March 1, 2024
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How to ’Excel’ in business: Miss Excel’s journey from business student to social media star

Kat Norton ’15, MBA ’16, aka Miss Excel, finds success on social media and beyond

Kat Norton ’15, MBA ’16, aka Miss Excel, produces Excel tutorial videos on TikTok and Instagram that have racked up millions of views. Kat Norton ’15, MBA ’16, aka Miss Excel, produces Excel tutorial videos on TikTok and Instagram that have racked up millions of views.
Kat Norton ’15, MBA ’16, aka Miss Excel, produces Excel tutorial videos on TikTok and Instagram that have racked up millions of views. Image Credit: Provided.

Every video that Kat Norton ’15, MBA ’16, posts on TikTok and Instagram fulfills a promise: You’re going to learn something about Microsoft Excel, and you’re going to have a little fun doing it.

Oh yeah, there’s gonna be some dancing, too.

Norton’s meteoric rise as social-media influencer Miss Excel has made her the go-to instructor for the ubiquitous software among the under-30 crowd. In just two and a half years, she’s embraced a necessary tool used by millions to track finances, manage projects or make important lists and turned it into a multimillion-dollar company fueled by her upbeat attitude, can-do spirit and creative abilities.

Not bad for a “painfully shy” girl from Long Island — and her path to internet fame started at the Binghamton University School of Management.

“I truly had the best experience at Binghamton,” she says. “I look back at it and tear up — I love it. It’s just such a special place.”

Finding her voice

Norton always harbored an entrepreneurial spirit. As a kindergartener in Plainview, she sold paper fortune-tellers — the kind that children everywhere seem to know how to fold — to classmates for a quarter, and for a few months in the third grade, she started a newspaper on her block and collected subscription money.

At a young age, she told people she wanted to be a rock star, but paralyzing self-doubt took root as she grew older. She hung out with theater kids but watched from the audience as they took the spotlight. Public presentations crippled her, trying to talk to people led to embarrassed silence, and she even stopped having birthday parties because she couldn’t stand being the center of attention.

As an undergraduate at Binghamton — her top pick for college — she majored in business administration, with concentrations in marketing and leadership and consulting, and she minored in education. She found a core of like-minded students as part of Dickinson Community, led by then-Collegiate Professor (and SOM Associate Professor) Kimberly Jaussi.

“Leadership 353 with Professor Jaussi was hands-down my favorite class. You do a consulting job for a nonprofit from start to finish, and at the end you create this beautiful book and give it to the client — I still have mine!” Norton says with a laugh. “We worked with the Boys & Girls Club, and it was just incredible to be able to give back. The skills I learned in that class were pivotal to my career.”

Norton became one of the founding members of the Dickinson Research Team (DiRT), a first-in-the-nation program that encourages independent undergraduate research. As the DiRT project coordinator, she helped to formalize the program and laid the foundations for its success over the past seven years.

“I loved having her in class and then working so closely with her,” Jaussi says. “She never failed to brighten up the room and to make a project better by being on the team. I knew I could count on her, no matter what — she never once let me down and was always willing to take on whatever developmental opportunity I put in front of her.”

To help Norton overcome her shyness, Jaussi pushed her to make 10-minute presentations in front of large groups without notecards. True, she still felt a “panic attack” inside, but she learned to tamp it down.

For her MBA, Norton focused on data analytics — and that’s when she really fell in love with Excel, especially its financial modeling capabilities. If she knew the right tricks, she could reshape the numbers to better understand the past and forecast the future.

“SOM also taught me so many soft skills, which are so underrated,” she says. “You learn those by doing group projects or getting into a suit doing mock interviews and similar things. When we started, I’d never owned a suit or done anything business-related before. It taught me what it means to be professional in a corporate setting.”

Becoming a TikTok star

At the beginning of 2020, Norton worked as a senior consultant for Protiviti, a global consulting firm where she had interned the summer before earning her MBA. To write securitization reviews for banks, she’d fly out of New York City before dawn every Monday, travel to a different state and a different client, do the consulting job for three or four days, fly home, type up the report and then jet off somewhere else the following Monday. She still lived with her parents, because why get her own place when she was never at home?

“I’d done that traveling for three and a half years,” she says. “I was living in airports, living in hotels, bouncing around and just running without really looking at myself. I was balancing so many clients at once, because the job was never done after a week. It was a lot of work.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, stopped pretty much all travel overnight, so that left Norton working from her childhood bedroom and fighting off feelings of isolation. It also, however, gave her time to look inward and explore her fears, her goals and where she’d like to go next.

“I was meditating and trying to figure out: What do I love to do? What am I passionate about and what’s in my way? I had to work on myself every single day,” she says. “That’s when I finally removed all those blocks, those limiting beliefs and all the dark noise in my head so I can truly show up from an authentic place.”

As part of her role at Protiviti, Norton utilized her Excel skills to develop training workshops for coworkers. When she was trying to figure out what made her happy, “I remember that I literally wrote it down: ‘I like helping people. I like Excel. I like to dance.’ I was on the phone with one of my friends, and they were like, ‘What if you put the Excel tips on TikTok?’ For 48 hours after that, my brain and my gut were at war.”

In her mind, she kept hearing Drake’s song “Toosie Slide” with its lyrical repetition of “right foot up, left foot slide,” and she saw a screen above her explaining Excel’s left and right functions. The idea wouldn’t go away, so when she found some downtime, she recorded a 14-second clip. She watched a YouTube video to learn how to edit it, and “it actually looked really cool.”

Inspired, Norton redid her hair and makeup, then recorded 10 more clips. She created the Miss Excel account on TikTok in June 2020 and began posting a video each day. She told no one except her mother and her boyfriend — but her coworkers soon told her they’d seen her online.

By the sixth video, the CEO of an IT company contacted her and asked if she could create training videos for students, parents and teachers going to remote learning.

“I formed an LLC, bought a greenscreen and a ring light, and made this little studio in my room by jamming my bed up against the wall,” she says. “I just remember my mom and my boyfriend trying to iron my 12-foot greenscreen with a steamer because it always got wrinkly.”

Within three weeks of posting her first video, she had gone viral on TikTok and created a brand-new niche: Excel influencer. She estimates that she worked 100-hour weeks that summer between her “day job” at Protiviti and building content for the Miss Excel brand.

“If you knew with 100% certainty that if you did x, y and z, you would have everything you ever wanted and do whatever you want with your life, would you do it?” she says. “I think back on it now and I can’t believe I did that, but everything in me was so clear. I was having a great time, too, because I just loved dancing and Excel and everything.”

Living the dream

Life for Norton went into hyperdrive. As of November 2022, her TikTok account has over 870,000 followers; over 650,000 people follow her on Instagram. As she made more and more money through Miss Excel, she was able to quit her job at Protiviti in early 2021 and become the “chief Excel officer” full time. Earlier this year, after 16 months as “digital nomads” living around the U.S., she bought her “dream home” in Sedona, Ariz., and moved there with her boyfriend.

Norton’s business model is simple: Offer the social media videos as a free sample of the Miss Excel brand, then sell the training courses as the income generator. The courses cover Microsoft products as well as Google Suite and, for younger students, business basics. They break things down more slowly and don’t feature constant music or dancing, but she’s still willing to make things fun. Sometimes that means shooting a video in the desert, by the pool or while running around the house in a superhero cape.

“I view Excel as a blank canvas where you can create little working things,” she says. “One of my professors at Binghamton told the class that if you played The Sims growing up and like simulation games, chances are you’re going to like modeling and Excel. Guess who was a total computer nerd and played The Sims with herself all through middle school? Me!”

Her remarkable rise has garnered coverage from Business Insider, CNBC, FOX News, Bloomberg, The Times of London, The Daily Mail and Entrepreneur magazine, among other media outlets. Forbes magazine named her a Top Social Media Influencer of 2021, and she’s received help and support from Microsoft, including a Microsoft MVP Award and sneak peeks at planned changes to its software.

Her former professor looks on with pride. “I couldn’t be more thrilled for Kat,” Jaussi says. “She has worked so incredibly hard on her own development and the Miss Excel enterprise. She trusted her gut on what the market needed and how to deliver it, and she was spot on. She also has not lost sight of who she is and who she will always be — she has been authentic and true to her core values the entire journey.”

As the Miss Excel brand continues to scale up, Norton is expanding her course offerings and is considering motivational speaking, business coaching or even NFTs. She also has her own theories about generating creative states of mind and keeping a healthy relationship with social media.

“How can I best be of service? That’s what it really comes down to for me,” she says. “I’m just listening and figuring out what people need.”

Posted in: Business, SOM