Being a founder and CEO isn't for the faint of heart. Entrepreneurship is like a roller coaster ride with unique obstacles, intense pressure, and uncertainty. And when you do it in an industry like construction—which grapples with tight margins, project risks, and labor issues—the challenges can seem overwhelming.
However, overcoming these hurdles can lead to innovation and change, all while carving a new path for diversity and inclusion within the industry.
In this podcast episode, we dive into the inspiring stories of two CEOs who spearheaded their own construction ventures. From going out of their comfort zones to learning the art of leadership, our conversation sheds light on what it takes to thrive as a construction leader today.
We're joined by Kaitlin Frank, Co-founder and CEO at eMOD and Natalya Cappellini, Founder and CEO, Licensed GC at Curato Design Build. Both Kaitlin and Natalya paved solid construction careers before starting their businesses, and they've harnessed their industry knowledge and experience to build and grow their companies.
Today, they're leading their own ventures, taking huge strides in delivering innovative projects, and making jobsites safer.
Take a look at the recap below for some key highlights from our conversation.
Starting your own company is anything but comfortable. Still, the lessons and rewards on the other side of that discomfort are immensely valuable, often leading to remarkable growth and a deeper understanding of your capabilities.
The challenge lies in starting that venture. So, if this is something you're called to do, Natalya and Kaitlin share the following tips.
Reflect on what could happen if you don't do it
When Kaitlin started the construction safety app eMOD, she asked herself two questions: "What's the worst that can happen?" and "What if I don't do it?"
Pondering these questions and relating them back to your purpose can be incredibly powerful. Take Kaitlin, whose mission is to ensure everyone on the jobsite goes home safely.
"As the daughter of a contractor, I never wanted that phone call that something happened to my father. And then, as a superintendent, I never wanted to make that phone call that someone got hurt on my jobsite."
That's why those two questions are so compelling for Kaitlin—they’re tied in directly to her "why."
Surround yourself with the right people
Natalya emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with people who share your values and want to see you succeed. This was particularly helpful for her as a female founder in a male-dominated industry.
"Ninety percent of the partners and clients we work with are male. They are all extremely respectful and don't make weird comments or anything like that. And as soon as I encounter somebody that does, we just don't work together," Natalya explains.
"I surround myself with men who are complimentary, respectful, and who don't see me as a woman. They see me as the boss and the one who's getting it done."
Succeeding as a construction leader requires a great deal of self-trust. As Kaitlin puts it, "You're trusting yourself to make these decisions, and you're proving to yourself over and over again that you may not have all the answers, but you know who to contact. You know how to figure out what the answer is. The greatest lesson I've learned throughout my career is that I can trust myself."
Natalya agrees and points out that it can sometimes be a tricky balance.
"It's this constant internal battle of 'I can't believe I'm doing this. Who am I to do this?' But on the flip side, I'm good at it. I've done this before, and I'm going to keep going."
Ask for support
Don't be afraid to ask for help. You'll likely find that people are more than happy to support you.
"You can reach out to people all the time," says Kaitlin. "I reached out to two other CEOs from insurance and one in tech this morning, and I'm having lunch with them separately next week."
She continues, "People want to help and support you. People want to see you succeed. We already have such a labor shortage that no one has time to let people fail."
Natalya's on the same boat and says that she finds many construction pros to be extremely open to collaborating and sharing their knowledge.
"Some of my best friends that I see all the time are my direct competitors, and we share subcontractors, strategies, and software we're using. We share updates because there's plenty of work to go around, and we're not fighting for it. We're just trying to help each other get better and better, and it's awesome. I love construction for that reason."
So many innovations are happening in the construction sector, but many people still think our industry is all about pouring concrete and working with hammers and nails.
According to Kaitlin, we need to do a better job highlighting the different subsets of construction. "It's not just physically building something. You can manage projects, you can code, you can work with customer onboarding, and you can sell."
Natalya brings up the significance of sharing our experiences and ensuring that people outside the industry know about the great things happening in construction.
"Sharing these things publicly is very important. Nothing will change for the industry if we keep this all to ourselves. It's important to share what we're doing and working on. People get really excited when we share that."
The topic of professional development was brought up, as both Natalya and Kaitlin had to learn and hone various skills in their journeys as founders and CEOs.
For her part, Natalya says a lot of it is "trial by fire."
"You have to do everything before you know, 'Oh, I'm not good at that' or 'I'm good at this couple of things, but I'm going to outsource that.'"
She also talks about how she had to figure things out for herself, especially in the early stages of her company.
"I figured out the insurance part of it, the permitting part of it, hiring subcontractors, doing budgets. I had to figure it out and realize that I hate the insurance side of things. But I love doing design coordination, working with the teams, and planning out schedules."
Kaitlin, on the other hand, says she spent time honing her leadership skills.
"I've put a lot of time and energy into books, podcasts, and training to figure out what my leadership style is. I learned my skill sets—which ones I'm really strong at and which I need to work on."
She continues, "A lot of the skills that I had as a superintendent transferred very easily into running a company—you know, the ability to manage, communicate, trust, and actually listen to people."
The entire journey can be challenging, and mistakes can happen. When they do, Natalya points out that these errors are opportunities to learn and grow.
"I learn from mistakes to get better and better. I think about how I can become, you know, a better manager and leader and how I can be more efficient for my clients."
Similarly, Kaitlin uses mistakes or questions as learning opportunities.
"When I was in the field, I would take my mistakes and teach them. As a general contractor, I started building a field boot camp. And that field boot camp was essentially every question I had asked and every spot where I had potentially taken a wrong turn or needed to course correct."
As female construction founders and CEOs, Kaitlin and Natalya are uniquely positioned to influence other women.
Kaitlin's main advice to females in the industry is to "go for it."
"Only 2% of funding from VCs goes to female-founded companies. There's so much opportunity to change these numbers. The industry will have to change again, and I'm going to harp on the labor shortage until we've impacted these numbers."
Natalya weighs in and says that women shouldn't limit themselves when they encounter unfavorable statistics or preconceived notions.
"If it's an industry they want to go into, they should just go into it because they like it and they're passionate about it.
Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. Learn more about Kaitlin and Natalya’s leadership and entrepreneurship journeys by catching the full episode of the podcast.
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