Movers and Starters is an exclusive series that profiles the individuals who drive Toronto’s startup community.
Can you briefly explain what your company does?
Lauren Hasegawa: Bridgit builds software for construction sites. What we’re trying to tackle with our first product is deficiency management. This process involves tracking the defects that come up during the construction—so things like cracks in drywall, paint that’s chipped, or tiles that haven’t been installed properly.
Those defects need to be communicated between contractors on site, and typically this is done using a pen and paper, an excel document and a lot of emails. As a result, deficiencies are hard to track. Our mobile app allows contractors to track and assign those problems in real-time, streamlining the whole process.
From what I understand, you both wanted to be entrepreneurs long before you started Bridgit. Where did that desire come from?
Mallorie Brodie: The first time I associated the word “entrepreneur” with my behaviour was when won an entrance scholarship to the Ivey Institute for Entrepreneurship. In hindsight, I had always been a self-starter in high school, but that was the first time someone had given me that word. It was around that time that I started to think about what I wanted to do after I graduated university.
I realized I didn’t need to follow the typical career path of a business graduate.
One of the things I did, after taking a lot art history courses at Western, was start an online student art gallery called Start Gallery. After finishing school, I was accepted into The Next 36, an accelerator program for undergraduates. That’s where I met Lauren and we started working on Bridgit.
LH: My grandfather is an entrepreneur. Like myself, he studied civil engineering and started his own construction company after graduating.
I grew up seeing what he had managed to do, but never thought I could do the same thing directly out of school. In my mind, I knew that I wanted to start my own business at some point, but that seemed like it was one of those things I would do 10 or 15 years down the road. The Next 36 program showed me that I could do it right out of school, and that a fresh approach is a good thing, especially for a traditional industry like construction.
Mallorie, speaking of Start Gallery, you had the opportunity to have that startup critiqued by Kevin O’Leary. What was that experience like? How did what you learned with Start Gallery shape Bridgit?
MB: I learned it’s so important to spend the time to validate the opportunity, and confirm that what you’re trying to solve is actually a problem and that there people are willing to pay for your solution.
With Start Gallery, I started down that path, but I never did the full validation that there was a willingness to pay online. In that respect, it was a great learning experience, and, with Bridgit, Lauren and I have done very thorough job of validating that there is a willingness to pay for our product.
In terms of being critiqued by Kevin O’Leary, it was an amazing experience. I was in third year university at the time, and I received the opportunity to present my startup to him after winning a pitch competition at Ivey. His feedback was harsh, absolutely, but, at the same time, I look back and realize he was completely right.
A lot of the points he brought up are things that investors ask us today. All in all, I don’t think I would be here today had I not done the art gallery first.
Can you tell me how you two met? I understand you two were paired up by your mentors at The Next 36 program.
MB: We both went to Western, and we had a lot of mutual friends between the two of us, but somehow we didn’t end up meeting during our time there.
We finally met one another before we started The Next 36 program, and we got along right away. Thankfully, we were placed on the same team—I think they saw that we had a good dynamic.
We’re very different, and we bring a lot of different skills to the team. So, in a lot of ways, this has been a match made in heaven.
LH: It’s a strange story, because the chances of a business relationship working out from what a seems like such an arbitrary occasion is, I would say, one in a million, but somehow we clicked from day one.
Can you each tell me what your co-founder brings to the company? Do you think you could have started Bridgit without the other person?
LH: I don’t think Bridgit would work if there was only one of us. We make all of our decisions in a collaborative way, and it works because we bring different perspectives to the table.
MB: At Ivey, there were a lot of students that were interested in entrepreneurship, and we often got together to brainstorm our own business ideas, but the issue that kept coming up is that we didn’t have many experiences outside of business school; there was no particular industry where we intimately understood the problems that industry faced on a daily basis.
When I met Lauren, I felt like I had met my match; I was able to bring my business background, and Lauren had the industry insight to suggest that we head to a site to try and find a problem worth solving.
Your first product came out of going to construction sites and talking to the teams there about the problems they faced. Can you gives us more insight into that process?
LH: When Mallorie and I started we knew we wanted to address the problems the construction industry faced, but we didn’t know the exact problem we wanted to tackle first. So we said to ourselves, “Where are we going to find the answers to that question? Well, probably on a construction site.”
We spent the next six months—we were both living in London at the time—driving from site to site and talking to the first person we found at each site. We asked them questions about how they went about their job and what their biggest pain point during the day was.
Doing that, we were able to make so many connections on site, and eventually we were even able to job shadow people and attend site meetings. That process allowed us to gain perspectives that we wouldn’t have gotten any other way.
So you two just showed up on site with hardhats and started asking questions? What were the reactions like?
LH: Yeah, exactly, we just showed up.
We usually went early in the morning, just as people we’re getting to the site, so we never a distraction. They were definitely curious as to why we were there; we were two young girls showing up on site, which wasn’t typical, but, as soon as we started asking questions, they could tell that we were there to help and that we wanted to learn from them.
The support we got from those early sites is what kept us going. There was definitely a bit of resistance, but no one ever questioned why we were there; they really wanted to share with us what their problems.
Now that those same contractors that helped you have used the app, what has been their feedback?
LH: The biggest piece of feedback we get is how easy our app is to use, and that’s a huge selling point for it; a lot of project management type software tends to be cumbersome to use, and contractors get tired of trying to figure out how to use it.
We pride ourselves on users being able to learn to use our solution in two minutes or less. That simplicity makes it accessible to a lot of different users, and that’s allowed us to get Bridgit on both large and small construction projects.
Obviously Bridgit is a business-to-business solution, but how do consumers benefit from this app? Will the homes and condos they purchase in the future be better built?
Definitely. Addressing site deficiencies typically happens at the end of a project. When those are tracked faster and earlier on, you end up with a much better outcome in terms of construction quality. Projects will be delivered to the owner on time and free of defects.
MB: In fact, we’ve seen Bridgit encourage a proactive behaviour when it comes to dealing with defects. Our users don’t feel like it’s a pain to record defects anymore, and, as a result, they are recording them as they go.
What’s next for the company and for you as individuals?
MB: We think our solution is something that companies across the world will be interested in using, and so we’re currently working on aggressive growth plans.
LH: To add on a personal note: a lot of people are confused how we can be so passionate about tracking defects on a construction site. Starting at construction sites, we realized how much frustration this issue—and other issues that we plan to tackle in the future—cause. Our passion really comes back to those people, and we’ve been able to see how our product has changed how they go about their work.
Is that what motivates you to keep working on this company?
LH: Yeah, I think it definitely has to do with a lot of the feedback. Inherently, we like the idea of building something and seeing something grow, but it’s definitely the feedback that keeps us going on hard days.
We always say we want to win the gold medal in deficiency management.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Igor Bonifacic is a writer working for the Toronto Standard. You can follow him on twitter @igorbonifacic.