Kristen Buchanan of Edify: “Invest in business accelerator infrastructure for women-owned businesses”

More women should become founders because they can — and they are good at it! Founding and running a business on your terms, building the culture that you want, is completely feasible. On top of that, data shows that women are better at managing risks effectively, being capital efficient, and getting higher returns on dollars spent or […]

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More women should become founders because they can — and they are good at it! Founding and running a business on your terms, building the culture that you want, is completely feasible. On top of that, data shows that women are better at managing risks effectively, being capital efficient, and getting higher returns on dollars spent or invested. Put simply, women make good business people and we should have more women building and running businesses.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Buchanan.

Kristen Buchanan is the CEO and Founder of Edify, a software company that helps software engineering managers build technical onboarding plans for their new hires. Kristen’s work links adult learning science with the resources engineers need in order to be successful. She is passionate about developing the future of high-performing engineering organizations so that engineering teams can build better products, faster.

Kristen started her first company in 2014, a learning & development consulting firm that architected and delivered onboarding programs for companies such as AWS Elemental, Puppet, OpenSky Alibaba, Cirium (FlightGlobal), Cloudability and more. There, she developed a method and technique she calls the “learning touchpoint matrix”, which organizes information and learning content for new hires in engineering.

Kristen Buchanan holds a BA in Museum Studies and Art History from Meredith College, with a concentration in adult learning. She has spoken at O’Reilly OSCON, DevOps Days among other conferences.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was a small business owner before I started Edify, and in that consulting firm, I specialized in supporting growing technology companies with engineering onboarding. My background is really in museum education and adult learning, which, strangely enough, turned out to be very handy for supporting adult learners in tech companies. After several years of watching my customers and seeing what they needed for engineering onboarding, I decided to start sketching out (literally!) ideas for software to make their lives easier. After getting some good initial traction on the idea, I started to build the product with our now-Director of Product, Jayme Rabenberg in early 2020. We did a great deal of customer discovery — over 100 interviews and a significant design sprint — to come to our beta launch in less than 4 months. I then raised our 2M dollars seed round of funding with investors such as Flying Fish, Atlassian Ventures, Rogue Ventures, and Portland Seed Fund, along with several angels. We’re now in the 2021 cohort of Techstars Seattle and preparing to launch the general availability of Edify’s core product, eddy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I remember the first time I pitched my software idea to a mentor of mine, about a year and a half after he’d first asked me if I had ever thought about productizing the consulting business I was running at the time. He listened patiently as I went on and on about the features it would have, and he calmly said something like, “I don’t think your vision is big enough. Think on it more and come back to me.” It was simultaneously hard to hear and also very empowering. It’s thanks to him that I was able to build a bigger vision for my company. I think it’s not often that you get that kind of advice from people in the startup world — he was a founder, CEO, and investor and most people with that profile aren’t going to give you that much of their time. He was willing to help me put my idea through the ringer to make it the best it could be.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Ah! There are so many. The one that comes to mind isn’t actually from the start of my business journey — it’s from the start of my startup journey! I was scheduled to be part of a “slow pitch” event with other founders and investors in September 2019, and I had to take my car in to get serviced. It had been a hectic day, driving back and forth to meetings and taking care of my dog and then dropping the car off, and I still had to get to the pitch. I took a Lyft from the garage to the pitch location, and when I stepped out of the car, I realized that I had slippers on! I totally didn’t remember changing from heels to slippers, but I must have done it when I went home for a moment sometime earlier in the day. Luckily, there was a store not far from where the pitch was, so I ran there in my slippers, grabbed the nicest size 8’s I could find, and swapped my shoes out in the dressing room. I paid, then ran back to the pitch event. It’s a lesson in versatility and calm, I think!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Again, there are so many! Luke Kanies is the mentor and investor I talked about earlier — he’s the founder of Puppet and now founder & CEO of Clickety. Luke has mentored me on everything from sales to leadership to fundraising and life in between. Another advisor who comes to mind is Erica Brescia, the COO of Github. She challenged me to think bigger as I was setting up my first fundraising process, and it’s because of her that I even thought to try for a 2M dollars seed raise.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’ve read lots and lots of business books (okay, skimmed) and generally, they all should be condensed down to less than 100 pages. However, I’ve found Thich Naht Hanh’s work to be the most inspirational and helpful to me. He has an amazing way of making Buddhism’s principles accessible to everyone, and one of the core lessons I’ve learned from his work is the concept of suffering as part of life. That might sound harsh to read, but it’s really about having a growth mindset (thank you, Carol Dweck!) and being open to the idea that you may have to work through hard things to get to amazing outcomes.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Tim Gunn’s “Make it Work” is my motto in so many places — work and life. I think that startups and business building are really all about makingit work. You’ll always have fewer dollars, hours, and people than you want, but learning how to make great things happen within those constraints will make you a better leader and a lifelong learner.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’ve tried to put my energy at work toward a bigger vision for the world. Technology is absolutely taking over. As Marc Andreesen puts it, “software is eating the world” and that means that engineers are the ones making that software. I believe that if we diversify the software teams building these products and help them to become more equitable and inclusive places to work, doors will open for people, we’ll build more ethical products, and together create a more sustainable future. It’s absolutely a long game, but investing in the long game is what I’m about.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Women are founding lots of companies, actually — they just aren’t founding venture scale companies as often as men are. I think what we have is a startup culture that proliferates a toxic lifestyle, and smart women want to build businesses that don’t succumb to that, so they are building services businesses, bootstrapped technology products, and other types of businesses. I also think there is a confidence and risk-taking gap: women are better at managing risk than men, but often the perceived consequences of startup failure seem more risky to women than to men. Because of this, I wonder if women are keeping their visions smaller than they could be. I want to see more women saying, “*&^ this, I can build a billion dollar company!” and then go do it on their terms.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

I think it’s about both building a pipeline of future women founders and supporting the women founders doing the work now. At Edify, I built an internship and apprenticeship program that brings in college women to learn and work at Edify either for pay or college credit. So far, we’ve kept our interns for several semesters! We have workshops, they come to customer meetings, and do real behind-the-scenes work to learn how a startup functions. My hope is that they’ll go on to start their own one day.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

More women should become founders because they can — and they are good at it! Founding and running a business on your terms, building the culture that you want, is completely feasible. On top of that, data shows that women are better at managing risks effectively, being capital efficient, and getting higher returns on dollars spent or invested. Put simply, women make good business people and we should have more women building and running businesses.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Absolutely! Here are my top five:

  1. Have high schools and colleges offer a “business essentials” course that focuses on professionalism, key financial statements and understanding them, lean/MVP product development, and core leadership skills for running a business. Some schools are starting to offer this, but I think it should be required! Once women have been exposed to the concepts, they can decide for themselves if building a business is right for them.
  2. Build an apprenticeship program or a paid internship program in your business that focuses on pairing young women with business leaders to help them get real, on-the-job experience with startups. We do this in Edify!
  3. Democratize access to childcare so that women can focus on starting and running their businesses. Childcare should be a benefit all people have access to — this is something that should be supported by our tax dollars. In our current world, that’s not happening, so businesses need to make sure that their culture and systems support working parents.
  4. Hire junior and career-changing women into your business, train them, put them on an equitable performance trajectory (eg. pay them fairly and nurture their growth), and give them opportunities to “hack” and create new ideas. Write down your career practices and link them to clear expectations.
  5. Invest in business accelerator infrastructure for women-owned businesses. I wrote the original curriculum and taught the first three cohorts of the startup program XXcelerate in Portland OR. We had dozens of women build their companies from scratch or get to growth scale through that program.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think this is exactly what I’m trying to do with Edify! I want to create a whole culture shift in the way we think about engineering talent and both the pipeline of candidates and how we nurture and support them throughout their careers. Edify is about helping engineering teams become high performing, psychologically safe, productive places to work, and through our product we hope to inspire change in engineering teams. I think this sort of mental shift will have long-reaching implications for the world by effectively creating better products and more equitable workplaces.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet Jennifer Tejada, the CEO of PagerDuty. She is a legend in the engineering and developer product world and I admire what she has built. I’d love to learn from her so that I can build a great company like PagerDuty!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Email me at [email protected] , follow me on Twitter at @kristenmaeve or check out for more information.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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