Kathleen Barretto

In the digital age that is among us, there are few things that one can do with out interacting with the Internet. The simplest task of getting a haircut can require you to go online to book an appointment. McDonald’s just implemented a digital cashier system that allows customers to select what they want to eat from a screen and pay. All without needing to speak to a single human being. Today in 2016 if a company is not heavily involved in online services that allow customers to discover them or aren’t at least utilizing online services that bring their costs down. They can be confident that their venture will end soon, at least sooner than later. Discoverability is important; it is fact vital. In the old days if your store wasn’t located in a good location, like a downtown or city plaza, you were surely going to have a tough time generating sales. This would be due to a lack of good “foot traffic” or people walking by, who could very well walk in and buy. Today, a lot of businesses are opting out of having stores all together. They have realized that they do not need to rely on a geographical location’s foot traffic in order to generate sales. But, how are they doing it? They must be relying on billboards, large sales teams and television ads. Well, no. In fact, most are relying on a great new niche in marketing called digital marketing. The utilization of online services, social media and online channels to create exposure for your product and converting interested people into paying customers. The interesting part is that in most cases these new business models, which most of us are at least slightly familiar with, make it totally unnecessary to interact with your buyer in person. The interaction is 100% online.

Where there is a need there is a business opportunity. Kathleen Barretto, who has spent years in the marketing industry in San Francisco, is all too familiar with digital marketing. In 2015 she cofounded PreHack, a digital marketing university for executives looking to learn more about marketing in the modern age. Kathleen saw a great need for understanding modern day marketing, especially amongst executives who have been looking at charts too long to understand the importance of a timeline.

Kathleen spent most of her childhood growing up in Manila, Philippines. During the junior year of college she visited San Francisco for an entrepreneurship summit and it was the first time she was introduced to Silicon Valley and Tech entrepreneurship. Like most people, she was not only amazed but also inspired. “I thought it was a very interesting place and a very interesting industry to be exposed to. So I was like, ‘Why not?’” After she graduated from the University of Philippines with a business degree she moved to San Francisco to pursue her place in Silicon Valley.

She first started as an intern at an education tech company, which transitioned into a full time job on their marketing team. After one year she made a transition into their User Experience design team. A lot of the growth needed to become proficient enough to generate the same value as her peers was self-taught. A lot of home studying followed by collaboration with others to learn how to improve. Kathleen worked as a UX designer for one additional year before coming up with her digital marketing startup.

For every entrepreneur I’ve spoke with over the past couple of years, it has always been most interesting to me about how they were influenced to become an entrepreneur. Some people were inspired by some one that they admire; whether a family member, close friend or business icon. For Kathleen her role model was very close and dear to her. Her grandfather, a self made man was her primary motivator for the lifestyle of entrepreneurship. He not only went to law school, but also started his own firm right after school with a friend. He became a very successful lawyer in Manila and founded many other companies over the years following. When Kathleen was a little girl she started a cookie baking business and sold cookies to her friends. She saw that her mother always gifted baked goods to her friends for the holidays so she suggested to her mother that instead of paying someone else, pay Kathleen and she'll make the cookies. “That’s what funded my Christmas shopping for my family and my friends.”

“Seeing my grandfather being an entrepreneur, I had grown up knowing that I wanted to start my own business one day.”

While still living in the Philippines, Kathleen and her family had their heart set on her following in the footsteps of her grandfather. She was going to go to law school and eventually start her own firm. So in high school she joined the debate team, but didn’t enjoy it. In college she took business law, but didn’t enjoy it either. She applied to the law school that she really wanted to get into and was accepted. It was at this moment that she had to make one of the most difficult decisions that she’s ever had to make. She realized that if she went through with law school, she was committing herself to a life as a lawyer. “I had like – a wake up call, if I commit to this I’m committing the rest of my life to being a lawyer.”

“As it got closer to making a commitment to law school, that’s when I realized…I don’t think I can. I got challenged by my friends and I’m very thankful for that, they were like ‘Is this really what you want to do?’”

Kathleen decided that it was time to be real with herself and her family, that she truly wanted to pursue a career in marketing. “So I womaned up, said I was not going to go to law school, talked to my family. Thankfully they were actually really supportive.” Having a support system is really important and it’s difficult when they don’t agree with your decisions, because let’s face it. No one wants to disappoint his or her support system. Having a support system that supports you unconditionally isn’t vital but it definitely helps.

We all have heard that outside of your comfort zone is where great things happen. For Kathleen she knows that all too well. When she moved to San Francisco from South East Asia it was quite the culture shock, which forced her to change tremendously. “I felt like I learned a lot in that first year of moving here, by being pushed out of my comfort zone. From living at home and having everything taken care of for you to figuring out how to get your oil changed.” It’s important to explore the world and see what the edge of your comfort zone looks like. It’s also important to move the border of your comfort zone to encompass more area. Like an ambitious Queen or King looking to expand their empire.

When starting a company, you may or may not get it right the first time. Meaning, the first iteration of your approach to solve a problem may not be the one that works. In this case do not quit, pivot. When Kathleen and cofounder first started PreHack, they started with the idea of workshops for people who were currently employed. What they found was that people who have jobs aren’t necessarily motivated to learn new skills or to sharpen the ones that they currently have. What she found was that people who are in between jobs are the ones that are most motivated to learn new skills and sharpen old ones. It started out with teaching people on how to obtain jobs in tech, which lead them to learn that many people lack skills to land tech jobs. This is what helped develop the idea into a digital marketing university, helping people learn marketing skills needed to land a job in tech. After some more tweaking the idea the group that they found needed the most help gaining these tech skills were executives that need help developing modern day marketing skills. Your final version of your business model, more than likely will not be the same as your initial version and that's fine.

“The thing that keeps me going with PreHack is seeing the growth of the students. Going from not knowing much about digital marketing to seeing them talk about it at the end and being confident, being able to hold a conversation, having projects and being able to talk about everything they learned.”

“You only have so many hours in a day”, Kathleen and cofounder first started this business part time and eventually it got to a point where they both realized that going full time was imperative for the success of the company. It’s important to plan this process out well, you may not do it perfectly but jumping into something fulltime blindly or prematurely could be as devastating to a venture than running it part time indefinitely. So, first thing first, save up your chips. Get a second job if need be to do so. Ramp up the business part time to a point that it will keep you busy when you have all this extra time you'll get from leaving your full time gig. When you do finally step out on your own, go into overdrive.

If you or your company are interested in learning more about implementing digital marketing in your marketing strategy you can reach Kathleen here to learn more about PreHack’s University.

What’s Kathleen’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

“I’d say for entrepreneurship, the best way to learn how to do it, is by doing it. There’s no substitute for doing. You can read all about it. You can listen to podcasts, watch videos and you get a whole lot of good golden nuggets. But in terms of running your own business, there’s now way to prepare for it than to actually do it. Because you can never fully, you can’t, there’ll always be the unexpected. You’ll always be thrown new challenges. So I’d say like, to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to get started, my advice would be to start a side project. I think that’s like the best way to test, because entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. It’s hard.  But it definitely has it’s own advantages and challenges as well. I think the best way to learn is to start doing, so having your own side project and testing there. Getting those key learnings, going through the motions of learning how to think about what is a need in the market that you can possibly solve. Testing out how do you identify your target market? How do you reach them? Figuring out your business model? Based on my experience, I started with a bunch of small side projects, like a small tea business me and my cofounder worked on or my cookie business in high school! But small steps and thinking of business is really good practice and you learn so much. When you are an employee you get to see such a small piece of the picture. But when you start your own thing even if it is a small project , you are the mastermind, you call all the shots, you are in charge of all of the decisions. So you learn how to think in that way and that’s a really good way to learn. I used to think the best way to start a business was to get experience at a really good company to see how things are done, but starting your own thing is just so different…there’s no actual way to prepare for it. By jumping in I don’t mean you just leave everything and just do it without an idea, try mini experiments on the side, find something that you are really interested in that keeps you up at night.”

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Chadwick Daniel