Katie Wilson is the Founder and CEO of TapOnIt but she’s also much more than that. Her nominator for the MGS mBolden Women of the Year Awards says, "Katie is a dynamic entrepreneur who founded a successful mobile advertising company… As a digital advertising veteran, Katie recognized that many businesses weren’t effectively leveraging the power of mobile messaging. She also recognized that the more consumers bought online, the less retail tax dollars flowed back into the Bettendorf community to help support the safety and education of her family, friends, and neighbors. Her vision to revolutionize the local retail ecosystem became a reality in 2015."
It’s for this and so much more that MGA would like to congratulate Katie on winning the MGS mBolden Women of the Year People’s Choice Award. We chatted with Nancy about getting her start in the “dot com era,” unlocking monetization potential, and rewarded video. Katie will accept her award at MGS NY in July.
Q: Congratulations on winning the MGS mBolden Women of the Year Award! Can you tell us a little about how you got to where you are now? What did your early career look like?
A: Thanks so much, I’m incredibly honored to receive this award!
My early career...Well, my first job was at Dairy Queen when I was 14, but I won’t go that far back! My path to starting TapOnIt began when I was hired in an entry-level sales role at the local newspaper. This is where I really learned about the whole world of digital advertising and I realized my love of helping to grow local businesses.
Local businesses are the backbone of any community, and I don’t just mean mom-and-pop corner stores, I mean any business that has a location in a community from the mom-and-pop to Target or Dominos. Over the years at the newspaper, I saw the challenges that businesses were facing as the options for marketing were quickly changing and growing but their marketing budgets were not. Staying top of mind in the new world of social media and online shopping was something that they didn’t have the time or expertise to master, and as smartphone penetration started growing it became even more difficult and even more important. It was in 2013, that I started working on this idea and in 2014 I decided that I wanted to focus on building and growing my own business so that I could make a more direct impact with businesses; so I quit my job that I loved. I called my sister, Sara, and talked her into being my business partner (who can you trust more than your own sister?), and together we began the journey of launching a tech startup, in Iowa.
Q: These days you’re focused on engaging customers through next-gen mobile experiences. Why is this important?
A: It became clear years ago that mobile should really be the first consideration for all business marketing plans. The majority of Americans have their cell phones within arm’s reach at all times, many of us use it as our alarm clock, so our phones even sleep with us! My kids are the digital native generation and it’s clear that their generation is going to depend even more on mobile which means that businesses need to find ways to connect with these younger generations now. When we look at where people spend their time and what they respond most quickly to, it’s usually a text message. Most people have multiple email addresses and thousands of unread emails but the minute we get a text, we open it. We know 90% of texts are opened within three minutes of being received, so it was really surprising to me that this space had been so overlooked. Many businesses are focused on email and social media, which are both important parts of a marketing mix, but it just makes sense that if a business reaches a customer or potential customer in their text thread that the chances of engagement are so much higher.
Q: Your company is based in Iowa — not exactly a traditional tech hub. Can you tell us a bit about how this impacts the culture at your company?
A: My sister and I were born and raised in Bettendorf, Iowa, which is part of the Quad Cities, so when we decided to start the company, we never even considered doing it from anywhere else. While Iowa isn’t a tech hub, there are a lot of benefits to being in the Midwest. Things like low cost of living and cheap rent are a couple of obvious benefits but more importantly, because there aren’t a lot of companies like ours, we have been able to build a loyal staff that is excited to be part of something new, different, and growing. We are really proud to have a very positive culture where we learn together, support each other and have a passion to build something incredible. I also think that being here has led us to be even more driven to succeed. We want to prove to people everywhere that you can launch a female-founded tech company anywhere, not just New York or Silicon Valley!
Q: Will you stay in Iowa? What kinds of challenges does that present as you grow?
A: Our company will always have headquarters in Iowa. That’s not to say that we don’t plan to have offices in other cities, but being here and proving ourselves here is an important part of who we are. Being on the west coast or in New York doesn’t guarantee success either. We have definitely dealt with challenges due to being here; access to capital being one of the biggest. Now we’ve raised over $3 million dollars and managed to stay very lean while growing. Another challenge is the lack of startups in the area. There really isn’t a network of people that are doing similar things, which can make it feel a little lonely. But I wouldn’t change anything that we’ve done so far. Hopefully, our success in Iowa brings other people to the area to launch their companies.
Q: If you could share just one tip with other mobile growth marketers, what would it be?
A: One piece of advice that I often give people getting started is to really learn how to network. Throughout our lives, we meet many people and we should all really know how to stay in touch. Often you will have people say, “Let me know if you ever need anything” or “Let me know if I can be of any help,” and we don’t follow up. But here’s what’s crazy, they usually mean it!! So, meet someone, send a follow-up email of thanks and then file that away for a day when you might be able to reach back out and take them up on their offer. You never know when someone from your past may be able to help your future. Technology is changing quickly and everyone is running so fast, it’s important that we build a support network and help each other to learn, grow and succeed.
Q: Let’s end this on a fun note! Tell us a little about yourself outside of the office. What do you do in your spare time?
A: There definitely isn’t a lot of downtime at this point in my life, but I try to spend as much time as possible with my family, my kids, and my dog. I have two teenagers, a 17-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. They are amazing people and I absolutely love being around them. We love to travel as much as possible, so whenever there is an opportunity to get out and see the world we do. My mom is one of my best friends and biggest supporters. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without her, so when we travel, she usually goes too! Other than that, I love to read, take naps, watch a few favorite shows, and to drink Michelob Ultra with my friends.