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Mallorie Brodie wants to see a cultural shift in Canada – one that embraces risk.

The CEO and co-founder of Kitchener, Ont.-based Bridgit Inc. says Canadians have a “level of discomfort” when it comes to taking risks, but it’s essential when scaling up a business.

She should know. Over the past eight years Brodie and co-founder Lauren Lake have built their construction software startup into one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies – one that more than doubled its revenue growth last year.

She’d like to see Canada embrace a similar startup mindset.

“There’s an opportunity for us to become much more aggressive when it comes to innovation,” she says. “We should really determine as a country what are our strengths, how do we double down on those strengths and then really become confident in them.”

Listen to Goldy Hyder’s conversation with Mallorie Brodie, including a discussion of what it’s like to be a woman working at the intersection of two male-dominated professions – construction and information technology.

"There’s an opportunity for us to become much more aggressive when it comes to #innovation." In the latest episode of #SpeakingofBiz, @MalBrodie, CEO and Co-founder of @goBridgit, talks startups, #cdninnovation, and why Canada needs to take greater risks.

Transcript:

Mallorie Brodie:

There’s an opportunity for us to become much more aggressive when it comes to innovation. We should really determine as a country, what are our strengths? How do we double down on those strengths? And then really become confident in them and ideally other countries and globally, we’re recognized for those strengths as well.

Goldy Hyder:

Welcome to Speaking of Business. I’m Goldy Hyder president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada. For the past few months on this podcast, we been exploring ways to power a strong recovery coming out of the pandemic. How can we encourage economic growth and ensure a higher quality of life for all Canadians? There’s no one silver bullet, but part of the solution must include helping Canadian companies grow and succeed on the global stage. We have in Canada a lot of smart, creative people with innovative ideas that the world needs, but you know what? We often don’t do a great job fostering these ideas and keeping them in the country. It’s been a big concern for the Business Council for many years. So 10 years ago, we created a new category of membership to recognize some of the country’s up and coming, most successful young entrepreneurs.

Goldy Hyder:

Our Next Generation Business Leaders represent firms that are smaller than other Business Council member companies, but are fast growing and innovative. Frankly, they’re cutting edge. So what do young Canadian entrepreneurs need to succeed in an increasingly competitive global environment? Mallorie Brodie has some ideas. She is a Business Council Next Gen Leader, and is the co-founder and CEO of Bridgit, an Ontario software company focused on developing resource management tools for the construction industry. The company is less than 10 years old, but it’s already attracting high profile clients in the United States. Welcome, Mallorie.

Mallorie Brodie:

Thanks so much for having me Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, look, let’s start with, for someone who really isn’t familiar with the construction industry, tell me about Bridgit, what is it and what is the problem that you’re trying to solve with your software?

Mallorie Brodie:

Absolutely. So, as you mentioned, we’re a construction software company. We’re typically working with large scale general contractors. So think of the companies that are building skyscrapers, large manufacturing facilities, hospitals. And what we help them do is schedule their team members that are project-based team members so they can ensure that their team is properly allocated to a project. They have the right people going to the right type of project based on their skillset. And ultimately this helps them run a profitable business. If their team isn’t allocated and billable to a project, then that’s money that they’re leaving behind. So our software is a mobile and a web platform that helps these contractors essentially schedule their people.

Goldy Hyder:

How did you land on this? I mean, it’s not been a straight line I’m sure. Because rarely does a business go from concept to execution, to wild success, but you’ve had a decade-long journey here. Tell our listeners about a bit that journey, how curvy was that road, if you will?

Mallorie Brodie:

Pretty curvy actually. So we actually went through a pivot about 24 months ago. And the first six years of the business, we were focused on a second offering we have called Bridgit Field it’s for issue tracking on job sites. And for a long time, we actually thought that that would be the only product that we would offer our customers. And after running that business for a number of years and our overall growth aspirations, just really continuing to be more and more ambitious over time, we knew that we had to add a second product to continue growing the business.

Mallorie Brodie:

And now the second product, Bridgit Bench, the resource planning platform is really where we’re continuing to invest the most, just because it’s gotten so much traction in the market. So had you asked me 10 years ago, if I thought we were going to be in resource planning for construction, I would’ve said no, but it’s really just the path that our customers led us on ultimately, as we would discuss with them what some of their needs were and what their most important and impactful business challenges that they were looking to solve.

Goldy Hyder:

So you and Lauren Lake founded Bridgit in 2014 and that in itself is interesting. Co-founding a company, a tech company in an industry where you’re focused on construction. Tell us a little bit about that? Because it’s sometimes said that, co anything can be complicated, but the saying also goes, two heads are better than one. Is that the case?

Mallorie Brodie:

For us, two heads are certainly better than one. We had a very unique founding story. We were started, our company was started in a program called the NEXT Canada, which is a business accelerator program. And although Lauren and I were both studying at Western University, we actually didn’t know each other. And it was through the NEXT Canada program that we were randomly placed on a team together. And that is certainly not the typical beginning for co-founders. Often people have been classmates or they grew up together, or there’s some sort of longstanding relationship, but we were randomly placed on a team, happened to both have families that had been in the construction business and really connected on that passion. And it’s been an amazing business partnership. Like I think we’re incredibly different. We have very complimentary skillsets, but we are in constant communication even though we’re eight years into the journey we call each other. I think even if we have five minutes before the next meeting and that probably amounts to 10 phone calls every single day. So yeah, we’ve just really, I think leaned into each other’s strengths and just been great partners.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, they certainly say that opposites attract in a marriage. It sounds like opposites attract in a business relationship as well. It sounds like you make a great team.

Mallorie Brodie:

Absolutely.

Goldy Hyder:

Now we mentioned construction, of course. When you think about construction, what you think about is with great respect, but men in hard hats. How do two women who are clearly not in construction, help build a solution to the construction industry? And what was your experience like dealing with people who might’ve said to you, we don’t need your help.

Mallorie Brodie:

So Lauren actually, my business partner, she studied civil engineering. She worked on construction sites in about 13 different states across the U.S. as a summer co-op, so had some of that onsite experience. And I think the approach we always took in construction was that we were there to just listen, ultimately. We weren’t ever going into job site offices telling the industry what they needed. We were there to just listen. And after we did 500 interviews, actually before the first product we launched, there were these clear trends and challenges that were emerging. And that’s how we developed our solution, but it was never us in the boardroom brainstorming some way that we thought that the industry needed us. It was just going out and listening. And I think that generated a lot of respect for our process and ultimately the products that we built.

Goldy Hyder:

So companies like yours, of course, any startup requires investment and needs a lot of it I would imagine, in order to grow. Where did you get your money?

Mallorie Brodie:

This was actually a huge challenge for us in the early days. I think, as being university students with no entrepreneurial experience, no business experience, no network to speak of, to raise capital. It was something that we had to inch by inch, get a little bit more sophisticated and put together more robust rounds with more institutional investors, but it took many years to get there. And so, the first number of rounds were really just angel investors that had some interest in construction or were excited about the opportunity or the research we had done. And it really took us growing our revenue and getting a lot of customer traction before we were able to attract more sophisticated institutional investors. And I think this is probably a fairly common story for business owners where it’s the first time that they’ve started a company. And our expectation is that, if we were to start a company down the road after Bridgit at some point, then that path would be a lot easier and we have that network and those connections to start with larger rounds of financing earlier on in the business’s lifetime.

Goldy Hyder:

Now, as I understand things, many of your clients are in fact American and that much of your funding is in fact, coming from the United States. Do you feel that you’re receiving the support you need from Canada?

Mallorie Brodie:

I do think we are getting a good amount of support from Canada. I mean, we’ve been able to access programs like SRED for instance, to help fund some of our R&D efforts. We do have a number of investors in the Vancouver and Toronto area. Having said that, I think Canadians almost discount the value of the ecosystem we have here sometimes because there’s been so many conversations we’ve had with our board or mentors. And as Canadians still saying, we have to get someone from the U.S. on the board, we have to get more U.S. customers. We have to do this. And so it’s interesting because I think, we have gotten a lot of support from Canada, but I think Canadians are always still looking for that U.S. investor or board member to come in for that extra stamp of credibility.

Goldy Hyder:

So that’s interesting. What do you think that says about us as a country or as a people that we need that validation?

Mallorie Brodie:

I definitely think it means that there’s an opportunity for us to become much more aggressive when it comes to innovation. I believe that we should really determine as a country, what are our strengths? How do we double down on those strengths? And then really become confident in them and actually ideally, other countries and globally, we’re recognized for those strengths as well instead of consistently deferring to the U.S. market to build that credibility. When it comes to construction specifically, we have observed that our customer base in Canada is one to two years behind what customers in the U.S. are doing when it comes to adopting technology. And that’s something that we would love to see change, but given we’re a business, we need to grow our customer base. We have targeted most of our efforts at the U.S. market because of that willingness to adopt technology and really embrace innovation.

Goldy Hyder:

So how do we learn from that? How do we help Canada, Canadians, and the next set of startups really use innovation as a rocket fuel, if you will, to help advance our economy?

Mallorie Brodie:

I definitely think it’s one of those things that’s going to require a cultural shift. And I can even relate Canada in general and the business community in general, to what we’ve experienced just within Bridgit when it comes to growth ambitions. And we’ve gone from wanting to double in a year to wanting to triple, and it’s actually very uncomfortable to put your mindset or change your mindset around growth. And it feels like you’re spending way more capital and you’re taking bigger risks. And there is a level of discomfort to doing that. But I do think, if you were to scale how we’re thinking this year at Bridgit to the country and to all of the businesses within Canada, then that really is the discomfort I think, we need to go through as a country in order to be at the leading edge of innovation.

Goldy Hyder:

It’s like, you read my mind. I was going to ask you, what advice do you have for other Canadian companies? But it sounds like what you’re saying is get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Mallorie Brodie:

That’s exactly it.

Goldy Hyder:

All right. Let’s pivot to something else that I know is of interest here. And that is, you mentioned it earlier, the whole notion of being in two industries that are pretty traditional and they’re male dominated. What do you think needs to be done to encourage greater diversity in both? And I remember reading about you that you despise the use of the phrase manpower and want to eliminate it. I’m with you with that, but tell me where that came from?

Mallorie Brodie:

Absolutely. So yeah, I’ll definitely just delineate between what changes I think we could potentially see in the construction industry versus more of the tech industry. In construction, we really hesitated when we were talking about our product for resource planning, because the term manpower planning was so common and that’s potentially what our customers were going to be searching. So we were using that term and it was actually a team member from Ledcor that reached out and explained that everywhere she looks on the job site, there’s words that are being used that make her feel as though she doesn’t belong, manpower being one of them. And so our call to action to the industry was just simply taking note of what terms were being used within the industry and coming up with a more gender neutral term that really accomplishes the same thing.

Mallorie Brodie:

And I think if you’re the only female on a job site with dozens and dozens of males, then that’s just one small, very actionable change that I think the industry can do to make it a more welcoming environment for females. On the tech side, I think it really comes down to access to funding. There’s still so few dollars being invested in the early stages of female ventures. And it’s been proven that until female-led ventures have true revenue, investors aren’t willing to take the same level of bet. So invest the same amount of capital at the same valuation as male founders are getting. And that just creates a challenge longer term in terms of being able to continue to fund those companies to the extent they need to be funded in order to be competitive in the global market. So yeah, two different industries, two different kinds of observations about what I think potential actions may be. But I think both are trying to make change. It’s just, not as quickly as everyone would like.

Goldy Hyder:

You mentioned, the journey has been curvy. You talked about the need to be uncomfortable. You talked about some of the pressure that you faced. As a young company, how important is it for you to change your approach and to adapt to the feedback that you’ve received along this journey?

Mallorie Brodie:

Feedback has definitely been a very critical part of building our company. And I would definitely say that we always listen to feedback, whether it’s from our customers, from investors, from our board, from different mentors or people that we’re discussing. But I think you also, as a founder, always have to really digest that feedback and choose which feedback you’re going to accept and act on. There’s a lot of decisions that we’ve made at Bridgit that have relied on our intuition, especially in the early days. And that’s something that, we may have gotten feedback to do something contrary to what we ended up doing in the end. I mean, as people were sort of swinging into your business for a day or for an hour. And so I do think it’s important to always listen, look for the trends, but ultimately, for the founders to ultimately decide which feedback are they going to act on or not act on.

Goldy Hyder:

I think I’d read that you call them pain points.

Mallorie Brodie:

Definitely within the industry when we’re doing our customer research, we’re always looking for pain points. And I think, we just go in, we listen. If there’s a trend in terms of the pain points that are being brought up, then that’s when we know to really focus in and that there may be an opportunity to solve a new challenge with technology.

Goldy Hyder:

So where do you turn to, and I guess, Lauren, where do you turn to for mentorship and the importance of learning how you go about building a small business into a large business, who’s helped you on this journey?

Mallorie Brodie:

We have had so many mentors along the way and I think that has actually been one of our keys to success is that we never took the mindset of what we’re doing is so novel. And this is just completely new. We’ve always taken the mindset of there’s been someone that has been on this journey before us, in terms of building a company that’s focused on a specific vertical, or selling to construction, or scaling a technology company.

Mallorie Brodie:

And so at every stage, we’ve really been able to surround ourselves with folks that we feel are experts in the journey we’re about to go through in the next phase of our business. And that’s been critical and just accelerating the learning, accelerating the speed at which we can grow the company and not needing to make mistakes that other founders have already experienced for us. So just always trying to benefit from those that have come before us and what they’ve learned and how we can apply that to our business, just so we don’t make the same mistakes. And we still make tons of mistakes. So we never get it perfect, but it definitely helps us.

Goldy Hyder:

You’re a Next Gen member of the Business Council of Canada. I’m wondering, how you’re finding your experience albeit virtually these days, but what’s your experience been like in interacting with people who in some cases, did start their business small and ended up building globally competitive companies?

Mallorie Brodie:

The thing that was actually so incredible to me about the first meeting I joined and it’s this amazing room of leaders in Canada that I very much look up to, but it also made me realize how accessible in some ways the Canadian business ecosystem is. And I actually think that’s a huge advantage for Canada. So although there is many people on the list that I hadn’t yet met before, there was a fair number that I have met at various tech gatherings or through different mentorship conversations. And I think that just, really speaks to the fact that the smaller technology companies in the space and these larger organizations are only a degree or two of separation away. And that could actually be a huge competitive strength for Canada and the larger companies to really invest in the innovation ecosystem. So it was just one observation. I’ve only been at a couple of meetings so far, but overall just, very honoured to be in the same room as so many business leaders. And yeah, really look up to everyone that’s in the room.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, we’re certainly delighted to have you there, and here’s hoping that we’re able to get together soon enough, which leads me to my next question. The pandemic of course, has probably not exempted your business in any way, shape or form either, but what impact has the pandemic had on your ability to run your business and grow your business?

Mallorie Brodie:

Last April when everything was really starting to shut down, it was definitely a scary month. I think everyone in the construction industry and every industry just put every buying decision on pause. So it was a very quiet month for us. And then after that, we saw that construction was deemed an essential industry in most geographies. In the U.S. it was essential basically the whole time. So we actually, after April saw an increase in usage of our platform. Companies that typically had been doing their resource planning on whiteboards transitioned to digital solutions like ours, which was great. And then also just the need to track COVID-related issues on projects, or in regards to people. That was something our solution was being leveraged for. So overall, we are seeing this macro trend of digital transformation within the construction vertical, and that was really just accelerated by working from home and needing to move a lot of the paper-based tools online.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, that’s interesting. I mean, here you are developing a technology for something entirely different, and now suddenly you were able to adapt it quickly enough to track COVID. Tell us more about how that came about?

Mallorie Brodie:

It was quite organic actually. So we, as you mentioned, it wasn’t the intent, no one was really anticipating that need within our product, but we did build it in a very flexible and highly configurable way. So customers can ultimately track any criteria they would like around their people and the same thing for projects. So it was something that we just noticed in the data that was getting created in our platform. And then once we were able to see that, then we were able to share that use case with our other customers. So they were able to leverage the platform in the same way, but it was really just a new need that our customers had based on how their needs had evolved. And then ultimately us just sharing and promoting that use case just so everyone could make use of it.

Goldy Hyder:

Are you optimistic about the future?

Mallorie Brodie:

I am very optimistic about the future. I’m in Kitchener-Waterloo, and seeing a ton of growth in the tech ecosystem here. I think it’s been on the map for a while as an international hotspot for technology talent. And I think that’s really only continuing to grow and based on the construction industry and all the customer conversations we have, I think there’s going to be a ton of continued innovation in the space and really excited to see how the industry evolves in the next 10 years. I think the last year was almost a headstart in terms of that digital transformation. So I think we’ll actually be a lot further ahead when it comes to construction in the next decade.

Goldy Hyder:

What a great note to end on, optimism. A chance to talk about growth. And something tells me that we’ve not heard the last of you and Lauren or Bridgit, and that the next 10 years will skyrocket to success. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

Mallorie Brodie:

Thank you for having me Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:

Mallorie Brodie is the CEO and co-founder of Bridgit. I’m struck by Mallorie’s thoughts on the importance of fostering innovation in Canada. Next episode, we’ll dig into that some more with one of Canada’s most established brands, Magna International. How does a 64-year-old company maintain a culture of innovation and change?

Swamy Kotagiri:

I like to think of we’re a $40 billion company and we are still a startup because we are in a $3 trillion industry. And it’s changing. And every time there is change, there is opportunity. We have a great place today and with all these changes coming, if we do the right things, exciting things can happen.

Goldy Hyder:

You don’t want to miss my conversation with Magna’s new CEO, Swamy Kotagiri. We’ll share that conversation with you on July the first. And remember, to subscribe to our podcast if you would like to hear more of our Speaking of Business conversations with innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs. Search for Speaking of Business, wherever you get your podcasts, or simply go to our website at thebusinesscouncil.ca. Until next time. I’m Goldy Hyder. Thanks for joining us.