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Catherine Blakemore of Treadaway Co: “Take ownership and responsibility for your network”

This isn’t really a gender binary question; this is a general Diversity question. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re looking at the best ways to create influence and get paid for it in some regard, whether you’re an insurance company or a tech startup. The best way to create influence is to know how to create […]

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This isn’t really a gender binary question; this is a general Diversity question. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re looking at the best ways to create influence and get paid for it in some regard, whether you’re an insurance company or a tech startup. The best way to create influence is to know how to create influence. One critical way of doing that is by understanding others’ lived experiences so you can best speak to all your consumers. You can only do that when the voices at the head of the boardroom represent a variety of lived experiences — from women to BIPOC to first-generation college students to our founders with non-binary identities. The value of a business is in the benefit each product and service gives to its consumer. The more the founders of each company represent each consumer, the better products and services will be created and put into the world.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Blakemore.

Catherine Blakemore is a fiercely pragmatic and solutions-oriented strategist resolving business problems using design thinking, a keen understanding of brand experiences, and a little bit of humor. She is the Founder of Treadaway Co., a brand strategy and design consultancy serving a global client base in non-profit, healthcare, law, real estate, interior design, and consumer goods. Holding a B.A. in Communication and a master’s degree in Strategic Communication, she is a big believer in learning as much as you teach, giving back more than you’ve been given, and seeking understanding before trying to be understood.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I accidentally fell into being a design entrepreneur. I’d gone to college in Texas to become a journalist and took a job as an Arts Editor of the school newspaper; little did I know that job actually involved creating the layout and spreads each week. It was there I fell in love with design and the intricacies of color and typography and flow and proportion. Gradually, I started to pay attention to all of those little elements around me and how strategically combining or eliminating them created different feelings across signs, papers, menus, and so much more. Couple that new vision with having been raised by two entrepreneurs and seeing how they were treated by professional designers over and over again, I fell into a bigger vision: I want to change the world with good design. With the belief that design has the power to inspire the masses, unite communities and illuminate goodness, I founded Treadaway Co. at only 19-years-old.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting stories in my career are those shared with me by my clients. As the Founder and Creative Director of a brand strategy and design studio, I work with entrepreneurs at every stage of their business, diving into the sometimes tearful, sometimes deeply personal origin stories of what drove them to do what they do. These are the stories my clients have entrusted to me to listen to and bring forth into the world, and there is no greater honor nor more interesting element of my career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a big believer in failing fast, I’d say a good portion of starting out involved a whole lot of stumbling around, looking like a fool to the people around me. Though not fall-out-of-your-seat-laughing funny, looking at the first-ever Treadaway invoice to a client of 300 dollars for what we now charge 15,000 dollars+ for is wildly comical. Comical because you have to start somewhere, comical because the client (who I still know and love) basically got away with highway robbery, and comical because it felt like the biggest first step in a business where the mission of the client and the potential impact they could make on the world nourished me more than that 300 dollars ever could. The lesson? Money comes and goes; impact is invaluable.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many names of people who helped along the way of building Treadaway. They say your business is your baby, and it certainly takes a village to raise it. From my undergraduate professors to my entrepreneur parents and all the friends in between, each person has impacted my entrepreneurship journey and our studio in countless ways. It would be impossible to draw out a single name from an ocean of support. What I would say is this, you are the sum of the top five people closest to you, choose wisely, and don’t be afraid to make cuts.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As an avid reader, I’m constantly marking up the margins of books and taking notes on my iPad as I read, and no book has stopped me as dead in my tracks as Essentialism by Greg McKeown. When you’re building a business, you’re working 14+ days and in a constant spin of ideas; Essentialism brought all of that into perspective. It takes you from a reactive to a proactive position. It forced me to look at the trivial many and cut them down to the vital few. Though I had been designing brand strategy, brand identities, and websites for years at that point, I realized I wasn’t living by design myself — I was living by default. I would not have the clarity and vision I have now without the mirror that book held up to my life.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

My mom raised us on the quote by Nora Roberts, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” While most of that was in terms of lunch money and later curfew, I’ve taken this to heart in countless situations, whether it’s proposing client budgets that make my palms sweaty or asking for help from seasoned entrepreneurs on an AMA or webinar. It’s the questions that I didn’t ask or the needs I didn’t express that haunt the most, not the failures or sweaty palms that came from asking.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m a big believer in giving back more than you’ve been given. Every opportunity I get, I work with undergraduate student entrepreneurs to help mentor them and coach them in business plan competitions, guide them on practical and effective brand strategies, and serve as an example of how to start their own entrepreneurship journey while they’re still a student. The entrepreneurial spirit — not just business ownership — is what will change the future for the better. Every chance I have to cultivate that spirit, I will do it.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think this is actually a two-fold question when you look into the report. First, what is holding women back from founding companies in a general sense, and second, what is holding women back from seeking VC/Angel funding. Both questions are exceedingly valid for the conversation around female entrepreneurship, but the answers, in my opinion, would differ greatly. I believe that there are female founders far more prevalent than the report shows. I also believe that those same female founders are bootstrapping their companies and remaining in and serving their local communities, which is, in my opinion, just as valuable as a Series C female-founded company. As a studio, we have served primarily female entrepreneurs who are fit into this exact framework. However, on the flip side, representation signals possibility. The more female-founded companies we fund, the more we signal possibility and growth to those serving locally with their bootstrapped funds.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

The majority of our clients at Treadaway are female entrepreneurs. For each of those we help brand and position in the marketplace, we believe one other future founder sees them and knows it’s possible for themselves. Beyond the genuine and tangible ripple effect of representation, I have a huge heart for student entrepreneurs. The women on campus innovating and exploring ideas in incubators and classrooms are the future of countless industries from environmental science to non-profit to tech and so many more. My goal has always been to say yes to every opportunity to speak in classrooms, be a mentor in business plan competitions, provide feedback on pitches, and serve as a visible example of what it looks like to start their entrepreneurship journey when you’re still a teenager. The entrepreneurial spirit — not just business ownership — is what will change the future for the better. Every chance I have to cultivate that spirit, especially on a college campus, I will do it.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

This isn’t really a gender binary question; this is a general Diversity question. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re looking at the best ways to create influence and get paid for it in some regard, whether you’re an insurance company or a tech startup. The best way to create influence is to know how to create influence. One critical way of doing that is by understanding others’ lived experiences so you can best speak to all your consumers. You can only do that when the voices at the head of the boardroom represent a variety of lived experiences — from women to BIPOC to first-generation college students to our founders with non-binary identities. The value of a business is in the benefit each product and service gives to its consumer. The more the founders of each company represent each consumer, the better products and services will be created and put into the world.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Let’s start from the first place our founders begin their critical thought: the classroom.

  1. Implement a one-week junior high and high school business plan competitions led and sponsored by local community business owners. — Young entrepreneurs and especially female entrepreneurs should be encouraged to explore the potentialities of creating a business concept with the guidance and encouragement from those they already have trust with (their teachers) and those they may not have otherwise had access to (community entrepreneurs).
  2. Create an embedded entrepreneurship curriculum into first-year courses at university regardless of declared major. — Many founders I know never majored in anything related to business. Each of those founders could benefit greatly from the basic business terminology you find in a business plan. Beyond that, entrepreneurial thinking is a definitive skill that can be cultivated and utilized in any corporate setting, founder or otherwise.
  3. Celebrate a woman starting her business. — Countless communities reserve celebrations for baby showers and wedding showers, and other archetypical milestones in a woman’s life. Begin celebrating the business ventures of your female friends and network; host a business shower, see who brings the best office chair.
  4. Take ownership and responsibility for your network. — When you RSVP to a networking event, what female founder or hobbyist or budding entrepreneur can you invite along? When you scroll on LinkedIn, are you engaging with your female founder network’s content and business pages? When you see Best Of nominations or Women in Business features for your state, do you nominate a female founder you know or keep scrolling? Building a business takes a village; sustaining and growing one does too.
  5. Pay attention. — Female founders are already out there creating incredible influence on various scales. Start paying attention to their mission and their work. Share a link or two with your own network. Facilitate an introduction or share funding and grant opportunities you come across. Tune your awareness to them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Sounding like a broken record with my vision for embedding entrepreneurship curriculum into classrooms starting as early as junior high and all the way into the collegiate experience. Non-profits, sports teams, corporate America, finance, and startups all can benefit from the entrepreneurial spirit. The entrepreneurial spirit is defined by tenacity, encouraged by a challenge, and led by equal parts intuition and research. If we dropped a hint of that into each classroom, I imagine we would see a world drastically different than the one we live in today. I see a world where we each have a chance to live by design and not by default.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Without a doubt, Emily Weiss. Not only did she shatter glass ceilings with the success of Glossier and its Series D funding and 50% female board, but she has been hustling for years as a no-nonsense woman in business. I remember the first time I saw her on a 2007 The Hills’s episode when she worked at Teen Vogue as a young twenty-something. She possessed an incredible determination, forthrightness, and get-it-done-and-get-it-done-right attitude that was seared into my mind as something equally as attainable for me.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn! I want to know you and your story, what led you to this article, and what business idea you’ve been thinking of pursuing. Female founders at any stage from ideation to Series D funding are stronger together. A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s rise together.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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