Bringing Trusted Networks to the Trades:
A VentureLabs Interview with Marilyn Sanford, CEO of LincEdge
Is there a role for “apps” in trades? What do younger people in trades careers look for? How can we innovate in notoriously slow-to-move sectors like construction?
These types of questions were at the core of our discussion with Marilyn Sanford, the visionary helming LincEdge – a BC-based company designing a software solution to empower trades companies and individuals to safely share labour resources in a trusted network. We chatted with Marilyn earlier this month and are pleased to share Marilyn’s vision with you.
VentureLabs (VL): What did you do before starting LincEdge?
Marilyn: By training, I’m a Certified Professional Accountant. By passion, I am drawn to the process of “building.” I built three houses from foundation up, and they turned out beautifully! After building those houses, my interest in the construction sector bloomed. I’ve always had a good mind for technology, so I found myself building a business that offered low voltage custom integration solutions for high-end residences and businesses. I’ve run trade-based businesses for over twenty years, so I’ve been able to see the pain points of the construction industry and how critical it is to deliver skilled labour, as a primary service offering. This idea became the genesis of LincEdge.
VL: So, tell us a bit more about LincEdge.
Marilyn: In the construction industry, it is estimated that only 25 minutes per every hour is actually billable. That is incredibly inefficient, yet we haven’t seen a lot of innovation in addressing the challenges relating to the true cost of labour. Imagine if we could change that number even by just 1% for a trades-based business; that’s thousands of dollars per year. (Of course, I’d love to see that number higher, but let’s use it for a start.)
So much of the inefficiencies in the industry are based on the availability of skilled trades to do the right job at the right time. For a multitude of reasons – the need to move crews between jobs, unforeseen delays that leave skilled crews idle instead of working, peak periods of construction causing major labour shortages – ensuring the most effective use of skilled trades is a critical issue.
Our mission at LincEdge is to create and grow a network for owners of skilled trade businesses and freelancers, making it safe to connect, hire and share labour as needed. We want to help trades-based businesses develop a trusted network of skilled workers.
With the LincEdge application, trades-based businesses can create their own micro-communities of talent, or they can access the broader community of trusted partners that have been vetted and rated. We verify the businesses (e.g. insurance, WorkSafe BC coverage, credit ratings) and everyone is rated.
VL: How did you decide what market to target?
Marilyn: I know construction. I know the pain points, and I know the industry is in dire need of change. I’m able to bring this deep knowledge and insight about skilled trades to the solution we are developing. Just as an example, after our detailed skills vetting and ratings process, a skilled electrical contractor currently between jobs could be sourced by a short-staffed low-voltage network installation firm and utilized on a job she may not typically have been sourced for. The electrical contractor benefits and the company installing the network benefits.
We’ve already had a number of trades-based business clients use the LincEdge application and they’ve shared with us that its been incredibly helpful in reducing risk during their business cycles, maintaining quality in peak periods, and finding talent to complete their jobs profitably.
VL: What do you see as the exciting opportunities in your industry?Marilyn: While the numbers in trades have been declining over the years, the demographics are shifting. We’re seeing a movement now where the young people entering trades want to do so as freelancers; they want to be entrepreneurs who run their own business and can be connected to opportunities virtually. So, a tool like LincEdge is perfect to address this shift. Companies like Uber and Airbnb run on the concept of “trusted networks” and I believe that’s a trend we’re going to see in other industries like construction.
VL: What are the threats in your industry?
Marilyn: The status quo is our greatest enemy. Construction is an industry that has been slow to change, and our greatest challenge will be how to transcend that. We’re making inroads and have some early adopter customers, so hopefully we’re on our way.
VL: What impact do you want to have in the world or change you want to see or make happen?
Marilyn: I hope I have an influence. I’d love to see more women in the trades and more with their own companies. I’d like to move that dial somewhat.
“I know construction. I know the pain points, and I know the industry is in dire need of change. I’m able to bring this deep knowledge and insight about skilled trades to the solution we are developing.”
– Marilyn Sanford, CEO of LincEdge
VL: When did you get the entrepreneurial bug?
Marilyn: Not until a bit later in life. Although my dad ran his own business, as a kid I thought I’d be a teacher when I grew up. Yet, when I started my career, I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t like working for someone else. While I always received promotions and made a good salary, I wanted to be the driver behind the company.
In my late thirties, I took a risk and started up my own business in the trades, ultimately employing 35 people at its peak. I eventually sold that business to a competitor and wanted to see if I could help solve the labour utilization challenge, so I started up LincEdge.
VL: What are the pros and cons of being a female entrepreneur in 2019?
Marilyn: You know…I’ve never really acknowledged some of the challenges I’ve faced as a female – particularly in a very male-dominated industry. You do have to work incredibly hard to be taken seriously. I love that there are more programs meant to spur entrepreneurship in a wider variety of people. And I do really like that women in business really share; they bring an openness to discussion and insights that are encouraging.
VL: If you had a “magic wand,” what 2 things would make it easier for you to succeed in your business?
Marilyn: Customers and cash flow!
VL: What is the biggest challenge for you as an entrepreneur?
Marilyn: You’ve got to be incredibly resilient to be an entrepreneur. When times are tough, you’ve just got to keep believing in yourself. Technically the statistics are against you, but you’ve just got to stick with it.
VL: What keeps you going in the difficult times?
Marilyn: I’m a “driver” so I just keep going. I work out, I eat well, I read books that inspire and challenge me. I tend to really like change, so sometimes I need to remind myself that not all change is necessary or good.
VL: What do you look for in your team members as you grow?
Marilyn: Everyone needs to have an entrepreneurial mindset and be comfortable with ambiguity. Plus, they need to be great communicators. As a leader, I look to develop high trust partnerships; I want to know what excites my team, what aspirations they have, and how I can support them in achieving their goals. And I want them to have balance in their own lives.
VL: With the knowledge you have today, what advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey?
Marilyn: There are 2 main things.
1. Start the market validation earlier. It is so much fun building the software that it’s easy to get caught up and not talk to the customer!
2. Failure is not a bad thing. Its worse to not try something at all, than to try it and fail. After all, failure is often the first step in learning.
VL: What does success look like for you?
Marilyn: I don’t want this to sound “new age” but I really do believe in the concept of “flow.” It’s when things just feel intuitive and right. I sold my last business because I no longer felt ease or enjoyment or thrill with it. Flow and balance translate to success for me.
VL: Do you have a mantra you live by?
Marilyn: “How hard can this be?” And sometimes it IS hard, but that’s what’s exciting!
Fast Five with Marilyn
1. What books do you refer to? I read extensively, right now a lot of market validation materials. And I find the articles on LinkedIn great!
2. What’s your favourite thing to do in your free time? I sail, run, read and garden.
3. What is your least favourite food? Meat – I’m a vegetarian.
4. What is your super power? I’m intuitive.
5. If you could spend an hour with one person not currently in your life, who would it be? Bill Gates. He’s switched his focus, and I’m really interested in his philanthropy (and his book choices.)