Citiskope: Hillman Alumni Small Business
By: Connor Woodside
Karina and her sister Kathy are indeed the embodiment of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Together, they created the company Citiskopes, a business that offers travelers the opportunity to discover personal fulfilling experiences like none else. Their personal failures, successes, and ability to overcome any obstacle has given each of them the entrepreneurship title, as it is well deserved. Recently, I was lucky enough to sit down with the Citiskope pioneers, and talk about their business, and more importantly, personal outlook.
Karina, a Hillman alumina, always knew the entrepreneur lifestyle was for her after experiencing a highly demanding marketing job in New York City. “I was working for someone else, giving so much of my time and the money was great for a recent grad but, did I want to do this the rest of my life?”. Karina saw the effort her boss had been putting into the company, as she sometimes received calls near 3:00 am talking about projects that were due the next day. “It made a lot of sense because it was her company!” She went on to explain she enjoyed her position and how she had an overall fantastic experience, but deep down she knew it couldn’t last. On top of this, Karina was commuting to New York City every week and coming back to the Washington area on the weekend. She explained her work-life balance to me in detail, and I could hardly believe just how incredibly packed her schedule was.
It was a few unique experiences Karina had while traveling with Kathy that she began to realize that Citiskopes was a project she wanted to focus on. The first of precisely three trips she had was to Puerto Rico to see a colossal festival which attracts some of the most significant names in Central and South America. The idea of traversing to the concert came from their cousin who suggested many of the events/locations they should go to while visiting. Karina went to explain, “She told us everything to do, ‘you need to go here and here and here’ and we were just lost!” I could tell this was the good type of lost many people dream of. From her experience with her cousin, the sisters knew they had to let others know of the amazing sights they only got to see because of a cousin who knew the area well. Another trip, to Mexico, increased their drive to start Citiskope after having an unusual run-in with a taxi driver. As they were leaving a small coffee shop, the sisters hauled a local cab and were greeted with a friendly driver. Kathy told me the story, “He (taxi driver) actually showed us a lot of things to do that weren’t on the internet, so it was a much better experience than what we could find online!”. Having witnessed first-hand how personal guides were significantly better than generic online forums, they knew Citiskopes had to become a top priority.
As any entrepreneur can understand, starting the process of creating a business is one of the hardest parts. Forming a solid foundation can be tedious, tiresome, and overall unpleasant in some cases. As we talked about some of the first hurdles that Citiskopes went through when forming, Karina explained that the process had been a little more laborious than planned. For starters, “There’s not really a start-up 101. Like if you should have your company registered or if you should wait. Should you seek funding during this certain time or that. I learned a lot from a book which really helped us a lot”. When learning to swim, not many people would recommend jumping straight into the deep end, but for innovators like Karina and Kathy, it was the only way to get moving. Determination, persistence, and a little luck were key in building Citiskopes according to the owners, as they found bigger challenges around every corner. Another issue faced was a hired programmer taking payment without delivering any product. At a certain point, Karina noticed, “Why are our funds going down and we don’t have anything?... It got to a point where we put everything on hold to figure it out, but it was worth it.” Though a serious issue that required large amounts of time and energy, the sisters said they wouldn’t have it any other way. They explained to me that hurtles such as these helped sharpen their own minds and taught them valuable lessons the classroom couldn’t supply.
Through their constant motivation to make their dream a reality, Karina and Kathy have pursued every opportunity they can find. Recently, they won the Latino Innovators Pitch competition for their business which has helped inspire/fund them to keep moving forward with their plans to expand Citiskopes. I asked them how the Hillman Entrepreneurship program has impacted them and their mindset toward becoming a business owner. Karina, who was one of the first Montgomery College cohort members, talked about being valued as an individual. She went on to say, “I like the fact Mrs. Branco pushed us always to own a business. Every speaker who was brought in spoke to us about entrepreneurship. They never spoke to us about working for someone else.” I could tell through her demeanor she truly valued her experience with the Hillman program and what it taught her about creating her own path.
Citiskope is still the main focus of the sisters as they keep working toward making their company more valuable to customers. With recent plans to expand the AR technology for the Citiskope app, they hope to engage people in not just travel but history and culture. Though each step is always uncertain or holds doubt, this hasn’t and doesn’t plan to stop them from achieving their goals. Young entrepreneurs such as Karina and Kathy are genuinely inspirational figures to aspiring business owners no matter the circumstances. Even though this brief meeting, I could feel their spirit speak not through words, but the experiences they have gone through to get to this point. As we wrapped up our conversation, they both agreed that becoming an entrepreneur has been their best decision yet.