Women 2.0 interviews serial entrepreneur, Laila Partridge, CEO of WegoWise, a water and energy benchmarking platform.
W2: What were some of the factors that led you to become an entrepreneur? How has your past experience gotten you to where you are now?
LP: I founded my first company in my 40s, after a successful corporate career. In retrospect, I wish I done it earlier, but when I was coming out of college, no one was talking about innovation or entrepreneurship. In fact, I don’t think anyone on the East Coast had even heard of a start-up! So with student loans to pay back, I took a job as a banker right out of school. It was terrific training and enabled me to land at Intel, when Intel Capital was just starting. The investors at Intel Capital were then closely tied to Intel’s operations, which allowed me to gain experience with both the technological and financial parts of the company. I sat on the boards of innovative start-ups while simultaneously participating in executive management meetings with Intel’s operating units. I observed the best and worst of business processes and operations, which made me want to start a company myself. So I left a well-paid corporate job to found my first company on an idea. It was exhilarating, intellectually challenging, and deeply humbling. I have founded or co-founded three companies, all of which built a product, two of which got funded, and one which resulted in a liquidity event. Most recently, I was recruited as CEO into WegoWise to manage its growth stage due to my prior start-up and operating experience. While I did not found WegoWise, I feel the same kind of ownership and passion for its products that I felt in the companies I started. That passion is what makes me an entrepreneur.
W2: What problem did you see in the market that inspired you to start your company?
LP: The inception process for each of the companies I’ve founded has varied. In the first case, I saw intersecting macro social and technology trends that could solve widespread operating inefficiencies in the retail industry. In the second, I brainstormed with two co-founders until we hit upon an idea we wanted to pursue. In the third case, Caltech and MIT professors recruited me to figure out how to commercialize a technology they had invented. WegoWise is different in that it was founded by a technologist and two non-profit organizations with a mission to reduce energy use in buildings. Running a for-profit, mission-driven company means applying a different filter when evaluating new business opportunities. It is inspiring–I highly recommend it.
W2: What type of customers do you serve? Why is your solution uniquely positioned to address their problem?
LP: With over 45,000 buildings, WegoWise has the largest database of multifamily building energy data in the US. That database makes WegoWise the market leader in an emerging, fast growing market. WegoWise provides utility benchmarking, measurement and verification services to property owners and managers. Property managers use WegoWise for sustainability compliance reporting, building operating performance monitoring, and analytics that provide useful, actionable information to make more informed operating and capital investment decisions.
W2: What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced so far and how did you handle it as a company and as a leader?
LP: Human resource management is the most challenging—and sometimes the most rewarding–aspect of running a company. Whether recruiting as a small team with only equity and a vision or as a well-funded company with good benefits, getting the right talent in key positions is critical. It is impossible to get it right all the time, so being successful means not only moving quickly to terminate someone who is not working out, but also knowing how to manage with what is available. That often means striking the right balance in ambiguous situations. When resources are scarce, there is tremendous pressure to hire quickly instead of waiting for the best person or to forego training and development. Find the time to develop talent internally and never settle when hiring or promoting.
W2: What resources have been especially helpful to you as you’ve built your company?
LP: Other founder CEOs and experienced business people have been critical to my success. Being a CEO is a lonely position, so having a support network of others grappling with similar challenges is important. Equally important is having a network of go-to people for advice. It took a while for me to build out a network with the right range and depth of expertise and experience, but as CEO of a start-up, that network is invaluable.
W2: What’s your morning routine?
LP: My husband and I often laugh about how ill-suited we are as a pair. In all things he seeks the optimal process and then makes it a routine, whereas I require variety. I’ll walk a slightly longer route to work just for variety and to see what’s there. I revel in the fact that I don’t have a morning routine.
W2: What’s the best productivity hack you’ve found?
LP: Sleep. That is not just because a rested person is more productive, but because I find myself solving my most difficult problems either during sleep or in the drowsy period before or after sleeping. It is not uncommon for me to wake up before my alarm goes off, knowing what I need to do next.
W2: What do you do to get grounded and recharge?
LP: I practice yoga every day and try to get to the gym for a cross-training work-out at least three days a week. Spending time with family is also very important to me.
W2: What makes you laugh?
LP: Friends, family, colleagues, a good joke….lots of things. Humor is an essential part of every day.
W2: What are you reading or listening to right now?
LP: I love mysteries, and as a diehard Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers fan, struggle to find a new writer that I like as much. I was recently given two recommendations. For the sake of variety, I started reading both.
W2: Based on your experience, what’s the biggest takeaway you can give to other Founders?
LP: Persistence is probably the most important trait for an entrepreneur. I also recommend that women founders not be afraid to ask. Ask for advice, ask for money, ask for the sale, ask for information, ask for an introduction…. Don’t be embarrassed or shy or intimidated. Always ask in a polite and friendly manner – just don’t forget to ASK! It never ceases to amaze me how many people are eager and willing to help, if asked.
W2: What’s next for you and your company and where do you need help or support?
LP: WegoWise is in a growth phase. We sell to owners and managers of apartment (multifamily) buildings with at least 1,000 units in their portfolios. Any and all introductions are welcome and much appreciated.