Ep 21: Tara Reed: CEO and Founder Feels the Magic of Side Projects

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University several years ago, Kollecto.com founder, Tara Reed, had no plan to enter the technology field in 2012. But an exciting internship profoundly changed her life’s mission.  Diva Tech Talk’s podcast with her examines that, and her current journey into tech entrepreneurship.

“I fell into technology by accident,” Tara explains.  “I was living in New York, and, of course, there was an emphasis on financial services.”  She accepted an internship for the summer of 2012 at venerable brokerage, JP Morgan, only to (“on a whim”) apply simultaneously to GOOGLE, and get an offer that was too good to refuse.  She was recruited to spend the summer on the “Google Offers” project, to help the industry giant compete with Groupon for an extended share of the small business retail market.  There, Tara learned good lessons from that project’s failure, while experiencing an enlightening summer in Silicon Valley (“with free lunches!”)

That project’s failure “prepared me well for building my own company,” Tara said. “Lots of start-ups and creative projects don’t work.  You learn, though, and take everything you learn and apply it somewhere else.”

Post-internship, Tara joined fast-growing Foursquare, a company dedicated to creating applications that help people keep up/meet up with friends, and discover great places.   There she worked on the marketing team, monetizing their apps for small businesses.  Most crucially, she met and cultivated life-changing mentors, advisers and great leaders in design and marketing, who helped Tara wander ‘outside the box’ in terms of  her own trajectory, “forcing me to think about what a career inside of technology could look like.”   Her lessons were to consistently learn to ask herself four hard questions, as she made decisions:

  1. “Are you taking enough risk in your career?”

  2. “Do you really want to do exactly what you are doing?”

  3. “What truly motivates you?”

  4. “How do you make an impact?”

From Foursquare, Tara moved to Seattle, to accept a role at tech industry behemoth, Microsoft, as part of the Windows marketing team. But she found that the Microsoft culture was incorrect for her.  It was a huge team; she was used to making a strong individual difference.

While there, she began a “side project” that has now morphed into her full-time company.   She looked at the question of why the process of acquiring visual art was so much different and harder than the process to acquire other kinds of art — like music or fashion, all very accessible from the Web.   There was a vacuum when it came to art that people put on their walls, and she knew she could fill that vacuum.  Her “side project” (Kollecto) was born.

Tara credits an initiative called Orbital (“a side project accelerator program”) for kick starting her success.  “What’s cool about Orbital is that everyone is encouraged to build things that others will find useful.”  She joined Orbital’s first boot camp, where she achieved her goal of moving from Step Zero (having a good idea) to Step One (just getting started!).  Her Step One involved creating a landing page to test the concept of how much potential users might know about art and how much help they might need or pay for.  Essentially this tested demand for her services and future products.  Orbital was key to Tara’s success, because as she admitted:  “Entrepreneurship is tough. Sometimes you have to go back a step to move forward.”  And the Orbital group has all experienced that, understands, and supports the circuitous journey.

Leaving Microsoft in 2014, Tara formally launched Kollecto.  Along the way, Tara has amassed knowledge that can help any budding entrepreneur.  Her advice is “build a service first” because it encourages dialogue with possible users.  Doing that for Kollecto enabled her to build the first application based on conversations with interested prospects.  “Hell is building fancy stuff that no one uses,” she comments.

Kollecto has two major components.  The main Website helps inexperienced art collectors buy affordable art by pairing them with personal expert advisers to find art and negotiates prices; and ArtCollectingSchool.com is a series of interactive lessons to acquaint novices with the art world, and teach them how to acquire art from $300 to $1500 for their walls, without other assistance.  The two segments organically comprise the company’s revenue stream, and are supplemented by Tara’s personal blog “BuildingKollecto.com.”

For Tara’s business, social media tools have been very important in expanding her client base, with almost 51% of Kollecto website’s traffic coming from social media sources.  A tool she uses to great advantage is Socedo.com, which targets users based on their Twitter comments.  Tara also makes a practice of “building out loud” as the company grows using social media to engage in useful dialogue and debates that help her organization blossom.

Tara’s primary personal challenge ( as we have found with other Diva Tech Talk guests ) is balancing multiple roles.  “Finding out how to balance your interest in being a creator, and in being a CEO/business person is hard,” she said.  “Creators are more likely to throw things away.   CEO’s and business leaders have to take fewer risks and concentrate on sustainable growth.”  From that, Tara’s final words of wisdom are:  “Select your hats.  Then find time to juggle your hats!”

Kollecto can be found at kollecto.com.

Tara can be followed on Twitter at @tarareed_ or you reach her via email at tara@kollecto.com

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