Female Founders: Kathy Vegh Hughes Of Cutest Coops On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
Everything happens for a reason! This is one is huge for me. Every step I’ve taken and every decision I’ve made has led me to where I am today, and if one thing had happened differently, maybe Cutest Coops wouldn’t exist! You have to trust that any setbacks you encounter are just stepping stones that are helping to guide you towards the right path. Keep things in perspective and use any challenges as opportunities to pivot and do things differently!
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathy Vegh Hughes.
Kathy Vegh Hughes is a mom, lifelong entrepreneur and Founder and Head Hen of Cutest Coops. Cutest Coops is Kathy’s third successful venture. Kathy is a graduate of Allegheny College and got her MBA from the University of Baltimore.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I always knew I was an entrepreneur. At a young age, I would sell anything… I sold candy, neon necklaces and even parking spots in our driveway on the 4th of July! I like to think that my professional path has been a culmination of both nature and nurture. My father, an immigrant from Budapest, Hungary, had a small business that I watched him build during my youth. As I was completing my MBA, my father asked if I would “temporarily” come help him with his company since he was getting older and didn’t have reliable help. As a loyal first-generation American, I very rarely said no to my parents. The family business was a gameroom retail company that I then led for 19 years and grew to nearly 10 times its original size. During this time, I learned about consumer goods, product procurement, hiring, accounting, marketing, merchandising, inventory management, etc. It was a grind.
Toward the end of our family business, my personal life was also evolving… including the addition of our first flock of 3 chickens for my daughter’s third birthday. We followed the typical new chicken keeper’s journey and purchased a small coop online, which looked fine in pictures but lacked quality in person. We found that our love for our flock was very real, so we set out to find a quality coop for our feathered family members and we couldn’t find what we were looking for! Thanks to my background in home goods I decided to design my own, and about a year later I noticed that the trend of chicken keeping was growing. The coops on the market were just not the caliber of home that I believed chickens deserved, which is ultimately what led me to launch Cutest Coops!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Let’s be honest, I design and build luxury chicken coops… everything I do is interesting and most of the time hilarious!! I will say that one of my most surprising conversations with a client was when they told me that one of the reasons for their Cutest Coop purchase was that the husband is a famous lead singer and missed being on stage (due to Covid) so he planned to sing to his chickens from the porch of his coop! I love that story and that client!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when I first started was the way in which I introduced the concept of luxury chicken coops to the various Amish builders I was contemplating working with. I would describe the type of lifestyle I was trying to achieve for my clients, and they simply looked back at me in total shock. It was then that I realized that they were also chicken keepers, but they ate them, and I named them. It was certainly a reminder about the importance of perspective!!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had very positive influences in my life, including my parents, my grandfather, my husband, and some key mentors, but no one has helped me like my miracle, my 8-year-old daughter. You see, ever since becoming a mother I have viewed my role in life very differently. I see myself as the most important role model my daughter will ever have, therefore failure is simply not an option for me. I told her the other day that someone emailed me asking if I wanted to sell the company, and I was so curious to hear her reaction. Well, she quickly responded, “Mommy, why would you sell now? You have so much more room to grow!” Point being, the example I’m setting is fostering a growth mindset in my child, and that is motivation enough for me to continue working and building Cutest Coops!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Let me start off by stating that I don’t believe being a founder is for everyone, man or woman. My viewpoint on this topic is slightly unique, in that I truly believe I had no option as I am a born entrepreneur. To me, building businesses is like oxygen, it is a non-negotiable for who I am and what makes me excited about life. From a more societal perspective, I do think we are failing our young girls by not talking about being a founder as an option and not giving them enough visible female leaders to emulate. As more women become founders, it is my hope that others will naturally follow. It really is no different than the path of a family with three generations of doctors… It will take time and more moms like me showing their girls that they can pave their own way!
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I think the biggest obstacle to women becoming founders of companies is perspective. Women are truly the superheroes of our society. We raise our children, care for our peers and oftentimes the elderly, proving that we can balance it all. I wish more women believed in themselves when it comes to business, because what they don’t realize is that life has given them all the tools necessary to succeed in many aspects of entrepreneurship. They are nimble, agile, compassionate, and so much more. The rest can be learned.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women should become founders for several reasons, in my humble opinion. Let’s start with the fact that women control nearly 80% of discretionary spending, yet most products and services are created and delivered to us by men. Additionally, women are exceptional multi-taskers and problem-solvers. Both are qualities that are imperative to be successful as an entrepreneur.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe that one of the most confusing topics about becoming a founder is education. I will admit, I am highly educated, I have my MBA and I also completed a year of law school, however I learned more by doing. I would argue it is vital to have a basic understanding of topics such as accounting and marketing, but the truth is, the best way to learn how to start a business is baptism by fire. I think way too many young people today are unwilling to do the work, get dirty and make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. A fancy education is a great starting point, but that is all it is. There is no shortcut to avoid the hard work, long hours and unwavering dedication it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I 100% do not believe that everyone is cut out to be a founder, and although I am not the expert on this topic, but during my own professional transition in life I wrote down a list of my needs so I could better judge what to do next. That basic, yet insightful list included the following: I need to be responsible. I need to be creative. I need to lead. I need to be a role model. I need forward movement. I need to be focused. I need to be respected. I need to be constantly challenged. As I reviewed my own list, I thought to myself, “I need to be an entrepreneur.”
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Believe in Yourself. A founder is a founder, no matter the gender. This question is honestly a reflection of why so many women do not elect to become founders, they simply don’t view it as an option. But women are no less qualified — and in many ways are more qualified — than their male counterparts, so don’t let outdated notions of gender roles stand in your way.
2. If you don’t make mistakes, you are not trying hard enough! All too often, people spend so much time trying to perfect something that they miss the opportunity to just going for it! I have made many mistakes in my life that have ultimately led to the biggest wins. Honestly, if you never get off the starting line, you have already lost, so it’s better to take the leap and learn from any mistakes than to be too afraid to even try.
3. Know your audience! Keep your target audience in your mind and heart with every decision you make for your business. For me, this is easy, because I build luxury chicken coops for chicken keepers and homesteaders like me! But no matter what product or service you’re offering your customers, make sure you have their needs in mind every step of the way.
4. Mind over matter! There’s no sugar coating this: being an entrepreneur is hard. It’s a constant grind and requires that you constantly give everything you’ve got and then some. At the end of the day, it can feel like you’ve taken two steps forward and five steps back, and your to-do list never ends. If you’re going to survive and thrive, you need to be willing to push past all of the challenges and remember why you’re doing this. Keeping that goal in mind will help you to push through the worst days and find success on the other side.
5. Everything happens for a reason! This is one is huge for me. Every step I’ve taken and every decision I’ve made has led me to where I am today, and if one thing had happened differently, maybe Cutest Coops wouldn’t exist! You have to trust that any setbacks you encounter are just stepping stones that are helping to guide you towards the right path. Keep things in perspective and use any challenges as opportunities to pivot and do things differently!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
When I set out to start Cutest Coops, my entire goal was to make the world a better place. From a micro level, I wanted to employ and empower as many women as possible. Currently, all of my contractors and staff are women. It is my personal mission to help fulfill their professional goals while allowing for flexibility in their personal lives. On a macro level, our products certainly make a huge difference to the pets they house, keeping animals both safe and healthy! The unexpected — and incredibly positive — benefit of Cutest Coops is the amount of happiness we get to spread to our clients, which has been especially rewarding during these challenging times throughout the pandemic. Our clients are typically working mothers dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety and our coops tend to serve as their place of reprieve. There are many known mental health benefits to having pets, but our products go a step further by giving our clients a peaceful place to call their own.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Changing the world with a movement is a huge dream, but my focus is bringing happiness for the community that I serve. That’s what Cutest Coops is all about, building happy places for people and their pets. Going a step further, I believe that the work I’m doing is bringing families together and allowing them to connect in a way that many don’t. Thanks to the technology that makes our lives so easy, quality time without a screen is incredibly precious, and I want to bring that connection to as many families as I can. Never underestimate the power of happy, connected people, especially kids. You never know, they might be the next ones to change the world.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I have been very fortunate in my life to be surrounded by many influential people. However, I do have a short list of people I would love to spend a bit of time with, and that list includes Barbara Corcoran, Sara Blakely and Reese Witherspoon. I have an immense amount of respect for what these ladies have accomplished while remaining humble, grateful and genuine.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.