Member Spotlight #16: Kathleen Alder & how she raised a near seven-figure investment from a shesaid.so member
We sat down with Kathleen Alder, CEO of WildKat PR, to talk about her investment story and share her advice for others considering a similar path. As a result, the company will open offices internationally in Paris, New York and LA in 2019, with Hong Kong set for 2020.
shesaidso: Tell us a little more about yourself, and your music career journey to date.
Music has always been a huge part of my life and a life-long passion of mine. I was born in Hamburg to a very musical family — I have a dad who’s a music producer in the classical industry, so I was raised surrounded by music, musicians and instruments. I had violin lessons from the age of 3 and was somewhat gearing up for a professional career as a violinist, when I developed crippling stage fright at the age of 16. I decided to pack up and go traveling to see where life would take me. I have a twin brother who also works in music industry as a lawyer, and my little sister is also very musical. We are often referred to as the Von Trapp Family, though we play instruments, usually, instead of singing.
When I was younger, I went traveling and afterwards ended up working for the El Sistema, which is a music education program in Venezuela led by Gustavo Dudamel. When I returned to Germany, I decided to move away from my father’s name, and was inspired to see what working within another area of the industry would be like. This resulted in me working at a hip hop label with Snoop Dogg and Lil Jon. But I didn’t enjoy the late nights or even the work that I was doing, and I knew that it wasn’t my true passion. So after working with the label for a year, I found myself drawn back to classical music and the performing arts industry. I began working at a PR company within the industry but after a couple of months, I decided I wanted to start my own company. Luckily for me, my husband is a graphic designer, so he was able to build me a website and brand, which I developed into my company, WildKat.
shesaidso: What inspired you to build WildKat in the first place?
I worked in a traditional PR company for a while, but got sacked from the job. I was given 1 month’s worth of pay and spent the free time evaluating whether to get a new job, to go freelance, or to start my own company. I had only ever had the experience of working for someone else and decided that I wanted to be my own boss. I was lucky enough to get a client in just a few days, which was great as I needed to pay my bills, somewhat, and WildKat PR began there.
The company was born out of the belief that the classical music industry needed to refresh its own image. There is the assumption that it is an old and traditional industry, but I did not see that reflected in my own experience; there I was, a young 23 year old, with a strong interest in ballet, dance, music and theatre. I wanted to revitalise the PR and image of the sector. WildKat was the antidote to the current perceptions and the current ways of doing things. We have always been an agency of young people who enjoy this genre and want to communicate that into the wider world. We adopted social media early on. We were the first classical music agency on Twitter, which was unheard of by other agencies, and were always led by metrics and data and changing our business model and offerings really early on. We made a niche early on with contemporary composers like Max Richter, working on film music.
When did you join shesaidso? How has that impacted your journey as a music business owner since?
I joined SheSaidSo pretty early, perhaps in the first year in London. Funnily enough there was a resurgence of different groups at the time and I saw a need for the sector to have a network like this. Also I have lots of current and former staff involved; Harriet Moss is heavily involved in the running of SSS London, and Manners McDade was a client of ours. So SheSaidSo was floating around a lot in my circle and was highly visible to me, and I felt strongly that I should be a part of it. Also, it works for a specific part of the industry and as a senior person, I felt I could contribute something.
The biggest impact for me of being a member of SSS came in the last year. Before 2018, I was too busy to be heavily involved in SSS and I didn’t go to many events, but I continued to meet people via threads and networking groups. When I went to LA, I did a call out on SSS and loads of people responded. It made me feel as if I had a strong support network out there, and a helpful community to tap into. Also, WildKat has been able to posts jobs on the site, and we get good responses.
“For me, being a member of SSS feels like being in a family of supportive and collaborative women.”
shesaidso: A little bird told us you found your first investor in the shesaidso community. Tell us more about that. Was it an angel investor? How did that happen?
Last year there was a message from Lisa Boden, who is part of Edition Capital, and she was looking for businesses to invest in. On a whim, I emailed her and suggested we meet for coffee, as our offices are close by and I thought it could be of interest to some of our clients. In all honesty, I didn’t consider it would be an investment for WildKat or benefit us in any way directly at all. I am a keen collaborator and have clients and artists in mind, so I was not thinking about my company personally. There were a few businesses we are working with and I was curious to see if they might be a good fit for Edition.
This was only the second time that I responded to something unrelated to PR in the group, and by coincidence it all worked out. Lisa and I met just before my summer break and she explained all about who Edition Capital are, and what they do. Edition Capital is an investment company that takes advantage of investing in companies that qualify for the EIS scheme. The whole process works backwards — the company applies, then if approved, Edition Capital review your company again, and if they are happy with all the figures and believe in your model, they will invest in the company, but first HMRC have to give permission that the company is eligible for EIS status.
When I met with Lisa, we chatted about the future, and what I wanted for WildKat. I hadn’t thought we were investable; it was an interesting conversation to have from a business perspective. Lisa and I got on very well — she’s very funny, personable and put me at ease so I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. It was informal; we had coffee and she suggested a business plan. I had NEVER done this before despite the company being 11 years old. I am, and always have been, very protective over my business — it’s my baby, my livelihood.
She asked me to consider what I would do with the investment and this question sparked many ideas for me. At WildKat we have always wanted to grow and to invest in our services, so this felt like the perfect opportunity. I spent about a month writing a business plan and had a lot of back and forth with Lisa. She would give me lots of feedback and we chatted through what was realistic to the both of us.
The next step was to meet her director, Paul Bedford, who works in the pop industry with a background in accounting. Again, this was an informal meeting purely for introductions. We then discussed the conditions and they made me an offer on what percentage of the company they want for a specific sum, plus an outline of how we should utilise the investment money. This started the negotiation process.
I hired an amazing lawyer, Kirsty McShannon, who was recommended by the investors, and has some fantastic clients. Kirsty really looked after me; she understood what I wanted and led me carefully through the whole process. We spent about 6 months working on the deal, which was much longer than usual, because my company is quite old for an investable business — most are invested in around inception and it is a much more straightforward exchange.
My company is old and established and therefore requires a long time for due diligence. As with any company, we have past disputes, open invoices, years of accounts to review, and this is why it took so long. Through all this, it could have fallen through for whatever reason, so we were all delighted when in Christmas 2018, it was almost confirmed. The beginning of 2019 required us to confirm the eligibility of WildKat as an EIS by HMRC, which came through. I also had to negotiate my own work contract (I’ve never had one before!). Now that the company is not mine completely, I have to have that. Then we signed in early April 2019, and have been setting up new WildKat offices ever since.
shesaidso: Tell us a little more about the company, where it is today and where it’s headed.
Right now, we have just opened our Paris office with the investment money and have a bank account and our first member of staff. We are also opening NYC and LA in August 2019 and just hiring our first staff in each office and are already in the pitching stage for some big, exciting contracts. We are offering PR, marketing, social media, playlisting and event management.
In 2020 we will open another office in Asia. We are currently figuring out where we want to be based, currently focusing Hong Kong, as this is a strong choice for the performing arts. When the EIS expires after 3 years and the tax break ceases to exist, there will be another transaction or sale of shares.
shesaid.so: What are your tips for other women entrepreneurs who already own a small music company or are planning to get one started?
First — clarify and develop your vision. I worked with Patrizia Sorgiovanni, a brilliant coach, for a while when I was starting out and she helped to pinpoint what type of leader I am and what I wanted for my company. She identified that I am a natural delegator and a leader that thrives best with a team rather than as a solo warrior, as I like bouncing off other people. Making the decision to build a company rather than being a freelancer was key for me, so I am glad I took the time to understand what I needed from my work life.
Investing in and building a business was a huge decision for me, especially as I knew that I wanted to scale it up from the start. I’ve always bootstrapped it and somewhat only expanded when we have had the money, and tight margins can always be a struggle. You need a certain personality and resilience to be an entrepreneur, and I always think of Richard Branson’s quote that, as an entrepreneur, you often have one foot in bankruptcy and one foot towards being a millionaire. Obviously, it’s not quite as drastic as this but the same rule applies — starting your own business is risky; there’s a fine line involved and it requires a certain mindset to be okay with that.
I am someone who rarely gets stressed about that element, and I sleep very well. I have kids and am in my 30s, so I have a greater sense of stability and the investment came through at the right time for this. The main thing for me is to know yourself, to know your strengths, and what makes you happy.
“Work out your top 3 important things in life and in your career.”
Pro tip #1: What’s the most useful pro tip you can share in terms of negotiating $$$?
With your own salary, do your research and know your worth. I am always impressed and able to evaluate best when someone comes to me and can provide a comparison. I have to say, however, I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I’m not the strongest negotiator. I’ve mentioned that I am a delegator, so I always let someone else do the negotiations. Kirsty, my lawyer, made it happen for me in terms of the investment as she took the lead on the deal. It was a luxury to have this and it made such a difference.
Pro tip #2: What’s the most useful pro tip you can share when your emails/calls are being ignored?
Be persistent! In my hard-core days, I would call people to death at different times of the day via different methods (e.g. switchboard, direct, follow up emails). Make sure to be really specific too; for example, if you just want a yes or no answer, then say that’s all you need from them, as it might be easier for people to respond quickly.
I am increasingly finding that everyone is just so busy that you also need to know what platforms people use and what is considered easiest for them — whether that’s social media and DMs or email or phone calls.
Pro tip #3: What’s the most useful pro tip you can share to really smash work meetings where you’re the one “selling”?
I always stand my ground and ensure that I am confident in myself and our work. We are proud of our campaigns, our ideas, our creativity and I feel that comes across quite naturally when I am pitching. We try not to be too protective of our ideas in meetings, so that everyone knows we are collaborative and happy to share ideas and work together.
shesaid.so: What do you enjoy the most about being a member of shesaidso? How are we making an impact in the industry together as a community?
I enjoy having a community and almost a home from home in each place I visit, especially in LA, which is quite new to me in business. I reach out to the community and I get a response. I encourage the discussion and changes that happen through SheSaidSo, and when there’s a debate, I feel everyone has a voice and it’s powerful. We are a community who can talk and converse and respect viewpoints other than our own.
shesaid.so: If you could fix or change one thing about the industry what would that be? How would you do it?
I still think that women are perceived to be catty and bullies when it comes to hierarchy and I feel there’s still not a space in which more women are leading. There is, of course, change but it’s still a huge issue. There still a perception that women are all fighting to be at the top, which is not the case as I actually feel that we are the collaborators, the ones lifting each other up and being supportive.
shesaid.so: What does the music industry look like to you 5 years from now?
It will become much more that the independents rule and the artists who have smart, interesting, clever concepts will do better and become more recognised. Perhaps the bigger labels and agencies will break up and the independent people and groups will do their own thing and will be much more diverse. This is wishful thinking at least!
shesaid.so: Name someone you consider a role model or mentor.
Sarah Derbyshire at Orchestras Live is a role model to me. She is a really collaborative leader, and has always been kind and thoughtful to me ever since I first reached out to her. She would always give me a chance, even though she was much more senior in the industry and I wasn’t. I admire her a lot.
Someone I love dearly who is more of a peer mentor is Tessa Marchington. She is a kick ass mother of two who embodies my lifestyle. We are so similar and always give each other inspiration. We are ambitious mums and have similar talking points and things to discuss, from how to build a company to getting everything done. She has done incredibly well, she’s part of the Culture Mile team, her company Music in Offices is doing amazing, and she’s done so many other things. She is brilliant, clever and creative — she is a like-minded person and I admire her a lot.
shesaid.so: Three tips for maintaining balance while hustling as a CEO. These can be career-related, or focused on health, nutrition etc.
To retain a healthy perspective, I always tell myself that we are not saving lives, and we are not saving the world — that’s the easiest way to ground me, so I don’t think too much of the pressure. The pressure feels stronger now with the investment as I have an extra person overseeing the ins and outs of the company. I know what I need to make me feel happy — I go to therapy, I bake my own sourdough bread which is therapeutic for me and it’s something I can do for the whole family. I also picked up rowing about a year ago and found that it’s the best and easiest way to keep me sane. Being on the water is a place where I am without my phone, which means all I am focused on is myself and the water. I love the water and I love meeting new people, so I am very happy when I can row with different people in different places, whether it be NYC, LA, Devon.
The older I get, the kinder I get as a CEO. I had a growth phrase of hustling a lot and wanting the expansion, and now that that one element of success has come in, I am able to breathe more, to think more, and I want to go back to what is important to me — being a good human being.
“I have found that having children has given me so much balance. It gives me an incredible perspective on what is important — they hold up a mirror to who you are. My children make me evaluate myself, which has had a real impact on my work life.”
shesaid.so: Finally, how can people reach you if they want to connect?
As I write this, I am currently enjoying my first proper holiday in ELEVEN years. Even after my children were born, I was still emailing shortly after. However, I do always respond so just email me at email@example.com call me or tweet me or message on LinkedIn — I am always happy to hear from people.