What’s your name and occupation?
Kat Reed, founder and CEO of EstateGrid.
Where were you born & what’s your nationality?
I was born in the small town of Galesburg, Illinois. I am a US citizen and my ethnicity is mostly Irish.
Has your nationality, gender or place of birth influenced your work and affect your career?
I am privileged in the fact that I am white and was born in the states, but being a woman without a formal post high school education slightly limited my options.
Things are changing now, but during most of my life, the vast majority of entry level corporate jobs required – at minimum – a college degree which immediately excluded me from qualification. There were positions that I knew I could do well, but I couldn’t get my foot in the door because I didn’t have a piece of paper validating their idea of my worth. I have always thought this was completely unfair and arbitrary.
This factor forced me into a career in administrative support which segued into executive support for the C-Suite from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100. Fortunately, I could make enough money to support myself, I was good at it, and I loved it for a long time, until I stopped loving it.
What work have you been the most proud of in the past five years?
I am most proud of the fact that I found the right leadership team to create something I have been working on since 2009 that has culminated into the formation of my company EstateGrid. We help people with the most important inheritance they never wanted, the hundreds of after-death tasks that are non-will and non-legal related.
Finding the right leadership team is difficult. Especially when you are not a trust fund baby, have no Ivy League connections, or university alumni network behind you. I am proud that the leadership team has put their trust and confidence in me to execute on creating a company that I know can change the world.
Have you ever experienced racism or micro aggressions during your career? If so, how did you navigate those situations?
Any person of color, differently abled, or woman asked this question must go back in their minds to triage and ask themselves, “Hmm, which of the hundreds was the most egregious? What did the most damage?”
As far as racism goes, if I had to pick one, I will pick the one that involved me signing an NDA. It was early in my career (late 1980s or early 90s) where I was an executive assistant. An executive at the company where I worked used the n-word about my then boyfriend at a company celebratory event (where everyone in the room was white, of course). I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do so I stormed off in a huff. Later that night, I drafted a resignation letter and gave the reason explaining what happened and copied every exec at the company, among them was a Black man.
A friend at the time helped me draft an additional proposal asking for a few months’ worth of pay and demanding they allow me to resign with a letter of recommendation for my search for future work because it was their bad behavior that caused me to want to leave, not mine. HR brought me in and agreed to the request – check in hand – but there was one caveat, (along with the requisite victim-blaming item on the agenda we women have been socialized to expect) you guessed it, an NDA so I would never talk about it ever again. I feel remorse for signing it and I am not being self-congratulatory or saying that I did something right or ethical. It was a different time and I am not proud of not doing more and only caring about my future, but I thought it was my best option at the time. The point of the story is the NDA, not how I admittedly failed as an ally.
Regarding microaggressions, the obvious aggression I must mention which is not micro is the constant objectification that women face on a daily basis (which I recently learned changes as women age in how they are treated, but remains harmful in its perpetual cycle in different ways).
In terms of microaggressions, the worst is white people thinking – because I am white – that I automatically agree with their racism. If a white person is racist in front of a group of other white people, there is a groupthink that exists. Most white people would never admit this, but it does. In order to be a good ally, we all have to speak up and say something. It may not seem like much, but being an ally is active, not passive.
Silence is condoning behavior. When I know I am physically safe, I am never silent about sexism, racism, or ableism. It’s not easy to change minds, but the more people speak up, the less it will be tolerated. When someone hears my dissenting voice, they can dissent the next time in my place. It takes learning what to say and how to say it (pro tip: if you are white and you don’t know what to say and how to say it, figure it out, don’t ask the marginalized party to help you).
What career advice would you give to someone who looks like you?
If you are a woman, do ten times as much research, work, and preparation as you think you need. We are held to a different standard; and people of color are held to another; and women of color, yet another. In the business world, when men age, they are respected more; when women age, we are respected less.
My advice would be to look for companies that align with your values. I realize that’s easy to say in a perfect world. Many companies spout values they don’t really practice and you don’t find out how fraudulent their claims are until you are an employee. I know so many people who work for different companies that are Top 10 Places to Work and we all know, “Yeah, for the highly paid white dudes.” I myself have worked for some of these places, and those accolades are typically bulls!t from an LGBTQ, person of color, differently abled, or female perspective.
Recently I helped a woman in tech find a new job and found several women-owned companies and other companies that focus on helping women get tech jobs.
My advice to everyone would be – regardless of gender, ethnicity, or ability – go where you will be wanted and celebrated, not merely tolerated. I have to say it again: that’s easy to say, not as easy to do when you simply need a job and need to pay bills.
What do you wish you did with your money sooner?
I wish I had saved it! I inherited my dad’s philosophy on money: Spend it! Spend it all! Spend it now! Spend what you don’t have! You will get another check soon! This coming from a white male who had the same railroad job from the age of 14 to his retirement and got the job through nepotism. This is not reality for far too many of us. But I digress, I hate that I never saved.
Fortunately, my husband helped me get beyond that in my 30s by telling me if I didn’t get myself together financially we wouldn’t have a future together. I never made much money when I was younger, but I know I could have saved at least 10% and I never did.
What other unique ways have you made money outside of your main career?
I would say side hustling, but that is not unique, especially now.
Looking back, it is interesting how working with several entrepreneurs and executives in my life prepared me for my current role. I have always been someone who can look at both the big picture and the smallest details which is critical in leadership.
Making money on the side doing bookkeeping, helping entrepreneurs write business plans, and helping them build their businesses in other ways in many different industries laid the foundation for where I am. I was preparing for this role and I wasn’t aware of it.
What advice would you give someone looking to break into your field?
My specialty is relatively new. The death care market right now is a blue ocean.
More broadly, I would say that breaking into any field requires reading, watching, participating, and learning everything you can about it, including the adjacent markets. Learning about how your market is affected by other markets keeps you ahead of the game.
If you are interested in breaking into death care, learn about hospice, estate law, the aging demographic, etc. (there are always countless adjacent markets to any field). Simply learn as much as you can about everything related to what you are doing.
If someone reading this wanted to work with you or become your mentee how would they be able to do so?
They can reach out to me on LinkedIn.
Currently we are not in hiring mode, and I have a file of potential candidates ready for when we are. I am always happy to add to that file, especially when I am adding women, LGBTQ+, people of color, differing abilities, neuro-diverse and any other people who are part of a marginalized group I didn’t mention.
I must say that I have always thought that mentoring should not be forced. I have seen it fail in corporate America and if mentor and mentee do not have a connection, it will never work. But when it does – short term or long term – it can make a world of difference in someone’s life.
How did you accomplish all that you have? Especially founding EstateGrid and writing the book on after death care?
If I am anything, it’s scrappy. I wrote the book after going through an experience that I thought would literally take me one or two days and ended up taking me about 200 hours. I am one of the most organized people I know and if it took me 200 hours, I thought it must be taking other people 400-500 hours. My subsequent research shows that number is accurate.
It’s a determination that has left the station with no route back. I simply cannot tolerate inefficiency and broken systems which is the entirety of this process. It’s mind-boggling that each year 3.5 million people do not have a tool to help them with this process that should have been automated over a decade ago.
Using antiquated systems is unacceptable when it comes to managing something that 1. no one wants to do it in the first place, and 2. forces each survivor to become a detective to figure out what needs to be done, when, and why. It’s crazy!
Any last bit of advice you would give your younger self to help you earn more and thrive in your career?
A former partner helped me acknowledge and fully embrace my value at an early age (my early 20s). He taught me how to negotiate (ask for twice of what you want/need, and you will likely get 25% more than what you want/need) and to appreciate the value of my brain. That usually worked. I knew that I was always making fairly good money (enough for me) for not having a degree.
My advice to my younger self would be to save some of it. When I was younger, I didn’t think way into the future, and I never learned how to manage my money until my 30s.
I would have told my younger self to talk to someone who has been where I have (socio-economically) and can show me how to create a financially stable future for myself without having to rely on anything (social security, for one, which may be depleted by the time I will use it) or anyone else (a partner or inheritance) to chart my course.