I’m Hosting a HackerYou Workshop Sep 26th!

This week HackerYou launched new workshops for September. This is very exciting to me for 2 reasons:

1) HackerYou is using the first custom branded ShopLocket widgets and product pages to sell tickets. Fun!

2) I’m going to be hosting one of the first HackerYou workshops in a few weeks. 

If you’re interested in learning more about my experience raising money for ShopLocket, or the ups and downs of the fundraising roller coaster. Come on out on September 26th. To register of for more information, see full details below:


COURSE DESCRIPTION

An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Your First Round

Raising money for your startup is no easy task. If you aren’t prepared, VCs and Angels will rip you apart, especially if you don’t know how they operate and what motivates them. Asking for someone else’s hard earned money doesn’t just come with a “pretty please” before it. It takes a lot of preparation. Katherine should know, she recently closed a $1 million seed round for her company ShopLocket from investors like Rho Canada and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures.

This hands-on workshop will teach you about the basics of venture capital and what you need to know to navigate the fundraising roller-coaster. You’ll learn everything from what types of funding are available, to finding the right investors, to knowing how to pitch them, to finally negotiating terms. The workshop will touch on important questions, such as:

  • Should I even raise funding at all?
  • Should I raise in the US or Canada?
  • Should my company stay in Toronto?
  • How much money should I raise?

The answers aren’t always cut and dry. We’ll help you find out what it really takes to get the funding you need to scale and will discuss the trade offs you need to make along the way.

About Katherine Hague
Katherine Hague is a graduate of the Schulich School of Business at York University. After working in marketing and digital media, she started her own company ShopLocket with the goal of powering the next wave of e-commerce. After going through the Extreme Startups accelerator this Spring, Katherine raised a $1 million seed round in less than two months. Oh, and she’s only 22.

The Case for Lean Commerce

When we officially launched ShopLocket four months ago we started on a mission to make selling online as simple as it should be. 10,000 small businesses later, we now know that it’s not just about giving people a better way to sell online, it’s about giving people a smarter way to sell online. 

Most Commerce is Not Lean

About a year and a half ago I launched one of the first third party themes for Shopify. I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of storeowners as they prepared to start selling online. But it wasn’t until I had my own product to sell that I realized how backwards the whole process was for someone like myself — someone still very early in the product validation process.

In order to start selling online it was expected that I setup a brand new storefront and make a commitment to pay monthly fees even though I had no idea how much I was going to sell, and it was expected that have enough products to fill a storefront ready to go.

I was used to the world of software startups where we’re taught to test the smallest idea that works. Watching store owners spends months in product development and weeks refining their storefronts before ever talking to potential customers seemed crazy — and it was no surprise so many of them failed.

There Has to be a Smarter Way

I started wondering how Lean concepts like verifying assumptions, building an MVP, and iterating quickly could be applied to the world of e-commerce? It was from this question that ShopLocket was born. 

I realized there had to be a smarter way to get started, and I wasn’t the only one. There are a number of other cool platforms starting to bring lean principles into the world of online commerce. Companies like Quirky and Crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have already started to solve a piece of the puzzle for certain segments sellers. Quirky relies on feedback collected from its community to identify problems and verify demand and crowdfunding platforms have developed a model for new sellers to test the market for new projects prior to launch. 

But new platforms are only a partial solution to the greater problem that needs to be addressed. There is still a significant knowledge gap for those selling online, many of whom don’t even realize why they are doing things wrong and only partially understand why they should be forgoing the 6 month ramp up and start doing things differently. It should be natural for sellers, at every stage, to use Lean thinking in e-commerce; constantly developing new ways to test their ideas and minimize their risk.

Applying Lean Principles to Commerce

Lean commerce doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s simply a new way of looking at the process of selling online. 

  • What if before you even started selling you knew how many people were searching for products just like yours on Google? 
  • What if you took pre-orders for your product before it even existed? 
  • What if you used Google ads to send traffic to your product and tracked how many people clicked “Buy” under different conditions even before there was a way for them to checkout? 

All of these concepts that are commonplace to SaaScompanies that follow the Lean Startup methodology but I’ve found that they are still very foreign to people and companies selling online.

Why it Matters

I believe that as we educate more small businesses and draw attention to the concept of Lean Commerce we can give smaller merchants the edge they need to compete in an information rich marketplace.

The idea of Lean Commerce is something we’ve been thinking a lot about at ShopLocket. And its something we’re interested in exploring a lot more closely. I’d love to hear more people’s thoughts on the concept and their experiences with the current market.

Interview on Extraordinary Women TV

The only piece of startup advice that matters

I’ve been given lots of startup advice over the years, read my fair of startup books, and have attended more startup related events than I’d care to admit. But of absolutely everything I’ve learned, there is one piece of advice I’d give aspiring entrepreneurs over everything else.

Build your network before you need it.

We built and launched ShopLocket in 4 months on a shoestring budget. We may just be getting started but there is no way we could have even be where we are today without without the support of more people than I could possibly name in one blog post.

If your plan is to meet investors, mentors, developers, designers, press and customers after you have an idea — or worse yet, a product — you’re doing it wrong. DO IT NOW.

Here are three reasons why building my network before I needed it proved to be invaluable:

1) I was able to build a team quickly
I went to school for business. Most non-technical founders find it really hard to recruit solid developers, especially on a shoestring budget. Knowing I’d one day start a company, I’ve attended every Rails Pub Nite for the past 2 years. I taught myself basic Rails and have mentored Ruby classes for Ladies Learning Code. I even worked on contracts with a few local startups. When it came time to find a co-founder and build my team, I already had strong relationships with the people I needed most.

2) We got the advice we needed, when we needed it
Starting a company is an exercise in uncertainty. Having mentors that you can call on for advice and guidance is invaluable. Your network will never include everyone you need to start your company, and you’ll never have all the answers, the important thing is that you know who to call.

3) I had partners that were willing to work on tight timelines
It’s hard to ask someone you just met to work weekends, or stay up till 3am, especially when you have a very limited budget. But friends that care about you and want to see you succeed will be a lot more forgiving. Build up as many karma points as you can while you don’t need anything in return.

Relationships take time to build (and you’ll never be done) but you’ll wish you spent more time building connections before the day comes that you need them the most. If you’re doing it right, and building a kick-ass product, you simply won’t have enough hours in the day.

Don’t know where to start?
I definitely haven’t figured everything out, and what has worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. But here are some ideas on how you can start building a network that may one day help you build your startup:

  • Work at a startup you admire: Meet like-minded people, gain incredible mentors
  • Attend local startup events: Online relationships only mean so much
  • Volunteer on projects that matter to you: Build working relationships and get a reputation for getting things done
  • Open up a dialogue with some of your favourite bloggers: They might just be the ones to break your first story
  • Make referrals to other developers and service providers: They will remember
  • Start blogging: Practice getting your message across, and build up credibility
  • Email people you think are awesome and tell them so much: Everyone has an ego. You won’t always get a response, but when you do you’ve opened a great line of communication.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking back” — Steve Jobs

ShopLocket in Action! Get your very own ShopLocket tee.

What happens after you interview at Y Combinator — and get rejected.

Last November I flew down to Mountain View and interviewed for the Y Combinator Winter 2012 class. Spoiler: We didn’t get in. 

When I interviewed we had been working on ShopLocket for just over a month. 

A couple weeks prior to interviews I quit my job. I quit before knowing whether we got an interview in the first place. I wanted the decision to start working on ShopLocket full-time to be 100% my decision and not influenced by some application process I had no control over.

When we finally got the invite to interview, you can imagine the excitement. 

Initial Feedback:

Feedback on our initial application was that we were thinking too small. Looking back, boy was that an understatement. While our ultimate goal has always been the same, make it easy for anyone to sell online, we were afraid that “starting a new e-commerce platform” might sound over ambitious. We couched our risk by saying we’d start out as just another plug-in for existing online stores. 

What were we thinking? That doesn’t actually solve anything, for anyone. 

But we were quick to act on the feedback, realizing that if we really wanted to solve the problem at hand we had to move away from existing platforms. A number of late nights went by and in time for our interview, we had the beginnings of what is ShopLocket today; a stand alone platform for selling individual products. No storefront. No upfront fees.

Like most teams interviewing at Y Combinator, we spent hours before the interview running through every possible question they might throw at us. While it helped a bit in the interview it was actually far better preparation for every conversation I’ve had about ShopLocket since. It was like pitch boot camp. 

The Interview:

Our interview was in front of a panel of five. Including four YC partners. 

The interview was only 10 minutes. Yes, we flew across the continent for 10 minutes. And it was totally worth it. Lets just say, the opportunity to pitch your new e-commerce platform in front of the founders of one of the first online store platforms is pretty priceless.

While it was pretty unanimous during the interview that there was room in the space for a single product e-commerce platform, there were two main objections to our product. 

Objection one, we called our embedded products “deals”. Yup, deals. Again, what were we thinking? The connotations of deals, especially in Silicon Valley are not great. It implies getting rid of stuff on sale and that we are associated with all of the daily deal platform hype. While we still enable times sales on ShopLocket, this is no longer a core focus of the platform. 

Objection two, PayPal. PayPal was, and currently still is, our only supported merchant service. This is a tougher problem to solve. We only want to support merchant services that make it ridiculously simple for the average person to start collecting money online. Luckily, we have some exciting updates coming to ShopLocket that should help Paul Graham sleep at night. 

The Aftermath:

So this is no surprise; we didn’t get into YC’s class of Winter 2012. But that hasn’t slowed us down. In fact, I think its moved us ahead 100x faster than had we not interviewed at all. 

We met some amazing people in the process who we still work closely with today. Not to mention, I’m a bit persistent (okay, a little more than a bit) and rejecting us was sort of like feeding me fire. 

When we got back to Toronto I showed our demo to pretty much everyone I know and we got angel funding from one of my close friends Heather Payne. Heather is the founder of Toronto-based Ladies Learning Code. Heather may not work for a VC fund or be part of an angel network, but she believed in me and what we were building. 

Fast forward to today, ShopLocket is still going strong and I’m more determined than ever. We just launched our public beta and like we promised back in November, ShopLocket now makes selling a single product online as easy as embedding a Youtube video. We’re eliminating the shopping cart and upfront fees so that anyone can start selling quickly and with no risk.

So, what happens after you interview at Y Combinator — and get rejected? Well, whatever you make happen. Life as an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride. You need to take what comes at you and make the most of it. For us getting rejected from Y Combinator has just been more fuel for the fire. 

ShopLocket is Now in Beta! Start Selling Online in Minutes, Risk-Free.

Today, we are very excited to start rolling out beta invites for ShopLocket. (Woohoo!)

ShopLocket lets anyone start selling online in just minutes, risk-free. We help you leverage your social networks, display your product in a beautiful way, and – of course – make more money.

ShopLocket was founded by myself, Katherine Hague, and Andrew Louis. We’re backed by Heather Payne, the company’s first investor and founder of Toronto-based Ladies Learning Code.

The idea for ShopLocket came to me last summer, when I was looking for a way to sell some cute t-shirts I’d had custom-made. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find an easy solution for selling a single product from a website, blog post or Facebook Page. Since I only had one product, an online storefront didn’t make sense, and with all the setup time and fees involved, it seemed too risky. All the other alternatives involved redirecting buyers to another site or designing a product listing from scratch. Why was selling a single product online so difficult? This seemed like a problem worth solving.

ShopLocket now makes selling a single product online as simple as it should be. Create. Embed. Sell.

ShopLocket eliminates the shopping cart, the overhead of an online store, and fundamentally changes the way people currently buy and sell products online.

Today, e-commerce in the United States alone is a $196 billion industry, growing at over 11% a year. But, believe it or not, the entire e-commerce industry in the United States is made up of only 51,073 online stores. We believe that all of e-commerce today is just a fraction of the potential market, now that ShopLocket is available to lower the barrier to entry and make it easy for anyone to sell online.

So those t-shirts you have lying around from your last event? Those records your friend had made? That product you’re blogging about? Well, it’s about time you sell them. With ShopLocket, you can get started today – no risk, all reward.

We can’t wait for you to start using ShopLocket. And we’re excited to hear your feedback. You can signup to receive a beta invite now at ShopLocket.com. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please email me at Katherine [at] shoplocket.com.

Can’t wait to see ShopLocket in action? Check out our demo:

Some pics I had dug up from my gym days…

The full set is up on Flickr.

Launching the Canadian Maker Passport!

I’m excited to announce the launch of the Canadian Maker Passport! This is a project I’ve been working on with ThingTankLab for the past couple months. The first passports were distributed at SoOnCon on September 30th, and were gone in a flash! If we do say so ourselves, they are pretty awesome and we can’t wait to get them out to more people.

The Canadian Maker Passport encourages greater collaboration between individuals at the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship and design. This Passport also acts as an entry point for individuals interested in following their passion and discovering what the Canadian maker community has to offer.

With the Passport, Canadian makers (whether members of a hacker/maker space or not) are invited to collect stamps from the various hackerspaces and  hacker/maker events throughout the country or even abroad! We’re also inviting space & event organizers to create their own personalized stamps.

Current participants stamping Maker Passports include are ThinkHaus,  Site3, InteraccessHacklab.to, SoOnConThingTank LabkwartzlabDiyode and unLondon. We’re always looking for more spaces and events to add to the passport.

Get Involved!

1) Email me to get your hands on a passport!

2) Become a partner organization or event and create a stamp. All partners get listed on the Maker Passport website. 

Learn more at makerpassport.com!

Something worth waiting for…

Reblogged from a recent article on Women 2.0.

Katherine is a 20-year-old aspiring entrepreneur currently living in Toronto and working as Marketing Manager for local startup ecobee. After spending the past 5 years learning the ins and outs of Toronto’s tech scene, Katherine is more excited then ever to be part of such a vibrant community.

I found what I love early on. It’s hard for me to believe it’s almost been 5 years since I attended my first entrepreneurship event through Impact. I had always been the kid setting up lemonade stands or trying to sell hand made greeting cards to unsuspecting teachers [looking back they were really terrible cards, my poor teachers!]. I knew that one day I wanted to start a company but I had no idea there were other people, even kids my age, out there trying to do the same thing.  Attending my first Impact event changed the way I look at the world and introduced me to a network of like-minded people that I could never have imagined existed. I was hooked, and I haven’t looked back since. 

I did anything I could to be involved. As a 16 year old trying to get involved in the world of startups, I took the approach that it didn’t matter what I was working on, so long as I could be involved. I volunteered on the planning committee for the event I attended and began actively promoting entrepreneurship to students. One thing led to another, and by 2008 I was co-chairing the event.

Less talk, more action. After a couple of years of standing on the sidelines of startups, planning events, I decided I needed to get some hands on experience. I started working with a number of startups that my friends had founded and ultimately found myself as an independent consultant on digital media and marketing projects.

I stumbled into tech. You can only spend so long in the startup world without realizing that it’s dominated by tech companies. I loved the fast pace of innovation, the people, and the idea of building something that could change the way people live their lives. I would stay up at night reading Jessica Livingston’s Founders at Work or any startup story I could get my hands on. One of my favorite founder stories is Tony Hsieh of Zappos. I even got to tour their office a couple years ago when I was in town for CES. Next time you’re in Las Vegas, skip the casinos and take the Zappos tour instead, you won’t be disappointed.