At the recording of this episode it has been less than 24 hours since the cancellation of SXSW over coronavirus fears. Catch was planning big activation and local roll-out in Austin, so we talk about how this affects her business, and how brands can help mitigate the challenges over coronavirus.
Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA business podcast, a form for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of Brillmedia.co, an Inc 500 company delivering the power of hyperlocal advertising. Robert writes for Forbes, Inc and Ad trade publications.
Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship and management.
Robert Brill: [00:00:37] Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of the LA business podcast. Today our conversation is with Kristin Anderson, Cofounder and CEO of Catch. Um, Kristen and I met over Twitter and the breaking news of the moment, it hasn’t even been 24 hours South by Southwest has officially canceled.
It’s a 400,000-person event in Austin, Texas with an estimated financial economic benefit to the city of about 350 million to $500 million. So, it’s a big impact for people all over the world. Who are in business, Tech, Finance, and Entertainment. Kristen tell us about you and your business, Catch.
Just as another point of reference, the core of our podcast is about helping other business owners understand how to grow and scale their business. Obviously, you have done that. And what does the new landscape look like? So, I’ll let you go this is super interesting.
Kristen Anderson: [00:01:39] So I’m Kristin founder and CEO of Catch. We provide portable benefits for freelancers, contractors, gig workers. Other independents who aren’t receiving benefits from an employer. So, our customers are exactly who you’re talking about. Solo preneurs, independence gig workers and we are a venture backed company. We’ve raised eight point $1 million to date. We have about 50,000 users all over the country and we have just started launching city by city. We chose at the very beginning of January to start our first city launch in 2020 in Austin, and so we did that with everything in mind of leading up to South by Southwest.
We’ve never been before. We’re based in Boston, Massachusetts. Um, but we were looking at Austin as a really important opportunity to reach large communities of creatives, independent folk. Um, really get the word out about what it means to be self employed and the importance of getting things like benefits set aside.
So, it’s been an interesting couple of days for sure.
Robert Brill: [00:02:43] So what were you planning, tell us about the activation that you had planned in Austin for South by Southwest.
Kristen Anderson: [00:02:52] Yeah. So, we have heard from a lot of our users that the thing that they hear over and over again in the process of being self employed is from friends and family is get a real job.
That what you’re doing isn’t real. What you’re doing is, you know, you’re just doing something for fun on the side, and whether you’re a photographer or an artist, or a musician or any of these other types of jobs, you just hear that and it’s really self-defeating.
And so, we had put together an event that we were going to work with a number of our existing users who are already in the Austin and San Antonio area, one of whom is a photographer, a professional photographer and we’re going to bring him in and do headshots. For self employed people. So get them set up, help them level up, help them build professionalism into what they were doing, and give them an opportunity to really tell their story of their business. And this is who I am and this is what I’m trying to accomplish.
Um, one of my favorite parts of the entire setup we were running is that when I first went out to Austin earlier this year, um, I met with a freelancer, UX/UI designer, and we were talking about this event. I was like, Hey, it’s just this idea we have. We don’t really know exactly what we want to do. Um, and he goes, well, where are you going to do it? And I was like, I don’t know. And he goes, you want to do it at my house? And so, we offered up his house and he does girlfriend are both self-employed. And they brought me over. They introduced me to their dog who was super cute, and they’re like, well, we just want you to talk to our landlord to make sure everything’s okay, you know?
And I spoke with their landlord and she’s like, I love this idea. It’s so important. Oh, my only ask by the way is that you let me get a headshot because I’m just starting to become a landlord and run Airbnb and like do that. And so, like I too am self-employed. It was really meant to tell this broader story of the importance of like creating an ecosystem that’s supportive of people who work for themselves.
Robert Brill: [00:04:36] That’s incredible. And so now that there’s a cancellation I imagine you know, there’s so much swirling around in your head. Are you the primary person who’s responsible for this activation or are there others helping you? What are you guys gonna do, does insurance even cover this?
Kristen Anderson: [00:04:58] Yeah, what do we do now? I am the primary one responsible because growth is our number one initiative for 2020. So as the CEO, that’s, my job to make sure that’s happening. We’re a small company. We have 20 people. I guess that’s large relative to some small relative to others.
Robert Brill: [00:05:15] I’ve got 5 employees.
Kristen Anderson: [00:05:18] Yeah. So very large compared to that, but very small compared to, you know, to whats Facebook and Twitter is pulling out. Right. Um. So, you know, I pulled my entire business team onto this with me. So, our head of finance and operations was going to be there. Our head of engagement, uh, one of our head of user research. So, like a number of our team were actually going to be on the ground with me. We are still in the process of figuring out what gets covered and how we work this out.
You know, and I kind of mentioned this in my tweets yesterday, but I think one of the things that upsets me the most is not really the impact on us as a business.
Like, that’s unfortunate. That’s not great, but it is actually like the cascading effect of all the people around us, right? So I canceled our Airbnb this morning. Um, the host was counting on that income, right? And I’m sure that story is being replicated all over Austin right now. We were going to pay our user from San Antonio to come up and do these headshots, right?
We were going to provide that income to him. We’re still trying to figure out not just how do we get out of contracts, which is an important step, but how do we fulfill our bigger mission of trying to empower self-employed people rather than just like jettisoning out and be like, no, no, no we don’t have any financial liability here, but instead, how do we, come back in and create that economic value? That 350 million that you talked about?
Robert Brill: [00:06:36] I think that speaks to a larger point, right? Like as entrepreneurs, the worst thing I can hear from a person is I just want to make money cause that’s the exact opposite of the person who’s going to make money.
The person who’s going to make money, the person who is going to do well is by taking a stand for other folks who, the community that they’re going to benefit. For us, it’s small and mid-sized businesses. For you, it’s solo entrepreneurs, it’s virtual assistants. All the gig economy workers. The mission must go on.
I believe. I personally do not believe that this, the Coronavirus fears on a one by one basis, on an individual basis. I would’ve loved to go, I’m supposed to go to something in Boston and at the end of this year. I have Dodgers season tickets, half season tickets. Opening day tickets. As an esteemed colleague of mindset our CEO, his name is Tony price. He said, I do not want to live a fear-based life. And I also do not want to live a fear-based life. And I think it’s fine. Um, but the reality is that I think the cancellation of South by Southwest indicates that something has shifted.
The marketplace has shifted.
Kristen Anderson: [00:07:57] Yeah. Yeah. I think the thing that’s tough when you’re, when you’re young and healthy, it’s really hard to fully understand the impact of this. Like understanding public health when you’re an individual who’s pretty healthy is really difficult. And, you know, we all want to be empathetic.
Like we all recognize the dangers to those who are old and immunocompromised. Um, and I think all of us would say, I think the, the mentality that we’ve had is kind of like. Well, if we get sick, we’ll, we’ll probably be fine. Right. And I think that a lot of people think about that, but the, thing that a lot of people don’t think about is like the next step, which is like, okay, you get sick and you’re going to be okay because you will be, but if you get someone else sick and they die, like that’s, the sort of second tier consequence that’s, really bad.
Um, and obviously none of us want that, right? Like none of us want to be responsible for that. But I do agree with you from an economic perspective. Um, my point of view is that people have been waiting for a reason to have a recession. And I know that, that sounds crazy, but we’ve been talking about it for so long, right?
We’ve had this bull cycle for so long. We’ve been talking about it. And it’s not that this isn’t real. This is not a hoax, right? Trump might say it is, it’s not a hoax. Right. And people have sort of been looking for that thing to catalyze fear because it’s been so good for so long. Um, and I think that there’s sort of this like disproportionate economic answer to what the physical danger actually is. Um, and so, you know, when I see the, I don’t know how much you guys go into like the Treasury yields and stuff like that, but I think yesterday Treasury yields was something like 0.78 for a 10-year Treasury bill. Meaning like, basically what that means is like if you’re buying a treasury bill, you say, I have a dollar, I want to pay. I want to have a dollar 10 years from now. And most of the time that trades above a dollar. Right? It’s under a dollar right now, which is basically people are like paying money to have money in the future.
Robert Brill: [00:09:57] It’s effectively an index on the future, the possibility of a good or bad future.
So the future is not looking so good from this moment.
Kristen Anderson: [00:10:07] And that’s, a 10-year Treasury yield, right? I mean, if you asked me a 12-month cycle or something like that, I’d be like, yeah, things might, be worse 12 months from now than they are right now. I could buy that. Right? But 10 years, like the fact, and it’s not just like a little bit below a dollar, right?
It’s like 78 cents right now, which by the way, is what women get paid for every dollar a man makes. But that’s a big difference, right? And so, it’s like 10 years from now, you think we’re going to be that far behind where we are now? That to me is totally irrational.
Robert Brill: [00:10:40] So we’re an advertising firm. Our, our job is to help businesses grow using paid media, and some, small business stuff that we do with marketing outside of paid media. And, you know, I think we’re in this moment where, I think messaging will need to change. I recorded something yesterday and I was looking at the ads in my news feed. I saw Universal Studios. I’m in a PR group or whatever they’re like, you know, staycations are going to be become a thing because people are going to go a little bit stir crazy potentially. So even though places like Universal Studios are still going to be packed with lots of people, some international people, but still you got to go somewhere, staycation stuff.
I saw an ad for business lending from Lendio so I figured, okay, businesses are going to need money. And then I saw an ad from South by Southwest with a dude cleaning the air duct above the, you know, the air that flows you know, like we take cleanliness and sanitation, all that stuff very seriously. Explore how we are keeping the planes clean. We cleaned them every like two days or whatever.
I think messaging we might be getting to a point, depending on how long this impact is, where we’re going to need to say different things to appeal to people’s sense of risk and risk aversion and safety and cleanliness and health. Do you feel that might happen?
Kristen Anderson: [00:12:13] Yeah. I mean, again, the, the people we serve are independent workers and many of them work in, fields that are somewhat dependent on a strong economy. The services industry, right? Like people going out to eat, people going to the movie theater, right. Um, again, freelancers like photographers and hairstylists, like people are going to be like, I don’t want to go get my hair cut.
I mean, obviously that’s not going to last forever. Like, people will get to the other side of that, but particularly in the next quarter, maybe two. Um, I think we are going to see a changing narrative around that. Um, one of the things that we’ve talked about is like, how do you, diversify against that risk?
And it’s not equal for everyone, but how do you say, okay, well. Let’s say I’m a hairstylist and my business just like tanks for the next couple of months, right? Right. But if your business is tanking and you say, okay, well, is there a way for me to monetize by posting videos about hairstyle? Like can I monetize through a YouTube channel? Can I find some of these other platforms where people can pay for a class? For people who want to learn, like just looking for other mechanisms for how to maintain your income.
And again, we’re, we’re sort of on a very, very micro-scale of businesses, but like, how do you sustain your income? And the same thing I would say is true for small businesses, which is like, how do you continue to earn revenue?
Like what else can you do to earn revenue while people are a little bit more reluctant to spend?
Robert Brill: [00:13:34] So tell us a little bit about how you started this business and how you’ve grown it. Like. This is a fantastic opportunity for a lot of gig workers. Like tell us about the impetus for this business.
Kristen Anderson: [00:13:47] So, Catch offering portable benefits came about because my Co-Founder was actually a freelancer, so he was an engineer and a designer, and he got really frustrated with the fact that he couldn’t set aside for taxes and deal with retirement and get his health insurance, um, and do that all in one place.
And so. When you’re trying to start a business, having to think about these other things, like taxes really takes you away from the stuff that’s important, which is building your business, delivering for your customers. You know, all of that. So, he prototyped a solution, you know, a couple of years ago, very much looks like what we have now.
Um, and I was brought in because of my background in Financial Services and FinTech startups specifically to figure out like, how does money get from one place to another? How do you build bank partnerships and work with broker dealers and investment securities and things like that? Um, and so we started, like I said, in 2017, um, with the goal of being able to serve the population who didn’t have employer benefits.
So, our customers represent everything as I’ve sort of talked about already from General Contractors and Plumbers to, you know, Photographers and Wedding Caterers to Estheticians and the Masseuses to your classic sort of Software Engineering Freelancers. We cover a lot of different types of people. Um, and that’s been a really important part of telling our story.
We started growing pretty rapidly, uh, about a year ago. Um, about this time a year ago, I think we had something like 10,000 users. So, we’ve, we’ve kind of five X in a year. Um, and the reason for that is word of mouth. And so, for us, scaling has really come from building something that has value.
Um, and finding ways to get something that is good enough to be shared. And I think that’s a really interesting concept. Um, it’s not Growth Hacking. Uh, you know, it’s not Guerrilla Marketing. It’s not any of those things, but it is making sure that, our product itself is good enough, um, to meet people’s needs.
Robert Brill: [00:15:52] So my question is like your marketing right now. I imagine you’re posting on social and you’re creating content, you’re educating people, you’re nurturing potential prospects. I understand relying on word of mouth, what type of education are you doing to keep people to kind of like build that conversation around your product?
Kristen Anderson: [00:16:18] Yeah. Yeah, and great point. Relying on word of mouth doesn’t mean you like don’t market. Obviously. That’s a really silly thing to do. It means that the activities you do are designed to like incentivize and encourage word of mouth. Um, so we do a couple of different things. We have a pretty robust blog where we do talk about a lot of the things of like, how do you set up your LLC? Um, what should you be setting aside for retirement? How do you get health insurance? Like what are the things you need to know for open enrollment? Um, those sorts of things that aren’t exactly fun reading, um, but are really important and that most people like need to figure out at least once a year.
Um, we do also do a little bit lighter content in terms of sharing stories about our, our community members. And so, I think it’s really important when you’re an independent worker to recognize that you’re not alone. Uh, and recognize that there are other people who are going through similar struggle, and have other, you know, important stories that they want to tell.
Um, so we do content in that way. Other ways that marketing has been really important for us has been, reinforcing word of mouth. So, like we, we did a bunch of billboards in Austin, Texas. Not because we specifically think billboards drive signups, right? Like, it’s not like someone’s just like driving down the street and they’re like, Oh, there’s a billboard. I need that. Obviously, that’s the dream. That’s typically not how it happens. But what billboards can do is they can reinforce a lot of the other things you’re doing. And so, for us, having that proximity in Austin, Texas, where we were hosting events and we were active on social media and we were doing digital advertising and having a billboard, um, it allows you to sort of build this virtuous cycle of like reinforcing, uh, awareness.
And I think we actually did see some people who came through and said, Oh, I signed up because you’re a billboard. And I’m like, yeah. You think you signed up because of the billboard, but you’re actually hearing different touch points from us all over the place because as people know, like you often need to hear something like seven times before it actually sticks.
Robert Brill: [00:18:16] Yeah, and the, and you know the, the most recent report that I read from think with Google is that number is even higher. It’s like between 20 and 200 consumer touch points before a person purchases.
Kristen Anderson: [00:18:27] Wow. Yeah, and I think, I’m sure it depends on what you’re selling and we’re selling retirement, which is not a very like, sexy and fun thing that people are like, yeah, get me in on that.
Right. So, I’m sure our number is fairly high as well.
Robert Brill: [00:18:40] Amazing. Kristen. Um, two questions before we wrap it up. Number one, I’m a big foodie. I love to eat really fantastic food. I’m actually going to be in Boston later this month. I’m as things get canceled, what should I eat in Boston?
Uh, do you want just like the best stuff or do you want like the classic Boston type fire?
Kristen Anderson: [00:19:01] Just go all the, it. Okay. Great. Um, so there’s an area called the North end. The North end it’s basically little Italy, so there’s tons of Italian food. All of it is excellent. It’s one of those places you can just like walk down the street and sort of anywhere you kind of fall into is probably going to have great Italian food.
Um, so that’s one area of very classic old school. Boston, like the departed is very like the North end. Right? The second thing is you probably want some seafood. We have very good seafood here. Uh, you’ve got your typical like clam chowder type stuff. I don’t know. I’m not as big of a fan of like the heavier stuff.
Um, the best seafood that I’ve had in Boston is actually at a sushi place, so it’s a little bit Asian fusion, um, with really excellent fresh fish. It’s called Pabu, uh, P.A B. U. it’s right downtown. Just amazing, amazing, fresh fish. Um, and then, Hmm. Let’s see. You’ve also got like your classic like pub scene.
Um, so out in your Harvard Square, there are some really great restaurants up there like called Russell House that do sort of contemporary American like burgers, but with a much like, elevated, um, modern like bar and cocktail menu with it. There’s good food there. You know, there’s good food everywhere now.
Robert Brill: [00:20:17] I love it. That sounds incredible. Uh, Kristen, uh, how can people find you and, and, and your business?
Kristen Anderson: [00:20:26] Uh, so I’m on Twitter @catch.Kristin, K. R. I. S. T. E. N. Uh, and we’re online, uh, @catch.co we have a really excellent engagement team. So, if you ever have questions, all this stuff, taxes, health insurance, retirement, it can be really tricky.
Um, reach out. They’re available. They’re real people. They are not like an outsource call center. I think one of the things I’m most proud about is the, the way that we support our customers and future customers. So. Um, catch.co and hope to get to know many more of your, uh, your customers in the LA area as well.
I went to Pepperdine, by the way, so I’m a, I’m a big LA fan. I’ve been to Dodgers stadium many, many times.
Robert Brill: [00:21:06] Very good. Thank you, Kristen, and appreciate your time on a, on a Saturday morning here.
Kristen Anderson: [00:21:10] No problem. Thank you so much for reaching out.
Robert Brill: [00:21:12] Thank you for listening to this episode of the LA business podcast.
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Thank you. Have a fantastic day.