As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Chan.
Kathleen is the Co-Founder of Benchwork, a machine learning startup that automates sourcing for factories and brands — saving them thousands of hours every year. Kathleen and her startup works directly with the powerhouses that are fundamental to our economies, from sustainable textile mills to the garment factories that power our favorite brands. With a truly global view on how COVID-19 has affected supply chains, Kathleen brings a unique perspective on what challenges and opportunities we’ll face in the Post-COVID economy.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career at Microsoft working in audience marketing before jumping into the agency world. There I got a lot of first hand insight into some of the world’s biggest brands and how they operate. Through this, I got the opportunity to teach and became one of the youngest professors at Centennial College in Toronto. I eventually founded and grew a direct-to-consumer jewelry brand with my now co-founder Nathan. It was here where we really got the inspiration for Benchwork after working incredibly close with a myriad of factories that power some of our favorite online and offline brands.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
As with most founders, when I first started, I looked to try and do everything in-house. Marketing, sales, product design — you name it, I tried it. I became this jack of all trades and those hours really added up! My takeaway there would be to delegate and then delegate some more. Great companies are built by great teams and it’s vital that as a founder you get time to build on that vision instead of spending all your minutes in the trenches.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m a huge fan of NPR’s How I Built This podcast. I find it fascinating how the founders that I look up to built their businesses from scratch and I really admire Guy Raz’s ability to really get down to the details of mistakes, learning and lessons that each founder made. It honestly was my crash course in a lot of ways when it came to building and growing my companies.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision and mission was always to bring reliability and transparency into supply chains — and I think this still holds true. There’s so much room for efficiencies in the supply chains that power our world and we’re here to bring that. This pandemic has shown us just how fragile our supply chains are and I think it’s imperative that we get back to the drawing board with our factories and suppliers to figure out just how we can be more efficient.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Trust your team and always bring value.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I was fortunate in my personal life that most of my family and friends just had to focus on staying safe and keeping others in their family well. So most of what we’ve done as a group was to donate where we can, whether it be food or supplies to ensure that those who couldn’t get access were able to feel a little more secure during this time.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
All of our customers felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and unfortunately it was detrimental to their bottom line. Because we worked directly with factories in garments and textiles, we realized we were in the unique position to help them re-tool their production lines and alleviate the stress on medical grade PPE. So that’s what we did, we opened our doors to help shift factories over to building products that were outside of their usual business and were able to keep their businesses thriving during that would have been a devastating downturn.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I’ve done a lot of Zoom calls, Google Meets and just video calls in general to stay connected. Whether it’s a few minutes here and there throughout the day or a set time each week — I found that it was a great way just to connect and touch base with them to talk about something other than work or the pandemic.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
The rapid adoption of e-commerce for highly traditional brick and mortar businesses. I feel like this pandemic gave them a fast acceleration into adopting these new tools and I’m interested to see how this changes their business operations for the long haul.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I’m really interested in seeing how the pandemic shapes the future of international travel moving forward. I foresee some hurdles in how and when we travel when it’s safe to do so of course and how we’ll adapt to that moving forward.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Given the nature of the problem we’re tackling at Benchwork, we’ll be focusing a lot on how we can continue to bring value to our factory customers and help them rebuild their businesses.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Really double down on your business understand what value you’re bringing to your customers and if your customer base is still looking for the service or product you’re selling. This pandemic turned industries upside down and it’s important to approach from a place of empathy and value when growing your business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying.” — As a serial entrepreneur, I think this has really kept me pushing forward when faced with hurdles or challenges.
How can our readers further follow your work? You can find us at benchwork.io or find me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathleenchan/)