About Kate


I’m a scrappy, southern marketer loving the west coast and all things related to branding, marketing, startups, mobile, and technology. Art, music, and pop culture fuel me. I love Twitter, finding viral videos first, dresses, and design thinking. See what inspires me here and please reach out and say “hi!”

Anything written in this blog is strictly my opinion and not the opinion of my employer.


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Scrappy Face Thank-You’s & A New Journey 

It's been a long time, blog. And my life has changed. I have launched, grown, and closed a business since my last post. I have also moved from Seattle to the Silicon Valley, made a major career change, and been through a divorce.

Saying bye to Scrappy Face was a hard decision. It was a viable business with an amazingly fun team and great clients, and I had big plans for it. Just as I experienced with my first startup, Secret Ingredients, there were moments of luck, chaotic growth, lessons learned and lots of iteration and pivots. Scrappy Face had a special culture that brought out the creative imaginations of all involved.

In the midst of the fast growth, I found myself in the midst of a divorce. Like any hardship, divorce robs you of yourself for a while, and owning a business demands the exact opposite of you. It requires you to be confident and charismatic. I came out changed on the other side with a new perspective.

My ambition certainly has not changed.

My dreams are just as big. But it became clear that I wanted a break from entrepreneurial stress, and I wanted to fulfill my ambition in a different way. I wanted to be part of an incredibly talented team working on the edge of technology. I struggled to find the role and team in Seattle, and ultimately I looked south to one of the leading hubs of innovation and a valley where the sun shines most of the time.

Offers were made for Scrappy Face and the brand before I left for California. But I kept it all. I’ll hold on to Scrappy Face, just like I’ve held on to my database of 42,000 recipes. Who knows what the future holds! 

I will tell you more about my new journey in my next post. Before I go there, I want to thank everyone who helped build Scrappy Face. Scrappy would never have been such an amazing journey without the people involved, and I feel lucky to have worked with you all. Some of you were full or part time; others were contractors who shared your talents with our team whenever we needed you.

Huge thanks to…

Zak Alexander, Inna Borovik, Heather Bansemer, Kristi Bennitt, Laura Kimball, Britt Bertolucci Cao, Carissa Garrard, Meli Duque, Jessica Harper, Cedar Burnett, Erica Stolman, David Hoang and the Xhatch team, Josh Harrison, Renay San Miguel, Sarah Whitfield, Eric Ross, Kelly Clay, Katherine Bontrager, Ashley Staeyart, Elisa Mader, Randy Woods, Courtney Strand, Caitlin Moriarity, Johnny Dunn, The Name Inspector, Melissa Kowalchuk, Su Ring, Valentina Vitols, Rudy Lopez, and Rachel Rausch Johnson.

I have been lucky to have advisors at my side throughout my ten years of entrepreneurship. Many thanks to Michael who helped me with Scrappy Face at every turn. Derek and Shawn, thank you for many hours of support and guidance as well. The 42nd floor would never have been the same without you!

Leaving Seattle was a hard decision.

She is one of the prettiest cities in the world on a sunny day, and I have so much love for my Seattle friends and colleagues. But I have chosen to always follow my heart, no matter where it takes me or how hard it is to say goodbye… and apparently my heart loves new challenges, adventures, and cultures :)

Thank you to my parents and my best friends, Jen and Sarah, for staying by my side through it all - no matter where I land geographically. You guys are amazing.

To learn more about Scrappy Face, check out our scrappy creative videos on YouTube and our photos on Instagram and Facebook


The Scrappy Face Guide to Starting a Business Featured in Power Culture Magazine

I am honored to have an article featured in the May/June 2012 edition ofPower Culture, a magazine for the ambitious, tech-savvy, female entrepreneur published by the Women CEO Project.

My article is titled, “Start a business…the Scrappy way!” and it is about a topic that I am very passionate about – helping entrepreneurs and small businesses start. Here’s an excerpt:

Starting a business is overwhelming. It usually starts with a passion and the desire to be your own boss. And once you decide to take on your own challenge, your mind will not rest and you will not be happy until you know how to move forward.

But how do you move forward when you have limited resources?

Do you have a day job? You can do it. What if you only have $100 to start? That’s okay. But to do it...you will have to be scrappy!

Stay focused. Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of thinking too big too early. Never forget that the purpose of having a business is to make money and there is no such thing as an overnight success. Make sure this is your primary focus at all times.

You can read the entire article, which includes the Scrappy Guide to Starting a Business, by downloading the May/June issue of Power Culture magazine for free through this link. My story begins on page 70.

What do you think is the number one thing to work on when building a scrappy business?


Claiming Scrappy Face: The Story of Launching My Second Startup 

You know that feeling when you have no idea what is coming next? You have decided to make a major change in your life either by closing a chapter or moving to something new. And the day comes when you say “goodbye” to what was and move toward the future, a place or a way of life that you cannot even begin to imagine.

What’s interesting about times like these is that whenever you move away from something, you are inherently moving toward something else. And vice versa. But when you are in the process of making a major change you do not always realize this. You just know that things will be different from that day forward.

Times like these usually put us so far out of our comfort zone that emotions run high. You feel excited and scared, lonely yet part of something bigger than yourself. You feel like you are the bold protagonist in your life story. Not that you weren’t before – of course- it is just that you no longer feel like you are watching life happen. You have purpose and a huge sense of self.

This is something that I have experienced a lot in life.

I felt it most intensely when I left the South to come to Seattle. I knew it was a permanent move for me, and leaving my family and personal history to live 3,000 miles a way was an unbelievable feeling. I felt completely uprooted. I felt like I was separating myself from the people I loved most and my culture. And I was – for a new start, a change of scenery, and a change of pace.

When I left North Carolina, my advisor, Joy, who became a dear friend, looked at me and said, “I’m not saying goodbye to you. I’ll just say that I’ll see you soon and I love you.” It was a perfectly wonderful thing to say and a huge gift to me. Joy, who worked side by side with me on Secret Ingredients for a couple years, was teaching me another valuable lesson.

Getting hyped up is not worth it sometimes.

You have to move forward and grow in life. Sometimes this involves life-changing decisions, and the ones who love you will stand by you and support you through your adjustment period. Your job is to focus on getting through it as gracefully as possible.

And that is exactly how I have built my new startup after closing another.

Say Hello to Scrappy Face.

You may have heard of Scrappy Face, and if you follow this blog then you have heard me mention it. But I have not made much noise about it publicly until now. Closing Secret Ingredients was a huge shot of humility, and it inspired me to build Scrappy Face deliberately. I am more timid, but mostly I want to build this startup the “smart” way.

There is not a guaranteed path to success when starting a business. So much of it is diving in and getting dirty, creating and executing strategies, and then making thoughtful decisions on the fly while you watch things fall into place. But in growing slowly with iteration and concentration on numbers, customer feedback, and building a strong brand, I feel like I have stayed on track. And the people who have helped build Scrappy Face have supported my desire to keep it quiet and to do things my way. This has created special relationships for me, and it is time to let the cat out of the bag – for these people, for me, and for the people that we can help.

What is Scrappy Face?

Scrappy Face has been in the works for a while. I started building a startup and small business agency two and a half years ago, and it has slowly evolved into Scrappy Face. The name became official January 1, 2011 and since then we have been refining the business model and brand.

When I was building Secret Ingredients, I was blown away with how difficult it was to find talented experts who communicated well, created strong working relationships, and delivered what they promised on time. And as a new startup, this was frustrating because I relied on contractors to fill the gaps. I hired out everything from development, UX/UI design, and graphic design to PR and customer service.

Rarely was a large project completed without a major issue.

Developers got overly excited and wanted to feature creep, wasting time, and later losing interest and simply not delivering according to our agreement. Developers also struggled to understand business and marketing goals. Web designers loved working on exciting concepts but when it came time to make tedious small changes, it was like pulling teeth to get things fixed in time. PR experts wanted large retainer payments but did not communicate expectations, which in turn affected financial projections. And completing a project often involved coordinating work between two or more contractors, making things more difficult.

Startups need communication. They need talented people who are affordable and reliable. They need experts who understand how to get buzz, how to keep it, and how to implement strategies across multiple platforms. They need minds that understand the demands of digital media and how to stand out from the noise in the marketplace.

Most of all, startups and small businesses need to know how to be scrappy. How to build, grow, and create buzz without breaking the bank. How to build the best business possible, while avoiding the pitfalls.

Scrappy Face = Startup Advice/Strategy + Marketing + Everything In Between

It is easier to start a business these days, but building a successful one is difficult. You can get a lot for less, but you need to know where to spend your money and how to get things done. We help startups get off on the right foot and create a brand that will turn heads.

If you have an established small business, you have to keep the buzz going. You need PR, social media, and marketing. You need help keeping content and customers coming, and you need people within your organization doing what they are supposed to.

Scrappy Face helps with all of these things and more. And we give it to you in the way that works best for your business. That’s our specialty. We have the talent –social media experts, PR folks, designers, developers, writers, and more- ready to train your team or to do the work for you.

Scrappy Face may seem like another agency. But it’s not. Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and you’ll see.

“So who’s behind Scrappy Face? Is it you?”

I am!

This is a difficult step for me. I enjoyed building this under the radar and by word of mouth. It protected me from failure and judgment and gave me more control. But startup life is about risk, controlled failure, and highs and lows. It is what I signed up for when I decided to continue my entrepreneurial path. Scrappy Face  is ready for launch, and I can no longer hold it back.

Thank you to everyone who has had a hand in creating Scrappy Face and who has supported me through it. It has been a great ride so far, and we have a lot more to look forward to.

And thank you to Joy who took me under her wing years ago. You have taught me so much, and you have been there unconditionally. I can never thank you enough.


Revisiting Secret Ingredients: The Story of How I Closed My First Startup

Three years ago, I had a tough call to make. One of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. And finally, I did it. My assistant and I wrote the email telling 4,000 people that I had given up, that I was closing my startup, Secret Ingredients.

I asked her to hit the send button and I went home. I turned out the lights and curled up on the couch with the dogs. I was hoping to sleep it off. That it would magically go away, but I knew there would be backlash. When people spend 10+ hours on a website, entering all of their family recipes and uploading photographs, it gets personal. We knew that, and that’s what we loved about this business. My loyal assistant promised to handle it.

The phone rang but I ignored it. She left a voicemail on my home line, knowing I could hear it. “Kate, pick up!” The emails that came back were not the angry emails we expected, instead they were emails begging us not to close. Customers were very sad but kind about the news, and everyone wanted to order before it was too late.

There was no time for a pity party.

Although I felt numb inside. Our inventory was sold off in a fire sale, and our customers rushed to finish their books. I finalized all the accounting records, sold off furniture and equipment, talked to vendors, and quickly moved all my files and product samples into a storage unit.

Secret Ingredients - Version 2.0 (never launched)

In November of 2008, my business had 10,000+ unique visitors, 62% new visits, a database of 42,000 user-entered recipes, and a valuation of a couple million dollars (accurate or not). We were close to releasing a new version of the site that fixed production issues and offered a better user experience. We had printing partners, users in 49 states and 3 international customers, and a successful PR track record. By the end of December, it was over. I lost a huge amount of money and so had my investors. It felt awful. So awful that I decided to not think about it.

So what happened? 

It is a difficult story to summarize, but I learned valuable lessons that are critical to small businesses and startups. Things were not perfect on the production end, and the technology had a way to go. We were close, but there was an unfortunate series of events with several developers that finally did the business in. And the timing could not have been worse – all of this went down two weeks after the financial crisis in October 2008. I could have pulled in $20-30K from investors, but I was not convinced that it would be enough to keep us going until the economy improved. And attracting new developers to a startup at that time without money seemed unlikely.

Version 2.0 - never released

Maybe I made the wrong decision.

To many of you, I had a small number of customers. Successful startups see this number of customers in a day or a week. But this was before social media had taken off for brands and these were not normal customers. These were passionate users who spent many hours on our website, manually entering their family recipes, hundreds of them, and uploading their photographs. Because of this, our users demanded a high level of customer support and a high-quality product. And when we made them happy, they bought more. Why wouldn’t they? After the initial labor it took to make a cookbook, reordering more for a special occasion took two seconds. And our customers who were attracted to our heirloom books did not blink at the $195 price tag. Our Keepsake Cookbook customers bought enough for the whole family, often 20-30 books at a time.

I worked very hard for these customers. I had contractors involved, but I was the only employee. I worked day and night making this business happen. I was in my early twenties when I started building it, alone, in the South – not the most technically inclined area of the country. It took two years to build the product and website. It was an incredible amount of work, and I feature creeped and generally freaked out a bit (cool link - you should click on it).

In 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, we cranked out a series of successful PR campaigns. We realized that local news shows love food, so it was a great fit. I appeared on local news several times in North Carolina, as well as Chicago ABC7, Tucson’s KGUN, and DayTime, a show that airs in the Southeast. Secret Ingredients appeared in Modern Bride, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping’s Quick & Simple, and newspapers on the east coast. I appeared on radio shows throughout the country, and bloggers heard about us and wrote us up – all without being approached.

Secret Ingredients Heirloom CookbooksCustomers wrote in with their family stories to win free cookbooks. Their stories were so personal; it made us feel very connected to our audience. We sent out customer surveys and received many positive and constructive responses. The phone rang most days, and rang off the hook all day before major holidays.

In June 2007, I moved the business to Seattle. I was amazed by the support in the tech startup community, although there was something about being a young, nontechnical woman with a Southern accent that made it difficult for people to take me seriously. And ultimately I think the lack of support was a large contributing factor that prevented success.

One of my advisers put it best:

“You have these things in your favor:

1.   Website with automation

2.   Partners (printers) that want to work with you

3.   A process on how to take orders and make cookbooks

4.   Proven PR and marketing methods

5.   Customers (this is a big one) that want what you have to offer

To be honest, the biggest negative I see is your lack of experience… Don’t give up, keep networking and look for those individuals or companies that fit what you are doing.”

Unfortunately, I did not find support fast enough. And our technology challenges and mistakes were too expensive.

Revisiting Secret Ingredients 

Last weekend, my husband and I cleaned out our storage area. Scrappy Face, my new startup, is launching soon, and that helped me feel ready. Ready to lay eyes on Secret Ingredients for the first time after three years. I went through every file, wireframe, and note. I saw all the work I had put into this business, and it broke my heart all over again.

I felt numb. I felt like someone I loved had died, and that I was cleaning out her personal belongings. My husband put the things I had set aside to keep in a box, and I sat there completely numb.

All I could think was, “How did I let this go?” How did I put so much time into something only to pull the plug?

And after years of questioning myself, I realized that I did a good job. I failed often, but I got an incredible amount accomplished for an inexperienced, young Southern girl. And I got my money’s worth – every penny of it and it was well spent.

This trip down memory lane reminded me all over again that startups are hard. They become who you are and what you love. They take a lot from you and it gets incredibly personal. But the experience is worth it – or it was for me. Without Secret Ingredients, I would be in a completely different place in life. Probably a less interesting one, doing something I am not so passionate about. And for that I am grateful.

And hopefully this post got you more interested in what I am up to with Scrappy Face :) If you have a startup and need help, check it out.

Thank you to my incredible husband who is supporting me through another startup ride. It is not easy, and your support makes me stronger and you make me a smarter, better person. I love you.

And thank you to Scrappy Face for giving me the opportunity to make things easier for small businesses and to apply all that I learned with my first startup and through my consulting work. I feel so fortunate to have another opportunity to build something new.


10-4 Good Buddy: A Lesson in Branding

Several years ago a friend recommended this book:

Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands

The book did not enter my mind again until ten months ago when I started working on my new “startup” which centers around the principles of my current consulting practice.

I have found out in recent years that building a business is like planning a wedding. You cannot afford to do everything you want (either due to time or budget), and it is easy to get bogged down in minutia. It is best to chose a few priorities to stay on track. For my wedding last year, we chose two major priorities – a big band and a beautiful dress. All other decisions were made from there. And now with this startup, I have decided that the best use of funds are people and branding… and I am sticking with it.

Zag is a wonderful guide when you start out on a branding journey.

I followed the exercises in the book, and by the time I got through them, I knew my brand. I knew what “his” personality was like, and I had a strong idea of what “he” should look like and what “his” purpose was for this business.  (Obviously it’s a masculine brand!) And my team has used this information to carry the brand through everything that we are building.

To help you find your passion and purpose, Zag encourages you to write an obituary for your company 25 years into the future. I found this exercise difficult for a couple of reasons. First, I am a strong believer in iteration. I build with as much feedback as possible and change my plan according to this feedback, market conditions, and the status of my team. Because I build this way, I often do not think long term. I follow a purpose and see where things go. Secondly, I am a nontraditional girl. I do not associate my value based on awards or associations – and when you think of an obituary it usually comes down to traditional achievements.

But I did the exercise anyway. It came out weak. I worked on it some more and then decided to hell with it. And today I am finally coming around to understand my feelings on this.

Last night my grandmother, Lois Walling, passed away. She was 88 years old and “a tough old bird” as she called herself. The woman was my biggest cheerleader and probably the toughest woman I know. And this morning when we sat down to write her obituary, we struggled to find the right words that would tell the world how great this woman was in the traditional obituary format.

Let me tell you a little about Lois.

She was as unique as her name. And yes, even the grandchildren – all seven of us- called her Lois. I realize that everyone thinks that his/her grandmother is unique. And you know what – you should think that. But I am telling you that this woman was an incredible character.

Lois was a people person to an extreme. She talked to people anywhere and everywhere and laughed with strangers all the time. She was proud of being Southern and let everyone know. And like most small town grandmothers, she knew everything going on. She followed ambulances, listened to her CB radio, and she knew what you were going to do before you did it.

Lois loved food. She would call our family at night to see what we were eating for dinner. When you saw her, she wanted to know what you ate last, what you would like to eat now, and what you're going to eat tomorrow. She loved pickled foods and butterscotch pie. She hated salad and chicken (though she ate it anyway) and she would judge your cooking and tell you how to make things more to her taste.

Lois watched the Food Network and Fox News. She read mysteries and knew every lyric to any Broadway musical. She shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor on her trips to the Big Apple, but at home she ordered from QVC and the Vermont General Store. She was forever bringing us weird gifts like weather sticks, bra glue, and shoe stretchers. And often she would send her grandchildren thoughtful packages for no reason.

She was proud of herself and her family. She claims to never have had any issues while raising three young boys back to back. She had everyone's favorite candy bars in stock, and she hosted weekly family dinners for all fifteen of us. She told us when our hair needed to be cut or if our clothes were not a flattering fit. And she claimed to have never been sick a day in her life.

What to Learn from Lois

Instead of writing an obituary about your company, write about the impression you want to leave with people. How you want your business to make people feel. What problems you want to solve for people and how far you want to take your purpose. After all, this is the most important part of life – and a very important part of your business.

And one more lesson…

You should know your customer as well as I described Lois. And not in a clinical way. Get to know who they are, what they stand for, and what matters to them. Learn their language and preferences and why they are the way they are.

10-4 Good Buddy

Lois always gave me a big “10-4 good buddy” every time we got off the phone. And now it is time for me to say it one more time for her.  

Go hug your loved ones and remember that who you are and how you make people feel is the most important thing in life!

Thank you, Lois, for being my rock.