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Women in Business Q&A: Kathryn Cicoletti, Founder of MakinSense Babe

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Kathryn Cicoletti is the founder of MakinSense Babe, a website with a goal of creating a new media property that plows through the news that impacts one's money, cuts out the clutter, and makes sense of it all. With a tagline that reads "The Money Site For Non-Finance People. Finance People Are Annoying", Kathryn uses humor to engage her audience by breaking down the biggest news stories of the day and effectively explaining in laymen's terms how it may affect their money.

Before launching MakinSense Babe, Kathryn spent over seven years as Director of Institutional Sales at GAM, a $40 billion asset management firm in Los Angeles where she was one of the firm's top revenue generators in the United States. Prior to that, a rising star in the world of finance, she was climbing the ranks at Julius Baer, where over a five-year period she became the youngest Senior Research Analyst on the team. Kathryn began her financial career at Meritus Research, a San Francisco-based hedge fund research company.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Most of my life I've not been entirely sure what is going on. I overcommit to things when I have no idea what I'm doing. For example, when I was 23 I got my job as a hedge fund research analyst by answering a bunch of questions to make sure they would want to sit three inches next to me on a trading floor for several hours a day and then of course telling them I was "familiar with" all the systems they use.

Yes, I was familiar with the systems...did I know how to use them? Um, no. I had no clue.

This is the story of my life. I overcommit and figure it out, fast.

Leaders need to lead the pack, even when they have no idea what's going on. It's easy to lead when you're given a map, anyone can do that (I hope). But if you don't have a map and you need to figure out the path, that's a bit harder. The latter is way more fun too. Who wants everything to be mapped out and easy all the time? Boringsville.

How has your previous employment experience aided you to start MakinSense Babe?
I was a hedge fund research analyst for the first half of my career. I had to do due diligence on hedge funds in the U.S. and Europe and make investment recommendations based on my research. Starting at 23 I would show up to some of the biggest hedge fund managers in the industry with my notebook and start asking them questions about their investment strategy and how they plan to make money. Half of them are in jail now, but whatever.

My research experience really is the backbone of my finance career. That experience is what makes it very easy for me to rip through finance and money topics in the news and make sense of them pretty quickly.

Then, the second half of my career I flipped sides and I was raising money from investors. So I would try to get people to give us money to invest in our hedge fund products (vs. doing research on hedge funds). Without my research experience I wouldn't have been able to convince anyone of anything because you have to understand the investment strategy to be able to convince somebody that they need it.

But let's be clear, while the research was the backbone of my career, meeting with and pitching to investors was equally valuable because you have to understand what they don't understand in order to convince them that they need whatever you're selling. And half the time they don't know they need it until you explain why they need it so you have to have a really good understanding of where they're coming from.

What I'm saying is that sitting through a five hour dinner with someone and keeping the conversation going (while not getting drunk) and then having to pitch your fund at 8 a.m. the next morning and explain why they should give your firm $100 million shouldn't be underestimated as a solid skill to have in your bag of tricks.

What have the highlights and challenges been with starting MakinSense Babe?
Oh boy where do I begin? Okay, the biggest highlight is I laugh a lot since starting MakinSense Babe. I have always loved to laugh, but now I get to figure out how to empower people and educate them, while entertaining them. I do think I like to laugh more than the average person; I'm a bit addicted to laughing, and funny people. So having an entertaining spin on MakinSense Babe makes for some really fun days, until I start crying.

For sure the biggest challenge is not curling up in a ball on the floor crying all day on the bad days. There are really bad days. That being said, I've never had a day where I regret the leap I've taken, but there are days where I'm thinking to myself, "WHAT THE F IS GOING ON???"

You feel alone a lot if you don't have a business partner. I called this guy who I went on a date with recently and needed his help with something related to video on MakinSense Babe and almost started crying on the phone to him. It was bad. So I hung up quickly of course and looked even weirder. The uncertainty with "how everything is going to work out" can make you go crazy. So for sure, the biggest challenge is managing the uncertainty in your head.

How is MakinSense Babe shaking up financial reporting online?
In our weekly roundups, the monthly newsletter, and videos we're all about finding the hidden truths, debunking myths, and calling finance people out on stuff that they are trying to bury. We're trying to empower people by showing them that this stuff really isn't that confusing! Everyone gets investments and market calls wrong, and it's fine (as long as you have good risk management on yourself).

I really try to keep the focus similar to what The Daily Show is doing. Let's say what nobody else is saying. Maybe they're thinking it, but too afraid to say it.

But again, I want it to be helpful to people, the content must give them a different perspective so it's not just pure entertainment. Maybe they go in to talk to their financial advisor with a little more confidence because they now know what questions to ask. That's what I want.

I really want to empower and entertain the MakinSense Babe audience. Empower through knowledge and education and entertain them so they don't get bored and fall asleep.

What advice would you give to women who are looking for a career in a similar industry?
Learn as much as you can. Ask a lot of questions. Be the nerd. Stay late, ask questions and raise your hand in meetings when you don't understand something. Most people in the room don't understand either, but they're too afraid to ask so everyone will love you when you ask what nobody else will. And no, it's not about getting everyone to like you, it's about trying to learn and understand as much as you can wherever you are.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't really have that. When you're starting a business everything blends together. There's no "balance" really. I am always thinking about MakinSense Babe (not me, the concept). When I'm at a coffee shop and I see someone reading something, I look to see what he/she is reading and on what platform. Same goes for video. I'm always kind of surveying people in my head: what are they talking about, what is funny to them, why do they love/hate finance (mostly hate). It's weird I know.

I do things with friends of course, but I definitely have fewer friends now because you have less time for relationships with people who are maybe just time fillers. I really only want the real ones because that's all I have time for. Okay, next question! I sound like a freak with no life and no friends. I swear I have friends.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
A lot of women don't take the time to figure out what they want. They spend too much time fighting battles that don't even get them what they want or where they want to be in their career by a given year.

Take the time to think about it and own it. Maybe you want to be the next CEO of Amazon, maybe you want to be a stay at home mom, maybe you want to have several freelance jobs that you juggle. Getting pulled in all sorts of directions in your career because you haven't taken the time to figure out what YOU want is a big issue for women because women are more "rule followers" than men and we're pleasers. Forget that, figure out the life you want and make it happen.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I haven't had an official mentor, but I need one! One of my best mentorship relationships was with an old boss of mine. This was a boss when I was a research analyst. We sat next to each other on a trading floor and if you've seen that set-up, you know there's really nowhere to hide if you're having a bad day because your shoulders are basically touching.

He was always focused on my career advancement, but he also wanted to me to have a balanced life with friends and family. Some bosses want to work you to the bone and could care less about how happy you are. He was the opposite. Those are the best mentors because they know that if you're not happy, ultimately you burn out.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Gloria Steinem. It sounds cliché, but hear me out. A lot of people think that she is this ball buster anti-male woman. She's not about women being better than or needing to make more money than men or pitting women against men which is done way too much as far as I'm concerned. She's not about the competition; she's about equality, paving the way for yourself, and not conforming to silly society rules (unless you want to).

What are your hopes for the future of MakinSense Babe?
I want MakinSense Babe the brand to be the most empowering, educational, and entertaining financial content both on TV and the web.