Why the WMarketplace Is a New Economic Engine for Women

Are you an entrepreneur?  Own your own business?  A service provider looking for new clients?  Imagine a marketplace made by women for women, where you’re invited to sell alongside other women, to customers who want to support women. Find your community, and your market, at The WMarketplace:  the economic engine for women.

 

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ABOUT OUR GUEST:

KATE ISLER

Twitter: @IslerKate
Instagram: @kateisler
Kate Isler is an activist, wife, author, mother, partner, friend, businessperson, sister and risk-taker. Born in Southeast Texas, raised in the Southwest, and educated in the Northwest, Kate said “yes” to adventure and career from the start. As a tech executive, Kate’s work took her all over the world with her husband as they raised three sons. Kate started her career with Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. As a woman in tech in the early 1990s, Kate faced and overcame barriers in her work, and in the many countries where she lived, with humor and resilience. She was a trailblazer in her industry and in her personal life as she boldly stepped into the role as primary breadwinner, with the support of her husband, Doug.

After 20 years with Microsoft, Kate took her passion for business into the start-up world. With a depth of experience in tech, a healthcare-focused app grew almost to fruition. Kate considers this one of her best experiences as she learned “what not to do”. A shift into a non-profit start-up dedicated to celebrating International Women’s Day was the catalyst to Kate’s most recent adventure, launching an ecommerce platform for women-owned businesses, TheWMarketplace. Kate’s passion for gender parity has led her to a seat on the global board of Girl Rising and she is a committed mentor for the International Women’s Forum. Kate lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband Doug. Their three sons are all grown and starting their own adventures.

Nancy:
Kate Eisler has started something called TheWMarketplace, which has the wonderful moniker, “the economic engine for women.” Just fabulous. Um, but you're beginning this after you've had a corporate life and back to your, your wonderful book, um, Breaking Borders, um, you have an anecdote early on in the book and I thought, okay, she has gone back to her childhood and taken that energy. And it's the anecdote about you getting your driver's license and what you did to get it. And to me, this story, which I hope you'll tell us all, is the story of a real entrepreneur. It is somebody who says, “I can start something like, like this morning, if I want to.” So would you tell that anecdote?
Kate:
Certainly. I had worked, um, I grew up in hotels. My father was a Holiday Inn innkeeper, and so I had been around hotels, and so I started working early on and started saving my money and bought a car before I had a driver's license
Nancy :
Come on now. It’s so great. So forward, forward-looking.
Kate:
Exactly! And, you know, I was young for my grade and so all my friends had cars, and so I was determined. And so I bought this car and it was in the front of my house at the time. And it was my 16th birthday. And so I thought, well, okay, my mother worked, my father, um, lived out of state and I wanted my driver's license and I had gone through Driver's Ed and so I thought, well, nobody said specifically that you can't drive yourself to get your driver's license. It's kind of a known that your parents should take you, but, you know, they had signed all the forms and I had the Driver's Ed passing certificate, so why not? And so I went and I took my driver's test and the driver instructor was handing me my driver's license. And they signed it in this, um, red ink, I’ll never forget it
Kate:
It was just little red ink that he signed it and he was handing it over and we both had a finger on it. And he said to me, “Now you can go get your parents and go home.” And I must have looked really guilty because he said, “Which parent did you bring?” And I said, “Oh, well…” And he said, “If I had known that you had not brought a parent, I would not have signed this.” And I kind of snatched it out his hand and he was forgiving and got out of my car and I drove home. And that was that! That was that.
Nancy:
Come on. That is, that is rule breaking. Or, it’s not not rule breaking, rule ignoring.
Kate:
Well, you know, I, it was, it was really the first time I remember thinking, well, you know, there's some wiggle room here and I have kind of always got that throughout my life. Well, it's, you know, is it really no? Or is it a little bit no. And you know, every, every move I've made as I wrote this book and I looked back, there was a lot of gray areas that I was sort of inhabiting. And when you say entrepreneur, I have to be very honest. I, until very recently, never thought of myself as entrepreneurial. I always thought, Oh no, you know, I've had a corporate life, that's not me. Until very recently, I've had to really evaluate and say, okay, well actually that is me. And I do have those characteristics.
Nancy:
Well that’s why I went back to this story of yours. Because that was, to me, just absolutely the characteristic of an entrepreneur. So what is your definition now of an entrepreneur and your, what I would say is your new identity.
Kate:
Well, I'd say, you know, I am an entrepreneur because I think, you know, I approach things with “Why can't this be successful?” I'm told all the time, “Oh, you can't do this, you can't.” And I'm convinced that, give it a try. Who says? You know, and I, I don't know, that's my number one, um, characteristic. And I also think that there's a persistence to it. And I am, if nothing, I'm persistent because I get an idea and I'm not easily dissuaded from that idea.
Nancy:
Talk about the idea then, that became TheWMarketplace.
Kate:
So TheWMarketplace was actually, um, born out of a non-profit that I started to celebrate International Women’s Day. And so as with most things, you know, I know people start for-profit companies and go along and then spin off a nonprofit. Of course, I started a nonprofit and then have spun off a for-profit business. So, um, in 2020, we had our International Women’s Day celebration in Seattle. And we had just bought, uh, just over 500 people. And it was our fifth year and we were all excited. We were, you know, really working towards making the company into something besides just an event. And then the pandemic hit. And it just was devastating. And I started to hear how women were so disproportionately affected. And I know from the International Women's Day, we ground everything in data and we look at the World Economic Forum report that says the economic gap between men and women will take 257 years to close.
Nancy:
And if we keep going at the rate we're going now.

Kate
In 2020.

Nancy
Mhm
Kate:
So I would say we have probably increased that gap very significantly in the last several months. And so I just couldn't live with that. And so I did what most women would do, is sort of have a little breakdown, drink a bunch of wine and think, “What can I do?” And so,
Nancy:
The three steps
Kate
That's exactly right. There are three, you know, very choreographed steps to it. Um, and I literally thought we are all shopping online, but why are we not being intentional in shopping from women? And so I thought, uh, you know, one of the things that we need to do is start an online marketplace for women. And we also need to find women who are doing professional services, and really, organizations that support women. And so with those three things in mind, I was telling a good friend who said, “I'm about to get laid off, I'll do it,” and so we rolled up our sleeves, and that was the end of May, 2020. And we launched to the public at the end of September, 2020. And we now offer over 2000 products on TheWMarketplace and we have just over 300 merchants and service providers and non-profits on our site.
Nancy:
Talk about those three buckets you've got. When you were creating the marketplace, tell me how you thought about it, that you thought there -- when you go to this site, everybody, you'll see -- they're called, what, we've got shop services,

Kate
And engage.

Nancy
Talk about how you came up with those three buckets and then how do they connect to one another?
Kate:
Sure. The shop is of e-commerce merchandise: you can buy a scarf, you can buy a candle, you can buy clothes, you can buy pet supplies. That, sort of, you know, things that women would over-index for. The second piece of it was really out of my own need because having run businesses before and starting this one, I found myself looking to everyone I knew to say, do you have an attorney, do you have a bookkeeper? And they, you know, it was so time-consuming, and I thought, well, you know, women over-index in those areas. And so there is no place that I could go and get, you know, reviews and find a selection of people that did these activities. And so I thought, well, let's give them a place because I can certainly buy a scarf and a coaching package in one shopping trip. Why not? And so I, you know, started recruiting women's services and then, you know, the nonprofit, I have a definite, um, passion for supporting women and women's tools. That one was a no brainer. But what has happened since we have launched this product is an ecosystem has developed behind the consumer piece of this, between all of our sellers and services, because the women that are running the businesses, selling merchandise, need attorneys, they need tax accountants, they need coaches, they need all of these things, right?
Nancy:
Logo design, you got in there.
Kate:
Absolutely. And so we have connected all of these women. And so now, you know, all of five months into this venture, I have started to really look at that as part of an important piece of recovery, because when I look at the economic challenges that women are facing and the regression of women in the workplace and the women leaving the workplace to take care of jobs -- er, excuse me -- family and homeschool, I see, um, a lot of conversation about returning to normal. And returning to normal, meaning a regular workday, and there are job fairs supporting women, writing better resumes and interviews, and I can't help, but think that sounds an awful lot like fixing women: if you could just be more appealing in the interview, if you have a better written CV, I'm sure you could get a job. And it seems to me that that is not going to happen. Those jobs aren't coming back. And so what we need to do is set women up for success and meet them where they are. They are working from home needing flexible jobs. And so women are, are definitely entrepreneurial, they are innovative, and they work well together. So how about supporting their businesses and flexible hours? And so, you know, what, what we've done is connect these dots and say, “Let's help you pivot your business, let's help you scale your business, or let's help you start a business online.”
Nancy:
And how much do you get involved with them? I see you've got these wonderful, um, video uploading sessions. So whether it's, um, somebody coming on to be a vendor in the shop, they, they have a step-by-step program that'll get them literally up and running. Do you then get involved person to person? I mean, is there someone talking to vendors like, “Here's how we think you should price your product or your service. Here's what you should be, how you should be selling it as marketing gurus,” you know, giving them advice on that? Do you, do you get in there, or is that like stage two that you'll begin to be more consultative?
Kate:
Well, you know, everything is on the accelerated track in COVID, so it feels like six months is really about five years. So we are already involved with them. So we started by getting them on board, not really knowing how much support they would need. And what we've found is just as you've said: there are some women who need that help to say, what kind of entity should I form? How should I do this? There are some that have brick and mortar stores that say, how do I best set up a business? And so we have gotten involved at all stages of the game and are now developing a curriculum, sort of a boot camp that says, if you are pivoting your business, if you are starting, if you are scaling, jump in and we will help you. And so what we're doing is bringing them on board, again, where they are, is to say what you need is, you know, to, to get a logo and have copy written and get on board,
Kate:
and you're a coach, that's not your forte, so let us find you women on the Marketplace that can do that. And so we are tapping into our own resources and creating that circle of relationship so that everyone benefits. And you know, what we're seeing is, we launched a program with the Small Business Administration in Southern California last week, where we brought on 40 new businesses that were in all stages of business when they started the bootcamp, and so we brought them on and had a launch party for them. And more than half of them made a transaction in a 90-minute period. When we brought them on, we allowed them to show their page on TheWMarketplace and talk about themselves and their product for 40 seconds. It was magic. And I am convinced that we need to change how we look at women's businesses and we need to start supporting and funding women to be entrepreneurs so that they can be successful where they are.
Nancy:
Home

Kate
Home, or wherever

Nancy
Wherever, yeah. Or, or in their car, in the parking lot, picking the kids up, whatever it is.

Kate
That’s it, absolutely.

Nancy
Um, where does, okay, Etsy. Is Etsy a model for you guys? Competition? None of the above? Because Etsy is 83% women. I mean, it's largely a women driven portal.
Kate:
So I think that when Etsy started out being handmade and small business, I think that that was true. I'm not sure that that's true anymore. I think that they've moved away from their original vision. And so what I like to do is we lined up all the big e-commerce sites. So we took Amazon, LinkedIn, Etsy, eBay, and looked at all of those and said, what can we glean, what's the best of all of those to create a site that is beautiful, easy to use, has merchandise, and it is women friendly, and it supports women? And so that's, that's our vision. And so it's really a combination, because we do know that women make 85% of the purchasing decisions in this country.
Nancy:
Always have, and always will. That number has stood the test of time, because that's the way it is.
Kate:
That's, exactly. So let's market to them. Let's talk to them, let's give them what they want. And so what we have found, we are, we, listen, we listen to one another. And so we have approached the business by trying to make women successful, not -- you know, the economic engine for women is no accident because we want women to all be successful and we want to support them in that. And so we do community calls with them to ask them what they need. And you know what we've also found is, you know, you think about the evolution and people are talking about everybody building their own website and starting their own e-commerce business -- that is expensive. And you know, when women tell me, “We'll get on TheWMarketplace, after we start our own site,” I'm like, that's great, how much are you allocating every month for marketing, and, you know, optimization?
Nancy:
Well, that's the real thing. I mean, people can put up a website, but it's like having a star up in the sky. Who's, who's going to know it's there, and how do they get there? That part seems to be forgotten. So, yes, there's a reason to have a collective destination that would have more fire power behind it to bring the audience. Okay. One, well, two last things. The associations, there's a wonderful directory of all those associations. Are women going to those associations for help, or the associations bringing women to you, the Marketplace? Or is it going both ways?
Kate:
It's going both ways. And I have one amazing tale to tell you of one in local Seattle. One that, um, is called the Refugee Artisan Project. It is the most fabulous thing -- this woman has taken, um, a few years ago, got a bunch of refugees. Women that could not work and couldn't work out of the home and either leverage the skills that they had or taught them to sew or make jewelry and all of these things and started small-batch selling to local stores here. When the pandemic hit, they pivoted and made 80,000 masks. But they needed a sales channel. And so we are that sales channel. And so, now they make, um, pet beds and masks. And people are donated fabric for, um, scarves and hats. And so there is this beautiful system of: these refugee women are working from home and we are providing them a sales outlet to sell their goods. And we tell their stories, and we tell women's stories all through the site, so you know who you're buying from, but that is a great example of, that funding, when you buy things from them, helps that nonprofit.
Nancy:
And I mean, buying from women feels good, right?

Kate:
Mhm!

Nancy:
I mean, it just is a feel good thing. Okay. My last thing. I went into the shop. I mean, I am the ultimate consumer. I feel that I personally am helping, I'm trying to keep the economy going.

Kate:
I love that!

Nancy:
So in there, there's something called the Wellbeing Planner, which I thought, do I need this or what? Cause it says -- here's the copy: “If you're a person who is struggling with feeling unmotivated and ready to get into the best shape of your life, then our health and fitness planner is going to make your day.” Anyway, the copy continues. I am ready to buy. Then I get to the price, $65. Stop me. It stopped me. I mean, that's when I wanted to go in and raise my hand and say to that vendor, let's look at your price. How can we bring this price down? How can we have more visuals? So you can show the book open so that I know what it is. I did want to go in, and, because I thought I want this book. I mean, used to be a book publisher. I, you know, I'd publish that book, but I need more description, I need a better price point, I need more visuals.
Kate:
So I would say to you, please go in and tell us that. I'm thrilled that you’d tell me that, I'm thrilled that you told me that, because I do think, you know, one of the things that we're doing is really trying to listen. Listen to our consumers, listen to our, our businesses because I think we're all learning together. And we all want to see, you know, how we're successful. I will say that we tell women all the time, don't be the lowest price. We are not going to push you to the bottom. And we are not going to make it mandatory that you contribute to our advertising budget. And we are not, you know, that's not what we're about. We are about making you attractive to customers. And we try and bring in that expertise. As I said, you know, to find people on the marketplace that said, okay, you know, let's look at why you're not selling. We have, um, already been there with a few of our vendors; there was some that the names of their products were actually landing them in very interesting categories that they shouldn't have been in. And so we've gone through and sort of made suggestions about maybe how they rebrand.
Nancy:
That would be fun to almost, like, have like a monthly bootcamp -- the name, the price. That's. That's cool. That's your next stage. That's wonderful.
Kate:
Absolutely. It's so fun. I mean, we're seeing it happen

Nancy
Oh, yeah,

Kate
And we're all together. I can't imagine why I didn't do this 10 years ago. What was I thinking?
Nancy:
I can't, I can't either, because again, I kept thinking, why is she still, I mean, as I read through the book I was going, why hasn't she just said, “enough of this!” I'm going out and bringing what I know out there in the world.” Um, I was surprised you lasted that long. Um, I certainly couldn't have. But I mean, congratulations that you did last that long! But I think it's even better that you're out there doing what you are now. So thank you, Kate. This has been so much fun.
Kate:
Thank you. It was great fun to talk to you because you know, again, I value the fact that I get to talk to amazing women all day long, every day. And it's inspiring, it's, you know, I love to get up in the morning. I look forward to it.
Nancy:
Yeah, me too.