Podcast

Scaling Up [S5.E2]: The future is Brighte with Katherine McConnell, CEO and Founder of Brighte

Learn about Katherine's novel approach to leading the green energy movement. Brighte is a high-performance workplace that sets the gold standard for embracing the full value of diversity and inclusion.

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Ed (02:34): Katherine, welcome to Scaling Up. I must admit, I have wanted to have you on this show for a couple of seasons now, but thankfully finally have managed to track you down. I would love as a great place to start to learn more about you, your own green journey, your personal background, and your reason for why when it came to founding Brighte.

Katherine (02:57): Ed, great to be here. Great to be able to finally have this chat. So, I’ve been on this journey since 2015, so it’s six years now that I’ve been the founder and CEO at Brighte.  Before being the founder and CEO at this scale up, I had a really long career in investment banking at Macquarie Bank. I was there 14 years in total. Also had worked in the government at Treasury and Department of Finance, and so never had aspirations to be an entrepreneur. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d be where I am today. The background that I had in investment banking particularly at Macquarie Bank, it gave me a really strong understanding of risk, structuring, credit products, and particularly the area that I was in I had really great insights into customer problems and customer friction points.

It was there that it was really a testing ground for me to be able to develop some different products, be able to get some feedback on the ground. It was there that I personally got involved in solar and batteries. So, in 2010 at home, we got solar. In 2015 we got our first battery. We were there, very, very early adopters for home batteries. At that point, I guess by 2015, it was a combination of deep technical understanding of the energy industry, the energy financing industry and problems on the ground combined with just personal interest in solar, personal interest in batteries, and just the understanding of the financial sustainability that that can provide when you get that for your home. I left because I saw that the current products on the market weren’t capable of solving the friction and the problems that existed.

And I was a big believer in the future of batteries, and I thought if they weren’t solving the problems of solar today, batteries were never going to be taken up. I left because I thought that with my background and my personal interest that I could solve these problems and the first problem I wanted to solve was the upfront cost. If you could remove the upfront cost for people that wanted to make their home sustainable and wanting to get solar, removing that upfront cost and spreading those repayments over time enabled that customer to be able to align the repayments with the energy savings they’d be making from solar. It was pretty much a no brainer; it was just economically made sense and then it had all of these other environmental and sustainable benefits. For me it just made sense and I’ve been really lucky that I was able to build the business that solved that initial challenge that customers had in accessing a sustainable home.

Ed (05:28): And we’ll dig into Brighte, I’m going to stick with this founding story for the moment. Like so many founders, it feels as though you saw the problem initially from the consumer lens and there was a problem to be solved for the consumer. And then your domain expertise around financing got plugged into what became evidently an obsession around solving this. Did you feel like a repressed entrepreneur in many ways? At any stage? Nothing smells like a vanilla corporate job like Macquarie Bank in Australia. There must have been something deep inside that said, I want to break free.

Katherine (06:03): No, I never did lemonade stalls. Never, never had side businesses. I was actually really happy taking home a paycheck and a bonus once a year. I thought it was a lot of financial stability. There was a lot of prestige associated working there. And for me I would’ve been really happy to have risen up those ranks, to be honest. It’s quite interesting when I reflect on like how I left, why I left, like what was that trigger? That’s the most intriguing part. Still when I look back, it doesn’t all make sense why I left. And I know I have the reasons and I know why I say I did it, but it’s quite a, a powerful thing I guess that happened that gave me the confidence to leave.

Ed (06:42): Was there a thread of personal values amongst that? Was there something just wanting to do something better for the world?

Katherine (06:48): I had a strong belief that the benefits of solar were real and battery opportunity and uptake was going to be huge. And I felt, I guess that at that time it was a fringe issue and the absolute need for this type of product wasn’t a priority and the absolute need for why it needed to be available at the point of sale, it just wasn’t understood and the risk was seen, but the opportunity wasn’t seen. , all of those things I guess made me frustrated and it made me frustrated because the benefit to the customer was just so real that the opportunity ahead was so big, and I just couldn’t do my day job anymore because I just couldn’t see past that opportunity and pass that problem. So that was really impetus for, for why I made the move.

Ed (07:36): And Australia and ultimately the world will be grateful for that. Let’s dig into the business. Correct me if I’m wrong but act one for Brighte. Let’s say the first four or five years as you were starting to scale up was about this consumer finance piece for solar and batteries. By now pay later products for not only those, but also home improvements of which you’ve, I think, financed maybe one in 10 new residential solar installations in Australia, which is incredible. And now Australia leads the world in rooftop solar penetration, and you’ve been at the forefront of that. Act two, it seems from the outside is not just about financing the assets, it’s about becoming a retailer and also helping the customers realize revenue from their solar and batteries. This sort of gen-tailing is going to create a huge opportunity. The question is massive market. When you were sitting down thinking about Brighte and what it could become, was it always the plan or has it just evolved that you really saw that the value chain was broken and needed fixing? I’m absolutely fascinated by how the business plan, in a sense has evolved over time. 

Katherine (08:47): I actually found my first pitch that I did when I was trying to raise seed investment. I’ve gone back and challenged myself because sometimes I think you can lose clarity along the way, but I found it. And the big story was Brighte believes in the battery opportunity and Brighte’s been created to enable the acceleration and the uptake of batteries. What I believed in was that opportunity and the benefits that customers could get from not just generating their own energy but storing that energy. Just that storage of the energy that everyone believed in solar, everyone believed in 2010 there was a solar boom and everyone knew that you could create your own energy, but what was missing was storing that energy so you could save that power when the sun goes down and you could power your own home and not just generate your own energy during the day, but use it during the night.

That’s what I wanted to unlock. And when I started the business, I thought finance would unlock everything. So, I thought the biggest barrier was just the upfront cost, absolutely was for solar, 3 million homes, we passed a milestone in Australia this week, 3 million homes have solar, but 110,000 homes have batteries in 2021. When I look back at 2015, I thought 2020 would be the year would be in a battery boom and it’s not happening. When I reflect on the problem I was solving when I set up the business, the problem I was solving was I wanted people to get batteries and I wanted to remove the friction that it stopped people from getting batteries. And to do that I set up capabilities to remove the upfront price, which was finance. I thought finance would solve everything.

And I guess the realization is last year finance isn’t unlocking batteries. As we dig deeper to look at why, I guess the biggest reason that I see is that solar has a revenue stream that’s packaged into that purchase. You get revenue from government STC certificates up front, set off against the upfront price. You can also earn a revenue stream via a feed-in tariff, which is earned over time, and that’s packaged in there with, with high confidence in that ongoing revenue stream. But batteries don’t have that, so there’s a problem there that we need to solve around how we can help our customers have power shift to their home and make sure it’s fair that they earn the revenue strain that batteries can generate. That’s the part that we need to unlock. And just that simplicity around how we can just make it such a, a simple experience for customers when they buy that battery that they can truly power their home, they can generate, they can store and all of their energy needs, all of the revenue they can generate are just packaged up seamlessly for that home.

Ed (11:27): Love how you’re thinking about it. And just to kind of dig into the business model a little bit more and the, and the key competitive advantages of it and the opportunities as you see them, you keep calling out this frictionless customer experience because ultimately you are a consumer brand. I’m really keen to understand how you’re thinking about building a consumer brand that’s obviously the tip of the iceberg. And below it is this really powerful business model both on the consumer side and the funding side. So, let’s kind of walk through that, but maybe to start with how you’re thinking about building a brand for Brighte.

Katherine (12:03): That was a probably a realization last year to be honest. When I started the business, I started the business by solving the customer’s problems through the distribution channel. So, developing a network of partners around the country. So, we’ve got about two and a half thousand companies that work with us and with their team. There’s about seven or 8,000 people who are on the ground who can use Brighte to unlock their customers sales and ambitions to access solar. So that was really what we focused on in the first phase of our growth building up that channel. It was only last year that we realized we hadn’t really thought about brand awareness. I think last year I’d had, prior to the start of last year, I’d had spent $300,000 in marketing I’d had one and a half people in the marketing team. Part of our series C was to bring in the team to develop the brand to identify what that brand was going to be and the value proposition. And we are just a couple of weeks ago launched the new logo, the brand we’ve got some TV ads coming on next week, ads on radio, so we now have our plan and we’re starting to roll that out. 

Ed (13:09): It’s a testament to how greater customer experience it is to think that six years in is the first real time that you’ve had to do any kind of above the line advertising that that speaks volumes to the product market fit. And you called out part of this frictionless experience is this marketplace of supply being the installers and obviously the demand coming from the consumers. So not only are you trying to scale a consumer finance company, but there’s this marketplace element, but that of course provides a wonderful network effect once it starts flowing.

Katherine (13:43): It does. You often have the chicken and the egg problem effectively, what do you build first? What do you grow first? Do you go first with brand so then you can attract the partners? Do you go first with partners?  That’s something that I’ve definitely been conscious of, and I chose the former to go first. However, you need brand awareness to help those partners at the point of sale., when they’re saying, how about Brighte? You have to co-invest in both sides, and both sides add weight to each other. So, the more direct relationships we have with customers, what we do is we’re able to provide qualified leads to our vendors that helps them increase their sales. And I was speaking to one of the vendors a couple of weeks ago and he was saying he’s getting so many qualified leads through Brighte that he’s stopped his Google and Facebook ads because he can’t actually service all of the leads that he’s getting through now. That’s where we want to land. That’s a great example, but just that benefit that you can provide to both sides both of our customer bases and then how that can create network effects effectively and be this continuous cycle that effectively supports and feeds both consumers and also partners who operate in that space.

Ed (14:53): Of course, the more suppliers you have or partners as you are calling and the more utility for the consumers and also gives you more permission, I guess to add greater features and, that creates more utility and all of a sudden that flywheel can really start spinning quickly and it feels as though that’s probably where you are almost at this point in time. Things are really getting going for Brighte. I guess the only other thing I want to call out on the business model front, we’ve kind of touched on this consumer side, there has to be some secret source on the financing side, and I’d call that the back end, the less sexy stuff, but ultimately the solar or the home improvements or the batteries need to be financed, and this is where your domain expertise probably shines. Can you talk through the secret source of the financing piece for Brighte?

Katherine (15:41): Yeah, absolutely. It’s like the iceberg, what’s underneath is so much bigger than what presents on the surface. And from day one, I knew that in order to have a compelling proposition for consumers, for our customers, that we had to have a pathway to having very cost-effective capital. We also had to effectively own the criteria around who we can lend to and then how we manage those customers. So, we effectively had to build our own debt warehouse and we had to have a pathway to public debt markets. Right from day one when I was raising equity, I was also raising debt. When I did my first seed round, I was also concurrently raising my first 10 million debt warehouse. It was only so really three, three to four years of being in the market and we did our first 190 million issuance and it’s very complex.

It’s very expensive to be able to put the structures in place to enable that from day one. And I can do a whole session on this around what, what you need to put up, but yeah, it’s very expensive and it’s more complex actually than the equity. And then thinking through how you set up the procedures behind that. Effectively when people give you money to be able to put in these debt warehouses, they want to have the confidence that the policies that you have will be executed, consistently how we write loans, how we create credit, how we service those customers who are in our portfolio, when people are late in paying, do we follow our policies around how we’re going to collect that fund and then can we keep our number of customers who are paying late or aren’t paying within the forecast that we’ve committed to. There’s a lot of complexity there as in additional the regulations that you have to follow. That in itself a minefield, but I think we are doing a great job evidenced by the fact this year we got a AAA rating in our green bond, which shows its really high-quality credit, in the underlying portfolio.

Ed (17:40): Absolutely. I think one thing to call out that is Australia’s first a hundred percent green asset backed securitized bond. So not just making it easy for the consumers, but on the financing side you’re really breaking new ground.

Katherine (17:54): Absolutely, what that does is initially when I started, I was using equity, the McConnell Family Home loan, maybe it was debt. So, I was using equity to be able to fund.

Ed (18:06): That’s not a scalable solution, Katherine.

Katherine (18:08): It’s not. And then when I raised equity, I was using equity and so it’s fantastic to be able to access this step that’s scalable, it’s cost effective, and then it means that the equity that I have, I can use in other areas of the business so I can use to be able to look at data and automation and product creation. It’s just not sustainable. Having a business where you have a high cost of funds to be able to fund your, loan book created a lot of freedom and opportunity now to be able to use that equity to scale other parts of the business.

Ed (18:38): It seems to me that this is really where the competitive advantage is driven home for your business. Do you think that from a debt financing point of view, that in fact you are at the forefront of maybe the greatest tailwind of our generation and that is green investing? I think there was a statistic in the Economist the other day that investors have poured more than 500 billion this year alone into energy transition. And that’s sort of shorthand for decarbonizing everything from energy to transport, you name it must feel as though the wind is in your sales when it comes to the financing piece. Yeah,

Katherine (19:14): I remember when I started, I thought 2020 onwards, the tailwinds would be there, and I think that’s why I left. The urgency was there that you just had to see this in 2015 or you were going to miss the window of opportunity that I thought would come from 2020 and beyond. The opportunity comes on many fronts. It’s not just with our customers who are wanting to be empowered and owning their own power. They’re wanting to be power generators. So, it’s not just with our customers, it is also with people who want exposure to this underlying asset class. So, they have ESG requirements as companies, they may also have requirements that are pushed on them as part of government, so COP 26 or net zero targets. And then also we are really lucky because our employees particularly Millennials and Gen Z, they also want to work for companies with purpose.

And they need this, and they want this. So, you’ve got tailwinds on so many fronts. We’ve got a war on talent, we can actually hire the best people because they can work in businesses that have exposure to sustainability. We can actually support people corporates who want to invest in this type of asset class by creating a machine that can continue to deliver this type of debt opportunity. And underneath it all, we’re solving customer problems and creating greater affordability and sustainability for them. So, it’s this triple threat and overnight success story.

Ed (20:35): Hey, everything always is. We’ll come back to the hiring piece because I do want to carve out some time specifically from that. But while on the business model, are there any other scaling challenges you want to call out that I’ve kind of missed around the consumer finance piece or the marketplace piece or the energy piece, but would’ve been the really big challenges that you’ve had to face as a founder and as a business over the last five or six years?

Katherine (21:19): So, some of the challenges have been around automation, the underlying customer demographic that we are dealing with and also how we’ve approached the market. It’s been via third parties, so we weren’t physically present at that point in sale. There’s a lot of risk there that you’re exposed to and as you scale, it’s not you’re now exposed to hundreds of millions of dollars of this type of risk.  That’s been something we’ve absolutely focused on as we scale. And I think it’s a superpower of our business. But also, the automation is really interesting because a lot of the demographics of the homeowners that we deal with, they don’t trust so where you have to do bank verification, they don’t trust giving their password away to their bank account to someone. So, you do have a lot of customers who want to interact with you and their preferences are, I think they’ve been accelerated through covid getting more comfortable with digital.

But it’s been something that we’ve had to navigate, and we are still navigating around automation and just how to make it easy and a great experience, but streamlined and scalable given the underlying demographics and sales environment. So, I think that’s been something we have to, and we are getting better and better at to be able to do this on an even bigger scale. Along the way that’s created different problems and you don’t want to pile on people, you want to create automation, but then how you kind of balance this along the way when you are in this, this hyper growth.

Ed (22:41): That’s a good call out, particularly around trying to scale the technology. It’s something that I certainly hadn’t touched on and maybe we can touch on it in the hiring piece. Let’s change gears a little bit to the scaling of the people and culture. This is probably the biggest scaling pain point for most founders, particularly ones that are going through hypergrowth like yourself. Let’s start with your own leadership scaling journey, maybe what the company vision for the culture was and how those values of the business came about.

Katherine (23:12): Yeah, as I’ve reflected along the way, a lot of my values at Brighte have been formed by how I have or have not been treated prior to starting Brighte in the last 11 years. I’d always worked in a team that had only males and, males are great, but the only female on the team. And I went through two pregnancies, two maternity leaves. I needed flexibility after I came back and it was really a different world then than it is today. I got promoted once in 11 years, once in 11 years. It was quite frustrating because I had exactly the same skill sets then as I do today. And it’s just always amazing for me to say, I’m doing today what I did then and one promotion. I always think about fairness I always think about fairness as I watched colleagues get promoted and I felt a lot of anger.

I saw my husband working and then he also would’ve loved to have had more time with our kids and not to have had to have made the choice about has to fall on one person, not carried by both. And I also saw her along the way that there was a period where he was able to take some time off and be that primary care and how much happiness it gave him and the kids. I think values that Brighte has are based on values and experiences that I’ve had to date. We have a value around brighter together, how we are stronger together, we’re stronger as a team, the individual doesn’t win. So that’s a really big one. We have one called the Ball, it’s around high performing teams. It’s also around how you act when you have to drop the ball. So, you may have to drop the ball because you’ve got some personal commitments, but you’re a high performer, but you’ve got some things and you just, you have to leave because you’ve got these things on and you’re in the middle of something. And it’s how we support each other through life up and down and life is personal it’s not just work. And I think it’s creating an inclusive and really genuine environment where you can have a life outside of work and you can still be a really high performer. Awesome.

Ed (25:02): Brighte really has become a, a beacon in this and is attracting great people because of it. I think, and again, correct me if I’m wrong, that over half your leadership team is female. So that’s playing out in part of your previous experience and this inclusion piece, you only need to read through the reviews online as to how you are scaling this culture. What about your own role, how that’s changed over the last five years as a founder than more of a, you’re still the founder but more of a CEO and leader of people, how that evolution and how you’ve dealt with that? Because as it sounds you weren’t a leader of many at Macquarie.

Katherine (25:38): Yeah, at Macquarie, I think at the end I had one person that was reporting into me.

Ed (25:43): Now you’ve got hundreds.

Katherine (25:45): I never led anyone. So, I think in that first stage of both, you’re a doer and then as you scale you start to build teams and I try to never micromanage and the reason why I wouldn’t try to do that is because I just don’t have the skills that these people have that are coming on. I acknowledge that.  I think the leadership journey for me, I’ve, I’ve been the most aware of this over the last few years as I’m bringing on just amazing talent into the company and they look up to me for advice or direction and you do have moments where you question your own ability to be able to give that to them when you look back at your own experience and go, well I’m not qualified, should I have done something to have been qualified to be able to support them in the way they need.

I think it’s a really interesting challenge for founders who find themselves the CEO of staff with 200, 500, a thousand people and tens of millions or hundreds of millions of revenues that they’re generating. It’s absolutely you need to be a fast learner at every single step of the way in every single part of your role. And I’ve been lucky to have had some people along the way that I can reach out to who’ve been through the same process. With my own team I learn a lot from them every single day. But just thinking through what is leadership? What is the job of a CEO and what does that mean I need to provide the company and just the people who report to me? Really practically it’s something that I think through and read a lot on because I want to be great at this job.

Ed (27:12): Yeah, you’re going to have to be, to achieve the ambition and you well on that journey. Is there one thing that comes to mind that you are very focused on in terms of scaling your own leadership capability?

Katherine (27:23): I’ve started probably reaching out more formally now. So, we are going through a process in the company., we’ve engaged a company called Culture Equation. And so, going through exec team coaching, individual coaching to be able to just have someone that you can speak to be able to challenge you and to be able to talk through common pitfalls or downfalls that leaders or CEOs have had in the past and to be able to work through are they line spots for you. So, I think that that’s been interesting. That’s something I’ve never done before. I’m finding that useful. The only other thing, I think everyone has an individual style and so my style has been, I haven’t wanted formal mentors or formal coaches and I prefer to just reach out ad hoc as I have a specific need. But I think that you just have to work out there what best suits you.

Ed (28:16): You called out earlier around the advantage of being this sort of purpose native company when it comes to hiring this younger generation that is certainly very focused on the time they spend and how they’re going to spend it being aligned to their own personal values. What are the, some of the mechanics of hiring people in this sort of purpose, native driven mindset is there anything that you’d like to call out?

Katherine (28:42): Yeah, I think at the start it’s easy because I could be involved in interviewing processes or your personal brand could be quite convincing or, you could personally influence hiring, but when you’re hiring 50 plus people a month, you personally can’t have that impact as a founder. The way you can do that is through your mission, your purpose and your values and making sure they’re clearly understood, making sure they’re lived by everyone in the company and making sure that externally and people know what they are and so they become they become your scaling engine or your scaling machine effectively. And that’s what we’ve really worked through in the last year. I think it’s really easy to say we’ve got these things and I can remember them, and they’ve written up on the walls, but we’ve been through a process where we’ve challenged them within the business. We’re starting to do a lot of work on what it’s like when they’re not lived, really starting to think through feedback and how we get much better at candid feedback and calling out when they’re not lived. I think that mission, purpose and values are how you can scalably hire amazing people and be able to attract people that really want that purpose, that genuine purpose that’s lived in the business.

Ed (29:52): You called out just the hiring velocity that’s going on 50 or so in the last month, it’s insane to think that’s happened remotely. Coming out of Covid, is there any advice that you have for other businesses that are hiring their systems and processes would’ve changed dramatically from the face-to-face nature to hiring at velocity under the pressure of having to do it remotely and also the policies around what this new age of work looks like.

Katherine (30:22): Yeah, I’ve been really fortunate to have brought in an amazing chief people officer, Kirsten Hunter. And I think it’s really important to look at who’s in in charge of, of that part of your business and make sure you’ve got an amazing person. You may have just focused in other areas of the business that drove growth or revenue or marketing, but every part of the business you’ve got to have great talent. And then we now think about it also as people operations, not just people and culture. And you think about scaling the operations in marketing or customer service or, credit, but people operations is where you have to think about operations as well. It’s how you scale onboarding and it’s how you scale time to competency. So how quickly can you actually get people ready and effective to be able to do their job because that enables you to be quicker, to be able to support your customers and create revenues. So, I think just a lot of the top of the funnel kind of metrics that you think about for customers, you’ve actually got to apply to your own people and really focus on those metrics in in the same way you would revenue growth.

Ed (31:21): That’s a great call out and something very actionable for many of the founders that are listening. What about maintaining the cultures that have developed much of which face to face all of a sudden? Are you finding that there’s been a shift considering the amount of people that are being onboarded remote or has there been an effect on the organizational structure and that has had a flow down? I’m curious because it is something that is real for every business and you’re experiencing it at hyper growth and firsthand, so I’m sure you have some insights here.

Katherine (31:53): Well, it funny as well because I’m not the tech native, I’m the finance, the banker native. The preference for me was always five days a week in the office and even after Covid 1.0 I think I was doing four days in the office. So, this time coming back, I’m one no more than two days in the office. So, for me personally, like it’s a huge mindset change from where I’ve existed my whole life and I’d challenge my own views around our people being productive at home. When we talk about let’s return to the office, I’d really challenge my own views around what does that mean, why do we need it? And when we do surveys and 61% of our team say they don’t want to return to the office more than two days a week do you quickly jump to any conclusions or assumptions around why they’ve said that, we’ll challenge that.

I’ve founded a really personally growth experience and really interesting because yeah, productivity’s high like our we’re having record breaking days. Yesterday was another record-breaking day and I think there were like 30 people in the office. I think it’s a really interesting time to be able to challenge every idea you’ve held around why you need to work in the office and then you’ve got to look down also to the individual level and the team level. And normally you do it at a company whole level and you make a policy and that’s what everyone lives with. But now you’re actually having to go through at a team level and what works best for a team, which teams prefer to work remote, which teams actually really hunger and crave that interaction because they’re more extroverts. And then also there are individual circumstances where a team may want to work remote, but the individual doesn’t have that personal infrastructure at home to enable that. So, it just adds a whole element of complexity there. But I think that it’s the future, it’s what our people want, and I think we have to move quicker to enable that for them.

Ed (33:38): A great answer. Just switching t momentarily to your equity funding journey you’ve raised a lot of money now from some very high-profile investors. There must be this tension of wanting to grow fast and I’m sure you have that innate desire as well, but you are ultimately dealing in a consumer finance company amongst other things. This tension of scaling really quickly but also not breaking because to break creates a whole range of business risks that are probably irrecoverable. So curious how that tension plays out and how you think about it as the founder?

Katherine (34:20): For me it’s focus and you need people in the business that can call you out on it because as you get bigger, the opportunity set of what you can do just grows and grows, particularly when you have more capital and you just think, well I could do that, I could buy that, I could and so it just gets bigger and the importance of focus gets more and more important because when you’re smaller and you just laser focused on build the BNPL business for solar finance and that’s all you’ve got to do. It’s really simple to be laser focused when you’re small, but as you get bigger, I think the focus is the biggest risk that you have to address and then being great at executing where you have a few different opportunities that you’re facing and it’s not this single opportunity. So, I think it just comes down to great people choosing some people as well that have that experience, that have been through that scale up journey and really can help you identify those common mistakes that will happen because they’ve seen them happen and you don’t just have to go through that slow, agonizing process of learning it yourself.

Ed (35:19): Yeah, particularly in a business like yours the mistakes, you don’t want to have to learn yourself and a great call out to get the right people for the right stage of the journey. Some people are great start-up people, some people really thrive in this scale up time horizon. And then of course they might not be the right people for you ultimately to be a hundred-billion-dollar company, who knows? But there’s no doubt in my mind that the world needs more strong and empowered female founders and leaders. What have been the biggest friction points for more female founders to exist in Australia or the world and what do you think will instigate change in this?

Katherine (35:56): Yeah, I think the paternity leave policy is a really, really big point. I remember when I had kids and I had a group of people, girls actually, and we’d go walking at lunch in the Botanic gardens and we’d all had kids and we were back three days a week and I remember just this conversation clearly and they all just went through, well when I think about my cost of my nanny or my childcare and this and this, it just doesn’t make sense for me to be at work anymore. So, my husband’s going to my husband’s going to work and I’m going to stay with the kids. And I remember in that group I was the only one who kept working and it was because they had to make the choice. It was because only one person could get support with parental payments, or the payments weren’t flexible enough to be able to enable the female to be able to stay in the workplace and not feel stressed and that juggle that’s so real couldn’t be managed.

I just think that when I look back at my amazing female friends, some of them aren’t in the workforce so they’re trying to get back in, but they’ve had 10 years of a gap and it’s hard for them to convince people that they have that skill. I think that’s the biggest part of the funnel where you see females drop off. Females with amazing talent university degrees and 10 years of expertise and then they drop out for 10 years. That’s why I think it’s harder to get female founders would be one reason. And then I think the other reason is the capital that you need. You have to be able to see the business. It’s really hard to go and get funding on just an idea. You’ve got to have had some traction, some product market fit.

If you are trying to get a female that has had some market experience and identified a real problem they may be trying to get a home, they may be juggling all these expenses or juggling all these different pressures. And I was really lucky that I could get a million dollars off the home loan, but my husband had a really senior job at Woolworths. He was on a really fantastic package, and we’d already accumulated a lot of savings through bonuses and this and that. So, we had that money to be able to draw on and people don’t have that usually. I think it’s hard to get experienced female founders because there are so many of these problems that I think have existed. But I think the world’s changing, and I think that’s going to change the future.

Ed (38:05): Fascinating insight. Is there a best-in-class parental leave policy that you wish was just perhaps government policy or something that you’ve seen that is inspired how you’ve thought about maternity leave?

Katherine (38:16): So, we’ve just introduced a policy in the last month that’s 20 weeks paternity leave for anyone who’s been with us in past probation so past six months. So that’s 20 weeks of leave for either parent. So, if you work for us and, your partner had the baby, you can still take that leave and we give four weeks additional for the birthing parent. So, if you had the baby, you can take the 24 weeks off. I think my husband was at Brighte he would’ve been able to have taken five months off and then he would’ve had flexibility over two years as to how he took that leave as well. And I think that he then could have supported me and given me a lot of flexibility and that could have kept me in the workforce.

I just think those paternity leave policies are huge and we actually backdated that when we introduced it. So, we had quite a few dads whose partners had had a baby in the last year, and so we went to them with this amazing lesson. You’ve got some leave you can take and the most amazing messages on Slack we are getting and with the photos, and I’ve even seen one of the dad’s change his email signature to dad. It’s amazing. And that’s one thing I’m really proud of actually.

Ed (39:25): So, you should be, you’re, you’re breaking the cycle for so many, and it plays into my last question that is around work life balance. You have two kids; you are the CEO and founder of a hyper growing business. What advice do you have of finding that balance that is so required to be in for the marathon that is scaling a business?

Katherine (39:47): Yeah, I think especially just acknowledging that that juggle is real. When you are in the middle of it all, like you’ve got to pause for a bit and say like just you’re juggling all these different things. Just have a think about what you’re juggling and then just have a think about that impact on you, the impact on your family. Someone is taking the short straw out of all of this and just make sure you’re happy with who’s taking the short straw. I think that’s the thing you’ve got to think through because the momentum can really take pace and, for me it’s absolutely Brighte that I prioritize to the detriment of other people who are really important in my life. And I think when you reflect on that, it creates guilt and I just think if you want this to be a marathon, not the sprint, I think you have to be really mindful of who those important relationships are in your life, what you need to do to prioritize them and what the impact of your journey is on them. And to really think through that and reflect on what you have to do to be able to support them. That’s the advice I’d give to be really mindful of that and to just know that it’s real and know that it’s going to be there for a long time and put in structures and things in place to make it work.

Ed (40:50): Awesome. Katherine, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for your time. I feel as though I learn a hell of a lot about you and the business. And once again, thank you so much.

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