Ara Katz is the co-founder and former CMO of Spring, the mobile marketplace that allows customers to shop directly from a global community of brands (think everything from luxury labels to emerging designers). Prior to launching Spring she was on the founding team of BeachMint. Katz has been named as one of Marie Claire’s Most Inspiring Women. and has a crazy cool unique background having been an independent film producer before her career in fashion and technology. Katz chatted with us about what she’s learned on this crazy journey, even as she’s working on her next venture in the wellness space.
heymama: I was reading your LinkedIn profile and was completely fascinated by your description there. It is pretty brilliant. I’d like to hear more about this part:
“I am endlessly curious about the connection between the physical and the digital, the mind, body and spirit, the creation of meaning, the importance of love, the necessity of holistic thinking, and the relationship between humans and the products, brands and experiences we make.”
This is relevant to the blog post on LinkedIn, to the world in general, and to our need to create meaning and make sense of our lives. I feel that so much of life is about bucketing people and that limits our holistic understanding of who we are. ll of the things mentioned are things that are typically separated and I am more fascinated by how they dance together.I want to put things out in the world that make people feel, “oh, of course those things should be connected.” Anything that connects the physical and the digital, and the mind, body and spirit, are the things I am most interested in creating in my everyday life, and professionally.
Everyone talks about the word ‘career’ and that word makes me cringe. I’m just a human living my life, work is just one thing I do in addition to being a mom, friend, daughter, and a wife. The less we are hung up on titles and siloing aspects of ourselves, the more we are open to fully seeing people and in doing work that creates the most meaning.
Everyone talks about the word career and that word makes me cringe. I’m just a human living my life, work is just one thing I do in addition to being a mom, friend, daughter, and a wife. The less we are hung up on titles, the more we are open to fully seeing people and doing work that creates the most meaning.
That’s lovely. Can you tell me the story behind Spring, how it came to be, and how you connected with your cofounders?
I had dinner with one of my Co-Founders in LA ,David Tisch, and he knew that I was starting to think about what was next. He introduced me to his brother, Alan. They were excited about the fact that mobile was ‘what’s next.’
Alan has a very interesting story, as a teenager he was a power-seller on eBay. He was a huge sneakerhead then, still is, and has a unique understanding of how markets revolving around things that have perceived scarcity work. We were excited about it playing out on mobile. To his credit, he had a vision of what that would look like and how that could transfer to other brands. So, when we partnered we were really focused on bringing together a brand, story, and experience that could compel people, and empower consumers, to have an amazing mobile shopping experience.
Additionally, we thought about how we could empower brands to sell directly to consumers on mobile. We created a way for brands to have a mobile shop up and running in minutes and provide them with a marketplace, while creating a beautiful experience to connect them to consumers. We take this for granted now, but in 2013 this was really the beginning of mobile-only shopping experiences.
All the shops are independently owned?
Yes, for almost all of our brands (with a few exceptions), we are brands direct to consumer.
Before Spring you were an independent film producer? How did you make that big jump from film to e-commerce?
(Laughs). I have been in and around tech my whole life. I started coding websites in high school for my uncle’s real estate company, so I have kind of always made stuff in technology. I was a graphic designer and paid my way through my early days of making movies through graphic design and website development.
The last film I made was a music documentary with Howard Zinn, who was really one of my idols, he wrote the People’s History of the United States and we made the documentary adaptation, ,The People Speak. It was just a moment and dream come true to be able to work with him and the musicians and artists involved like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, et al.. But at the same time, it was a good existential crisis for me because I realized that what I hated about film was that your destiny was in someone else’s hands all the time – especially before all of the new modes of distribution that exist now. It’s what reminded me how much I love being an entrepreneur and making things happen on my own. i
In the technology and startup space, you just make things. I’ve always been that way – I’ve always had the ability to make things and get things done. And I had the opportunity to jump into tech through my friend Diego Berdakin, a staple of the LA tech community, along with a bunch of guys from MySpace (who were leaving to start a new company) and they asked me to go do it with them. Since then, the world started calling me a ‘marketer’.
Do you have any beginner marketing techniques to pass on to people?
It is so much about instinct and your gut. As far as trying to tell a story, people get very caught up with the idea that big fancy marketing companies use so many acronyms and they sound like they know what they’re doing.
At the end of the day I’ve never seen anything trump gut on marketing. Data is important, but in the beginning when you’re talking about small scale stuff and getting started, it is all about the gut. You need to know yourself and know your intention. I’ve seen mom and pop shops with better marketing than global brands and that’s because they know who they are.
At the end of the day I’ve never seen anything trump gut on marketing. Data is important, but in the beginning when you’re talking about small scale stuff and getting started, it is all about the gut. You need to know yourself and know your intention.
What was it like starting in tech as a female?
I started in LA in technology so didn’t have a lot of the experiences that you hear about in Silicon Valley. I had great partners that were supportive, but my experience is that when things do not go well, there are adjectives, adverbs, and language used to describe the way women behave and react to situations that is fundamentally different from men. The language is different and the assumptions are different. You have a lot of very young and inexperienced people running companies with little management and leadership experience and unfortunately, empathy is something that is often learned by experience and often missing in startups.
Anyone you’ve worked with that has exemplary leadership skills?
One of my mentors Ivy Ross, who runs Google Glass, and I would say she is by far exemplary in terms of the kind of leadership I aspire to. People would follow her into a fire if she told them to. She has a way of understanding people, their strengths and limitations, and helping them excel within those parameters in a beautiful way.
My experience is that when things do not go well, there are adjectives, adverbs, and language used to describe the way women behave and react to situations that is fundamentally different from men. I have experience with that and it saddens me.
What makes someone a successful boss?
Empathy and the ability to make decisions quickly.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned in your experience as a Co-Founder?
It’s like a marriage and a really meaningful relationship. Getting into it and showing up for it is a very thoughtful process, that requires a lot of work and being present. It is no different than any other important relationship in your life….so choose wisely.
What do you feel like has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced throughout your career?
Having the ability to do a lot of things and realizing that doesn’t mean I should. It’s a f*cking curse. Motherhood empowers you to be the best multitasker in the world and so saying ‘no’ is the hardest thing to do.
What’s your health and wellness philosophy?
The practice of self-care is just that – a practice. And self-love is probably the hardest part. I have the eating right and yoga and exercise down – but none of that really matters if the acceptance and love isn’t there. That’s really the muscle that needs the most strengthening.
How do you feel becoming a mother has changed you personally and professionally?
I think about this a lot actually. I lost my mom when I was seventeen and I think it has made me think about what it must’ve felt like for my mom to be dying and have children. I can’t even imagine that right now. I think that motherhood has changed my little micro moments of reprioritization and rethinking the way I do and feel about things.
For example, I was just walking back for this interview and I was going to get a tea and then realized I’d miss my son’s bath. So, I decided to come home to make sure I could catch the end of it. It’s those mini moments of caring about something else that add up to this fundamental change in the way that I view my life, my time, my priorities, what I want to put out in the world, and what I want to create in the world. Because if it means I am going to work and take time away from my child, it better be worth it.
It changes everything. It’s for the better, but it’s a better that can sometimes be so challenging – it’s not 24 hours a day of beautiful, instagrammable moments. It’s messy and busy and forgetting to breathe and forgetting all the spiritual stuff you aspire to and not always showing up how you want to and feeling guilty – but if you can love yourself through it and find the humor and joy and acceptance, it’s pretty much the most rewarding thing you can experience.
Photo credit: Nicki Sebastian