Talking Digital Q&A #1: Katie May, founder and CEO, Kidspot

Last year one of the biggest stories in the media world was the full acquisition of the Kidspot/Shespot business by News Limited. The Kidspot business moved from niche leader to a key pillar in the future growth of the nations largest media company, and its founder Katie May and the team behind the brand were brought into News to become key change agents as the company moves from a predominantly print basis to a cross channel operation.

For CEO Katie May, it was the second large scale digital success she had been involved with. She was a pivotal part of Seek in the early 00’s as Marketing Director. The US based (yes, she lives in Austin, TX, and commutes to Australia) entrepreneur is incredbly well regarded within the industry for laserlike focus and operational vision. When considering people to speak to in these Q&A’s Katie was the first person who came to mind, and lucky for me (and the reader) she happily obliged.

Talking Digital: Can you tell us a bit about how the idea for Kidspot started and generated enough momentum to launch?

Katie May: A fairly typical story where it was borne out of need. I had 2 young children and was searching for a gymnastics class and birthday party ideas in the same week. The Internet was very different back then (2004) and the gap in terms of what was available online was immediately apparent. My experience at SEEK taught me that first mover advantage was crucial to a directory business and it was clear there was no established business with a scalable offering for Australian parents. My next step was finding capital and the late Irvin Rockman offered up a sum of $$ minutes after scanning the business plan. It wasn’t quite that easy – but almost. It just felt like it needed to be done and the obstacles weren’t apparent to me at launch. So, my first partner and I dove in! Then, we realised that building genuine momentum was much harder than we thought.

TD: What are some of the largest challenges in conceiving, developing and scaling a media business of the scale of Kidspot?

KM: A couple of things always spring to mind when I’m asking this question:

– Chicken & egg – because we started as a Directory, you’re only as good as your content – which happens to be paid listings. The audience has no reason to come until you have listings (advertisers) and the advertisers have no reason to come until you have an audience. Finding the balance in this equation and knowing where to invest very limited funds was maddening for at least the first 12 months.

– People – building a business of scale relies on tremendously dedicated and exceptional talent. Attracting that sort of talent to a start-up business full of risk without a track record is difficult. That is why “founder passion” is so crucial. You get so stupidly passionate about your idea and what it can be – that you find yourself persuading all sorts of people to believe in it. My view is that you need endless energy and an obsessive focus on the business in order to attract and retain the talent you need alongside you. It is the trickiest part of the gig hands down. But – I have worked with some of the best entrepreneurs, best executives and best talent in the online industry. This industry does seem to attract some real mavericks and that inspires and motivates me in return.

TD: What are the developments in media now that excite you?

KM: I love the pace of this industry. As soon as you feel comfortable with a new business model – fresh dimensions and platforms are added overnight. The change is relentless and I find that both frustrating and exciting. To be more specific, I think social curation is fascinating. Consumers have access to more and more tools, preferences and enablers to do what they want to do, see what they want to see and express what they want to express. We have barely scratched the surface on the creative side of social curation – and then there is the data – wow.

TD: You’ve been involved in many successful digital businesses. What are the key elements, support and concept wise, a start up business requires to grow.

KM: Without being flippant – it starts with people that can execute it and capital that can bring it to life. I have been fortunate to be in a couple of businesses where:

– there were strategic minds that understood the value of execution
– there was a supportive board that invested time, money and endless guidance
– it started with an idea that had merit and the numbers to back it up (I can’t stand ideas that are merely “well, I would want to buy this/have this/experience this – so it must be a good idea”)
– forward momentum was gained early enough to keep the passion and belief alive despite a fairly arduous journey

TD: How did you find running a dynamic business in Australia, whilst living with family in Austin? How did you balance the two and the travel it involved?

KM: I think if you ask any entrepreneur they’ll say there is very little balance. There is a part of you that just can’t shut down no matter what time, what day of the week or what time zone you happen to be on. However, I love Austin and find myself very grateful for an Executive Team in Australia that puts up with my bizarre travel and approach to leadership. I am one of the rare CEOs that truly gets to work “on the business” because of my geography if nothing else. I spend 3 weeks out of the month working on the areas that the exec team prioritises with me out of Austin. Then, I spend 1 week a month in the market with clients and leading our people. For me, it works! I’d probably be loathe to recommend it or to ever repeat it though.

TD: Would you consider in future taking on more an advisory role with burgeoning start up businesses – perhaps in investment/board sense – using your experience to help the next generation of entrepreneurs develop their ideas and businesses?

KM: Yes – I definitely see this in the future. However, I’m still very plugged in to Kidspot at the moment and know that my time is too limited to do much else justice. Perhaps in a few years!


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