Founder’s story is all about inspiring others through the story of an amazing entrepreneur. We highlight their history, lessons learned, and what advice they would give others. This week we have Kate Hancock who started her business with $20 and grew it to an 8 figure business on Amazon, a hotel brand, and an award-winning spa all with almost no experience in those industries. She was just named one of the top 8 Asian American influencers you need to follow in 2021 by Trip Advisor.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I grew up in the Philippines on a tiny island and at that time we didn’t even have street lights. We were very poor but when you don’t have much you find a way to enjoy the simple things. My grandmother created a pastry business and we all had to pitch in so I remember working every minute when I was not at school. It was my first look into being a business owner and I hated it. I always knew I wanted more and would read about America in books and magazines. After college, I got a chance to move to the US and I took it.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I used to work 3 jobs, even changing uniforms in the parking lot. I eventually got hired as a sales rep for a medical skincare company. I worked my way up to regional manager within six months and would travel the US building up their sales teams. One boring day at Costco while working I found out how to differentiate clearance items. I started scanning those clearance items on Amazon. That day I sold two items. I went with $20 and bought packing and tape to ship those two items. Well, I continued scanning and would only buy the items if they sold. Unexpectedly this took off and I was buying pallets of items. I used my knowledge of what is popular in the market to know which items to buy and resell. I hired 2 virtual assistance in the Philippines to help and work Amazon at night so we were running 24 hours a day. This was back in 2012 and Amazon was like the wild Wild West with very minimal rules. As time went on they changed how they do business so I adapted by diversifying into other businesses knowing that it was not going to last forever. I always dreamed of helping people with their skin since I suffered from severe eczema that is why I opened up a spa. I started in one small treatment room growing to 2 full-scale locations making it to the Inc 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America twice. Next, I wanted to help employ people on the island I grew up in since it is very small and there are not a lot of jobs so I built a hotel brand starting with only one room. Everything I do I start small by testing the market and if I see traction then I put gas on it and go all in. If there’s no traction then I stop and move to the next thing, I try not to waste time and money if I know it’s not going to turn into anything. That has helped me scale in industries I am not an expert in but having knowledge about what the customer wants or a problem you are solving is the key to success.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
Own the “real estate”. No matter what your business is you want to make sure that you can own the platform/website or the space or the customer base. For example, one mistake I made was I put most of my efforts into Amazon but that meant I did not have the customer information or the ability to contact them and if Amazon wanted to make a change it could damage my business which is what happened 3 years ago. I see this very frequently where entrepreneurs will utilize someone else’s customer or platform but never move it to their own.