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Yonge Interviews: Katherine Hague, Co-founder of ShopLocket

Katherine Hague had a vision. What if selling an item online was as easy as embedding a YouTube video? 
It all started when Hague wanted to sell custom t-shirts online. Services like Craigslist didn't look professional, and other e-commerce platforms required users to set up online stores. Even then, these stores were hard to share. You couldn't embed individual items into websites or Facebook. When she couldn't find a suitable service, the then 20-year-old decided to make one herself.
She joined forces with her co-founder Andrew Louis and together they created ShopLocket. Launched in late 2011, the service lets users create individual shops that can be embedded into any website, blog, or Facebook page. Shortly after establishing a prototype, ShopLocket secured funding from an angel investor. They now have six employees and more than 10,000 registered users. 
"It's the way e-commerce was meant to be on the web," Hague said via Skype from San Francisco, where she's participating in the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) program. 
The Canadian Consulate in San Francisco runs CTA in collaboration with the C100, a group of Canadian expats that now operate out of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. After spending much of last year flying between San Francisco and Toronto, Hague realized she needed to spend more consolidated time down there. She applied for the program in the fall and was one of sixteen companies to be accepted. 
"The CTA gave me a desk at a really popular co-working space for three months at no cost," Hague said. "We basically get to meet other entrepreneurs and start moving our business forward here in the Valley."
We caught up with Hague to learn more about ShopLocket and what it's like to be a young entrepreneur. 
When you were starting out, a friend of yours, Heather Payne from Ladies Learning Code, became a not-so-secret angel investor in ShopLocket. What impact did this have on your business?
Heather's investment not only gave me the confidence to focus on the idea and get it to the point of launch, but financially it's what allowed us to do that. I had saved up some money on my own, but it wasn't enough to not take a salary to pay people for six months. Heather and I had only known each other a few months when she invested. When I had the initial prototypes of the idea, she was the first person to say I love it, this is amazing, and I want to get behind it. It really made a huge difference in getting us over the hump and getting us to the point of launching the product. 
Do you share a bond over the fact you're both young, female entrepreneurs?
Yeah and that's definitely where it all started. We met because I messaged her on Twitter and said 'we seem similar, let's meet up.' Then we started meeting up, actually with another friend Ayla Newhouse who is the founder of 1 Thing App. The three of us started getting together for dinner. Then we started doing it bi-weekly and now our group of female entrepreneurs is probably at about 20. We get together every month or so. It's an amazing group of people and we've all sort of bonded over the fact that before this we had never really met anyone like each other. 
What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you been able to overcome them? Has your age or gender ever been an issue?
The biggest issue when I was younger and getting into this was trying to build up initial credibility.  The best way you can actually do that is to just start doing things. I was lucky that through my first 'in' in this industry, I was able to plan a lot of events with extremely talented entrepreneurs and prove myself a little bit doing that. Then I started a consulting company with small projects, because that's all that I could get.  Then you start leveraging those smaller projects to move on to bigger projects. It's just a matter of proving that you're someone who gets stuff done. The more you do, the more you can prove that.
I can't really look back and point my finger at anything and say this was a major obstacle that I faced because I was young or because I was a woman. I think that being an entrepreneur by its nature is extremely hard. You're always going to have people who tell you no. You're always going to have people that don't think you're good enough to do this, where you just don't feel like waking up because it's so hard some days.
You really just have to figure out for you personally whatever situation you find yourself in, how do you leverage your strengths and how do you get the best outcome for yourself. You get through it and everything about it makes you a better entrepreneur. 
What impact did your parents have on your career path and your outlook on business?
My parents, from the time I was a very little kid, have been so supportive of everything I wanted to do. They were always there to encourage me or give me the tools to do what I wanted to do. They were never the kind people who would tell me you can't do that or no you're not old enough or you're not ready or anything along those lines. When I was four years old, they let me drop out of preschool because I felt my time was better spent not in preschool. I was a little bit odd from the time that I was little, but my parents let me make those decisions. If I wanted to be a gymnast they would do everything possible to help me be a gymnast. If I wanted to graduate school early, they'd do everything possible to let me do that. For that reason I really owe a lot to them.
Did you actually graduate from school early?
Yeah, I took online courses throughout high school so I could graduate a year early. It was when online courses were just getting started.
What made you decide to do that?
I realized in grade nine that I could. I took one online course and then I did the math and realized I only had to do five more online courses and I'd be done an entire year early. I was so ready to get on to what I considered the real world. School wasn't really enough to keep me interested. I knew that if I was going to make a big difference in people's lives and do something really important, it wasn't going to happen while I was in school.
You ended up studying business at York University. Somebody wanted me to ask you if you think studying business made you a better entrepreneur?
I don't think so. I think that some basic business theory is helpful and important, but you don't necessarily need to go through four years of business school to get basic theory. The most valuable things I've learned, I've learned by working and starting something from scratch. From working with other incredible entrepreneurs and watching how they do it. I think if you're taking some sort of theoretical education while spending the majority of your time in the real world, trying things and failing, and trying again, then that's probably a much better balance.
If I were to go back, I probably would have done computer science or something along those lines. I'm glad I did what I did of course, it got me where I am, but if I were really doing it over again I probably wouldn't have taken business school. 
Thank you Katherine. To wrap up, why don't you tell us what's next for you and ShopLocket?
I'll probably be spending much of the next year bouncing back and forth between Toronto and San Francisco. I'm very lucky to have a team that I entirely trust when I'm out of the city. 
We have a big launch for our product coming at probably sometime in February, which we're starting to do some beta testing on now. We learned a lot from our customers in our past eight months. We're really trying to refine the product and make it more professional, and make it work for those power sellers that we've had coming to the platform. It's not totally different, but it's what we've always wanted the product to be and now we're bringing it out into the market. 
This interview has been condensed and edited. 
Sheena Lyonnais is Yonge Street's managing editor. Do you know a young Torontonian worthy of being featured in our Yonge Interviews series? Contact Sheena at [email protected]
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