you know what you're doing and you can read about it all you want but it comes really from your heart and the successful business is right from your heart 

no i and i definitely agree and i think that more and more the marketplace is shifting towards authenticity meaning they don't just want just a product but they actually want to know that you you know there's a cause behind it there's a story behind it there's a reason why i should support this business and it's having certainly an impact in the marketplace and i think in a lot of ways a positive one um that is going to continue to shift in that direction so finding that authentic thing that you love that you're passionate about and that you can make money at is a great way to fit into that you know that evolution so well you know just as a reminder to everybody we do have the bonus question after the normal episode so stay tuned if you want to hear the a little bit about intellectual property as we turn the tables and uh kate gets asked me a question but as we wrap up for the normal episode if people want to reach out to you they want to find out more they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be a vendor they want to be an investor they want to be an employee they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out and find out more so there's a couple of ways 

certainly on the all one word and um another great way is i've just releasing a book actually march 2nd my memoir releases and it's called breaking borders and they can definitely be my best friend because i tell really truthful stories about the good the bad and the ugly of career and family you know traveling all around the world with them and trying to manage a career with three children and a husband and so that is absolutely how they can get a hold of me or i'm on all the social channels at kate isler and kate so any of that they're more than welcome to 

awesome well i definitely encourage everybody to check out the book uh or pick it up and it sounds like it's a great read and i look forward to launching it i'll pick it up as well and then also reach out to you for support the the w marketplace as well as uh um all that you have going on and reach out and find out more so well as we wrap up you know if you're now uh first of all thank you for coming on the podcast gate 

it's been a pleasure 

now if you're a listener and uh you have your own journey to tell we'd love to have you on the podcast and hear or and share your journey just go to uh to apply to be a guest on the podcast two if you're a listener one make sure to click subscribe so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and your podcast player and leave us a review so the new people can find out about the podcast as well last but not least if you ever have any if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else with your business feel free to reach out to us at millerip law by going to so now as we transition over and we get the bonus question we it's a little bit of always flipping the tables of i always get asked questions on the normal episode but now it's uh you get asked a question to me which is um for intellectual property what is your number one or top question 

so i have filed patents before on technology and with api technology and you know pretty cut and dried things but with the w marketplace there is a lot of intellectual property that is going into how we're building a community how we are shaping and i don't know how to protect that property and if it is protectable because i'm very clear that we are not a technology first company we are community company that is supported by technology 

yeah so a couple or a few things come to mind and you know it's always a question of hey we've got a great idea now is it protectable or how is it protectable and sometimes the answer is it's just you have to out compete everybody in the marketplace and you have to stay ahead of the competition which is definitely a way to do it now a couple ways that you could is one is always on the on the branding side right so a lot of times when you're building a community is much of the reason that people come to that community as opposed to somewhere else is because of the brand because they know what you guys stand for what you do so you know whenever you're building a brand where that's where people associate it with trademarks is always a great place and so you know getting the name of the marketplace you know the w marketplace or a logo or a catchphrase something of that nature and if you're thinking some of great brands nike apple uh eminem's coca-cola a lot of their value and the reason that people cuts keep coming back you can buy you can buy a different cola or knockoff cola drink but the reason people always go buy a coke or a pepsi or whatever is because they like that brand and they like the taste so that's always one to think about is on the trademark side is to protect the brand now if you're to get on the patent side you know patents are generally you have to have it tied to a some a technology that makes something better right so in the sense that hey if all if what you've done and nothing wrong is you built a marketplace where a lot of people can come together they can have a specific cause and they can do that but you're not really improving on the technology you're gonna have a difficult time getting a patent on it because there isn't anything that's improved on the technology side other than you just simply melt built a great marketplace that is is a place for them to come now the alternative is is let's say in you know without getting into the details you are having different ways that you could present women's products and so you know our women marketplace such that you're doing what and i'm making it up a bit but data analytics let's say you know this is how we're doing it or we're presenting it in a new and different way such that we're bringing a lot of different products together and the way that you stitch that together the way that you make all the products work so that they can have it you know get the right sales product and people can identify what type of products they want if you're improving the technology in order to make the platform then there's that opportunity to go on the patent side the last one is the way that you can kind of look about protecting it is kind of more on the copyright side which is hey if we really have some images that really we love that portray our business you know give it a you know a special unique look and feel to it then you're going to want to say we don't want somebody else to come along and copy that look and feel to it we don't want them to have a similar looking marketplace because ours is unique then you're going to look want to look at more on the copyright of the images and the you know videos or the portrayal or the you know the way that the scenes are written or those type of things that really make your set your marketplace apart so those are kind of if i were to look at kind of the marketplace the different ways that you can start to incorporate intellectual property to kind of build a that fence or that protection around it does that make sense or any follow-up questions it does it's really helpful because i think that we have pieces of all three of those things and it's a matter of you know where we're going to invest to protect because i know that that is an expensive road 

oh yeah and i think that that's always i can give you a lot of different ways that you want to protect but usually you're going to say what does it say if you know what is it that sets our our product apart and you know and then the kind of the way you always say is if somebody else were to come along and do x whether it's copy our brand copy our technology copy our you know our our information our pictures and our videos which one of them would hurt the worst which one would you say ouch that you know that affects our business and that's where you start so if you're saying hey yes we have some technology over here but we really have a strong brand that we're going to be putting a lot of effort and time and money behind let's make sure to protect the brand first if on the other hand we got some great technology that's really going to set us apart set us up to be you know ahead of the competition for years to come and yes we have a brand but you know the brand is one where if the technology is the one that somebody comes along and copies or rips off type of a thing that's what we're going to hurt that's where you start to focus so that's kind of where a lot of times you want to focus is more on the on wherever the the biggest value of the brand is or the biggest brand or biggest value of the company is going to be yeah and that's helpful 

i appreciate that all right well with that there's a bonus question a little bit of insight a bit of intellectual propagating to my world with that we'll wrap up the podcast episode thank you again kate for coming on it's been fun to have you on here about what you're doing and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last 

thank you so much it was great to talk [Music]


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