Seeing the Need and Knowing Your Customer: Katie Hotze MBA '19

Online MBA graduate, Katie Hotze, Class of 2019, understands the rigors of entrepreneurship. She is the founder and CEO of Grocery Shopii which she incubated and launched this year. Grocery Shopii is a recipe-to-cart application that helps grocers sell more groceries online by providing meal-planning functionality to any grocer’s eCommerce platform. As Katie explains, “The lesson here is that meal planning changes the game. I’ve run nearly 50 customer discovery interviews in 2019 alone to deeply understand the needs of the busy parent who is also the “chief cook” of the house. I know first-hand how brutal the ownership of the cooking responsibility is on a working mom who is also managing a household. It’s the reason why I developed Grocery Shopii technology, so every grocer online can provide their customers - we ladies who spend a mother-load in their grocery stores each week - with meal planning technology that can actually happen inside the online ordering process.”

Katie started her career in business fresh out of undergrad. Her long-time mentor and current business partner, Louise Pritchard, helped set her on the right path some 20 years ago. Louise was an accomplished executive for Fortune back then. Katie’s father had gone to the same college as Louise and knew her well. Katie was encouraged by her parents to introduce herself. Thus began a lifelong connection. Louise prompted her to take her first job in Atlanta, Georgia. From then on, she became a sort of “fairy godmother.” Anytime a major professional decision came up, Katie would turn to Louise for sage advice. She also placed a firm stamp of approval on W&M when it came time for Katie to decide where to pursue her master’s degree in business.

Katie is candid. Many years ago, she completed half of an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a difficult decision, but due to life circumstances, she left the program with every intention of returning. She experienced a hard pregnancy and life progressed. However, she recalls everything about that program because it was so different from W&M. “The kids—the people in the program—were straight out of undergrad with pretty much zero experience. They might have referenced a small job, but they did not bring anything to the table when it came to group projects. It seemed like they were burning time, trying to find themselves.” Years later when Katie slipped back into the groove, and online programs had launched, she had a reference point for comparison. She narrowed her choices to Chapel Hill or William & Mary. Louise told her, “It’s W&M.” Louise is a huge proponent of the college and serves as an Executive Partner to the business school.

“The program at W&M restructured my brain. I essentially went 24 months with no life,” Katie laughs. “It’s so surreal to have nothing due now.” With 18 years of corporate experience under her belt, Katie was skeptical about going back to school and made the honest assumption that she wouldn’t be learning anything new. Oh, what are they going to teach me now, she thought? She was quickly blown away by the healthy, positive, competitive nature of her cohorts and the wealth of experience each person brought to the table from students and professors alike. “I would say that’s what defines the experience—the veterans who have crazy resumes, and corporate individuals from huge successful companies.” It’s a totally different ballgame than what Katie experienced in her previous grad program. Especially when it comes to collaborating on projects. VCU is, or at least “was”, the complete opposite of W&M. Katie remembers she’d eagerly wait for someone to bring something of value to the table at VCU. This never happened.

Whereas in all of her experience with W&M’s Online program, students constantly brought global issues to the table and endless topics to discuss. She was surprised by, and loved, the competitiveness of her peers. “Everyone wants to do everything” when it comes to group projects. The competition is amicable and motivating.

“There’s so much secret sauce in the [program], I don’t even know if William & Mary knows it.”

Some of this “secret sauce” includes how the full-time MBA students interact and introduce themselves. As an online student who attended the required on-campus events, Katie saw the unique dynamic. The online program is no less unique. “When you get in there it is a super competitive, super strong group of candidates. My assumption is they do a lot of vetting of applications. The value you get from other students, particularly in the online program, is just awesome!”

About a year ago, Katie left her full-time job with Global Consulting to focus solely on launching Grocery Shopii. In taking such a leap of faith, Katie again called upon her trusted advisor, Louise. She confided in her, “I want to be a tech CEO. Most people you say that to would maybe not laugh but just give a little smile. Louise said, ‘Let’s figure this out.’ She had my back immediately and from that point forward I knew I could call her for advice.” Katie launched her program and came out of the incubator in March 2019. After months of extensive research and calling grocery stores nationwide, Katie realized she needed more support. Louise has been an executive for decades. “She can sell just about anything and is incredibly talented. We have a connection. She always offers a huge push.” So, when Katie asked Louise if she would like to come onboard as her business partner, the latter was ready, willing and able.

When asked what advice she offers to those just starting out, Katie says two things are pretty much essential. 1. Open up a savings account and start putting money aside. Enough to float you for a year. “I believe this could be the number one reason why women are not starting companies today at the rate men are.” 2. Find yourself an Incubator start-up. This is absolutely transformative. “They provide coaching and mentorship. You will learn about customer discovery and validation, which is the foundational information for launching a company. Incubators provide field training for your brain. Everything you thought you were doing right, you discover you were doing wrong.”

Most Recently, Grocery Shopii received a tech award from the No. 1 media outlet in grocery. Grocery Shopii is the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Grocery Industry Award for best tech application. “To say it was a dream, is underestimating it. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Grocery Shopii is passionate about the opportunity to digitally disrupt meal kits and this level of support from the grocery industry is incredibly meaningful to us.” One of the drawbacks to meal kits like Hello Fresh, for example, is that they are more expensive, not only in monetary costs, but also wasteful in packaging.

Katie emphasizes the importance of “supporting your local grocer. It is important in this Amazon world. They [small businesses] will dissolve if we do not do something. Disrupting meal kits is [our] position statement. Any household with at least one child is the target market.” As a working mom, Katie’s drive and passion behind her app started at home. She began doing her own research, seeking a smart solution. The Shopii app provides meal planning for the week and automatically fills a customer’s cart online. It is simple and effective. Meal planning is a big thing. Wal-Mart just came out with their own app, which validates the concept of Shopii. In all of her surveys and customer research, what Katie discovered to be “the” most important factor for shoppers is speed. Online shopping can be endless when you are scanning through product after product. Shopii streamlines this process. “The application allows shoppers to plan meals for the week, fill their online cart, and schedule load or delivery in five minutes or less.”

Grocery Shopii is a semi-finalist for the pitch-to-win small business contest hosted by Nationwide. For up-to-date news, follow Grocery Shopii on LinkedIn and Twitter.