Opportunities aren’t always packaged the way you’d expect.
Top 5% in the world at:
Connecting people. I understand people; I get people; I love to listen to people
Like so many of us, after graduating college, Katy Lynch wasn’t immediately sure what she wanted to do. She moved in with her parents for a bit while working as a restaurant event coordinator in the UK, followed by a music internship in New York, and a management training program at Abercrombie in Chicago. It wasn’t until she left Abercrombie that Katy stumbled upon her dream job: a community manager for the Where I’ve Been Facebook travel app. “I love to write. I'm very outgoing; I love meeting people,” she tells us. “It was the dream job because it complimented my skills and really allowed me to shine.” Because she was so inspired and passionate about the job, she ended up asking a ton of questions and taking on more responsibility, including attending speaking engagements throughout the city. She developed a reputation for herself as a social media expert and numerous entrepreneurs started asking for her advice. This eventually evolved into the launch of her own company: SocialKaty. Since then, she’s sold SocialKaty, served as CEO of Techweek and founded another company Codeverse, which teaches kids to code. In the full interview, Katy tells us more about her experience starting her own companies, why she thinks it’s ok to not have a plan, and why you should always ask as many questions as possible.
When you enjoy your work, your natural instincts and curiosity to learn kicks in. The best way to harness that is to ask questions and figure out how you can continue to provide more value for the company you're working at. The more you put yourself out there and the more that you're willing to roll up your sleeves and do hard work, the more opportunities come your way.
Take the plunge.
Figure out what you're excited and passionate about, and then just take the plunge and don't think about it too much. Say yes to opportunities that you pursue or that come your way.
Put in the work.
Regardless of your age, background or gender, being good at business takes hard work. The reason why you’re successful at business is because you put in the time and effort, and you are persistent and persevere to get where you need to go.
Find a mentor
If you’re interested in starting a business find a mentor that you can talk to you. Expand your network by attending industry events or speaking engagements.
How she did it
Taking the Plunge Across the Pond
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and my family moved to England when I was 11, which was quite a culture shock. I was really thrown in the deep end as far as trying to make new friends. We were in England for less than a year and then my dad, who worked for GE, got promoted and we moved to Connecticut. Within the span of 14 months, I had not only moved from Scotland to England, but was then taking the real plunge across the ocean. We lived in Connecticut until I was about 17, and then just as I was entering my senior year of high school, my dad threw another one, and we moved to Milwaukee.
It's funny because looking back at my entrepreneurial journey, I think the fact that I've lived this very transatlantic life definitely forced me to get out of my comfort zone, and allowed me to thrive in many different types of situations.
University of Manchester
Not Much of a Planner
When I graduated high school, I moved back to the UK and went to the University of Manchester. The biggest reason, honestly, was family. The only family I had in America were my mom and dad, and I come from a massive family with loads of aunties, uncles, and cousins.
I also loved the Manchester music scene, and played soccer when I was younger. So really family, soccer, and music, as well as falling in love with the campus — it's a massive campus that's sprinkled throughout the city center.
What were you involved in on campus?
My degree was in American Studies, which is almost the equivalent of an English degree. I didn't know what I wanted to do as a career, but I liked to write. As far as my other experiences, I played soccer and if I wasn't in school, I was traveling all around the country to play.
Did you know what you wanted to do for your career?
Back then I wasn't much of a planner; I wasn't very organized. I'm one of those people who has always embraced the unknown. When opportunities come my way, I seize them. I'll say yes and then figure it out later.
After the London job, and I definitely knew I wanted to go stateside. Then my dad said, “We're moving back to Connecticut.” I wasn't too excited about going back there, but I didn't know exactly know where I wanted to go. So I ended up moving with my family and worked in New York City at a music startup for about two months.
How did you find the music startup job?
I found it on Craigslist. I was literally sitting in my bedroom in Connecticut, looking up internships and found this company. It was in Soho, but they gave me a travel stipend. It was pretty monotonous. At that point, I'd saved up quite a lot of money and I was ready to do something awesome. This was a stepping stone until that.
Manager in Training @ Abercrombie & Fitch
Happenstance in Chicago
One of my friends from Milwaukee said, “You need to come live with us in Chicago.” So I went to Chicago and worked at Abercrombie for a year. The only reason why that Abercrombie job came up was because I was basically walking around town and a woman approached me and said, “Hey, are you looking for a job?” I said, “Actually I just moved here a couple of days ago, so yes I am.” That's when she started going into her spiel about Abercrombie: “You need a job. We have this manager-in-training program.” And she gave me her card.
What was working at Abercrombie like?
I learned what it meant to basically be in charge of a shop and report numbers back to the head office. So, managing a team, opening and closing the store, recruitment, and interacting with the head office. The biggest things that I learned were how to hire great people that are a culture fit for your store, how to sell, and how to train your staff to sell merchandise.
Community Manager → Head of Social Media @ Where I’ve Been
Finding Her “Dream Job”
Did you have an interest in staying in the retail industry?
I didn't really have an interest in staying in retail even though there were a lot of aspects of the role that I enjoyed. When I was at Abercrombie, they were opening their massive flagship store in London and I’d been verbally offered a position to go back to the UK. That was when I decided that I didn't really want to go back to the UK, and I also didn't really know if retail was something that I wanted to do for a long time.
So, I went on Craigslist again and searched around to see what other opportunities existed. The Facebook app developer platform was beginning to get really popular in 2007. One of the apps that I had on my Facebook page was called Where I've Been and it was basically an interactive map where you could pin where you've traveled and then share it with your friends and family. Interestingly, that company was based in Chicago, and when I went to Google and typed in startup jobs that was one of the first things that popped up. I saw they were looking for a community manager, which is basically someone that handles all the social media, blogging, and video for the brand. I applied, interviewed for it, and got it.
Why were you attracted to the role?
Because I love to write. I'm very outgoing; I love meeting people. For me, the dream job was that job. Where I've Been was interacting with strangers on the Internet. It was facilitating partnerships with travel companies and brands, writing blogs, and creating videos. It was the dream job because it complemented my skills and really allowed me to shine.
What was working at Where I've Been like?
Initially I was a social media manager and it was a very defined role. I needed to publish a certain amount of blogs a month, manage all the social media channels, and handle the partnerships with travel brands. But over time, my role evolved. I started doing more sales, PR, and speaking engagements around Chicago. I loved that because I'm very curious. I like to learn and I don't like to be pigeonholed into doing one role. For me, it was amazing because I was able to dabble in different departments and learn what it really means to run and operate a startup.
President & Co-Founder of SocialKaty
Finding Her Niche
What led you to start SocialKaty?
I had worked with Where I've Been for 2.5 years. I built my reputation in the community because I was doing loads of speaking engagements and networking. Entrepreneurs would come up to me and say, “Oh, we know exactly who you are. Would you mind maybe helping us with our social media strategy?” Initially, I would just give out advice. But the more entrepreneurs I helped, the more I realized I should start a company where I help people with their social strategy. So in 2010, Craig, who was the founder of Where I've Been, and who is now my husband, ended up selling Where I've Been to TripAdvisor. There wasn't a role for me at TripAdvisor, so I left and started SocialKaty.
How did you go from the idea of having your own business to launching SocialKaty?
Craig’s a serial entrepreneur, so I went to him with my idea. I am lucky that we were dating at the time and that I had that business mind on my side. For anyone in my position that doesn’t have a Craig in their life, my advice would be find a mentor that you can talk to you about business. I asked him a series of questions and he said, we need to build a website and we need to open up your LLC and business bank accounts. At that point, I had so many connections from Where I've Been that I just started reaching out to people and saying, I'm ready to chat. I'm ready to help you on a more ongoing, consistent basis. We got our first handful of clients by me tapping my network.
How did you grow the business over the next four years?
SocialKaty officially began in August 2010. After around the fifth client had signed on, I realized, there is A, a lot of demand for what I'm doing, but B, I can't handle all of this work myself. That's when I hired a couple of contractors to work for me on an hourly basis. Then in October of 2010, I realized I needed someone to help me with things like bookkeeping, creating training materials for our contractors, and turning the contractors into real employees. That's not a skillset I have, so I knew that I needed to hire someone to fill that gap. I met this amazing guy, Andy, who ran a conference here in town. He was the ying to my yang and filled all the gaps that I didn't. He came on as my co-founder and was in charge of all the operations of the business. So training staff, hiring staff, all the financials, bookkeeping, and operationally how the business was run. I was in charge of PR, sales, speaking engagements, business development, and all of our social media. I had to keep up with all of SocialKaty’s social.
What were some of the lows you had when starting SocialKaty?
The biggest low is how lonely it can be. I would be working 80-hour weeks. Instead of going out on the weekend, I would be focused on how can I drive more business? But that's how it is as an entrepreneur; you have to put all of that hard work, effort, and energy into your company in order to be able to reap the rewards of your business. It was initially a struggle for me to balance my work life with my social life. I overcame this by recognizing that the business was something that I was really passionate about and that this was something I really wanted to do. The people in my life that mattered understood that I was on a different path and that I was building my business, and the people that weren’t understanding, I lost them as friends.
What led you to sell your company?
We ran the business for 4.5 years, grew to about 65 clients and 26 full-time employees. There are two reasons why we sold it. One, the goal was to always sell the business. SocialKaty only specialized in social media management, and we knew that that was something that eventually had to be acquired because social media cannot be a standalone service. Social has to be a part of a bigger marketing strategy. Reason two was it was the right time. We looked at other companies like ours, our competition, and they were all being acquired at that time. Manifest Digital bought SocialKaty and I worked with them for a short time to make sure that the transition went smoothly.
CEO @ Techweek
One of the things I'd recognized at Manifest was how much I loved startups and interacting with the startup community. Techweek was a conference that I'd known for years, and I really loved their mission. So the chairman of the board and I met because they were looking for a CEO to run the team and company. That was something that really resonated with me.
One of the things that I loved about Techweek was a huge part of my role was partnerships, which involved traveling around the country, meeting all sorts of people and finding out what big initiatives they had going on.
Co-Founder @ Codeverse
Teaching Kids to Code
What prompted you to leave Techweek and start another company?
Craig and I always knew that we wanted to start another business together after SocialKaty, but we didn't know exactly what we wanted to do. At Techweek I learned a lot about education tech, and I would meet all sorts of people from the education world as I bounced from Techweek Conference to Techweek Conference. In November of 2015, I was in LA hosting an event at Techweek about getting more girls into STEM. I met these filmmakers that had created a movie about the lack of women and minorities in STEM. I left Techweek LA, on one hand, feeling disheartened because the tech world is such an interesting world to be in, and it’s so sad to me that young girls are losing interest. On that same token, I felt really inspired to figure out how to change that. I was on the flight back from LA Skyping Craig and said, “I think we should talk about how to get more kids into coding.” Craig has a coding background, so he said, “Yes, I absolutely would love that.” We then went to visit my family for Thanksgiving and were literally sitting in my dad's house doing research into all the different coding apps, programs, and games that teach young kids how to code. The more we researched, the more we felt we were onto something. That was the impetus to start Codeverse. Codeverse, in a nutshell, is building the world's first development environment and language for children age six to 13. It means we're building beautiful state of the art interactive studios where kids can come and code.
What drives you now in your career?
What drives me now, with Codeverse, is our whole mission, which is to teach a billion kids to code. That's really the reason why Craig and I are excited to get up every morning is because we believe in this digital age and we recognize the value of kids learning tech skills and creativity.