Trish Fontanilla ’05

Trish Fontanilla, 2005

Bio: Trish Fontanilla is a freelancer, primarily building community & customer experiences for product-focused tech companies. Previous to venturing out on her own, Trish held roles at various Boston startups including Head of Community & Customer Experience at Freight Farms, Global Director of Community at Startup Institute, and Vice President of Community & Customer Experience at Vsnap. In her spare time, she coaches women entrepreneurs through the Babson College WIN Lab, in addition to being CEO of BOSFilipinos, a community focused on elevating Filipino culture through events and programming in Boston.

How would you describe Trish of All Trades?:

Today the core of my freelance work revolves around community building and customer experience strategy for product-driven tech companies, so Trish of All Trades refers to my understanding of all different facets at a company.

Although, it’s changed a lot over the years. Shortly after I graduated Emerson, I started using it more as a catch-all for my freelance work, but I think I really cultivated that persona while I was still a student. I worked for Service Learning & Community Action, so I was no stranger to running an event from the ground up – getting the event approved, creating the marketing flyers, sitting in front of the dining hall to recruit people, running the event itself, and all the little to-do’s in between. So when I left Emerson, Trish of All Trades referred to an “I’ll do all the things!” mentality. I wrote blogs posts, booked bands, recorded voiceovers and video shoots, ran events, tested products for usability, did some social media marketing, and even a little bit of early funnel sales work. If you were willing to pay or feed me, you could count on me helping out your company in some way. That flexibility and curiosity was super helpful working at early stage startups, and it’s what really turned me on to customer journey mapping which brings everything together. And now that I’m jumping into my next venture, which I know we’ll discuss later, I’m circling back to that early mentality of doing all the things. It’s funny because folks thought I was crazy for trying out a lot of different avenues, but it’s allowed me to have a unique perspective on business. It allows me to empathize with customers, relate to employees, and hire in a different way.

Many young professionals are intrigued but nervous about being part of a start-up. What advice would you provide about opportunities as well as red flags?:

You know that saying, “When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”? I believe that when you love what you do, you’ll work harder than you ever have. And that’s the kind of passion you need to take into a startup. That feeling of purpose will lift you up when the company is going through a rough patch. People don’t always talk about the tough bits. The highs are high, but there’s a lot of sacrifice and hard work before you see some wins. So if you can find a company whose mission speaks to you, figure out a way to work with them. When I was 25 I was really interested in a startup with no full-time positions available, so I became an intern alongside a bunch of college kids. I was working a full-time job and had a fellowship, but I was so determined to break into the startup world, and I used every extra moment I had to devote to that.

Otherwise, attend networking events, volunteer (work registration – you’ll know everyone!), and offer to beta test apps / experiences. It takes a village to raise a startup, so the more you can immerse yourself in the community the better. A lot of the opportunities I’ve come across haven’t been with people who have talked to past bosses of mine. They’ve been with people I’ve met while networking in person or online, or while volunteering.

As far as red flags go, always do your due diligence. Download the app, go to a demo, check Crunchbase, and use the good ol Google. At an interview, ask to talk to anyone that you’ll be working with. Startups can be like families, but they’re not since there’s a bottom line involved. Look and see who their leadership team is, and read up on them. Someone could be brilliant, but not great to work for. Same thing goes for the company’s investors. If the startup is a little further along, you can go on Glassdoor for some insight, but I love talking to everyone from interns to senior-level execs to previous employees. I want to know how everyone’s treated along the food chain.

What are some best practices that you feel should be incorporated into areas such as brand management and customer experience?:

I wish everyone could go through an emotional intelligence course. I think a big dose of self awareness and empathy can go a long way. I like to say that business should be H2H (human to human) instead of B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer). So when you’re interacting with people, be human and put yourself in their shoes before you respond. Also, can we ban “sorry for the inconvenience?”

Hire and work with people that you can trust to embody the brand, so that there isn’t any micromanagement. Social media moves fast, people need to be empowered to respond quickly. But most importantly, if you don’t want to see it as headline in the New York Times – don’t tweet, Snap, DM, ‘gram it. Oh, and use different apps for your personal social media accounts and for your business accounts to avoid any late night blunders.

When it comes to customer experience, I don’t think people do enough user testing. A lot of the time they’re building for themselves or because they think something is cool, which is fine, but at the end of the day they need to sell the thing. The sooner you can talk to potential customers the better. I also don’t think there’s enough interdepartmental communication around experience. Put the whole customer journey on a prominent wall in the office. It allows people to see how impactful they are on each other and other departments. It’s also great for accountability and the kind of innovative feedback that can come from people not as close to a certain project.

In November you announced that you were leaving your position at Freight Farms to start a Filipino restaurant. What lies ahead for you with this new endeavor?:

Lots and lots of work. So when I’m not freelancing, my life is figuring out what’s next for the restaurant. I’m working on developing recipes, researching, talking to different folks (from government agencies to restaurant owners), chatting with people interested in working with me, and thinking about the space (what it’ll look like, the vibe, etc). I actually moved back to Boston proper because I hope to find a space in the city, but it’s still early. I like going to neighborhoods and feeling out the vibe. I’ll shop in the locally owned stores, eat at a restaurant, and then just find a bench to sit on to see how people move around that street. Then I’ll go back a different day and time to see what the vibe is then. Community is super important to me.

Later this year I’m going to be staging the concept for some folks, and there will be some pop-ups and tastings. Although, I’m not publicly announcing any dates or milestones just yet. One thing I’ve learned from startups is underpromise and overdeliver. I’ve been in too many situations where a date is announced and has to be pushed back. I have the deadlines in my head (and in Asana) to keep myself accountable to a timeline, though.

Anything else you’d like to share with our aspiring Emerson entrepreneurs?:

Be kind. Show up for yourself as much as you show up for others. And, whenever you can, pay it forward.

Listen to Trish’s recording of her piece: