This interview with Kristy Ehman was originally release a few weeks ago, but we had to delay publishing it. If you happen to have already listened to this episode, go ahead and skip this one. See you next time.
Kristy Ehman of Hyon
joins Jonathan and Angela to talk about her journey as a tech founder. Kristy and Angela met at Metabridge
in June 2019 and have been talking weekly since. Listen in to get a glimpse of what they talk about; product challenges, users, parenthood, and fundraising.
Find Us Online
Produced by Jonathan Bowers and Angela Hapke
] I see, I see you've typed up no notes for this.
] Oh, I sent, I sent a text to Kirsty. Does that count?
] Wow, Angela. Good work. Introduction
You're listening to Fixing Faxes, a podcast on the journey of building a digital health startup with your host, myself, Angela Hapke and Jonathan Bowers.
And today I'm excited to say that we have guest with us. Kirsty Ehman is joining us today. Good morning, Kirsty
] can you tell everyone just a little bit about you, where you're at right now. And then we're going to talk about how we met and we're going to go into a few other things around why we talk every week.
] Well, let's talk about how we met. We actually met at Meta Bridge a conference uh out of Kelowna last year. I think it was the 10th year anniversary when we met, patio overlooking the lake, gorgeous.
] You spotted me from across the
] It was love at first sight, one, one tall female founder, to another tall female founder where I don't feel like I'm overpowering the room and we connected.
And that was it.
] Jonathan, are you tall or are you short? And this is intimidating.
] I am a medium height. I'm five foot eight and three quarters
] yeah, the three quarters counts.
] The three quarters count. Oh, okay. Oh, okay. Kirsty, tell me, who, who are you? What are you doing?
Hyon, Connecting Local Sellers with Local Item Owners
] So my name is Kirsty Ehman, founded a tech company two years ago and we've pivoted the company one massive pivot. We believe there are two types of people in the world. You're either someone that would do the work to sell your used items, or you ultimately can't be bothered. And our technology connects those two groups.
] I like how concise that
] she's been practicing.
] No, I've just, I've said it a million times. It's my only thing. It's the only scripted thing in my life.
] I honestly thought you were going to go into a 15 minute pitch there for one moment. I was like, Oh, and here we go. We are about to hear the Hyon pitch, everyone. I loved it. how'd you get started how long ago?
] a couple of years ago we had a, New baby and a three year old and they have a lot of stuff. And so we had been introduced to consignment events for kids. Thought it was magical, created our own developed software for our event realized we never want to run events. software could be interesting.
Realize the software market for consignment events is not big enough to be interesting. So we pivoted the company to consignment. uncovered that there's these two groups of people. And so if you're someone that can't be bothered, you're pulling up to value village and ringing the doorbell or stuffing your stuff in the bins, in the corner of a, of a parking lot.
] I am a stuff, your stuff in a bin.
] We call you Jordan. And if you're a, if you're someone who's super active on, on marketplaces, you're, you're on Facebook marketplace, Kijiji ,Craigslist, you brag about how much money you make on these platforms.
And we call those people Alison. So our world revolves around
Jordan's and Alison's.
] I love it. And your software connects Jordans to Alison's because Jordan's like myself do not want to be bothered with going on to Facebook marketplace and taking the time to list products and deals with people. I like humans. I don't like people. And, they connect to somebody like myself to, somebody, an Alison that really likes doing this kind of stuff really loves going on and selling stuff.
And so your, your product, connects those two types of people. Where are you guys at right now? The product is built.
] Products built. So we're in a commercialized beta. Primarily in Saskatchewan, but we do find ourselves coast to coast. We're kind of sprinkled all over the place and we are starting our integration to, uh, into accepting payments from the States. So we'll be crossing borders in a
] Ooh, we haven't talked about that yet. That's fun.
] this is my weekly update.
] Everybody's tuning in now to the conversation that Kirsty and I have each week,
] I'm excited to be along for the ride here a little bit and listen to listen to the conversation that you two are having, but I am curious, the, what you're describing is that sort of classic two sided market. how did you figure out how to put the chicken before the egg in this two sided market?
] As far as where we go first, like, who are we trying to attract
] Yeah. Like, how do you get these two sides together when you don't have enough of one to entice the other
] So, our focus has primarily been on Alison's. So how can we pull these people out of the weeds who are extremely proficient at selling online and by developing that network of Allison's, we can then start to attract Jordans. So as soon as someone requests a pickup and says, Hey, I have a snowboard.
I needed some help selling, or I have a bunch of kid's stuff or I have some farm equipment. we can go into our Ellis network and say, okay, who can we match this Jordan with? So right now, a lot of those processes are still manual, but we're starting to develop algorithms to, to create an auto matching.
And so we've been focused on Alison's, because there are far more Jordans in this world than there are Alison's.
] Drawing similarities, Jonathan
] it's interesting because like the Allisons in this case, they don't necessarily need the Jordans in order to be in the system,
And, and is it, yeah, Jordan needs an Alison, but is it possible that the Allisons can scale a little bit across geographies?
can they do the work without having to be in the same city as someone else?
] A hundred percent. And that was actually, an aha moment for us when COVID hit. And we had Allison's and Jordan saying, Hey, I don't want to meet anyone. I don't want to touch them. Someone else's stuff. How can we do this without actually meeting face to face? And then we started looking at that. So, yeah.
you know, someone in Vancouver could be selling for someone in Toronto.
] So about a year ago, Kirsty and I started these discussions. Well, we met, as she mentioned, Meta Bridge, and then quickly realized we were at a very similar place with both our technology and our products, but also our lives too. So as Kirsty mentioned, she has two small children who happened to be two lovely little girls.
And I also have two small children who happened to be lovely little girls. And so it just made a lot of sense for Kirsty and I to be connected meeting each week to talk about not only where we were with the product and the struggles and the, the bumps that we were having along the way there, but also, balancing as and, just in the last podcast, we talked about that balance of, of work and life and how those lines can get.
Blurry and how to create buffer and, and space and margin in our lives. And, part of that for me, is actually talking to Kirsty each week and talking about what she's going through, but I'm going through and how, and just bouncing ideas off of each other. yeah, Kristy, did you want to, do you want to expand on
] Yeah, I think what was fascinating, because if you think about where we were at, when we met may or June last year, we both had an idea of the space we were in and how we were going to grow our companies at the time. And that was it at the time. I was working with three junior developers. Didn't have a senior dev, no CTO, frustrated out of my mind with trying to manage a tech company.
And each week. So we come together and talk about our challenges and talk about struggles and our tech struggles with our team's struggles at home in life. And it would be like neck and neck. I'm experiencing this, we'd help each other. It also, I think helped both of us determine the types of companies we wanted to build because we went from being a small B2B.
to pivoting into a consumer marketplace and finding, you know, finding a very strong technical cofounder. We're now a team of nine and how many times, like you've helped me fire people. If you've like talked me through how to dynamically change the way I'm growing my company. And so, it's been so interesting, although we're growing differently in different verticals, different ways we've come together and helped each other a lot.
] Yeah. And it was, it was wild too. We both launched our products within weeks. I think it was Kirsty of each other. Was it not
] Well, yeah, you were trying to do it on the same day as me. I'm like get out of here.
Yeah. This is my time. Angela. Get outta here.
I made a comment about, what were we talking about? Our user focus group that we're doing shortly and, and you got all offended that we had more users, but then your users were, were doing something that ours weren't anyways, we're just competing
] Oh, there was, we were going to do a tally of who won that week, which was your idea, by the way,
] How do you, are you just tallying like achievements or milestones
or just, just
] Whatever you want. It's like, it's like three year olds playing a board game. We just make up the rules as we
] yeah, definitely. Yeah, it was, you had launched your product and you had, you said, Oh Angela, like I have all these users on that are all of a sudden using it. I don't even know where they came from. They're just like on the platform and they're using it in blah, blah, blah. And I was like, Are you kidding me?
Do you know what it takes for me to get a user on? And you're just like, Oh, mine are just, you know, joining and I don't even know who this is, not the way you talk, by the way. I don't even know why I'm giving you that voice. But yeah, you're just like talking about all these users that we're on. And I, yeah, I was a bit like I had a bit of, a user envy.
of the things, I had it.
] So then you, yeah, so then that's when we were talking about that. And I think my, when that week was personal, I think I'd have personal when and you were like, Oh, fine. Well look at you.Having Someone To Talk To
So, yeah. Back to like kind of timelines in the long run that line. What's another thing that has happened, which I thought was really funny was, Kirsty mentioned really early on in, in when she was describing Hyon about the manual processes.
And, and you're still doing a little bit of manual processes and you're talking about, you know, setting in, you know, almost this matching algorithm, which is hilarious because that's exactly really what Clinnect does, is it matches referring providers, patient referrals, to specialists And so, yeah, I remember having this long conversation with you about I'm like, well, you can't do that manually.
And we were just brainstorming around how you could also do something very similar, similar in your market that we were already doing in a very different industry, in a very different market. but these are the kinds of conversations that we have that we have each week.
And I know for me and my own mental health, it has been incredible to have, another woman that is a, you know, a nontechnical founder with a family, building a product, doing the really, really hard work right now and putting in the hours and putting in the time and the energy, all the energy.
And, just being able to almost share that with, with somebody else has, I know for me, has been made a huge difference.
] Yeah, totally. Totally. And I think it's interesting too. You have, you bring it, you bring a very different perspective. This is the third business that I've started. I've sold one and I'm never sold to government. I mean, sales and marketing to my core, not processes, not details, ideas. And so I, we get on a call and I tell you that I've landed a pilot project with the government of Saskatchewan.
And you look like you're going to throw up. And it's like, Kristy, have you thought of the things? And I'm like, well, what things, what are you, what are you talking about? Why are you disgusted right now? And you just bring a totally different perspective and help me think through a way to position the conversation, a way to think of what a pilot project, a way to, to just have a different way of looking at my business, because this is an area that I am so in over my head and learning every day, I feel like I've earned five degrees in the last two years.
And one of them has been from you.
] Oh, wait. Heart is so warmed right now. Thank you. you bring, you bring a totally different lens than I do. Cause I remember the one day, Oh my gosh, you were like, well, Angela, like, are you going out? And you're talking to your customers, right? You're like, you're getting that feedback and you're talking to your customers and you always drill that into my head.
And I was like, Hmm, no. Not that much.
] Yeah. I said the help me, help me do a script. And you're like, what are you scripting? Well, I'm calling, I'm calling these users and we've got to figure out what I need to know. Like, what are the things I need to know? How do you call your users? Um, I just email them. You email your, you. Yeah. Or they email me and give me feedback and I'm
] you don't talk to your users.
] Who talks to your users? And I was like, I have some really great partners. But to do that hard work for me, but do we have that conversation? And I haven't told you this yet after we had that conversation, it resonated with me and you know, what I did the next day is I wrote thank you notes. And I put together, little gifts for our very first, the beta users that came on the ones that were like, we'll take a chance on you.
And we'll. We'll be there with you when you launch your product. So we put together like these really lovely gift bags, and I hand wrote like a full note to them. And so just explaining how grateful I was that they were, I'm going to take a chance on, on our product with us. And, uh, but that was only because you prompted that idea.
] Contrary to that. You know what I did this last week, we have a user who, kind of has broken all the rules and asked for all the things that we're not building. So I finally told him that he's not an ideal user of ours.
] yeah. And very kindly I said, um, Either, you know, in some ways you are ideal, a lot of feedback, a lot of suggestions you've helped kind of us think about our business in a different way.
But, but you're, you're not the type of person we're looking to attract this. Isn't a, yeah. So you're right when you're writing. Thank you notes. And I'm firing users.
] Maybe we're rubbing off on each other too much.How Do You Find Your Own Tech BFF?
] I remember now Angela, when you were, when you were thinking about going to Meta Bridge, you went there and I remember you came back and you said, Oh, it was so great.
I met, I met my BFF. I have a crush on. Yeah, I think you used the word crush maybe. yeah, it was very sweet. And, but I, anyways, my, my question is like, that seems like this serendipitous connection that happened at this event that wa that is designed to do that. Like the one thing that Meta Bridge, I think to his credit is it tries to create these opportunities for people to meet in this way.
So I think in that way it was a super successful yeah. Very successful experience for you. How do you think you can do that again, especially now in like H like that, like this, this story listened to you, listening to you to talk just, it just sounds amazing. And I'm a little bit jealous in some ways.
how does someone do this again? Like how do you do this and now, right. To have to have someone to call up, how do you find that person?
] You know, I think I can even tell you how many times people have asked me how to network because in the, probably in the year. Yeah. And a half where we've really been a part of the Canadian tech ecosystem. I've punched above my weight on multiple occasions every week, almost every day, making connections, referring other people.
And I think it has to be part of you. You have to be curious, you have to want it and genuinely have an interest for re for reaching out. When someone taps me on the shoulder and says, Hey, you know, are you mentoring people? Or can we grab a coffee? You know, in my heart, I want to do that, but I better know that this is, this is a two way relationship.
Somehow I can help you. And at the end of the day, I'm either going to feel good about helping you or there's some reciprocation to that relationship. And especially now the busier, you get the more things on your agenda. it just has to make sense. And so I think if you're wanting to have an Angela Kirsty connection, It's it just has to be so genuine and you almost can't go out looking for it.
It just has, you've got to, you've got to show up. You have to put yourself in positions where it can happen. and, and you've just genuinely, it needs to be, you both have to want it for the right reasons and those things that better match.
] Do you think that we would have found this match? if we wouldn't have met in person though?
] No, I wouldn't have known how tall you
] right. I wouldn't have known how tall you were that doesn't make a difference. Jonathan, he's
looking at us like this
makes a difference.
] Um, I feel like. Magic happens in person in ways that it can't happen on zoom. I'm super thankful for the connections that I've made and the new connections that COVID has allowed to happen. But there's something that happens when there's no timeline.
We're sitting over drinks, we're out in a city that we've never been to, and we can just explore and learn together and you spend that two hours together and then you become lifelong friends from being in person. So I can't say that I've made a connection in a digital world where I feel like, Oh, If I go to, you know, next time I'm in Montreal, I'll totally look you up.
That, that, that hasn't happened for me in the last few months. I think you can't replicate in person.
] Yeah. So to answer your
] No, put it, put him, put a mask on and get on a plane.
] Get up, put a mask on, but it's true. yeah, I think that is the one thing that technology just absolutely cannot replicate is the in-person connections that, that do happen. And I think our whole world is suffering from that right now.
And it's, it's pretty difficult. I don't, yeah, I don't think I could, I could have met Kirsty and other way.
Jonathan asked another interesting question.
] Oh my, uh, I had, I had one written down, but we've kind of moved past it. I was going to ask about your, user persona, your customer personas, but,
move past that. Customer Personas
] You know, there's something interesting. And let's talk about personas because we've had kind of a I'm I'm, I'm re refining our pitch deck right now. And I've had this moment of recognizing we have a government opportunity. We have some corporate opportunities and we are primarily a consumer company. And so you talk to investors right now and they're like, well, are you B to C?
Are you B2B? Are you B to G. And Oh, well I'm B to B could be B to G and it all filters back to B to C. And if you're non-tech and listening to this, that sounds like alphabet soup, but that's how this world works. Google it. Yeah. So what I've recognized is that if you, if you know your persona so well, like we know our Jordan's and Allison's, by the way, everyone, in Saskatchewan knows who Jordan and Alison are, everyone knows.
And. You can start to think about those personas as being more than just a person. And Alison can now become a ministry in government. A Jordan can become. some department within a corporation and you can start to think about what motivates that persona. What's curious to that persona, what do they really want?
And so, rather than thinking of that as like a person and how am I going to get that person? You just get to know this problem so intensely, and it's less about. You know, are, do they have blonde hair? How old are they? And it's more about like, what's the core makeup of this department or this, this ideal user.
and that's been a shift that we've gone through in the last couple of weeks and it's
] How are investors responding to that? When you, when you start talking about going after a B to B, B to C, B to G and they're like, Oh
I here's my perception. one, I don't care because if I don't have enough time with them to actually have them understand what we're doing. they would perceive it as being, scattered and unfocused and not seeing the direct correlation. If I have more than five or 10 minutes to actually talk about all three, your opportunities, you can see how are any one of these avenues, filtered directly back into our core product.
And if you can see that this government opportunity is essentially an Alison at scale at some massive scale, this becomes really interesting because now we're accessing hundreds of thousands of products. I'm filtering it back into a core product that can then service the needs of, of that user. So it doesn't matter that they're government, well, you know, it could change the sales cycle.
but is it interesting for us to observe what's happening with those processes? You know, put some cash in the bank and help us learn more about, about our market. it's fascinating. And I think any investor that gets curious about why we're looking at these three options can see why we're starting with Jordans and Alisonss, but could also understand why I'm, why I'm spending some time dabbling in other opportunities.
] Kirsty just for everyone, that's going to be listening to this. They're going to go, what is this government opportunity? And they're probably going to be trying to put this into their, in, you know, and understand this in their head. So talk a little bit about how this came up and, what, what the problem is with, with, uh, government and use goods.
] So innovation Saskatchewan, had a few years ago, started this thing called MIST Made In Saskatchewan Technology, where they make it easier for tech companies in Saskatchewan to pitch to government and enter into these projects. And so we go into conversation with them one day and, and, you know, what happens with government used assets?
How are they. Sold, how are they recirculated and recognize there's a huge opportunity to provide more transparency. So whether it's staffed or donations that shouldn't be happening, or it's an archaic, you know, auction system of ridding of them, you've got things selling for a dollar that probably should have sold for 200.
You have things selling for 5,000 that should have sold for 20,000. and so it, there were just all these things that have changed over the last 15, 20 years and the tech doesn't reflect, um, you know, what the government should be considering today. So we pitched amongst other others, Saskatchewan and tech companies, didn't realize it was a competition style we won.
and so it's a bit of cash, but it's also a guaranteed pilot with the government. So, um, central services picks it up and says, Hey, we want to work with Hyon for six months. figure out what they do, what their technology can do and how can that apply to the current needs of government and what can we do in six months?
And then hopefully if that six months is deemed successful, what would it look like to be working together beyond that? so that's what we're doing and it's worth noting. Central services is a massive Alison uh, every other government ministry is
] I was just going to say, because typically they're Jordans where they just want to get rid of something and it's on some likely, a middle manager somewhere to just get rid of stuff. And who's to say, he's not he or she, or they are not just giving it to their friends to go sell and make money on it or, or something like that.
There's very little accountability. especially if you have a Jordan type, Organization. So it's a cool, it's a cool problem. A problem that even us as taxpayers are probably not aware of and things like that, that you guys are solving, which we're going to be attempting to solve, which is why I wanted to outline that because I think it's so interesting.
] um, it's not just a government problem. You have offices across North America right now that are, are closing up their office. And having employees work from home, companies, renovating companies, liquidating assets. So you look at surplus.
It's not just a government thing. I think this is, this can be applied to, um, to large business, small business, you know, Jordan's and Allison's are everywhere.
Raising External Capital
] Yup. You're right. Uh, so, the, the other thing I'm going to touch on is in a previous episode, we talked about how, us at Central Referral Solutions and specifically, obviously your product Clinnect, we decided. That we were going to bootstrap. We decided that that was the way forward for us. We wanted to, keep the company within our hands.
And, we also realized that, institutional investors probably wouldn't be as interested in a company like ours with a smaller addressable market than yours. You guys have chosen to go a different way. Do you want to talk a little bit about where you're at with that? And, maybe a bit about the journey that got you there too.
] Yeah, sure. Um, I did listen to your previous podcast about bootstrapping and I think you referenced me towards the end of it. You were like, this is the way I've gone, but here's a friend who spent a lot of time. I'm going the other way.
Yeah. Oh, a hundred percent to two years ago, almost to the day when we started in tech, I think I thought, why would anyone raise money?
Um, and keep in mind, like I've had previous businesses, you don't spend money unless you can afford to spend it. If I have a project that would make me the money back, or maybe I'd lose a little bit, but I could see that this is a valuable asset. I might invest in the asset, but I'm not going to go into thousands of dollars of debt or share my company just because I don't have the users yet.
So the idea of fundraising, when I got in, it was ridiculous. I thought it made no sense. Then you get to a point of realizing, Hey, if I have this vision and this vision is greater than what I'm capable of doing on my own with my own resources, you know, how can I make this happen in less than 30 years, really?
And we've been super scrappy. you know, being in the consignment world, I'm frugal by nature. And that, that carries through to everything we do in business. We've accessed hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. so we're, we're nine employees, but are heavily funded myself and my co founder Blair, who was on the ground level of Skip The Dishes.
we've, we've bootstrapped the company. We've taken one angel cheque a few months ago, and we're just now at the point of saying, okay, we completely understand what it is that we're doing. And now we can see the team that we need to build and we can, we can see around the corners and this go to market strategy that we can implement.
And the reality is, you know, even if we've all sold our houses and eat macaroni for two years, we still probably wouldn't be able to do it with just the two of us. And so that for us, this is the time to rally a community that can support us and can get excited about what we're doing.
] I think it's what I we've had long conversations about this. And I think, um, your approach to this is incredibly well thought out. And, I completely agree with where you guys are at and where you're going. and it's been kind of, it's been kind of fun because. For me, I know that I'm not going to go after institutional money, but I get to live a little bit vicariously through you and your stories around it too, which is it, which is kind of fun for me.
And, and I get to learn, you know, shoulder to shoulder, with you each week, just hearing about it and things like that, which has been amazing for me too. So that's exciting. Pitching Hyon
So it sounds like you're at the point point right now where you've decided that, you know, institutional money is the next way to go, that, that's going to propel your company forward. And, before we wrap up, I think it would be great to hear.
That little bit of a pitch, from you and your company about who you are and, a little, a little bit more about where you guys are going.
] Yeah, for sure. I'm well, you should've told me this was coming all right off the cuff, the, the re the recall. So I had a mentor out of the States in Atlanta. Uh, he sends me this article the other day, and the article is about how the re commerce industry is a $52 billion North American industry.
And I read this and I'm like, what's the recommerce industry. Oh, That's the space that we're in. That's interesting. And. And I read this article and it's fascinating to me because you look at the other players in the space. So you could look at Hyon and say, okay, well, are they competing with Facebook marketplace and the real, real threat up in Poshmark and Let Go.
And. And Kijiji, what's fascinating about the work that we're doing is ultimately we will be a platform company. And so think of us as sort of the Shopify for consignment, where we have this, this valuable user interface in a way of, of, connecting users and really furthering, what's happening already in the industry and making it more efficient for people to use it.
And so, yeah. We were, we found this space in, in the recommerce industry of being able to provide value, get more items onto existing marketplaces, make it easier to keep items out of landfills. And so the types of, users that are interested in our platform, it's everything from, Hey, we're green. And we want to keep items in circulation to, Hey, I'm cheaper or hey I'm frugal, and I actually need to go this route, or I want to make some money.
And it's sort of a gig economy. and, and talking to investors, they'd have similar motivations. It's either I'm really interested in how Hyon can see around corners and can see this as a massive opportunity in enabling this economy to exist and to kind of drag it into, where we should be in this industry, which is more efficient, less gray area.
And for corporations and for governments, you know, we're, we're competing with systems and Excel and pen and paper almost doesn't happen nowadays. And so, you know, the, the pitch, depending on who we're talking to is just, you know, if you're excited about the kinds of things that we're excited about, there's alignment.
And so, yeah. Thank you for the you guys for the opportunity to talk about it. This has been fun and my very first podcast and I find it so awkward that it's a voice thing and not a video thing, because if. People listening can see the actions. They'd see
] her. That's awesome. I'm so, so excited for you guys and the journey that you're on, because I think the opportunity as you just mentioned is absolutely immense and, it's just been so much fun
with you. So yay.
] Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for being on
] Jonathan, um, send me a note to your camera, please. I don't care how much work it is. I'll figure it out. I need
that. I need to look like that on zoom calls. Outro
] thanks for listening to Fixing Faxes, building a digital health startup.
I'm Jonathan Bowers, my cohost is Angela Hapke and our guest today was Kirsty Ehman. Did I get that right? Yay. Our music is by Andrew Codeman. Follow us on Twitter @FixingFaxes. You can find us wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Oh, we were going to change that and I forgot. Do us a favor and tell a friend.
] feel like I should have worked on my radio voice before I got on here. Angela, your, your, your tone is so awesome.
] Between, between your, your voice and Jonathan's looks, you guys are a full