Modernizing Marketing, with Kate Edwards
Episode 103: Modernizing Marketing, with Kate Edwards
Kate Edwards is the Co-Founder and COO of Heartbeat, a marketing platform that connects brands to real women through real women. Kate saw that women hold immense power when it comes to promoting the brands they love. She thought, why not capitalize on the authentic promotion these women are already putting out there? In this episode, Kate talks about what it took to go from an idea to a thriving company that provides side hustle opportunities to thousands of women.
00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, this is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host, Maricella Herrera. How's it going?
00:20 Maricella Herrera: It's good. Is it me or is it extremely hot in this room? Or is it the wine?
00:25 KW: It is extremely hot. It could be the wine. [chuckle] It is hot. I think during times of seasonal change... So actually, so two things...
00:35 MH: During times of change.
00:35 KW: During times of seasonal change, [00:37] ____ the four seasons, the... It's really hard to regulate temperatures in buildings. It's just so inconsistent, but actually... So, I've been going to acupuncture and I, I'll over-share for a bit, but that's okay. We're all friends here.
00:53 MH: Isn't that what we do here?
00:55 KW: That's what we do. I was talking about how I get really bad night sweats when the seasons change, and acupuncturist, and I really appreciated this, it made me feel good, was like, "That is incredibly observant of you. Most people would not make that connection, but it actually is a connection that during times when seasons are changing and our bodies get out of balance, we have to reset. And so, it can cause, yeah, things like night sweats.
01:25 MH: That is fascinating, actually.
01:26 KW: Yeah.
01:27 MH: I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping, I need to... You told me your acupuncturist had been good with that.
01:33 KW: Yeah.
01:34 MH: I need to go figure that out. [chuckle] My insomnia is driving me a little nuts.
01:38 KW: Oh, I know, you and I are... I feel we're so similar, are soul mates. [chuckle] And oftentimes, what are the coping mechanisms for dealing with... Like, we both internalize stress and take on a lot of stress.
01:52 MH: Yeah.
01:53 KW: We're over-achievers in our stress department, but it's like, how do you deal with that? And I wish there was a one-size solution. I mean, I think it's part of a lifestyle and the mindset change and I also think it's incorporating, if it's exercise, meditation, acupuncture, therapy, whatever that may be, but incorporating that into your life. 'Cause it's not a solo sport, right? And we need that support.
02:21 MH: I agree. And the exercise thing, especially for me, has been huge. I need to carve out time for it, but it has really, really improved not just my sleeping patterns, but just my mood, in general. Have you kept your meditation up?
02:36 KW: I have. I haven't been as consistent as I would like to be. Well, actually in part, because if I don't sleep well, I will snooze and sleep later and then that... I usually have been trying to meditate first thing in the morning, like, come down stairs before the kids are up, before the day starts and just spend that time with myself. 'Cause I found, as I was trying to figure out the best time to do it, oftentimes, if I'm already at the office, my mind is going too fast, and so... So yeah, it's this catch-22, where I should just not snooze and get up and do it. But I have, I just finished the cycle on focus, you know, being able to focus on the task at hand, and not get distracted, and I found it incredibly helpful.
03:20 MH: Oh, I should look into that. I've been suffering from my mind jumping from one thing to the next.
03:25 KW: Yeah, it was good, it was really good.
03:28 MH: Which is, you know, I... It drives me nuts a little bit, I'm not gonna lie.
03:32 KW: Yes.
03:33 MH: Anyway. Who did you talk to this week? Who's our guest?
03:37 KW: So today, I talked to Kate Edwards, who actually, ironically I met through a connection, but she is based in Philly and I am from the Philly area, so lots of... We knew a bunch of people in common, which was super cool. And...
03:51 MH: Wait, you're from the Phil... Well, I guess in New Jersey...
03:53 KW: South Jersey.
03:54 MH: Right. I'm like...
03:56 KW: It's technically Philly.
03:58 MH: So, this is...
03:58 KW: North Jersey, so MTV, Jersey Shore is really affiliated with New York, and South Jersey is like Philly.
04:07 MH: So this is where I... My complete lack of knowledge of US geography shows every time I see something. We had to upload some of the recipients from EllevateHER, which if you didn't know, we created this program to provide memberships for women who are either in non-profits or veterans, are women who don't usually join Ellevate either because they can't afford it or because it's not a group that is very much represented, and we really wanted to open up the network to them. So we had about 255 women join through this program, which was great, and as we were looking at the applications and trying to get them into the right chapters, every time I saw New Jersey one, I had to email Joanna from our team and ask if that was Central or Northern. So there you go, I admit it.
04:58 KW: Yes. New Jersey is such a nuance state. When I went to college, I went to Villanova, and the big joke was like, "What exit are you from?" [chuckle] This is always like, what exit off of, the turnpike or the parkway? And everyone sort of lives off that. Yeah. So, I was Exit 17 off the New Jersey Parkway.
05:19 MH: I do not know what that means.
05:20 KW: Yeah, the Garden State Parkway. It's like way South. It starts at zero and goes up to, I don't know, 300 or something. Yeah.
05:28 MH: Well...
05:29 KW: Now, everyone knows where I live. [laughter] Cool, cool, cool, that's great. But anyway, back to Kate. So Kate... I know in the podcast last week we talked a little bit about side hustles, media and influence, and this is an extension on that great conversation, which is how not only can companies reach influencers, but the power of women as influencers and ways that they can support themselves and their families through literally their voice, either blogging, their point of view, their perspective, their following, the connections of community that they build. So, it was a great conversation. I'm really excited for all of you to hear it.
06:10 MH: I'm really excited for it too. We've been thinking a lot about this at Ellevate.
06:14 KW: Yeah.
06:14 MH: So it's great.
06:17 KW: Alright, well enjoy the podcast. And we wanna hear from you, if you have questions, ideas, feedback, send us an email at email@example.com, and we'll see you next week.
06:37 KW: So Kate, I'm excited to have you here today. This is all about networking, 'cause you and I were connected through your co-founder who I was connected to through another channel, and we got two today on the podcast. So this is exciting. You are the co-founder and COO of Heartbeat, and we're gonna talk a little bit about what that is in a minute, but I wanted to ask you a question that we hear so often from women in our community which is... Did you always know this is what you wanted to be when you grew up? And so the question is, did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur.
07:10 Kate Edwards: Not at all. I kind of came into an entrepreneur later in my 20s, I actually... So I went to Brown undergrad and I studied International Relations focused on Middle East and global security, so totally different. And then I started my career working in advertising for huge ad agencies, so more like a cog in the big wheel type of role. I loved my job in advertising, but sort of got tired of it after a while, and then I came to LA to go to business school at UCLA, and it was at business school that I sort of started to make that transition from wanting to work for a big company to wanting to work for a startup.
07:57 KE: And then after business school, I worked for a startup that I didn't found but got to be an early employee at and really was inspired by a female CEO there. And I think that experience was really transformative for me in terms of wanting to be an entrepreneur, and I kind of saw her, was super inspired and said, I can do that. I have an amazing idea. And that was really how I got started as an entrepreneur. It's interesting, I always knew I wanted to have a leadership role. My parents, if you asked them what I said what I wanted to be when I grow up, they would have said, "You kept saying you wanted to be the president," which looking back sounds like a terrible idea, but that was always part of my personality. So I think it's not a huge stretch that I ended up an entrepreneur, it just wasn't how I articulated it. Probably as a kid.
08:45 KW: It's funny that you shared that story. Someone actually asked me recently if I always knew I wanted to be a leader and it was funny, I had a similar answer, which was just that that's just always how I was and always is always running for student government or wanting to be president of some club, but you and I are both twins and my growing up, my twin sister, my parents called her Mother Teresa 'cause she was very kind and she was very nurturing, and she's now a school teacher and they called me Leona Helmsley. I guess because I was, I don't know, raging lunatic. I'm still like hurt about that.
09:27 KE: No, I think that's true, I honestly, I think being a twin almost sets you up for that dynamic. My sister is also very shy. She's more of an introvert, and so I always kind of talked for us, I was always kind of walking ahead of her and setting that stage and not... That's just a difference in personalities, but I think that juxtaposition definitely puts one twin potentially in the role towards entrepreneurship would be an interesting thing to say, actually.
09:53 KW: Yeah, we can co-author a paper on that, that's our...
09:57 KE: Let's do it.
09:57 KW: Our next endeavor.
10:00 KE: Let's do it.
10:00 KW: So tell me a little bit about Heartbeat.
10:02 KE: So Heartbeat is a marketing platform that connects brands directly with women who are their customers. And so essentially, what that means is we have built a huge community of female brand ambassadors, so we have over 150,000 women in our network now, and we connect them with brands that they love or are excited to discover, and have them create incredible content on their own social media accounts. So, it sounds a little like something like influencer marketing. People get paid to post on Instagram, but we're actually pretty different. We... Our whole philosophy as a business is that real women are really influential and really powerful, and that the people who actually influence your purchase decisions as a consumer, are the people you know. And so we actually don't work with big bloggers or big influencers or celebrities, we don't work with the Kylie Jenners of the world. We just have this amazing team of real women, who are college students and young moms, and have them post about the products they love. So our business has been around for about two years. We're definitely still a startup, but have been growing quickly, and it's just been an incredible experience to be able to create this huge marketing network while at the same time giving real women a voice.
11:23 KW: Where did this idea come from?
11:25 KE: The idea actually was a pivot from my co-founder's last company, so my co-founder, and our CEO's name is Brian Freeman, and he actually is the founder of a dating app prior to Heartbeat and that dating app was called Wildfire. And it was actually a really successful dating app, it was the first female dating app before Bumble. And so he had seen a lot of success in growing that business by going to college campuses and getting women on college campuses to post about the app on their social media. We had kind of... We had met... We were speaking on the same panels and were both involved in the LA tech scene and he said, "I see this incredible power in women, and they're just kind of the best marketers and no one really pays attention to these normal women."
12:15 KE: And I said, "That's an incredible idea." And so, he and another partner over at the time basically started putting together this community and started saying, "Well, what if we took these women who wanna be ambassadors for this app, and what if they promoted other things? Is that gonna work, is that powerful?" And our hypothesis was that these normal women who might have 500 followers on Instagram would be more effective in the long run actually driving real marketing results for the brands we worked with. It started as a hypothesis, we grew from 2,000 ambassadors to 20,000 ambassadors. Now we're at 150,000 ambassadors, and we've really seen that proven out. So, it was interesting, the idea kind of came out of a pivot of a totally different idea, but as soon as I saw how powerful it was, I joined Brian and we kinda took off from there.
13:05 KW: Well, that makes so much sense, because you see in other markets where this concept really works, so if there is through Gilt or Skimm or Stitch Fix or these brands that have really grown based on share with your friends and you get money or you get something. Or things like Rodan + Fields, where it's individual women who are promoting the products and selling that through social media, like the power of women and their voice on social is starting to really be harnessed by brands, but on that individual basis. And you're really amplifying that, connecting multiple brands with many ambassadors and influencers to really drive even greater impact that women can have in the economy, and purchasing decisions, and really generating awareness around companies that align with their missions or that they think have great products.
14:05 KE: Yeah, absolutely, you point out a really great example in TheSkimm. TheSkimm, we love them. We think they're a really great example of the company who built a really strong ambassador community for themselves. One of the things that we hear is that, a lot of the companies will come to us and say like, "We wanna do that same thing," but it's really tough. It's a lot of work to build an ambassador program internally, so we're a marketing platform, we essentially make it easy, we make it scalable, we make it very affordable and really just easier to create this really kind of army of people who are excited about your brand. And so, we're all about scalability. We can do campaigns with 100 women a month for a year or we can do campaigns with 500 women posting, or we've done a campaign that was 10,000 women posting about a new product for Amazon. So we can really take the idea of ambassador marketing and make it really seamless for anybody to come in and be able to create that that active group of people who are excited about that product. So yeah, we love TheSkimm.
15:10 KE: And I think you're also right about... You know, you kind of this Rodan + Fields, Mary Kay, I think of... I think that those companies are awesome, and they've always been behind empowering women. They don't always have the best reputation for doing that, but I think getting them involved in the economy is really important. We reward all of our ambassadors by paying them or with free product and it gives them a way to kind of have that side hustle too, kind of that millennial idea of being able to make money for things that you genuinely love doing, is absolutely part of our ethos.
15:44 KW: I love that. And we've been hearing so much more about side hustle and how technology and the world today can really help women to move ahead financially and to harness their will, influence and power by leveraging some of these companies, like yours, which are providing that framework and that support and the potential financial gains around doing what you love to do.
16:12 KE: Yeah. It's really easy. People will say, "How did you acquire 150,000 people so quickly?" And for us, it's a really easy value prop, right? We go to these women and we say, "Hey, you're already posting about things on Instagram, what if we just paid you a few dollars to do it?" And so everybody raises their hand and says, "Yeah, that sounds great." For us, a lot of what we do in our businesses make sure that those are authentic endorsements, we don't wanna just pay people for the sake of it, we wanna... Our entire system is set up to identify people who are actual consumers for the brands they're promoting. So if we're doing our jobs, we're connecting businesses directly with people in a really targeted way who are gonna end up to be their consumers. So that authenticity and using our technology to identify the right women for the right campaigns, is a huge part of what we focus on, but absolutely being able to connect those women in a way where they can have more of a lasting relationship is something that we think about as well.
17:07 KW: So you brought up authenticity and... That's a really important word, and particularly in today's day and age, where there's so much that feels manufactured or unauthentic. How do you really work with your community, and within the company to have that authentic voice? What are some of the best practices for women to follow to really convey authenticity in their social media postings or any other thought leadership that they're putting out there?
17:39 KE: Yeah, great question. Authenticity is one of those words that gets thrown around like a buzzword. And it almost has gotten to a point where it loses its meaning. Because everything... Everybody out there says, "It's authentic. It's authentic." And so, it's tough, right, how do you create best practices that allow you to stand by this concept in a way that's true to its meaning?
18:00 KE: So the way that we think about it, obviously our ambassadors, when they sign up, they go through a huge survey environment with us. They answer several 100 questions about what they're interested in. So whether that's fashion, that's technology, that's entrepreneurship, that's beauty, they're answering kind of these BuzzFeed style quizzes about what they're interested in. So we start by really getting to know each ambassador on an individual level. So, ambassadors are only getting campaigns for things that they tell us they're interested in and that's kind of the first step.
18:31 KE: The other thing that we do, all of our campaigns are opt-in. So we never assign people, "Hey, we need you to do this," or "You get points or rewards for doing this." We say, "If you're interested, if you really care about this brand, opt in." Then we go ahead and approve people and say, "Okay, you're right for this campaign." So, we ask people to tell us that they're interested in a brand, and that's one of the authenticity gates, if you will, that we set up. We're also... Because our ambassadors sign up using Instagram and Facebook and we're about to implement their ability to sign up using Amazon as well, they basically... We know what they care about. So, if it's a woman who posts about beauty a lot, we know that and she can tell us and we also are seeing what she's posting about having the right people post about the right thing. That's part technology, part having a relationship with our ambassadors and it's also just how we communicate with them. We never say, "Hey, make more money to do this. Make more money to do this." It's all about, "If you really care about this brand, we want you to be part of the campaign." So I think it's how you communicate with people and how you reward them and how you incentivize them that keeps that authentic nature.
19:42 KW: What brands do you admire on social media that are doing good stuff?
19:48 KE: I love Glossier. We do a lot of beauty brands. It's just kind of the nature of working with millennial women and Instagram. I think Glossier and that's kind of a standard answer at this point but they've created content that feels really organic and it's actually created by them, but it feels like a direct connection to their consumer, and it feels authentic to who they are targeting and I think that's just really hard to do these days. They'll actually use people who love their products. At Glossier, you can have your own... Part of Glossier's website, you can have your own landing page. And so, they've created these advocates for their products almost without trying. I think that that's really... That's really exciting.
20:31 KE: I think FabFitFun, which is another LA startup has an awesome social media presence. And then, Bumble, we're huge fans of the Bumble social media accounts over at Heartbeat from the actual dating app to Bumble Bizz. I think they have a really consistent brand image and they are really able to tap in to the voice of their demographic. So, I think they're doing an awesome job, too.
20:54 KW: So, I noticed that those three companies that you mentioned are female-led, right?
21:02 KE: [laughter] They are, I'm probably biased towards.
21:06 KW: No, but I think that that says something.
21:07 KE: That's a good point.
21:09 KW: I didn't make that connection right away. And then, you said as you were doing it, I'm like, "Oh, yeah," like, you know. I just saw the founder of Bumble speaking at an event and it connected with me and there's something about that, too. And going back to you as a co-founder of the organization and women that are creating companies that are really speaking to the customer that are really aligned and in tune with customers, but companies that are incredibly successful and growing rapidly.
21:39 KE: Yeah. I think it's part of culture today that we've almost only recently started to understand the power and potential of what women can do in business and that's a sad fact but it's exciting at the same time because I think we're entering an age where seeing Whitney Wolfe, who is the founder of Bumble on the cover of Forbes Magazine, that becomes... It's exciting to see but it becomes less rare. And that's exciting for women, I think, knowing that women are leaders and founders really just sets the stage for the next generation. I know when I was growing up, no one said to me, "You can be an entrepreneur when you grow up." It just wasn't something even though, we're talking about, I wanted to be a leader, that was necessarily presented to me and I think having those role models and just leaders of companies that women admired themselves is gonna really set the stage in the next few years.
22:35 KW: So, as you're the COO of Heartbeat, how has it been leading the company during times of growth and scaling? 'Cause I know particularly in the startup environment it can really hard to maintain culture and focus and vision, and everyone's wearing multiple hats, and there's a lot of change and growth, and you talked about pivoting. What are some of the lessons learned?
23:03 KE: Yeah, in the past year, we've grown from just a few of us to 15 employees. We've been in a couple of different office spaces. We've been through Techstars which is an accelerator program here in Los Angeles. In terms of my role as the COO, I kind of have to keep everything being pushed towards growth because I think in an early stage startup, it's easy to spend a lot of time... This idea of working in the business versus working on the business. It's easy to spend a lot of time chugging along and doing what you know but what I try to do as a leader is drive around specific goals. So for us, one of the things that we're working towards is how do we take these massive campaigns that we're doing?
23:53 KE: And instead of people previously had done them in maybe six months, you could get that many people to post on social media, but we wanted to get it down to 30 days. So, creating these very clear, concise goals that the entire organization can get rallied around is part of my job and just really, really helps motivate a team. And I think having those shared goals and shared objectives around a bigger vision is what I think of what I'm doing on a daily basis. Brian, our CEO, is incredible at conveying that vision and really, he's more of a product guy than I am. So, he's saying, "This is where we're gonna be in six months. This is where we're gonna be down the line."
24:35 KE: I'm in the business of operating, making sure that every single employee is tracking towards all of those goals and feels excited about it. So, for us, our culture is very scrappy, it's very solution-oriented. We actually have a solution gong that we ring when someone comes up with a cool idea. So, those are the types of things that I'm doing on a daily basis to push during those times of growth.
24:57 KW: How important is it to have a balanced or a strong relationship with your co-founder?
25:03 KE: It's so important. It's funny because Brian and I, we're very, very close. I think we are incredibly different personalities, and he would say the same thing. He's more creative and vision-oriented, and I'm the kind of type A, MBA, Excel, everything [chuckle] just kind of the more quantitative person. And so, it's good to have that balance. I actually previously started a company that ended up not succeeding because of founder issues. And honestly, I think that experience and having that failure prior to Heartbeat was really important for me because it taught me that having the right people on your team and the right support and the right advocates can make or break the entire business. So, we constantly are working on our relationship, on our communication, it's taken a while to get into that groove. And now I know what Brian is amazing at and he knows what I'm amazing at. And I think we really vibe like that and can support the business in a really collaborative way. So, it's probably the most important part about an early stage startup is the cohesiveness and bond between the founders and what they're able to do to set the stage for the rest of the culture.
26:26 KW: And how do you keep things fun in the office? I'm always thinking... We have a small team too and it's all hands on deck, there's a lot of work, you have your goals, you're focused on growth and success, but having that culture, that rapport, having fun is so important to creating that community in the workplace that helps really embody that vision, the mission, the values. So what are some of the things that you do at Heartbeat?
27:00 KE: [chuckle] So I think we have an unfair advantage because we're a social media marketing company and so we get to have fun on social media all day [chuckle] Most of our employees are actually pretty young. Sometimes it's their first or second job out of college, and that makes it super exciting for me because we have a really playful culture, they make fun of me for not knowing slang [chuckle] and cool things that come up. Our sales team is always teasing our account team. So, I think the things that we do are really just kind of the internal office culture and that playfulness that we have and just the nature of our business lends itself to being fun. I know today, a couple of our team members are gonna go to Abbot Kinney, which is this very Instagrammable street in Venice, and take photos for our Instagram account.
27:52 KE: And we do fun things to feature our clients and send them funny videos and things like that. So we have fun at the same time we're achieving our goals. It's just kind of one of those unfair advantages of working with an Instagram company. But yeah, and then we do team happy hours, a lot of the things like that. A lot of our employees are genuinely friends with each other and I see that happen and I get really excited because we're a team and we're a business, but at the end of the day, the way that we've hired is... Hire diverse people that are all really excited about the same idea and bring really different things to the table. So, I think hiring is probably the backbone of why we have fun in the office is we spend a lot of time thinking about how each person we bring on will contribute to that culture.
28:41 KW: That's a wonderful. Well, thanks, this has been great chatting with you today. I just love all the insights that you shared and stories. And thank you, it's been a lot of fun.
28:52 KE: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I'm such a fan of the show and I love what you guys are doing, so it's been a pleasure.
29:02 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com, that's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E Network.com. And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks, and to our voice-over artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.
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