A Look Beyond Cowtown: Dalia Katan’s Presently
Dalia Katan is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Her current startup, Presently, intends to simplify the gift-giving process between family and friends.
In my conversation with her, I learned of someone with immeasurable drive, inspired by a rigorous upbringing and curiosity, creativity, and ambition.
Though Dalia is not a local entrepreneur, her story can give Cowtown businesses a window into the world of entrepreneurialism and the life of an unyieldingly curious creative.
The Origins of Presently
Dalia ran her first lemonade stand when she was 7. At 12, she started her first online business.
Entrepreneurial spirit was in her. As a first-generation American, her family was a special inspiration:
“I think a lot of what inspired it and certainly what inspired my current startup [Presently] is my family. … Fun fact: nearly 50% of Fortune 500 company founders are actually immigrants or children of immigrants.
“My family is an immigrant family. I would say my family always taught me to work hard, to take risks, to think outside the box, to be unafraid to ask for help, to try new things.”
With such thinking, Dalia received inspiration when she saw a “terrifying” sight in her family’s attic. Toys—lots of toys. Boxes and boxes of them. She knew they would never be played with. Even with her family’s yearly donation of toys, the backlog remained immense.
“I just realized there had to be a better way to show people that we love them, to celebrate milestones, to celebrate the people that we love, but without all the junk and without all the excess which is both bad for the environment, but also not so great for kids’ development.”
Thus, the idea for Presently was born. But it wasn’t just the sight in the attic that created Presently. Dalia’s life had already been filled with valuable experiences in three of the US’ largest cities.
For more on Presently, visit the company’s website here: getpresently.com
Far From Funky Town: Entrepreneurial Life in the Big Cities
Dalia has worked in three of the largest cities in the U.S. She’s from New York and, since growing up there, has lived in San Francisco and is presently in Los Angeles. Dalia said that they have each contributed to her development with unique culture, lifestyle and mindset.
First, there was New York. Dalia said that it’s hard for her to separate what she learned from her family and community there from what she learned professionally: “[I]t kind of blurs when you grow up there.” This is likely due to the city’s nonstop pace.
New York is associated with finance and a work-life scale that leans heavily towards work. According to Dalia, it’s all about “getting things done” and “achievement.”
“New York was more about drive, determination, grits, the grind.”
And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: “It’s great to have that kind of grit and resilience and determination.”
Dalia then found greater work-life balance in San Francisco – the city of tech, a place where people could “go against the grain.” SF has a robust support community of entrepreneurs, accelerators, and venture capitalists. Stanford University, with its own entrepreneurship programs, increases this exposure and the support. For Dalia, it’s a city “that's really great at expanding your world view of what's possible.”
She moved to LA recently, and there discovered greater creative inspiration.
“What I've seen is that LA has inspired me creatively in work and also outside of work more than any other city that I've been in, which makes me better at work overall,” Dalia said. “I think that cross pollinating… the ability to take the best of the arts, nature, tech, and more, and mix them all together is really, really important. And so for me, LA has been a really great place to recharge my creativity and try new things.”
For entrepreneurs, these cities’ most important resource is their community – “first and foremost” what entrepreneurs need, Dalia said. When any given person you meet is likely to be involved in a startup or with venture capitalism, or is in finance, tech, or entertainment, you almost can’t help but network. And as Dalia said each of these cities, despite their differences, are places where people go against the grain, where individuality is cherished, and where people take a lot of risks (whether in theater, music, entrepreneurship, or other fields). This leads to several failures, but builds resilience.
“The more opportunity you have to bump into someone who might be your next inspiration or your next co-founder or your next investor, or the opportunity to learn from people who've been through those processes, is super important,” said Dalia.
NY, SF, and LA are far from Fort Worth. As big as Texas is, it hasn’t reached the level of these cities—at least, not yet. But Fort Worth is the 13th largest city in the U.S., it’s right next to the 9th largest, and about four hours south in different directions are the 4th and 7th largest. Then there’s Austin. So Cowtown, quite hefty itself, is in good company.
This post is part of a series for AccelerateDFW's Storytelling initiative. For more insights on entrepreneurs in DFW and beyond, visit the Storytelling page.
Entrepreneurs need support and community, and three large cities provided this to Dalia. There was also other support from large companies.
One key theme from Dalia’s life is the practice of intrapreneurship—enacting change from within an established business.
“Corporations play a really crucial role in innovation and they're also really important for retaining top talent who need a place to channel their entrepreneurial spirit, otherwise they'll leave the company to find a place who does support it.”
Just months after she started working at Deloitte, Dalia participated in a social impact competition on the UN’s 17 sustainability goals. She teamed up with two colleagues and got to work on their chosen topic: the role the workplace can play in resolving ethnic conflict – namely, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dalia had experience in the area. At Princeton she had written her thesis on ethnic integration and areas of conflict or divide. Her experience and drive, along with her team’s, led them to winning the regional competition and then becoming semi-finalists on the national level.
However, the team was told their topic was too controversial. Their next choice, the global refugee crisis, just as controversial, led to the same problem.
“It definitely wasn't an easy journey for us,” Dalia explained. “It took us almost two years of constantly pitching our idea to different leaders of the company. We even got as high up as the Chairman of the Board of Deloitte himself[.]”
They eventually found a leader at the company that believed in them and gave them an opportunity to prove themselves in a trial project, which they did, ultimately enabling them to securing $450,000 in firm funds to build out their refugee inclusion thinktank. Dalia said that the experience taught her that while tough, “you can absolutely be an entrepreneur in a large company.”
So even if you’re not working for yourself, there are way to practice the skills needed to excel as an entrepreneur.
Dalia was an intrapreneur at Deloitte, but eventually decided to leave the company for what she calls a “creative sabbatical.” This gave her a chance to work without structure—to think and flow and experiment. It was a much-needed life setup that, though a respite, was very intentional.
“I wanted to discover what might life look like if it was redesigned around my creativity and my curiosity.”
Dalia is a big believer in these traits, curiosity and creativity, and also in serendipity. According to her, these are deeply interwoven with entrepreneurship.
“I think that what makes us human is our insatiable curiosity … It's what we have to thank for all the delicious cuisines across different cultures. It's what we have to thank for the innovations that we rely on day to day. …
“I think we lose touch with our intuition and our curiosity sometimes after being so long told to ‘stop asking questions’, and ‘focus on the answers’. ‘There's a right answer’. ‘Don't get it wrong’. And when you've been in that kind of school system for so long, and when you've been in that kind of work environment for so long, you stop asking questions, you stop following your gut. …
“Unless you're able to reconnect and nurture the curiosity in you and the intuition in you, I don't think you can really make the most of your human experience. And certainly, I don't think you can reach your full potential as an entrepreneur.”
Creativity is the spirit of entrepreneurship. Business acumen is certainly needed, but a successful entrepreneurial life can be energized by structureless flow like in a creative sabbatical. Getting away from the obligations and oversight of the professional world allowed Dalia to adventure through interests, landscapes, and ideas. It fostered the kind of creativity needed for Presently—the creativity that always finds an answer, no matter the challenge.
For more on Dalia Katan’s creative sabbatical, beliefs on curiosity, and advice for how to begin such an experience, listen to the accompanying podcast!
Rewards, Surprises, and Lessons Learned
As other features in this storytelling series have demonstrated, entrepreneurial work is a taxing, heavy lifestyle that can come with a lot of failures. Entrepreneurs find motivation to stick with it from the control they have over their work life.
Managing an early stage startup allows Dalia more direct connection to consumers. With Presently, she’s also bringing the joy of gifts to people.
“The ability to almost be a part of every gift that someone gives and see the response or how thoughtful the messages coming in are from loved ones, really touches me,” Dalia said. “And so the ability to deliver that as a company and to be an early stage CEO, where you can still be so close to the customer (although you should never lose that) is really rewarding.”
She also loves leading her team. This is largely because each member shares her passion and vision, bring immense creativity to solving their day-to-day problems, and have so much to teach her as well.
“Honestly, I'm so proud to be their boss, they're constantly teaching me things … they're constantly helping me think outside the box and have shown me so much about my own role as a founder, as a boss, as a manager, and how I want to show up in the world.”
Meanwhile, the most unexpected struggle for Dalia on her entrepreneurial journey is that the roller coaster keeps looping. In other words, things never settle.
“Entrepreneurship is definitely an emotional rollercoaster,” Dalia said. “You’d think that after two or three times riding the rollercoaster, your stomach won't drop as much…or that your arms won’t be flailing as often, but what's been really unexpected is that even though the [startup] struggle overall has been similar for each of my past endeavors, it’s always going to be a different rollercoaster, a different set of ups and downs. Even though you can build the resilience and the grit to get through the ups and downs, I’m still surprised just how many ups and downs I experienced, even with Presently not being my first venture.”
The journey never ends nor does the mentorship. The sight of piles of stored toys in her family’s attic inspired Dalia to solve a problem. The lively communities of big cities have chiseled her professional character. At large organizations, she took advantage of opportunity to push for change.
Dalia’s curiosity and ingenuity have propelled her to drive change and inspire others while learning from the people and the environment around her.
Note: The quotations may have been edited for grammatical purposes and to remove chit-chat phrases ("you know", etc.) or repeated words ("and, and", etc.). The audio in the podcast may have also been edited to remove chit-chat phrases, repeated words or long periods of silence.