LORI.biz’s Stephen Friedrich sat down recently with Kate Gardiner at Montreal Startupfest 2016. Rather than have a conventional introduction, let’s let her to introduce herself:
KATE GARDINER: I’m Kate Gardiner, I’m the cofounder of AVG, which is a digital consultancy that works with media companies and I’m the executive director of TheLi.st, which is a network of 450+ female entrepreneurs all over the world focused on changing the ratio in leadership. And those two organizations work kind of in tandem. We execute the vision that people have of what they want to have online. It involves building communities, it involves building infrastructure, it involves marketing, communications, and it involves talent and recruiting. We also throw a lot of events like [MTL Startupfest].
STEPHEN FRIEDRICH: What problem does AVG solve?
We translate digital experiences to people who may not have a native understanding of them. So, for example, if there’s a social media platform that someone says is going to be really big for your business, we figure out logistically how that actually works. If you have a vision for a digital movement you want to create, we help you figure that out. Literally, how to do it - the execution aspect of a lot of ideas people, that’s where we focus.
And going into a problem like this, what’s your approach?
We do all sorts of different stuff, but typically we do a 1-2 day workshop at the beginning of an engagement that identifies the core demographics that we’re trying to target through audience development - it identifies the use case of the technology that’s important to the audience that our client is trying to work with or sell to. Then we identify a compelling story that can be told across platforms in a way that leads to engagement if that’s the goal, or sales if that’s the goal, or both!
So what in your background led you to do what you do?
Well in 2007, I graduated from Brandeis University in Boston into something that turned out to be the Great Recession and after my newspaper went under, I had to do something. I was a really active freelancer, and I was also at the time on social media. When I was at grad school at the time at Northwestern University in Chicago, I started to do a lot of social media. I started to do online interactive [content], started to do a lot with the media business, and that kind of has snowballed over the last… ten years? [Aside] That’s disgusting. Yeah, almost ten years.
Throughout that time, what would you say is the biggest challenge you faced?
I think the challenge for anyone starting a new business is figuring out how to do it logistically. I’m fortunate to have had a lot of female mentors in my life, and I’m also fortunate - or unfortunate - to be super stubborn and opinionated about the way things should be done. But that said, I think it’s mostly keeping ahead of the trends that has helped me to be in a position where I can take advantage of things happening in the media space. The biggest challenge about that, of course, is that there’s a hell of a lot of things happening and the media has changed a lot from when they taught me to write a “Who-What-When-Where-Why” inverted pyramid.
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
I probably could have started this company about 2 years earlier. It took one sort of misdirection, which in some ways was very useful, but in other ways - I could be in a very different position right now. But at the same time, this year was when we started AVG, which is the new version of my old company, Distill, and I think the best part about all of it has been pulling in partners. If only because I haven’t had colleagues in a very long time, and it gets a little isolating when you travel twenty-six weeks a year.
What’s that been like?
Oh, it’s crazy! This, for example, is day seventeen of a twenty-two day trip, which means I’m getting real sick of the stress. [Laughs]. But also you kind of lose your sense of place, which can be challenging in the long term. It also kind of makes it difficult to have long-term personal relationships, if only because you’re never there, somehow. But I still like the adventure, I like being on the road, and I like exploring new-to-me cities like Montreal.
Looking ahead, what’s next for you?
We’re getting bigger. We’re getting bigger as fast as we can find people to work with, both on a client side and on a staffing side. We’ve hired several people since the beginning of the year and we’ll be hiring several more. And I’m really excited about a couple of shows that are in development that will come out this fall. One of the cool things about our business is that we work with any aspect of the media, which means we’re building things for any platform and any environment, from Facebook Live to a really strange and interesting mobile app. We’re in a position to reach new audiences and tell stories in a way we hope will have real, meaningful impact on our audience.
Has the work you’ve been doing been mostly private sector, NGOs, government…? I ask because I know you worked on the [Brooklyn] Children’s Museum.
Yeah! I would say right this second we’re balanced between powerful individuals, nonprofit/NGO people with a social mission, and then our core business is still media companies. But because of the exciting times we’re having in media-land, we’ve developed all of these backup businesses to make sure. But I think the core across all of our brands is the intent to inform and engage the public about a topic that is near and dear to their heart or that should be, that acts in the public interest in one way or another. The way I did journalism was in the nature of service journalism, very traditional, very serious, and we’re sticking to that preference to the best of our ability. We very rarely do traditional marketing for objects or for physical things.
Would you have any advice for women going into media?
Save a lot of money, learn how to negotiate - you are probably not being paid enough. Especially as a woman in media, you are not being paid enough. You need to negotiate on your own behalf. It is not as scary as not being able to make your rent. It is going to be scary to negotiate with a new employer, or it’s going to be scary to not have enough money. Pick one. Which is more pleasant? Which one is something you can do something about, and do something about that one!
I have a horror story that I always tell when I get asked that question. I had a girl come into my office a couple of years ago - she knows who she is at this point - and she signed the offer letter when we put it before her. She didn’t negotiate, she didn’t think about it, she just presented herself as an eager young buck.
She left thirty five thousand dollars on the table when she was only making fifty. She could be making eighty-something, and instead she was earning fifty because she chose to not negotiate for herself. I will continue to shame her for the rest of her life for that decision, because she showed weakness to me as a new employer, because how am I supposed to let you, a new person, negotiate on our behalf, when you can’t negotiate on your own behalf? I get that question a lot.