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Exploring Life & Business with Lili Montes of Coast

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lili Montes.

Hi Lili, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My entrepreneurial journey began in 2010 at the age of twelve when I invented Catchy Kahootz, a clever little gadget that kept my keys attached to my cell phone. During this time, my parents lost their home during the Great Recession, and my parents could no longer afford to pay for my favorite sports, volleyball and soccer. Determined, I proposed an idea to my parents; what if I made money myself? My parents supportively agreed. I started a babysitting and math tutoring business while selling Catchy Kahootz to friends and family. Within three months, to their surprise, I was able to pay my parents the money to play both soccer and volleyball.

Over the next few years, I had grown my business from merely selling to family and friends to selling at local boutiques, sports booths, and even on my website. Catchy Kahootz was doing great locally, but it was time-consuming. After being invited to audition for Shark Tank, Catchy Kahootz was at the point where I needed to scale to the next level but would need to drop everything to make it happen. I was passionately involved in many organizations in high school, from class office to captain of the volleyball team and anchoring the school news show, and did not have ample time to devote to the business. It was clear that I needed to put Catchy Kahootz on hold, focus on getting into a great college, and then resume my entrepreneurial ventures after I graduated.

Having been in a studio broadcasting program in high school, I produced my segment called “Hot Spot,” where I would explore my town and create short videos featuring unique destinations. I continued this through college by creating my own YouTube channel. I recognized that my studio skills would translate well into a business and hoped to create an avenue to combine my passions for entrepreneurship and studio broadcasting.

In 2016, as a first-generation college student, I was accepted into my dream school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I immediately joined the Co-Ed Entrepreneurship Fraternity, Sigma Eta Pi (SEP), which was pivotal in developing my passion for Coast. UCSB’s SEP was founded the previous year, and I was instrumental in growing the organization by holding various officer roles and founding the UCSB SEP chapter’s Alumni Network. By the time I graduated, SEP had gone from a struggling ten members to a selective 60. I saw many parallels between this process and launching a startup, taking advantage of enrolling in SEP-hosted Techstars Startup Weekend multiple times. It was inspiring to see how SEP had helped so many innovative individuals turn their startup dreams into reality. While attending school full-time at UCSB, during my senior year, I was eager to begin preparing for my life as an entrepreneur after college.

During my senior year of college, I ramped up my Hot Spot YouTube channel by enlisting the help of my brother, Ramon Montes, who was attending SBCC just 10 miles away. Ramon picked up the camera, started shooting, and was a natural. We quickly found how well we worked as a team, determined to build a business together and excited about what our experience could lead to.

My work behind and in front of the camera landed me an official UC Santa Barbara Instagram Ambassador title, where I showcased the daily life of college students, created an “Explore” series, and was a face for UCSB’s Instagram. I felt honored to be selected to officially congratulate the iconic class of 2020 on the Instagram story in the school’s first-ever virtual graduation. The UCSB Instagram exposure gained the attention of local businesses, including the outdoor shopping center, Paseo Nuevo, and the inaugural weekend of the Santa Barbara Surf Film Festival. Once I gained traction and demonstrated interest in my influence, I realized it was time to put the entrepreneurial knowledge that I had learned into action.

UCSB’s New Venture Competition was a great platform to transform the Hot Spot video and social media marketing knowledge into a startup, so Ramon and I quickly enrolled. I knew the videos themselves were not likely to be the final iteration of my idea, yet, my brother and I were confident that Hot Spot would be a stepping stone to reveal the purpose of my lifelong blended experiences.

Through this competition and previous Techstars Startup Weekends, we tested, pivoted, and retested our idea and found that each idea pointed to helping people find new and exciting places to explore. Through this invaluable process, we established Coast, which at the time was a road trip app.

Coast combines my expertise in helping people discover destinations while incorporating my social media and communication skill sets, along with my brother Ramon’s technical and critical thinking gifts. Our team was chosen to present in the New Venture Fair at UC Santa Barbara and did well, gaining connections and advising from some of the top tech leaders in California and encouragement to keep going.

With a B.A. in Communication and a certificate in UCSB’s Technology Management Program, I have been working on Coast as my full-time job since graduating in the iconic Class of 2020.

In the midst of the pandemic, it was a time of introspection, reflection, and realization that the way people are traveling is changing, which will transcend the pandemic era. Travel trends were shifting from exotic trips abroad to shorter trips closer to home and discovering what is in their own backyard. This was when we made the shift from road trips to, instead, day trips. We saw the opportunity of a shifting society where people are reimagining the world right around them. The lines between travel and living are blurring as the world transitions to a remote workforce, and people want a bit of exploration in their everyday life and want to share these experiences with the people they care about most. Once we made this pivotal realization, we were ready to go all-in with Coast as a way to create connections through day trips.

At the start of 2021, we were accepted into the Wayfinder Incubator at UC Irvine. We have been launching our startup through their program for UC-affiliated startups ever since, which has been extremely valuable in connecting us to the right resources and mentorship to help make Coast a success.

I am so excited about my life’s ambitions coming full circle eleven years later after inventing Catchy Kahootz. I am doing exactly what I sought out to do and could not be more thrilled for the future of Coast, especially as we are nearing our beta launch. Ramon and I intend to inspire exploration, discovery, and personal growth across every day-tripper in the world, and I am excited for everyone to take the ride with us.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The biggest obstacles I have faced throughout my journey are actually what has catapulted my success this far. When you are standing face to face with adversity, you have the choice to back down and crumble or face it head-on and turn it into an opportunity for a brighter future. When I was twelve years old and invented Catchy Kahootz, I may have never thought to start selling the gadget I had created for my phone if we had not lost our home and were tight on money. At a young age, I understood that if you truly want something, you can make it happen because everything is just a matter of taking the baby steps to get to where you want to be.

This also brings me to the “fail fast” mentality that is so common in startups. As you take each of the steps towards your goals, you will inevitably face roadblocks and challenges daily, so resilience, adaptability, and being a lifelong learner are critical elements on the entrepreneurial journey. Try new ideas out, fail fast, and discover what sticks and what does not work. As a founder, you are inherently a problem-solver, so having a sense of detachment from a specific idea but attachment to the problem you are solving is crucial to face the ups and downs of being a startup founder.

As I mentioned earlier, since high school, I have always had some project that helps people uncover new and exciting destinations to explore; that has always been my passion. However, the idea has pivoted through several iterations. It started with the video series, then a California subscription box, then to a travel itinerary software, then a road trip app, and finally now, the day trip app!

The biggest challenge that my brother (who is also my co-founder) and I have faced has been our personal journey with the pandemic. In June 2020, both of my parents got COVID-19, and my dad had it so severely that he ended up in the hospital for five days and almost didn’t make it home. To this day, over a year later, he is officially a COVID-19 longhauler, which basically means he has suffered long-term and possibly lifelong effects from it. Through these trying times, you really discover what you are made of. Being locked down for practically a year demonstrated to our family that there is nothing we cannot overcome. I never lost sight of my dream through it all because entrepreneurship is the very core of who I am.

As you know, we’re big fans of Coast. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Coast is an app to create connections through day trips. Our mission is to create a global community of travelers inspired to get out and explore, make lasting memories, and connect through their shared travel experiences.

It is a two-sided platform where you can curate your own day trips based on places recommended for you or follow your friends and other travelers in the Coast Community to gain inspiration from and go on the trips they have created.

We are the first to tap exclusively into the day trip industry and will be doing our beta launch within a month, so join our email newsletter to sign up for our app when it comes out to gain access to our closed beta testing round.

Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
Ever since I was eight years old, my motto has been “Never do nothing.” I still live by this mindset every day, and I have never been one to sit around and let life pass me by. Whether I was Class President, News Anchor in my high school’s Studio Broadcasting program, Captain of the volleyball team, or the Founder of Catchy Kahootz, you could always find me gravitating toward a leadership role in whichever organization I have been a part of.

I have also had such enthusiasm and love for life, always looking at the bright side of things and using that energy to inspire others to be the best they can be. I was never into cliques and found value from every person I met, whether the shy brainiac or the outgoing athlete, always making sure I treated others with kindness and respect.

Growing up a NorCal/SoCal hybrid, I have always loved the beach, even though I lived in the suburban Bay Area town of Livermore, California. Half of our family is sprinkled all over Southern California, most of our family trips were to Orange County, and it was always my dream to live here. When I attended UC Santa Barbara, I had my first taste of living by the ocean, and I was hooked. It is pretty surreal to live in Huntington Beach now after college, and I am enjoying every moment of it. Today, I get to blend my childhood passions and love of exploring California all together with Coast, and I am so grateful for that.

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