Kate Isler on Directing Online Shoppers Towards Women Owned Business Through WMarketplace
Hi Kate! Please share a brief introduction about yourself and your business:
I Co-founded a non-profit organization, Be Bold for Change, several years ago to celebrate and support women and girls several years ago. I was hosting the 2020 International Women’s Celebration in Seattle, just a few days before the world shut down for Covid-19. As the first weeks and months past, more stories came out about the disproportional effects the pandemic and shut down was having on women. They were leaving their jobs to take on children or simply being laid off. I could not simply watch this happen and do nothing. There had to be a way to support these women and put money into women’s bank accounts. Online shopping was the only way to shop, so if we could direct that spending towards women owned businesses it would make a tangle impact. I was talking with a friends about the idea, and one she said she was among those women being affected and being laid off and wanted to join me. We opened WMarketplace.com for consumer shopping just over 3 months later with over 300 products. Today, we are gaining momentum with over 500 women owned businesses, offering over 7,000 products and services. We have built a value driven online sales channel, informational source and ecosystem that focuses on building a businesses. WMarketplace offers shoppers an alternative to the large retailers and the opportunity to shop their values and communities. On WMarketplace, you can shop Black Owned AAPI Owned, Veteran Owned, LGTBQ+ Own and the list goes on. We offer a wide range of categories along with high touch personal customer service to shoppers and sellers.
So Kate, what excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
I am excited to join the Entreprenista League to engage with other women entrepreneurs to learn from them and to support them as they grow their businesses. These are like minded women that want to support one another and see one another succeed. We believe that women supporting women will change the world, and the Entreprenista League is a great avenue to make that tangible.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I am a passionate gender advocate and very action oriented. The pandemic was having such a tremendous impact on women that I just couldn’t stand by. I had talent, skills and resources that could be leveraged, so I did it! I believe that people are looking for value and being more conscious when spending money. Money is power, and when you invest money in products and services offered by businesses that align with your values it is a win for you as a buyer and for the business. Economic gender parity is estimated to be over 300 years away. Individuals can reduce that time substantially by spending money on products and services offered by women owned businesses. My/ Our mission is to provide a broad category shopping site that offers consumers a way to shop their values and support women, and women of color businesses in a meaningful way.
Prior to starting your own business, did you have a background in tech?
Yes! Before starting the Marketplace I worked for many years for Microsoft. I spent most of my career outside the US, opening offices and leading marketing in a number of countries and regions of the world. My first overseas assignment was in the Middle East. I took my husband and toddler to Dubai in the early 90’s. I then worked in Africa, India, Eastern Europe Central Asia and finally lead the Global Integrated Marketing and Campaigns organization for Microsoft Windows. I am the Mother of 3 sons. I am also an author, my memoir Breaking Borders was released by HarperCollin in 2021.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
YES! I started my first business, a white-water rafting company on the Colorado River when I was 19 years old. The biggest differences between being an entrepreneur or working for a large business is time and resources. I am passionate. I hated waiting for the corporate wheels to turn. The resources were available but it takes time to make things happen. As an entrepreneur you control the speed of your actions, but the level of resource you have access to is limited. It is truly a tradeoff between resources and agility.
How did you go about your initial marketing strategy?
We launched 3 years ago, and getting the word out is still a major objective. We launched in May 2020, and the #metoo movement was still very top of mind. We thought that between the exposure the #metoo movement gave to the inequities that women faced along with the daily reporting on the disproportional impact that the pandemic was having on women, the number of women starting their own businesses, and the world online shopping our timing was great. In reality what we have found is that there is a tremendous amount of good will and intuition among consumers to speak with their dollars and shop based on their values but this is very hard to sustain.
The key is to have a great product and getting the word out about it. Consumers will be thrilled with a great product that aligns with their values, but values don’t lead the purchase decision. A nuance but an important one. As a small business, investing in traditional consumer marketing is cost prohibitive. Getting attention from affinity groups and working to develop word of mouth is a slower but more effective strategy in the early stages of business. We believe that women supporting women will change the world, and so we will continue to provide opportunities for consumers to find us where they live and learn about the amazing women owned business and products on our site from the people they trust.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way?
The hardest thing for us is to have people “love what we are doing”, but then go and support channels that don’t align with our values to support women owned businesses. I am an optimist by nature and am still always a little disappointed when I see this happen. Habits are hard to break. When you have a dominant player in the market, regardless of consumer reaction to their businesses practices there is a routine to buy from them. Disrupting habit is hard and takes time. We are determined to do it, but I am impatient. While taking smaller steps is the right business decision, it is still hard in practice. The other important lesson I have learned is that you CAN’T do it alone. No one has all of the answers, so ask questions no matter how silly they seem. Taking the time to figure things out when you could tap a resources and save time and money is costly. I am also fortunate enough to have a wonderful Co-Founder with a different skill set, network and temperament. I can’t image not having a partner on the journey.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Employing an all women team and raising $2M in capitol.
When founding your own biz, work life balance is difficult to achieve – do you believe in work/life balance/ have any tips?
I don’t believe there is such a thing as “work/life balance”. We live a life that has many aspects, some have friends, some have partners/love interests, some have hobbies, some have interests they devote time and energy to, some have children, most have jobs, but all people have a combination of these things. Each of us must choose where to focus. Sometimes that choice is made daily, hourly and sometimes that prioritization choice is made for a longer time span. It is up to you to make those choices that work for you. That is not to say make choices in vacuum, but labeling “work/life” narrows and assumes that there are only two key categories that make up your life.
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
I just started, but guessing it is to take full advantage of the opportunities offered. You will get out of the League what you put in.
Kate, you have lots to celebrate! What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
We have recently re-launched our Ecommerce Accelerator program. The online sales opportunity is growing, and there is very little support for women, starting, pivoting or scaling businesses online that provide holistic look at the market and channel options. Based on research, we have developed a program that includes instructor lead workshops, small cohorts, and a variety of mentoring resources, coupled with a live online sales channel. Women can attend the accelerator and put what they learn into practice immediately. They can and are encouraged to generate revenue while they improve their ecommerce expertise.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
WMarketplace to be a household name!