After a 13 year career building out digital commerce capability across pillars such as CPG, FMCG, Luxury, Beauty and Apparel, Katharine McKee founded Morphology Consulting, a digital commerce consultancy that uses algorithmic structure to optimize a company’s strategy to gain them profitable, exponential growth. Katharine is a leader in ecommerce and an expert on systems, who focuses on building clean processes and organizations. To date, Katharine has overhauled the digital go-to-market for more than 50 brands and has sustainably increased client’s revenue up to 600% YoY.
Where did the idea for Morphology Consulting come from?
The idea for Morphology Consulting came out of years of seeing the same problems present themselves in the corporate environment. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are like that, you see a consistent problem and have the solution and it makes more sense to offer it at scale than it does to spend time climbing the corporate ladder.
The problem I saw was a fundamental lack of comfort with digital systems and how to use digital commerce effectively. Many companies who excelled at traditional retail were struggling with going to market successfully digitally, and I had the pleasure of being “ecom employee one” at several of them. It was amazing to be able to build out teams and processes and build tech stacks and create internal synergies, so why not do it at scale?
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Being an entrepreneur has been amazing for a lot of things and maybe counterintuitively, being productive is one of them. I have mental modes that are aligned with times, for example, I am very motivated for house chores, like cleaning, right when I wake up. I am great for communication in the morning/early afternoon, am fairly useless in late afternoon and get a big surge in organized thought in the evening. Being able to structure my work around that has unlocked a ton of potential. I am a huge fan of asynchronous communication and being ruthless with calls and meetings has drastically improved output, and way of life, frankly.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing ideas to life is a wild process. Sometimes you’ll strike gold, noodling through a problem and need to test how clients would want that solution delivered. We do a lot of testing, a lot of cutting ideas/content/solutions into different forms to see what people gravitate towards. As far as getting the ideas, we spend a staggering amount of time looking at white space. What are people upset about? What is hard or annoying in digital commerce and how can that be fixed systemically?
What’s one trend that excites you?
The focus that the creator community has brought to building in a way that transcends the traditional. We are seeing more and more entrepreneurs building cool products, better and different approaches to old problems and systems, a freedom to creative expression that hasn’t been seen before. That kind of confidence and willingness to try and to grow is so beautiful and empowering. It feels like a real version of the old adage “ a rising tide, lifts all boats”
It applies so strongly to the work that we do, because most of our clients are laser focused on their competition and want to beat that specific brand at x specific thing and the sooner we all realize there is plenty of room, the better products and brands can be. We focus on systemic fixes to your business, so that you can own your specific niche and this trend shows how important it is to be aware that you winning does not have to equal someone losing.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
No meeting days. 1 entire day a week is for quiet, internal work. It is a godsend. Taking out the noise and stress of having to be available is a game changer. It has impacted how we take other meetings, how we structure them, how we manage that time. Setting that one boundary has made us infinitely more productive by reducing churn on wasteful things. If you know you get exactly 30 min on Thursday and know that there is no wiggle room, you suddenly get much more clear and focused on those 30 min.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be careful what you work for. Awards and achievements aren’t going to fill you the way you think they will. I was a hyper-competitive student/athlete/speech and debate/theatre kid and achieved a lot of success in those areas, which was where I got a lot of my self worth. That translated into being very focused on climbing the corporate ladder, being the best salesperson, getting promotions and face time with important people and making myself indispensable at work. All of that led to a gigantic breakdown. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, I loved being a team player, so to realize that the game is what I hated, was a huge shock. Since going out on my own and building Morphology, I sleep better, am more productive, am more clued in to what clients need and am a thousand times better off.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Amazon isn’t a retailer.
E-commerce and DTC aren’t a pay for play space, you’re going to market wrong.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Check in with yourself and be radically honest about what you find. I am here for the death of hustle porn, and wild self marketing and “massaging the data to tell a story”. It’s the age of data, we can see the real you anyway. Let her shine.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Honesty. We don’t pitch and we don’t sugarcoat. We find the problems you have and we tell you the correct solution. We don’t negotiate, we charge market prices and make sure you are clear on the value of what you are receiving. I have had this conversation a lot, that much of our competition in an RFP will be ad agencies, because that is who markets themselves the most in the e-commerce space, and their pitches are fun and exciting and they agree with what the brands say. It is a fun and cool experience, these are talented sales people (who have a place in this pipeline, but not at step 1) selling an idea.
I have lost several RFPs for being boring or too focused on data. And 100% of them have come back 3-6 months later to ask us to do the boring stuff.
It’s less fun in the short term, to skip the seduction, but much nicer long term to be getting all of that profitable growth
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Doing everything myself. I assume that is true of all of us? I spent way more time than necessary in the beginning on things that I know pay experts to do. Trust them, and me, hire an expert for anything you aren’t already amazing at.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There are a lot of industries in need of updates, that would be relatively low cost and low barrier to entry, that just take setting up right. Most of the “sweaty ones” house painting, power washing, home landscaping, paving driveways, delivering firewood/gravel/mulch/ to homes, all have yet to scale in a meaningful way and most of them are small shops where there is little customer service to speak of. Answering the phone and showing up would be 75% of the battle. Using a tech stack to optimize for all CRM would make you a fortune in very little time.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Adaptogens, specifically Brain Dust and Turmeric Lattes from Moon Juice, are a game changer for focus and concentration and stress management.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I am newly converted to Trello and love it for productivity with project management. Everyone can see what you’re working on and where you are with it and what the deadlines are.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Not a book, but the Amazon shareholder letters are gold for how to structure your thinking in a functional way. They are single purpose and super clear and each of them is incredibly helpful for distilling a problem and offering a solution.
What is your favorite quote?
“We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins, carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains. 93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames, we are all just stars that have people names.”
― Nikita Gill
- Digital Commerce is fundamentally different than traditional retail and the brands that win in this space are the ones who don’t get caught up trying to retro-fit
- Systems have rules for a reason, trying to hack them, or get around them is rarely going to be as efficient as following them
- Honesty is the best policy, take a look at the data you have and make informed, transparent, decisions
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.