After a quick game of rock-paper-scissors for who would answer first, we sat with the founders of BuildHer Collective, Rebeka Morgan and Kribashini Hannon on establishing BuildHer, being leaders, and promoting and encouraging women to build and develop for pleasure and profit.
A little bit about my personal journey. I have a background as a project manager in commercial client side projects. From very minor capital works to major projects. I’ve worked on something as small as a fitout to $80 million dollar performing arts buildings. A large part of my experience comes from delivering community driven projects and I used to work at Whitehorse City Council. Before I did that I worked with Rebekah actually in a tier three commercial company.
My interest coming out of Uni was into building science. I was into sustainability. I came out of Uni in New Zealand as a building scientist. It was a real struggle for people to understand what that degree was about because it wasn’t widely known here. It’s really project management, building, with a sustainable focus, but not actually doing any design or documentation.
I’m actually very lucky, because I’ve jumped around a lot. I’ve worked with really great people in my career and I’ve always learnt things in every job and I’ve always found that someone is willing to teach me their experience or their expertise and I’ve been really lucky to absorb some of that.
Yeah, I’d say I’ve had really good mentors like that too, and a couple of stand out people that have taken the time to believe that I can do whatever I want to do and that’s allowed me to progress as well.
I guess my pathway was probably a little bit simpler than Kribashini’s. My degree was construction management then I went through as a quantity surveyor. Moved from a quantity surveyor to project management client side. I did a Masters of entrepreneurship and innovation. I interviewed for a builder’s side project manager and the guy in that role said ‘alright you sound like you’d be a good fit for a project manager’ and I said, ‘well actually I don’t think I want to do a project manager job, but I want to do a general manager role’. I drew up a one-pager on what I could do with the business and I presented this strategy to the board. That business went from low turnover and low profit to doing really well in the subsequent eighteen months.
That role worked really well but I didn’t have space for me to be a mum. The same boss who hired me made some flippant comment which rubbed me the wrong way that I needed a ‘house husband’ …ahhh…It was coming from a place of love. The discussion centred around the fact that he had his lovely wife, who was at home raising the kids and making sure that everything was working. And he was basically, ‘it’s fine for you to have this career but you need someone at home supporting you’. But I realised I didn’t want someone at home supporting me, I want to be around for the kids. So I quit.
I left the construction industry where I always thought I would be and in about two seconds I found I was renovating my own home, then I was renovating other people’s homes, and then I was helping them owner-build, then I was building for them. And then I had a building licence. I sold that business because the building business became too big and there was too much happening, to focus on the building. And I hadn’t even settled on that business when Kribashini and I started BuildHer.
K: Rebekah came over one day and floated this idea of a business together where we could teach people about building. And as we started talking more and more, refining our why, we’d realised we’d been able to gain so much on our journeys, there was so much we could give back to other people who have no experience doing it and doing it really tough in domestic building.
R: What we realised was when you’re building your own home… people don’t have guidance. They’ve spent the most amount of money they’re ever going to spend in their entire life. All of their hopes and all of their dreams are out on this one thing that then they live in. It’s really an emotional thing. So we want to help them through that.
K: BuildHer Collective has two streams. The first part is you can be a ‘BuildHer’. It’s an online course to help you though building or renovating your own home. We’ve designed the modules to take you through the project management process. There are some key points in that course that we try and guide people through. Firstly, how do you put together a preliminary budget when you don’t know how much things will cost. We want them to understand what they want and how much they want to spend often don’t align. And the second big part is, there is a delivery method that suits your budget that you can pick and your budget might actually be more aligned with a volume builder, but you don’t realise that, but that’s a consideration that must be made early on in the process. If you pick the right delivery path, that will set the tone for the project.
We teach them how to engage professionals, how to write a brief, how to assess a quotation, how to compare apples with apples. Then they get into the construction side and that’s a lot about knowing what they are looking at, the construction flow and what to look for on a residential build. All of that gives them more confidence to go on site and know what they are looking at.
There are four key areas we want people to gain, firstly knowledge, the second is that people are going to be buying fixtures and fittings and how do they actually buy well, so we have a little black book of trade discounts. Thirdly, there’s support, because there’s no use in sending out a course to someone and saying ‘there it is, see you later’, because there’s going to be walls and there’s going to be roadblocks and big questions that need to be talked about so you can get the right guidance, so we have an outline Q&A every two weeks, so people can come along and ask a specific questions about their project and get feedback. And the last part, and probably the biggest part of BuildHer program is they have the community with each other, we want the BuildHers to teach each other and share their experiences. I think sharing this knowledge is the best thing about BuildHer.
R: Out of that, we started the DevelopHer program, how to develop for profit. Similar to the BuildHer model, there’re so many different paths for you to go down and match your skill set and what you want out of the development. It teaches women how to renovate or build for profit. We’ve got people in that group who are doing one renovation every couple of years, and people who are doing 8-10 subdivided lots at one time. Our platform allows our network that beautiful shared knowledge and support. The only other person who knows what it feels like to have half a million or a million dollars on the line at the sales time, is someone who has been through the process and the emotional journey of tipping it all in.
The other part of that which I’m really proud of and that I love, every month we go and look at someone who is developing for profit and we go and dissect their secret sauce. And we interview them on that, then get them to show us real feasibility, so we are live learning the numbers and seeing what you do. I do it my way, you do it your way and I can guarantee there is something that you’re doing that I can learn from and put into my pathway and do it better.
K: We were feeling that women were really the ones taking the biggest leap into jumping into an industry that they hadn’t got any experience in. I’m passionate about it because I’ve had an amazing career in a male dominated industry, but we are focusing on women because a lot of women were already doing this in an informal way but they were struggling with it because of the lack of systems and procedures on how to do it.
I was looking at doing my own home renovation and I run big projects and I work with builders and I was really feeling overwhelmed with my own renovation in 2016. I’d ring Rebekah and be like ‘dude, I can’t decide on what colour to make the kitchen cabinets’. I was finding it really hard. We realised that most of these big decisions were falling to women and depending on what type of builder or trades you’re working with, it’s not their job to educate.
R: That’s not to say we don’t work with men, sometimes we have men who want to do our course, and they are struggling with the same equations and we certainly don’t discriminate. We often find that husbands do sit in and listen to the course even though it’s the females that are coming to the course, just as vested and interested in learning, but they don’t necessarily want to ask the questions. Our husbands actually joke about creating BuildHim Collective. They think it’s hilarious.
K: I’ve had trades come around to our house and they talk to my husband. And he’s got no idea, he’s got no interest. There’s three of us in the conversation and the tradie is speaking to him, and he is looking at me and I’m answering. A It’s just the way it is and you just accept that for what it is and we can all do our little bit to help collectively change it.
R: I’m very experienced with how different it is to make decisions in projects when you have your own money invested, but I learnt on projects I was always going to sell. So I guess I got good at making decisions that I was less attached to. What with my house, I couldn’t get over that people are going to come and see my home and I’m going to be judged on my home for how good a builder I am…so there’s a different level of pressure when you are building for yourself.
K: There is this perception that if you’re a project manager or been on building projects, that you have to act in a masculine way or be a ‘ball-breaker’, or that women in the construction industry need to be very firm, or you’re hard. That doesn’t sit well with me because that’s not my personality. It’s about the right situation for the right tact.
I went for this job at a boutique project management firm in Melbourne and it was before I went to Whitehorse and was really excited to be there, really chuffed, so I went into the interview and just was myself, pretty bubbly and happy. I had a great rapport with the guy, we had a great chat and I didn’t get the role and the feedback form the interviewer was that I was too giddy? I was too excitable. That stuck with me for a long time and I had a lot of insecurity about that. I thought that I don’t fit in that world or I have to be a certain way. What I found at Whitehorse was actually that my approach was my personal approach and realising that gave me the confidence to be authentically me and that works for me. That took time, that took experience and that took some really tough run-ins with contractors. But that initial feedback cut. I ticked all the right boxes, but it wasn’t the right fit for how they saw their firm.
The business isn’t twice as good because we’re both in it. It’s infinitely better because it’s a different business because we’re both in it.
R: What’s really interesting about that is that I was speaking to a contractor today about a quote and of the two of us people always perceive me as being the one that is strong and tough to deal with. But I’m not the tough one. When it is a real battle and it’s something we are quite vested in, it will be Kribashini that goes in to bat, because she is firmer than I am. We compliment each other. We are looking at different things and coming to things from different angles.
We’re two bosses. When we came back to work together our roles had changed and we were at equal levels. We both need, for our own sakes, autonomy and we both need to run our own race. We both need to be able to make decisions and have complete faith so we’ve had to separate what we sit across so we both have that need fulfilled. The business isn’t twice as good because we’re both in it. It’s infinitely better because it’s a different business because we’re both in it. You find some people want to surround themselves with people who are exactly like themselves, yeah, that guy that interviewed Kribashini, he was trying to find a team for himself. Other people are trying to build a team that is diverse in nature.
R: My father always told me that ‘loose lips sink ships’.
K: My mother always told me ‘be present where you are, when you are’. But loose lips do sink ships!
R: Don’t they just! No gossip in our family home.
We were thrilled to be able to catch up with Rebeka and Kribashini. BuildHer Collective is a powerhouse for change. Experienced, well-versed in all things construction, innovative and dedicated leaders they have set up a female led business that serves women entering the sector when they may not have otherwise. In their own words ‘with the right tools everyone can build.’ And that’s what BuildHer is about. Giving women the tools to take on what has traditionally been the domain of men. We love the empowerment they are bringing to the table. We wish them all the best for the rest of 2020 and into a brighter 2021! J & D. x
Written and Edited by Danielle Savio and Justine Hadj, 28th September 2020.
Photos courtesy of Dylan James Photography https://dylanjames.com.au/