Don’t be afraid to be the first. It’s always great to have role models that you can learn from, but don’t let that be something that holds you back. We recommend going after the big and exciting opportunities that will make your team feel excited to come to work every day.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake.
Mallorie is CEO and Co-Founder of Bridgit. She holds an Honours degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business and has almost 10 years of entrepreneurial experience. She holds various entrepreneurial awards, including receiving the top prize at the 2015 Google Demo Day, being named Techvibes Entrepreneur of the Year and being named to the 2019 Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30.
Lauren is COO and Co-Founder of Bridgit. Lauren holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering from Western University. Through working on construction sites as an engineering student, she became well-versed in communication and workflow methods. In 2017, Lauren was named in the TechWeek 100 list of entrepreneurs, and in 2018, Lauren was named in the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
We both grew up in entrepreneurial families that had businesses in the construction industry. Although entrepreneurship was something we both wanted to pursue at some point, we were fortunate to be accepted into the Next Canada program while we were in our final year of university at Western. Being part of Next Canada gave us a head start on building the tool kit we needed to start our own business and allowed us to get Bridgit off the ground.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When starting a business, a lot of people talk about things needing to be ‘scalable’. This is definitely true in the later stages, but when you’re first getting started you need to move quickly to know whether your idea is even worth pursuing. You don’t have the time to invest in making it scalable, you just need to validate whether you are heading in the right or wrong direction. You can figure out scaling it later.
When we were starting to sell our product, we started with the ultimate cold call — showing up in a new city we wanted to do business in (with boots and a hard hat in hand) and walking from jobsite to jobsite knocking on the doors of site trailers. Our customers were project managers who were running around the jobsite all day and therefore, difficult to reach via email. Mallorie set the record by getting to 40 job sites in a single day, and once we saw that, we had a somewhat repeatable process we assigned team members to tackle different cities. We also added someone in the office who would research each city ahead of time to build a list of every active construction project. They’d then create a route on Google Maps to make sure we could hit every site in a day.
We soon ran out of team members who could do site visits, so we started to hire local college students (in the American cities we wanted to expand to) looking for part-time jobs. We mailed them each a package, complete with handouts, a hard hat, and a list of project addresses for them to visit. The deal was that we would pay them for each site they visited so long as they sent back a picture of the project manager’s business card who they had spoken to, so that we could follow up.
This was by no means a perfect process, but it’s a good example of the iterations required as a new business starts to understand their market. Don’t worry about things being perfectly scalable in the beginning but be willing to adjust along the way so you can set yourself up to scale if you’re seeing success.
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?
We attended a conference when we were first getting started and met a potential prospect from the construction industry that was interested in learning more about our product. So, we took his email down. Later that day, we took a goofy selfie that we had the intention of sending to Mallorie’s dad. Her dad happened to have the same name as this potential prospect and we accidentally emailed him the picture, instead of Mallorie’s dad. It was of us sticking our tongues out.
We didn’t realize until the man emailed back, “haha!” We felt so stressed about the mix-up at the time, but ultimately took away that people are just people and they understand that these mix ups can happen! He still bought the tool.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Before we ever built a product, we did over 500 on-site interviews to build an understanding of the construction industry and learn more about our users. This enabled us to always think about the problems and challenges we were trying to solve, rather than building a solution in search of a problem. This is something that has always stood out as being unique to our customers — they are always excited to see their feedback come to life in our products.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We recently launched our second product — Bridgit Bench, which is a resource planning platform built specifically for construction companies. Bridgit Bench helps general contractors understand their workforce needs and utilization, place the right person on the right job, and better forecast their future needs. It’s a great way for contractors to retain employees, ensure their jobs are properly staffed, and ultimately drive profitability for their company.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
“Don’t be afraid to be the first.”
It’s always great to have role models that you can learn from, but don’t let that be something that holds you back. We recommend going after the big and exciting opportunities that will make your team feel excited to come to work every day.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
As advice to any growing company, we would encourage leaders to re-assess their role every couple of months. With a growing team, your purpose within the organization can change and it’s important to continue to re-assess and learn new skills to be ready for those changes.
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?
One unique element of Bridgit is that we were a tech company without a technical co-founder when we first got started. An early mentor was Neville Samuel, who was working as a technical product manager at another Kitchener-Waterloo based tech company. He helped us understand how product management worked and how to manage an early-stage development team. What was once a gap for our company, is now one of our biggest strengths with a very high performing product and development team led by top tier talent that we’ve been able to recruit.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the most rewarding moments was when a university student approached us after a talk saying that Bridgit had been a major influence in her pursuing software engineering. The fact that our business can have this type of impact on people is something we are very proud of.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) It’s okay to iterate on your long-term plan
When founding a business, you need to make a lot of early decisions with imperfect information. It’s okay to go back and modify your plan as you capture new data points that may impact your long-term strategy.
2) You won’t always have the answer, but don’t be afraid to ask questions
We started Bridgit when we were still university students — we were learning everything from the beginning and found ourselves in countless situations where we didn’t know the answer. We got comfortable early on with this feeling and learned to seek help and advice when needed. There’s no need to pretend to have all of the answers and it won’t get you anywhere. As the business grew, we were able to build a team of people skilled in different areas and fill in our gaps. One of the best things you can do as an entrepreneur is to surround yourself with people smarter than you!
3) You don’t need to wait for a perfect idea to strike — there are ideas all around us
When we started Bridgit there was no true ‘aha’ moment. We went out to an industry that we were passionate about and knew had opportunity to further utilize technology. Rather than discussing potential ideas, we went out to the field, did research, and discovered what the biggest industry pain points were as a starting point to building our business.
4) It’s ok to be yourself even if that is different from the ‘norm’
In the early days, we were eager to get advice from other entrepreneurs that had raised capital for their company. Rather than just be ourselves, we tried to mimic their approach to these fundraising conversations that ultimately just seemed unnatural to us. Eventually, we found our groove when we just decided to be ourselves — this wouldn’t be a fit with everyone but would be a fit for the right investment partners.
5) Don’t fall in love with your own ideas
It’s natural to fall in love with your ideas, especially once you’ve invested so much time and energy into them. As an entrepreneur, this can be a deadly trap and can prevent you from seeing the early warning signs that something might not be working. As hard as it is, it’s important to be critical of your assumptions and be unbiased when looking for feedback. Try to prove your own hypothesis wrong. As hard as it can be in the moment, try to acknowledge any blind spots and know that it’s always better to know the truth sooner than later so you can act on re-focusing and moving in a new direction.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We would love to see more Venture Capital being invested in female-founded businesses. Currently, only 2% of VC funding is invested in women-founded companies and this impacts the speed and scale those companies can achieve. There are many VC firms now that are dedicated to investing in female-led businesses and we’ve been fortunate to work with several of them. We’d love to see this trend grow because we know there are many more women like us with ideas worth pursuing.
Thank you for all of these great insights!