‘Bobcats Are Hustlers!’ Despite COVID-19, Christa Freeland ’10 Launches a Thriving Startup
Launching a startup business, risking your savings in the process, while an unprecedented pandemic sweeps the globe? You’d have to be utterly fearless or possess an exceptionally big heart.
Or maybe both. Just ask Christa Freeland (B.A. ‘10) who earned a degree in Advertising and Mass Communication. ATX Kit, the company she co-founded that offers boxes of varied, intriguing food from Austin businesses, opened its (virtual) doors in April and has exceeded expectations—shipping such microbrand snacks as Stroop Club stroopwafels, Steam Espresso shots, Moontower Matcha Tea, and El Norteno jerky.
The idea for ATX Kit came to Freeland in March 2019. “So many people were moving into the city every day,” she says, “but it seemed to me that small businesses weren’t seeing the effects” of the influx. She thought it would be cool “to do a sort of Austin starter kit, going beyond the typical things like barbecue sauce, to give people a taste of Austin.”
Freeland was working at a technology venture studio, where startup ideas are evaluated all day, every day. “I pitched the idea casually,” she says, “and my coworkers liked it.” But ATX Kit would have to wait; she dove into a venture-capital career, and her busy life relegated the concept to the back burner.
Fast-forward almost exactly a year, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc and a lockdown in place. Freeland moved into a downtown apartment that overlooked one of Austin’s formerly bustling farmer’s markets. “Attendance had dwindled miserably,” she recalls, of vendors and shoppers alike. “Everyone was just sad and scared. Those markets used to be such an amazing experience.”
But while others griped about toilet paper and unruly hair, Freeland saw an opportunity to launch her business—and, in the process, purchase foodstuff from local companies that needed the help. “I felt like it was time to jump in,” she says. With partner Julian Dussan, she launched ATX Kit and took the terrifying step of spending thousands on products from 11 local vendors. She had well and truly plunged into the consumer-packaged goods industry.
Right from the start, when the first soft-launch box shipped to New York City, ATX Kit generated positive buzz. In an odd way, Freeland’s timing was perfect. “When we launched, people were feeling so apprehensive about going to farmer’s markets,” she says, “and about going out to any store.” Consumers were ready for fun, cleverly curated foods that shipped to their door. Some even filmed homemade “unboxing” videos to ooh and ahh over their goodies.
Moreover, the Austin small businesses that had been blindsided by the pandemic were grateful to not only have a buyer for their wares, but develop new customers all over the world. “I’d get notes from vendors saying, ‘You’re keeping us afloat,’” Freeland remembers. “They saw we could be a boom to them. We’re a marketing team, we’re a sales channel, we’re a distributor—all they do is drop off the product.”
But as Freeland sees it, ATX Kit is about more than sales and distribution. “We want to be a positive force in the city,” she says. To that end, many of the company’s offerings fold in a donation to local hospitals—customers know they’re helping a worthy cause while they munch their chili lime cashews or raw honey.
With the coronavirus crisis apparently easing, Freeland is hardly resting on her laurels. She’s constantly meeting with potential vendors and creating new offerings, including a “Summer Sanity” box aimed at Gen Z students home from school—or soon going back. She makes use of her Texas State Communication degree every day with the Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter presence that drives ATX Kit sales.
Though firmly established in Austin, Freeland says she learned valuable habits in San Marcos. “Bobcats are hustlers,” she laughs. “We work hard, we don’t expect things to be given us. I love that.” With both ATX Kit and her VC career, she says, “I hit the ground running. At Texas State I was taught to work hard, and I’m still hustling like crazy.”
Freeland advises Class of 2020 Bobcats to go forth without fear, noting that the economy was grim when she graduated in 2010, with the U.S. still emerging from recession. “Whether the economy is down or good, the ability to be creative may be the one thing that’ll save you,” she says. “Remember, some of the best companies started in most tumultuous times.”