Laura: Hi I’m Laura Max Rose and this is The BusinessMakers Show. My guest today is Kathleen Perley, the Founder of Decode Digital, a digital marketing agency. Kathleen, welcome to the show.
Kathleen: Thank you.
Laura: I’m so happy to have you on here, especially because like me you are a 20-something; you’re 29 years old.
Laura: And you are the Founder and CEO of your own digital marketing firm. Let’s start from the beginning and tell us how that happened.
Kathleen: It’s actually really interesting. I always tell people I became a CEO by accident. I actually started in college doing linguistics and thought I was going to be a lawyer and go to law school. My senior year I ended up with Swine Flu so that postponed things for me and so I ended up working overseas doing research and decided I was going to be a professor. So I came back to Houston, moved in with my parents – which they were not too excited about.
Laura: They were like get out.
Kathleen: Yeah, and so my mom said if you live under this roof you have to have a job. So I found a job out at auto dealerships doing digital marketing, advertising. And when I got hired I told them I only wanted a job for 6 months and they said that’s fine, they were just going to give me $28,000,00 a year and they said if you can’t figure it out within 6 months then that’s fine, not a big deal. And that’s kind of how I started in digital advertising and that agency started with just 3 of us and we grew it to about 18 and we had 120 clients at the end, across several countries.
Laura: Wow, wow.
Kathleen: And then we kind of got bored of the automotive space and doing auto deals and working every 4th of July.
Laura: You wanted a little more diversity.
Kathleen: Yeah, and so on my flight back from a client meeting I met with two CEOs on a plane by accident.
Laura: Maybe not an accident.
Kathleen: Maybe not, probably kismet a bit. And they offered me a job and at that point I said if I’m going to make a move now I want to do my own thing when I have zero responsibilities and can live off of PB&J and ramen for a couple months.
Laura: Exactly, nothing like your early 20s to start a company.
Kathleen: Yep, so I started Decode about 5 years ago and today we’re about 25 employees and we do some really great digital advertising and marketing for some amazing clients here in Houston and outside of Houston.
Laura: So if you’re paying any attention to the business world right now you can tell that people our age, Millennials especially, are really graduating from college and mostly wanting to do exactly what you’re doing. Succeeding at it is an entirely different story; a lot of us still are on our parents’ couches, the income to mortgage rate right now is getting further and further and further apart – the divide is getting further apart.
So you’ve managed to accomplish something that a lot of 20 somethings are hoping to accomplish which is being their own boss. As you know that comes with a lot of dedication, it’s a lot more work than we realize, but if you could tell me three things that made it possible for you to really be on your own what are those three things; those characteristics about you or the circumstances, whatever they are, that have gotten you where you are?
Kathleen: Well I would say the three things would be one, be passionately curious. I am a huge nerd, although I try to hide it sometimes, I am a super nerd. I love learning everything, all the new things that come out and so I’m constantly reading up on the new trends and testing things.
Laura: You’re staying on top of it.
Kathleen: Yeah, so I think being passionately curious is a key to being a successful entrepreneur and not being afraid to fail. Because if you’re constantly exploring things and learning more about different industries and yourself and you’re not afraid to fail you’ll really kind of fall onto some really great, hidden gems. And then I say the second thing would be really to be open to every opportunity. As you heard my story, my background, if I wouldn’t have been open to every opportunity, if I would have turned my nose up at working at a car dealership from the beginning – which I must admit I did a little bit – I would have never ended up where I am today.
Laura: So say yes. The opportunity doesn’t have to be perfect.
Laura: And that’s something that I certainly when I graduated I thought I have to have the perfect job and it has to be exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing. And that really feeds into what we heard growing up which is follow your dreams, don’t give up, don’t give in. There’s so much pressure on us to do things perfectly; to have the perfect career. And what you’re saying is really the opposite, and I think so helpful, which is if there’s an opportunity in front of you and it’s not perfect but it can help you get one step further take it.
Kathleen: And I think that’s true. I think in today’s society there’s so many – you get paralyzed by the options of choice and what my parents did for me at the time, which I thought was kind of rude in a way of making me get a job right away, really helped me because I didn’t have a lot of options; we were in a recession, there were only so many jobs out there. I got rejected a lot and I took a job that I – at that time – was like this is so embarrassing, I’m not going to tell people I work at a car dealership.
But it really worked out for the better so I think that is really important. And I think lastly, one piece of advice that I’ve gotten along the way is it’s better to be liked than impressive. And I think that’s really important because starting out in your own business, and especially at a young age, I started working with some clients and I changed my title on my business card to say Account Director. And so I would make comments like let me see what I can do with that pricing, I’ll have to run it up the food chain when I get back to the office but I’ll get back to you later today – when in fact I was the only person in the office.
But it was kind of reassuring to some bigger clients to feel like there was somebody behind the scenes. And it’s funny now, we’ve been working with some of these big clients for 4 or 5 years now and they’re starting to figure out that I’m the CEO and the Founder and they kind of laugh about the fact that when we first started out they were a little apprehensive but they initially thought there was somebody else in the mix too.
Laura: Awesome. So your three pieces of advice are take life up on the opportunities that you think maybe aren’t the right opportunities for you, they can get you to that next step, take risks and it’s better to be liked than impressive. That reminds me of something I heard recently about which friend are you more comfortable visiting? The one whose house is a mess but she’s super comfortable with herself and she really accepts you for who you are or the one whose house is perfectly from Restoration Hardware and you don’t really know anything about her but everything in her house is perfect. Of course you want to be with the first one so it sounds like you’ve really created that environment for yourself at Decode Digital. So on top of founding this thriving business before your 30th birthday you also have another project that you’re very passionate about. Your mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when you were only in high school and now you are starting Cancer Side Kit, tell us about that.
Kathleen: My mom, when she went through cancer and radiation and chemo treatments she realized that there were certain things that were necessary to kind of get through some of the side effects. And now every time she encounters somebody who’s going through that same process she develops these care packages or baskets and they have things like being able to put in plastic silverware because the metal silverware will leave this metallic taste when you’re going through chemo in your mouth and so it’s a lot less enjoyable to eat food.
Laura: These are things that people who don’t or haven’t had cancer or chemo wouldn’t really know.
Kathleen: Absolutely an interesting thing is we’ve had this idea for a while and then this past February I had a bit of a cancer scare and going through that process I decided there’s two things that can come out of this; I could kind of retreat and get scared or I could pour meaning into it. And that’s when it kind of gave me that extra energy and kind of poof to kind of go the next step and that’s kind of how we built Cancer Side Kit. And that’s something I developed with my sister and the reason why we call it Cancer Side Kit is because we didn’t want to go the flowery, mushy route of cancer.
Laura: Right, there’s enough of that.
Kathleen: Yeah and my mom is not that type of person and neither am I and so we kind of went the route of comic and heroism and it’s really about kicking cancer’s butt.
Laura: And where can you go to find these side kits?
Kathleen: We’re actually about to launch the website in the next 3 to 4 weeks, so it will be www.cancersidekit.com.
Kathleen: And a portion of the proceeds will go to cancer research because that’s ultimately our goal to find a cure for cancer.
Laura: Well that’s wonderful and if people want to find you on the web with Decode Digital?
Kathleen: It’s DecodeDigital.co.
Laura: Well it was an honor getting to speak to you Kathleen.
Kathleen: You too.
Laura: That was Kathleen Perley, the Founder of Decode Digital. And I’m Laura Max Rose, your host today on The BusinessMakers Show, we’ll see you next time.
brought to you by