“I’d probably the the black, female version of Mark Zuckerberg had I stuck with coding!”
Cassie Betts is a true “geek girl.” The founder and CEO of MISLA (Made in South LA) says she grew up loving robots, calculus, and computers, and taught herself how to code at age 9. After graduating from fashion school in 2000, she became a serial entrepreneur, starting a fashion line, a photography business and designing wedding dresses. In 2012, she founded tech company, District2.Co, to connect brands and designers with factories to better automate the manufacturing process. Here, Betts shares with us her “geeky” roots and her hopes for breathing new economic life into her hometown, South LA.
You’re a fashion designer by trade. How did you segue from designer to tech entrepreneur?
I’m actually an entrepreneur first. As a child, my family had a real estate business in a sleepy town called Pontiac, Illinois. At one point we had over 150 units. At age 11, I started helping my dad manage the business. I took care of all the administrative work, collected rent, dealt with complaints and sent maintenance people to fix repairs. The “maintenance” team was basically my family and I! We painted, fixed the plumbing, did the electrical work… everything! I absolutely hated this life, but I definitely learned a lot. And it formed the foundation for my life as a serial entrepreneur.
After I graduated from FDIM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, I started a clothing line, had a photography business, and became a wedding dress designer. I loathe cubicles and “clocking in.” Still, I felt compelled to work my way up the corporate ladder in the fashion industry to understand and see firsthand how the apparel industry works. I noticed that the technologies being used to design and manufacture clothing were really outdated. So, in 2012, I set out to upgrade the manufacturing process. Initially I wanted to create design software, but I realized the need for sourcing manufacturers was more urgent. In 2013, I founded District2.Co to connect brands and designers with factories to better automate the manufacturing process.
You learned to code at age nine. Who encouraged or inspired you to do this?
I just wanted to play computer games. I kept asking my father to get them for me. One day he came home with a book of code and told me, if I wanted to play the games, I had to program them into the computer. The programming language was Pascal. I spent an entire summer coding computer games. At some point, I abandoned coding, probably because being a computer nerd was NOT the cool thing to be in the ’90s. That is my biggest regret. I’d probably the the black, female version of Mark Zuckerberg had I stuck with coding!
Why did you start the accelerator, Made In South LA (or MISLA)?
I started MISLA, or Made In South LA as a result of the current political and economic state of affairs. Hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #aDayWithoutImmigrants have brought the minority struggle to forefront of American politics in recent years. MISLA is an urban economic accelerator that trains underrepresented minorities in web development, software engineering and other forms of digital literacy. We have plans to launch a tech accelerator to provide funding, and services to existing and new startups in the South LA community with the aim of decreasing the tech diversity gap, increasing economic stability within poverty-stricken communities, and battling the ill-effects of gentrification. We’ve done a few pilot programs and have hundreds of emails from people interested in switching careers or becoming tech entrepreneurs
What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be prepared to sleep like a baby. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night, sobbing profusely, crying out for your mommy.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Building out the fully automated, functional product. Building the MVP is the hardest part of starting a tech company. I had to teach myself how to code… again. Understanding how the technology works allows me to hack the process.
Being a single, career mom and raising two, smart, well-mannered, decently-functional boys, while also maintaining legendary relationships with family and friends.
Flats, heels or kicks?
Yes, Yes, and Yes. Aldo is my jam. Their prices are decent. Their designs are unique yet on trend and the quality ain’t bad. People always think I’m wearing $400 shoes.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, I’m teaching my boys the art of being gentlemen, living life to the fullest (painting, hiking, yoga, beach, wine tasting, etc) and since I’m perpetually single, I started a secret dating blog where I vent and share my experiences #datingInLA. There is NEVER a dull moment… lol.
Best work-life hack? Work Hack: Fiverr. I’ve hired virtual assistants for data entry, spreadsheets and other administrative work. I’ve hired web developers to fix a bug. Just make sure to work in short sprints, with projects that take no longer than 1 week at a time. I wouldn’t trust it for longevity. Life Hack: I recently took in a homeless girl. She’s 22. After spending 1/2 the day with her, she reminded me of myself and something inside me told me to help her. I was once a homeless youth, sleeping on cardboard boxes and bus stop benches. I know first hand how hard it can be. I just couldn’t drop her back off on the streets all alone. She works 2-3 hours a day to pay for her room and board and helps me out immensely with maintaining my life and the household. I’m no longer sure who saved who. Though I’d advise against taking in random homeless people, having someone work for trade is a great way to cut costs.