We’re all guilty of this from time to time, but if we focus on the smaller tasks that make up the bigger project and don’t let fear stand in our way, we will continue to inch towards our goals and will eventually see our ideas realized.
Cate Costa is an entrepreneurship junky. She is the President of Only Honest, a virtual public square for political debate that combines the sociability and sharing of Facebook with the video presentation of YouTube to put the average American in control of the political debate. She is also the former head of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Cate has had the pleasure of doing business in over a dozen countries as well as the mainland United States and Puerto Rico and has helped numerous companies increase revenues and profits through her work in sales, marketing, consulting, and venture capital. Her experience crosses industries ranging from retail to artificial intelligence/robotics, from document storage to exhibit installations, from security to call center operations, and many more in between.
Cate holds an M.B.A. from Howard University and a B.A. in sociology and critical social thought from Mount Holyoke College. She plans to begin doctoral studies related to the creation of entrepreneurial ecosystems next year.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m serving as the President of Only Honest. As the elections near, we’re working to make sure that everyone is registered to vote and that everyone has the opportunity to make their voices heard on the issues that are most important to them.
I’m also the owner of Venture Catalyst Consulting, a small business consulting firm specializing in working with first-time entrepreneurs and a Business Consultant at the DC Minority Business Center, a non-profit dedicated to helping minority-owned companies reach their full potential.
Where did the ideas for Only Honest and Venture Catalyst come from?
My business partner came up with the idea for Only Honest when he was watching a political pundit with whom he completely disagreed and was frustrated that there wasn’t really a way for him to respond other than writing a letter to the editor. He figured it would be much easier for people to simply be able to say what they think and upload a video instead of having to draft, revise, and edit a formal letter. If they could do this, he thought, the average American would be much more likely to get involved in the political discourse and we could retake control of the conversation from the politicians and pundits and talk about what’s important to us.
Venture Catalyst was born because I understand what it’s like for a first time entrepreneur trying to learn the ropes. I have a Masters in Business Administration but my undergraduate degree is in sociology, so I spent the first few years of my career struggling to learn the lingo and keep up with the buzz words. Did that mean I wasn’t smart or capable enough to run a business? Of course not. So Venture Catalyst exists to make sure that entrepreneurs have the help and support they need to stay confident and move forward while they get their new business off the ground.
What does your typical day look like?
My typical day is a combination of meeting with clients to help them continually develop and implement their growth strategies, performing market research, attending events focused on entrepreneurship and small business, reading the news and blogs about entrepreneurship, creating pro-forma financial statements for clients, building and/or reviewing business plans for clients, checking in with the Only Honest intern team about our social media presence, analyzing our social media analytics and adjusting our strategy as necessary, and, hopefully, sneaking in some time for a sangria and good conversation with friends.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Most people struggle to bring their ideas to life for two reasons: they focus on the obstacles and they get overwhelmed by the size of the project before them. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, but if we focus on the smaller tasks that make up the bigger project and don’t let fear stand in our way, we will continue to inch towards our goals and will eventually see our ideas realized.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m really excited by the free online education trend. To be clear, I do not mean for-profit universities that have online classes, that trend frightens me. I am excited by the free programs, such as Coursera, that allow anyone, anywhere in the world to participate in online courses taught by professors at the top schools. This allows anyone to continue to grow as a global citizen, satiate his/her curiosity, and dabble in new subjects to decide if he/she would like to pursue a formal education in that area. It’s fabulous that the barriers to access are being torn down.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I ever had was probably working retail when I was young. It was just so mindless and meaningless, but it certainly motivated me to make sure I am never in the position where I have to work that type of job for the rest of my life.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I could start again I would start earlier and be more willing to value what I bring to the table. I still worry a lot about people thinking I’m too young or not recognizing what I bring to the table, which is silly because I have never had a client complain that I didn’t add value. I also just love helping entrepreneurs so I have a tendency to give my services away for free when I really need to be valuing myself and charging for my services. I still struggle with both of these issues, and they’re extremely common, especially among female entrepreneurs.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I go out of my way to meet new people. As an entrepreneur, everything is going to come down to your network and reputation within that network. You need to constantly be out meeting new people and sharing your ideas. Plus, if you only have a small team or are still working solo, you need to go socialize just to keep sane. I actually hate “networking” for the sake of networking because it seems disingenuous, but if you’re doing something you’re passionate about there will be lots of events that you would want to attend anyway that relate back to your business. Don’t go to them as a salesperson. Just go, enjoy, and be open to meeting anyone who crosses your path.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think my biggest failure as an entrepreneur has been not recognizing myself as an entrepreneur, and I still struggle with that. The word seems so pretentious to me and I really don’t like to promote myself so I down-play what I do. I’m just me. Yes I have a couple of companies, but it seems like “entrepreneur” should be reserved for the billionaires out there. I work on overcoming this every time I meet someone new and I make myself tell them about all of the work I do, not only the stuff I do when I’m an employee, but also the two companies I run after I leave my day job.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Can someone please invent a laptop with fingerprint readers in the keys so that when I go to websites they know it’s me without me having to remember a thousand different crazy passwords? It seems like that would be way more secure anyway.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
If I could change one thing in the world it would be to give every child a fair shot by generously funding programs that have been proven to make a difference in kids’ lives. If we took care of our children properly there would be very few adults in need of assistance.
Tell us a secret.
I’m a huge nerd. I’m currently taking 7 Coursera courses – yes 7 – in addition to my 3 jobs and I am signed up for a ton more coming up. I listen to all of the lectures on 2x speed because I’m kind of spastic and have no patience.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
LinkedIn is fabulous because you never realize what an incredible network you have until it’s displayed for you like that. Being able to figure out who can give you an introduction to someone that can help you move forward with your business is invaluable and LinkedIn shows you this in an easy to use format.
YouTube is also a great tool for those wanting to teach, learn, or gain a following. Set up a YouTube channel for you company and start uploading relevant videos and including them on your website or blog. You’ll be surprised how many people will view them.
MakeSomeTime is great for me when I am consulting because it allows me to track the hours that I work for each client and to generate quick invoices so that I am always organized.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I can’t choose just one. You should never stop reading. I read constantly – admittedly more news articles and blog posts than books – but reading voraciously keeps your mind sharp and introduces you to new ideas. Most entrepreneurs are naturally curious, so just keep reading and learning as much as possible.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
I think who you should follow on Twitter depends on your industry, so here is a general top 3:
- Follow at least one of your main competitors so you know what you’re up against.
- Follow someone you respect and would like to have as a mentor so you can learn from him/her and start communicating with him/her.
- Follow someone funny – entrepreneurship has its ups and downs and you never know when you’ll need a quick laugh.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out loud constantly about extremely random things. Most often it’s me laughing at myself for saying or doing something goofy (like accidentally saying IUD instead of IED when talking to a man who trains bomb sniffing dogs or falling up the escalator in front of everyone on the metro).
Who is your hero?
I don’t really believe in having a hero. So many people do heroic things all of the time and also do really crappy things. I think you should go through life learning what you can from everyone you come across, whether that means emulating their behavior or learning how not to behave. Give people credit for all of the good, whether they’re “heroes” or not, and refuse to accept the bad.
What’s one myth about entrepreneurship that you would like to dispel?
I think the idea that you should drop out of school to pursue your entrepreneurial dream is dangerous. Yes, of course there are examples like Mark Zuckerberg out there, but most entrepreneurs do not have the luck, connections, and unapologetic drive that he has. Most companies fail and even those that don’t fail rarely result in the type of success that will set the founder(s) up for life. Education is so important to the development of aspiring entrepreneurs’ minds and networks and provides a backup plan if your first company doesn’t work out as expected. If you’re really passionate about your idea and think it can’t wait, start while you’re still in school. Your expenses are taken care of and you have willing mentors, a captive audience, and lots of free time. If you can build your company up enough to get investors, then you can make the decision about whether or not to transition from student to full-time entrepreneur, but don’t put the cart before the horse.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Food and reality TV. I’m about 110lbs but I eat like a linebacker (thank you Mom and Dad for my amazing metabolism) and reality TV has just always amused me, though even I can’t tolerate the really terrible Jersey Shore type disasters.