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Female Founders: Anna Karp of Bolster On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

I hope to inspire women to join the construction industry as builders, carpenters, founders, and tech executives. My goal is to create a company with positive energy that fosters collaboration for talent from all nationalities, backgrounds and areas of expertise. We build homes for families and that is the biggest pleasure ever, as we literally make family’s spaces a better place for them to be and grow in.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Karp.

Anna is the CEO and co-founder of Bolster, a New York City-based firm offering in-house design, architecture, and build services that’s on a mission to empower homeowners and eliminate risk from major home renovations through radical transparency. Originally from Mexico City and currently based in NYC, Anna is a trailblazer that’s carving her own path in the traditionally male-dominated general contracting and home renovation sector. With a strong track record of success and a robust portfolio of projects, Anna and her Bolster team have worked on 100+ renovation projects in London, Mexico City and New York, specializing in major gut renovations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was working on forest conservation in foreign countries when I met my co-founder, Fraser Patterson. He invited me to partner on a construction company, and I thought I could have a strong ecological and immediate impact, as it can take a long time to see change within the forestry industry. I quickly learned a lot of work was to be done in the construction world. The industry was outdated and there was a lot to do, so I fell in love with it immediately.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Every day in construction is a high-energy, high-intensity day. It’s a complex industry with a lot of moving parts, beauty and excitement. The most important story has happened over the last 10 years — Bolster works solely in residential renovations and I have seen a shift in how projects evolve.

When Bolster first launched in NYC ten years ago, there was a more traditional division of responsibilities on projects: one partner (usually the man) focused on finances while the other focused on design (usually a woman). Nowadays, homeowners are focused on sharing finances and design decisions on an equal basis, and that’s a great story to be a part of; I see more women calling the shots now! We also have more diversity in family compositions and structures, and that is great to be a part of as well.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? And can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Unfortunately, the biggest mistake was a series of mistakes, bundled up into a very expensive mistake.

When I started in the industry a gazillion years ago in London, I hired one of my friends (mistake 1) to conduct a survey for a custom kitchen. She was a product designer by training, instead of an architect (mistake 2) and her measurements were off by two inches. The kitchen millwork was produced based on her measurements, and ended up needing to be redone from scratch. Eventually, I had to let her go. I gave her a parting gift and she was disappointed when she opened the box: she was expecting a stock certificate, not a teapot. True story.

I learned three valuable lessons 1) Do not hire friends; 2) Hire talent with the right core competency; and 3) Mistakes are very expensive in construction — we only get one shot.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am very grateful to my most discerning clients who are always my best teachers. Their recommendations keep helping us improve our process on a continuous basis. The construction industry will see growth acceleration and transformation from a fragmented and complex project-based industry to a more integrated one, which will be driven by labor shifts as well as increased technology adoption.

The industry’s current fragmentation causes operational challenges, and in the worst cases, it causes contractor failure. Our mission at Bolster is the reduction of risk in the renovation process, and as such, failure is not an option — our hardest critics become our best advisors.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

It has taken longer for women in business and women founders to find our voice because we have been operating within a societal infrastructure, and constraints, that made it easier for men to succeed. Fundraising, securing investment, launching a company or even equality in pay are examples of areas that have been needlessly complicated due to our gender.

Now as always, women need to seek new opportunities, seize them, work twice as hard than anyone else, and then repeat. A small opportunity is a building block to a bigger goal, because no matter what, society rewards talent and perseverance. Eventually, the scale will balance — and the path to this balance is made of diligent work.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Policy change can be hugely impactful, and if I had a magic wand I would start by providing equitable and fair maternity and paternity leave for families. At Bolster, we foster an environment where men can also take paternity leave to support their partners when having a baby.

On another note, as we balance out diversity via policy-making and through individual company policies, I would advocate to watch out for gender-based affirmative action, as it could create animosity between genders over time. Employers do well if they stay focused on equality, hiring talent without bias while also making it easier for women to apply to positions that were traditionally occupied by men. We do this at Bolster by hiring based on talent, including highly talented female Build Managers and Carpenters.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Flexibility and control of your time — time is the only commodity that can not be replaced; no one can give you back your time, and you can never earn it again! I had a good experience and support system, which enabled me to be both a co-parent and entrepreneur, affording me the ability to build a company and start a family at the same time. While I spent a lot of time building Bolster rather than with my family, I also had the option to bring my daughter to the office and to be with her at unconventional times. This gave me freedom to be creative and most importantly — to be myself.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

Being a founder is attainable — the main challenge is retaining focus on your goals. There is no playbook, so a nimble mindset is a must.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder?

If you can get up in the morning and are ready to make things happen then yes, you are cut out for it. About 90% of the battle is having the stamina to get up like clockwork every single day, put your feelings aside, focus on the task at hand, stay on track with the big picture/end goal, and always keep learning.

In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Founders recover faster from setbacks. They don’t dwell or lick their wounds for long. Instead, they are used to failure because they do not perceive it as a negative outcome, but rather as part of the growth process. If you work for a founder, you can also learn how to become one if it does not come innately to your personality.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Business is personal for a female founder. We live in an amazing era where there are less barriers to be professionally fulfilled.

Profit is sanity, revenue is vanity — growth is great; however, you have more power when you attain profitability and growth at the same time.

Hire slow, fire fast

Measure twice, cut once

You already have the ‘no’. Go for the ‘yes’ — you have nothing to lose!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I hope to inspire women to join the construction industry as builders, carpenters, founders, and tech executives. My goal is to create a company with positive energy that fosters collaboration for talent from all nationalities, backgrounds and areas of expertise. We build homes for families and that is the biggest pleasure ever, as we literally make family’s spaces a better place for them to be and grow in.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?

Trust and respect for each other — I would encourage a movement where people ask ‘why’, learn to listen and respect other points of view, even if they differ from your own. If we continue to ask why, we open our horizons and get to the roots of our differences. And while we may agree to disagree, we can do so respectfully. My movement would be about inclusion, harmony and better living spaces for anyone. If we understand each other, we can learn to live together in peace. It’s a wild dream!

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would absolutely love a brunch with Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. He is a precursor of Behavioral Economics, and has spent decades studying how humans make decisions (rationally, irrationally and why so in each case). Having insight into his daily life and decision-making patterns would be fun — I bet he constantly jokes about his irrational decisions.



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