Erin Stephenson | Winner of the 2018 Woman Entrepreneur Award – Ontario
“Diversity in teams produces stronger results and higher revenue”
Erin Stephenson is a fearless female leader and trailblazer within the Canadian startup community. She is the Co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer at DOZR (Dozer), leading what are named as “the Airbnb of bulldozers and excavators.”
DOZR is North America’s trusted source for heavy equipment rentals and has established itself as the first-ever marketplace in the industry to use AI to develop new data acquisition strategies and drive continued growth in the equipment sharing sector.
Erin has led the company through last periods of growth–in fact, the company’s revenue increased about six-thousand-five-hundred-eighty percent from 2016 to 2017. From team of three employees in 2015 to twenty-two at the beginning of 2018, the company has a presence across all of North America
Previously a human resources business partner at giant tech BlackBerry, she pushes ahead to create an equal playing field for women in business and embraces cultures of inclusivity within her company.
Also, a decorated participant in high-profile startup programs, such as the Fierce Founders Accelerator, Google for Entrepreneurs program, the Lazaridis Scale-up Program, and Blackbox, the winner exemplifies Canadian entrepreneurship through knowledge building, persistence, and courage.
Startup News had the opportunity to sit down with Erin to learn more.
SN: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
ER: I was inspired to become an entrepreneur because I wanted to solve a real-life problem that individuals across the globe were facing. I was working in the industry and had equipment sitting idle and knew there had to be a better way to manage my fleet and my business. I believe that contractors should be in full control of their businesses and as a big part of that, their equipment rentals. I started DOZR to change the construction industry for the better, using technology to do so.
DOZR has now released its AI-powered broker to become the first ever Expedia-like comprehensive search for the equipment rental industry. Data in this industry is currently locked in information silos within individual companies leading to a poor rental experience for contractors as they are not able to perform a comprehensive search for the machine they are looking for and analyze all their options. This has also enabled large and arbitrary margins within the industry. On the flip side, equipment rental companies are also not able to make optimal data-powered decisions regarding pricing or fleet purchasing, as they currently only understand their own fleet and don’t have granular insights on the industry at-large. We are passionate about changing this status-quo, harnessing the data to help renters and suppliers make smarter decisions, and transforming the equipment rental industry to a much more efficient market.
SN: What is the biggest lesson you have learned to date?
ER: Being an entrepreneur is a constant learning experience. I’ve faced many challenges in my career and know what it takes to succeed. The biggest lesson I have learned to date is the importance of taking action and making decisions quickly. I always try to balance gut feel with data and facts in my decision making. However, in startup decisions, there are not always 100% clear-cuts and you need to be prepared to move forward even in the absence of data. I believe in acting quickly and iterating from there. In the Startup world, there is no room for indecision. You must be able to think on your feet, move fast, and pivot as required.
SN: What advice do you have to those starting up today?
ER: Starting a company is not always easy, but the rewards of building something from scratch and solving the world’s greatest problems makes it worth the effort. My advice to anyone starting up is to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. Set lofty goals beyond what you think is realistic and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve! As a woman, my advice to other female founders is to banish self-doubt and trust your gut. We know our businesses better than anyone and know our customers and the challenges they face. The best moments of success come when we push outside of our comfort zones and take risks.
SN: What is the one thing you think we need to do as a nation, today, to position Canada as a global innovation and entrepreneurial leader?
ER: As a nation, we need to align our policies in order to remove all barriers standing in the way of innovation. For example, the nation is developing some great programs to help women entrepreneurs access more funding for their startups. However, without adequate support for child care, many women are forced to choose between having a family or being an entrepreneur. By providing better assistance to help women get back to work earlier as well as ongoing support for female founders who are also mothers we will bring entrepreneurship within reach for many more women. If we are going to propel Canada forward as a global innovation and entrepreneurial leader we need to support women in all facets of their lives so that they can focus on building and scaling their companies and be a driving force for innovation and growth in Canada.
SN: What is your message to the world?
ER: We, as Founders and leaders in business, need to push our organizations to reflect and include the diversity of our nation. Part of this is adopting a focus on inclusion and diversity and supporting female entrepreneurs. A 2017 McKinsey & Co. study revealed that women represent only a mere 20 percent of C-Suite roles. Women need to harness the power of their experiences and ideas to develop companies in spaces that don’t currently exist and build teams that foster an environment of growth and support for women. Taking the entrepreneurial plunge is scary but gender equality is as good for business as it is for the individuals involved. Diversity in teams produces stronger results and higher revenue, which lead to continuous opportunities for everyone, not just women. However, it is the unfortunate reality that women are promoted less often than men and, as a result, hold a lower proportion of executive roles.
In support of bridging this equality gap in the workplace, I am proud to say that DOZR is committed to championing progressive diversity practices. We are starting by actively working to make smart changes to our recruitment processes and workplace policies to ensure that women are supported throughout their careers and that hiring and promotions are fair end-to-end. We see this as an investment in long-term productivity, morale, and talent.
Pushing for diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not something we have to go at alone. One of the smartest decisions I ever made when founding DOZR was focusing on growing a network of sponsors and supporters. I am a huge supporter of up-and-coming businesses led by women, and welcome female founders into my network with open arms. Communitech is one of the great organizations serving entrepreneurs in our community–they helped DOZR get off the ground and is a strong supporter of female entrepreneurs and women in leadership roles. In Canada, there are many programs built to support female entrepreneurs including Fierce Founders and the Business Development Bank of Canada. These programs can help women in business connect with investors, build relationships with their peers or learn more about the societal constructs that disadvantage women and how they can counteract those forces in the workplace. We need to continue to push beyond local support for these female founders, and focus on helping these women to scale their businesses and grow quickly–globally and nationwide.
SN: How have you benefited from being a recipient of the Startup Canada Awards so far?
ER: Receiving recognition as a regional Startup Canada Award has helped DOZR’s nationwide profile to grow, including my status as a female entrepreneur. Startup Canada is a widely recognized organization known for supporting the growth of innovative Canadian businesses and I am excited to be a regional winner and am looking forward to continuing to push for excellence in Canadian business and for female entrepreneurs everywhere.