Q&A with Entrepreneur, Amy Hutchins
Amy Hutchins is a product Leader with 10+ years experience shipping cloud-based solutions ranging from product conception stage to massive scale.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
Prior to founding Unearth, I led Product Management for buuteeq, a digital marketing platform for the hospitality industry acquired by The Priceline Group in 2014. I’ve also held various roles at Microsoft, the most recent being a Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Account, their consumer identity service. I graduated from Duke University where I split my time (and degrees) between two passions, computer science and Roman history.
What inspired you to start your business?
I've always had a passion for finding creative ways to use technology to improve workplace productivity, especially where it concerns eliminating mundane, repetitive tasks that drain time and motivation.
When I started talking with two of my most respected colleagues about an idea to apply technology to solve the productivity crisis in construction, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity.
Construction is one of the few remaining industries that has yet to experience a tech-powered productivity revolution. We knew our combined backgrounds in tech and construction could create a product with the potential to push construction into the future. The momentum was palpable and I've never looked back.
Where is your business based?
Our office overlooks Lake Union in the trendy Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
Quitting my job and finding the right co-founders were the first two steps I took. But the very next step was talking to prospective customers and learning about the industry.
The more customers we talked to, the more we understood their lives and their unique workplace frustrations. It gave us fuel to power the ideation phase of our product. It also served to validate our product-market fit, so we knew there would be interest in what we were doing once we went to market.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Our sixth hire was a content marketer with a background in SEO and digital marketing. He’s used a combination of PR, email marketing, and organic marketing to raise awareness of our company.
Marketing your startup, especially when you’re just getting started, is a time-consuming, challenging endeavor. That’s why we found the most effective way to accomplish the task was to hire someone with the background to manage those efforts on their own.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Personally, my biggest challenge has been learning to suck at things and getting over it. As a founder, I was not only focused on product and engineering, my background, but I found myself leading early marketing efforts, being a one-man Customer Success team and many other roles I had zero experience in. I quickly had to get over the feeling of being new at certain aspects of a business and dive headfirst into the enjoyment of learning new skills, fast.
How do you stay focused?
An unhealthy reliance on Google Calendar and Evernote Todo lists!
But, in all seriousness, I identify 2-3 goals to focus on for the month and write them at the top of my todo list. Every time I add something to the list I prioritize it based on how it fits into my goals, then I cross them off one by one.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
We’ve used the concept of place to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Humans naturally think and organize their lives by place. It’s how we evolved to interact with the natural world.
The construction industry is filled with software vendors that base their UX on digitally mimicking the pen and paper processes that have dominated construction for decades. While this is helpful in many scenarios, it fails to take advantage of the full range of tools that modern software can make available to the industry.
We believe we can do better than that by using construction’s preference for a place to help organize and communicate about their incredibly complex projects, effectively creating a shift in how people think about the construction process.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
We’ve seen the most direct business growth from our outbound email marketing. It’s the easiest way to get in front of customers and generate interest while you work on creating brand recognition.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
I often hear people say to keep a thick skin and be comfortable with ambiguity. From an attitude perspective, this is great advice, but there’s far more to starting a business than attitude.
Practically, the best advice I could give is to spend as much time as possible validating your idea at the outset. Do whatever it takes to get in front of your customers and talk to them. You should first make certain you’re positioned to execute on a winning idea, then push forward confidently with the data to back you up.
If you start out this way, you’ll be prepared for success when you face the inevitable challenges of starting a company.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
Evernote, it helps me keep track of all my thoughts in one place and is always accessible when I have a spur of the moment the idea.
Tomasz Tunguz gives great advice at all startup stages in bite-sized pieces. I archive all his newsletters in Gmail and often search through them when I come across a problem
Exodus by Leon Uris. I chose a historical fiction novel because you need to make time for yourself as a founder. Your company can easily take over every aspect of your life if you let it.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
I think the Google Suite of products has to be my favorite business tool, specifically Google Calendar, Gmail, and Drive. They’re ubiquitous, free, and simple. It helps you easily stay connected not only with your office, but with your entire network.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Elon Musk. His ability to realize his vision for creating a positive impact is remarkable. Every startup founder can learn from his example of setting a goal and then accomplishing it, no matter how far-fetched it may seem.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
We’ve got a lot on our plate for next six months, as we’ll be starting a crucial second year for the business in which need to show market traction. Our to-do list includes:
Aggressive customer acquisition experiments: We need to figure out the optimal way to get people on our platform as quickly as possible so we can increase our user base.
Ramping up with DCODE: We were accepted to a startup accelerator known as DCODE that focuses on helping young companies secure government contracts. Needless to say, this represents a huge source of potential revenue for us, and we will be focused heavily on entering this sector.
Recruiting and hiring to double our product team: More customers requires more heads on our product, not to mention we have an aggressive development schedule for some of the more unique features that we will be launching this year.
A two week trip to Chile as a 4-year belated honeymoon: As I mentioned, even with everything going on, you still have to make time for yourself. My husband and I have been putting this trip off long enough, and it’s time we make it a reality.
How can our readers connect with you?