You’ve met her before in 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started a Startup, she’s our Co-founder and CEO, a mother of three wonderful boys, a wife, and an endless fountain of creativity, determination, and love for what she does. Her name is Lizia O. Santos and I sat down with her to talk about her experience building Citycatt.
Women own about 40% of businesses in the USA according to Fundera, and an effective way to increase that number and encourage more female entrepreneurship is to have female owners speaking about it. With that in mind, we hope that this interview serves as an incentive for you to start turning your ideas into reality. Enjoy!
1. How did the idea for your business come about?
I was a Citycatt growing up! My family loved hosting people and when I moved to the US, I was always hosting people and taking them to know another side of the cities I lived in. When I became a mom, planning trips became more complicated, and as I tried to search the web for unique things to do that went beyond the usual “top 10” I kept just ending up on the limited information. That’s when, as a Journalist, I realized the problem wasn’t a lack of things to do, but a lack of access to sources of information, and Citycatt’s idea came about as a way to connect travelers with reliable sources of information in their destinations so they can plan amazing and unique trips.
2. How did you come up with the name for your company?
It was my husband’s idea. In his words: “Cat is a very astute animal who knows the city very well. And a person who would guide you around the city is nothing shorter than a “cool cat”. Add a “t” to make it unique and there you have it, a community of cool City Catts!
3. How did you raise funding in the beginning?
It was natural. As I shared the idea, it piqued interest in people around me who trusted my ability to move the idea forward and transform it into a business.
4. How do you market your business, and which tactics have been most successful?
Citycatt’s growth so far has been organic, with people following us and joining our family of Catts because of word-of-mouth or direct contact from one of our collaborators. Moving forward, we’re kickstarting some marketing initiatives and strategic partnerships to get the word out in a big way as travel resumes after the pandemic.
5. What kind of culture exists in your organization, and how did you establish it?
We’re a big and diverse family, from team members to our Catts. We embrace our diversity to the point that it is actually the core of all we do, from designing the platform to all interactions and our operations. Establishing it was very natural, as I was raised like that, learning to love and embrace all people around me, no matter how different. I was always the class leader, the friend of all. So, when founding a company, I knew from the beginning that I had to find a way to extend this across all the company, and in practice that simply meant doing to others what I’d like them to do for me, and it caught up across all stakeholders.
6. How many hours a day do you work on average?
All-day, every day? As a mom and entrepreneur, the lines cross a lot and it’s hard to keep track of the hours of work. As a Founder and CEO I probably work an average of 7-8h/day, but some days it can be way more. And then comes the work as a mom…it never stops. It’s not a “balanced” life, but I can say that in our household we found the balance that works for us.
7. Can you describe/outline your typical day?
A typical day is a lot of my roles being intertwined. I start the day with meditation and a workout early in the morning. Sometimes I hit the gym, sometimes I bike around the neighborhood. This makes an incredible difference in my day, so I try not to miss it, but I do give myself grace when I’m too tired after working late hours the day before. Then it’s non-stop, with cooking meals for the family, work calls, emails, operational tasks, helping the kids with homework, running errands, being the driver for the boys’ activities. On any given day, I won’t stop until 11 pm.
8. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Entrepreneurship was my calling and I didn’t realize it. When I finally found it, I found myself with it, and it made me a better mom because I was finally comfortable in my own professional skin. My family is my priority, but for me to be the best wife and mom I can be, I have to feel fulfilled myself, and pursuing my dreams and goals is a great part of it. Of course, the tasks of building a business take a toll in my days, but nothing is impossible when you match determination, discipline, and a whole lot of love.
9. What motivates you?
My people! From my family to each team member to each Catt and then every traveler we’re able to help, it’s the people that keep me going. It might sound cliché but I really mean it. Since I was very little, being around people and advocating for others was my thing. I feel fulfilled in helping each member of our team achieve their goals and pursue their passions while we pursue a common mission of helping people and communities all around the world showcase and find what’s unique and beautiful about themselves. I love mentoring other businesswomen and being able to have my kids around me while I do all of that. It’s the smiles, the conversations, the “thank yous” that make me want to wake up and do it again.
10. How do you generate new ideas?
I joke that it’s a disease. They won’t stop coming! Ideas come very easily for me, and they come in all different shapes and forms. The bigger challenge for me as an entrepreneur is learning to filter them and turning them into reality through measurable and attainable goals.
11. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
As a Founder, I fear losing touch with the company’s culture as I watched it happen with so many other companies. I dreamt of a global company where local culture is respected and appreciated, and where travelers are treated like family by each one of our local Catts. Reaching a point where we become an “institutionalized” emotionless company where people don’t feel like they belong is my worse nightmare and goes against everything I work so hard for.
12. How do you define success?
To me success is millions of travelers being able to go anywhere in the world with help from local Catts, feeling safe, and having great anticipation for a trip like no other. Success is also having hundreds of thousands of Catts being able to generate extra income simply by sharing the uniqueness and beauty of their culture and ‘”Citycatt” being a synonym of uncomplicated amazing trips. It is also being able to touch every person’s life within Citycatt in tangible ways, making it possible they reach their own definition of success as well.
13. Do you believe there is some sort of formula to become a successful entrepreneur?
I don’t believe successful Entrepreneurship is Math. It’s more like History because the most successful ones are the ones that learn from their own story other people’s. Gather the lessons, apply them in today’s world, considering all circumstances and challenges people face these days and you’ll probably achieve success sooner or later.
14. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I was always a dreamer and very imaginative, and for a while, this was even a reason for people to make fun of me. I was also hyper and frequently this was labeled as anxious. And I couldn’t bear a day without chatting to a handful of people. Everything I’ve always been became an asset now that I’m an Entrepreneur. Now, my work is to dream things that’ll make people’s lives better and to do that I’m expected to be communicative, and being “hyper” is expected of me to do so. I love it that who I am fits perfectly into the job of Founder!
15. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
No doubt when Citycatt became a team instead of two founders, and I watched as other people understood my vision and lived our culture. Now, on to making it even bigger!
First of all, thank you Lizia for sharing this with us and for your time and passion. We’re sure Citycatt will reach a lot of travelers and make the traveling experience even cooler. We can all agree that The Entrepreneurship isn’t an easy one to board, but as our CEO made sure to let us know, it can be very satisfying and exciting. Dividing your time between so many tasks and a family is a challenge in itself, so finding the flow that works best for you is a key point to make it easier for you. If you’re a female entrepreneur or becoming one, let’s support and encourage each other.
If you want to find out more about us, you can visit citycatt.com.
That’s all for today!