Employee spotlight: Katie’s story
How Airfox’s VP of marketing found passion to connect the world using technology
In the mid-80’s, Katie Sedat and her parents packed up their Toyota Stout pickup truck with all of their belongings and started the drive from their home in Guatemala. The many mile drive from Central America through Mexico to the US was done because Katie’s parents wanted her to begin school in the US.
Katie does not have many vivid memories from her time in Guatemala and Honduras with her parents, who were there for her father’s career as a Mayan archaeologist. But she does remember bringing the family’s pet turtles across the border.
Katie’s childhood was both unusual and eventful, and she feels it shaped how she views connecting people around the world. The ability to connect and share her life with her family was limited by the technology at the time. After leaving Guatemala, Katie and her mother settled in Southeast Georgia, where they stayed throughout her childhood. Her father continued to work as an archaeologist in Honduras and spent six months out of the year away from their Georgia home.
“Calling internationally in the 80s and 90s was really hard,” says Katie. “Calls would be really quick, once a week, filled with echoes, bad delays, and sometimes they didn’t even work at all.”
Even though she didn’t know it at the time, this experience trying to connect with her father would feed her desire to bring people around the world closer together.
Growing up in Georgia
Leaving Guatemala, Katie’s family set out with the goal of reaching family living in Rhode Island. By the time they had made it to Georgia, they were tired of driving and just decided to stop their journey there and look for a place to live.
Her family had moved around a lot in Guatemala and Honduras, so when Katie’s family started their life in Camden County, Georgia the stable small town scene had Katie itching to get away.
During middle school and high school, Katie involved herself in her school’s theater department, both with acting and behind the scenes work. Katie enjoyed acting through high school especially when it allowed her to have new experiences outside of small-town Georgia.
An unlikely pair: marketing and theater
Katie attended Emerson College in Boston for her undergraduate education. Eager to get out of Georgia and explore a big city, Katie chose Emerson. The school allowed her to continue exploring theater as a career, get out of Georgia, and live in Boston. While she didn’t end up enjoying acting as much as she thought she would, she continued to get her degree in theater, but added minors in marketing and photography.
“Acting is a really great background for marketing, to play a character on stage you have to understand what drives and motivates them,” says Katie. “It’s similar to the mentality you take when developing a marketing campaign.”
Actors perform in-depth research, training, and rehearsal so they are comfortable performing and representing their character in a sincere and believably way. The ability to enter the mind of the character and know how they think, what their habits and routines are, or when they would prefer something over another are all skills that are very relevant when she creates marketing campaigns.
It wasn’t obvious at the time that developing her portrayal of Raja in “In Never Saw Another Butterfly” or one of the witches in Macbeth, that she was developing skills that would be practical for creating marketing campaigns in her future career.
World records & long tongues
While attending Emerson, Katie started a job at Tele-Publishing International, or TPI (and later known as People2People), a company owned by the Boston Phoenix, where she took personal advertisements for 550 newspapers across the US and Canada over the phone. She worked long hours after going to class during the day, but really enjoyed the challenge to turn the sum of an individual into short ads to hopefully help them find love.
Some examples of unusual but fun calls she received involved a man whose dog had the Guinness World Record for the biggest tongue (the record has since been broken by a pup named Mochi for those curious) and an Elvis impersonator.
Finding the right fit
The job was interesting, but ultimately it was not what Katie saw herself doing for a career. With the growth of online dating services like Match.com, it was obvious that newspaper personal ads were going the way of the dinosaur, and she didn’t want to work in a call center for another company. She was able to turn her time spent as the call center supervisor after graduation into a job as advertising, sales, and marketing coordinator at Madavor Media. Thus, beginning the first of many jobs that lead her to her current position as vice president of marketing at Airfox.
A lot of professionals with careers in startups have stories of jobs that weren’t what they expected or jobs that involved very random and unique opportunities, and Katie is no exception. Her first marketing position after her time at the Boston Phoenix supported various specific sports and hobbyist magazines. She worked on projects ranging from niche audiences of dolls and teddy bear enthusiasts to fans of international figure skating or women’s basketball.
While she didn’t identify with the majority of the audiences each magazine targeted, Katie could find motivation in her past to create experiences for people who were passionate about these specific topics.
Katie spent two years working for the Madavor team before deciding to pursue meeting and event planning with Abcam. The company sells antibodies and reagents for biological experiments to researchers. At Abcam, Katie planned conferences that brought together scientists from around the world who studied cancer and other diseases to collaborate and learn from each other.
Merging technology with emerging markets
It wasn’t until her third career step after graduation that she really found a company that she shared passion for its mission. She was hired at Jana as one of the first employees and would eventually became senior consumer marketing manager helping the company bring free internet to the emerging middle class in India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico.
Jana’s mission to provide emerging markets around the world with free access to mobile data was important to Katie, because she still felt the physical space between herself and her father. Katie’s father resided in Central America after retiring to work on revitalizing both forests and agricultural products.
Jana aimed to redirect the world’s advertising dollars to provide people in emerging economies around the world with access to free mobile data, which was something Katie personally was passionate about. During her time at Jana, smartphones and mobile connectivity were booming in emerging markets and as the technology became more and more accessible, people were positively impacted. Katie spent time in India, Indonesia, and Brazil getting to know the target audience she was helping connect to the rest of the world.
While at Jana, Katie met two women who made impacts on her life and career path. Her manager at Jana, Sheela Subramanian, counseled her on more than just her marketing skills.
“Sheela helped me believe in myself, inspired me to try projects I wasn’t positive I could do.”
Katie also met Amy Spurling while at Jana, where Amy was the COO. Amy originally introduced Katie to Victor Santos, CEO and co-founder at Airfox. Amy did more than just connect Katie with Airfox; she helped grow Katie’s confidence in her management skills.
“She helped me think of myself as a leader. She was hard on me but now I understand her criticism,” says Katie. “She taught me It wasn’t enough to just work hard, I also needed to confidently showcase my accomplishments for others to see.”
Jana’s mission sparked her desire to pursue work opportunities that gave more value than just a paycheck, and Katie saw the perfect opportunity to continue in this path with a marketing position at Airfox. When Katie joined Airfox, there were only four or five other employees. Some might have seen the early-stage company as a risk, but Katie was excited to part of building the company foundation. With Airfox, she could make a big impact on the lives of billions of people.
Creating the marketing strategy behind Airfox was not an easy task, but Katie had experience staying motivated to reach a company’s goals even when it seemed like no one was noticing her work. This time though, Airfox was noticed.
“There’s nothing more fulfilling career-wise than having your hard work culminate in successful partnerships and user growth showing the real impact you’re making on the worlds” Katie says of rapid expansion Airfox has seen over the past two years. “More and more people wanted to work with the Airfox team.”
When Katie first started at Airfox, the product was very different than the banQi app we know today. All of the changes, product tests and shifts, new partners, and new employees have happened quickly, but that’s what life at a startup was supposed to be. Katie and the other original members of the Airfox team created a strong foundation that gained interest from international companies and there have been many successes along the way.
“The most amazing thing was actually launching the app in two stores in Brazil back in December of 2018, talking to employees, being in the Casas Bahia stores with customers. Actually seeing the product in Brazil and real people using it. It was a big moment,” says Katie.
While working at a startup includes consistent changes and sometimes stressful moments, Katie’s motivation to push through the hard times come from the knowledge people are benefiting from the better access Airfox is aiming to create.
Thanks to technology’s reach around the world, Katie can now connect with her dad, who lives in Honduras. They can share daily updates with each other via Whatsapp, with the improved cellular connection helping foster a better family connection in Katie’s life.
At Airfox, Katie can help others around the world share in the benefits of global access to technology, connecting her work life with what she cares about.