Meet The Disruptors: Bertrand Nembot Of Billdr On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Nobody will come save you: I lost my mother in 2019 and my world fell apart. She was my number one fan. I felt tremendously alone. Going through that grieving process made me realize that nobody, but myself, would save me from depression and that I needed to actively take care of my well-being.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bertrand (Bert) Nembot.

In 2011, Bert ventured into house flipping (buying, renovating, and selling property) for the first time. But he quickly realized the challenges within the industry, finding it difficult to source trusted contractors on the market.Through house flipping, Bert had first-hand experiences of working with contractors that didn’t deliver, including one general contractor going bankrupt, resulting in a loss of more than $20,000. After two years of flipping houses in the greater Montreal area, Bertrand devised a plan to improve the experience and process. Bildr was born.

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 born and raised near Paris. My parents are from Cameroon and my upbringing was the good story of a kid raised by loving lower-middle income class immigrants: stay out of trouble, be great at school to make your parents proud and have a chance to shoot for a better life. After high school, I moved to Montreal to attend engineering school and graduated with a bachelor in mechanical engineering and a master in industrial engineering at Polytechnique Montreal.

I started my career as a strategy consultant before jumping into my first tech gig in 2015 at Uber. While at Uber, I held various positions in Canada and Sub-Saharan Africa: Operations Manager, Launcher and Head of Marketplace for Sub-Saharan Africa. I went deep into the inner details of launching and scaling a marketplace from 0 to 1, launching new services, products, and payment methods for 3 years.

After Uber, I joined a fintech startup called Branch that’s building a mobile bank in emerging markets where I held a Launcher role. I learned a lot about the global fintech ecosystem by literally studying the fintech landscape of the largest emerging countries in detail.

Those years building marketplaces and studying fintech ecosystems set the stage for creating my current company Billdr.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Billdr, our mission is to make home renovation simple, transparent and efficient for everyone. Home renovation is a super stressful and time consuming experience for homeowners where the industry is plagued by a lack of transparency, efficiency and accountability. On the general contractors (GCs) side, they lack software tools to grow their business efficiently and serve their customers with excellence. Billdr solves both of these issues.

We’re building a market network or simply put the digital infrastructure to power the home renovation industry with three components: (1) a managed marketplace to streamline the experience between homeowners and GCs, (2) a Software as a service (SaaS) to automate the back office of GCs, (3) financial services built on top of the marketplace and SaaS.

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

We launched the company in February 2020 and one month later, due to the spread of Covid-19, Canada entered quarantine for 3 months. Billdr has four co-founders and at the time of launching, three of us were living abroad and had left high paying tech jobs to pursue this. You can imagine all the voices in our head at the time: “What a dumb idea it was to leave our job and move to Canada to start a company only for society to enter in a pandemic!”.

However, little did we know that the pandemic forced us to reflect more on our business, product strategy and go-to market plans. The most important decisions of our first 18 months were made during the quarantine period between March to May 2020. Moreover, the pandemic drove a surge in demand for home renovations when society opened back up in June 2020.

We learned two big lessons between co-founders that carried us until today: (1) when the situation is dire, focus on what you can control, (2) magic happens when we work closely together even if our backs are against the wall.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’m fortunate to have amazing mentors surrounding me. I’d like to highlight two mentors: Jean-Nicolas Guillemette (JN) and Cherif Habib, COO & CEO of Dialogue (TSX: CARE).

JN hired me when I joined Uber back in 2015 when I was 25 years old. He’s been like a big brother to me ever since. He has provided me with precious advice to advance my career along the way even when I changed departments while at Uber. I always say that a key indication of a good leader is if people that report to you actively seek your advice, while also providing guidance after you’re no longer managing them. JN is that guy. JN was the first person I called when I had the idea of Billdr back in 2018 and he’s been a close advisor on the business since 2019. His impact on my life went beyond the professional side too. JN has been there for me when I went through the most challenging times in my personal life.

JN introduced me to Cherif and he was one of our first customers back in the summer of 2020. Cherif has played a tremendous role in helping me better navigate the role of CEO and how to improve my fundraising skills.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

That’s a great question.

To me, disrupting a system is only good if the output produced by the system ends up being sustainably higher post-disruption for all stakeholders involved. And the key word here is the word sustainably.

For example, I believe that if we manage to digitize the home renovation experience, it will bring more transparency and efficiency to both homeowners and GCs, which will result in a lot of positive externalities:

  • Helps GCs handle more jobs with fewer resources and thus alleviating the current imbalance in a market that’s heavily undersupplied;
  • Benefits transaction flows, unlocking an entire suite of financial services for both homeowners and GCs; and,
  • Increases the size of the pie with more homeowners feeling less intimidated to perform renovations and hopefully create more jobs in the construction industry.

An example of a case where disruption wasn’t a complete positive for society was the creation of social media. We traded our time in person with people close to us and allocated that time to phones and trying to appeal digitally to strangers. Social media caused a disruption, especially within the advertising industry. A lot of good came out of it for businesses. However, I believe it caused a lot more harm to society. We traded our time in person with people close to us and allocated that time to phones and trying to appeal digitally to strangers.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Nobody will come save you: I lost my mother in 2019 and my world fell apart. She was my number one fan. I felt tremendously alone. Going through that grieving process made me realize that nobody, but myself, would save me from depression and that I needed to actively take care of my well-being.
  2. Be resilient: Five months after my mother passed away, we launched Billdr in February 2020 and the pandemic hit a month later. I learned that developing resilience is an unfair advantage as a founder.The ability to keep on moving forward despite going through some of life’s most difficult challenges makes you unstoppable.
  3. Never chase, but attract: In Q2 2020, I started working on myself physically (4–5x per week in the gym), eating healthy, and mentally I started to recover from my depression. That’s when things started to click and ideas emerged to help propel the business forward and enticed investors along the way. Now I make it a priority to invest in myself in order to attract opportunities and supporters as I advance in this entrepreneurial journey.
  4. Enjoy the journey and do not focus on the destination too much: As an employee, I used to focus so much on the next promotion. I’d work tirelessly over 80 hours per week and would get the promotions, but at a cost. By being too absorbed by work, I lost friendships. As a co-founder and CEO, I have to be honest and say that I’m still absorbed by work, but this time I have my best friends as co-founders so I get the best of both worlds (a real cheat sheet to learn how to enjoy the journey)!
  5. Being kind is key, but don’t people please: In business and in life it’s important to be kind, give some of your time, and help another founder. One amazing connection will usually lead you to another one. I firmly believe, you reap what you sow. That said, being kind does not mean being a people pleaser. You also need to know to say no so that people respect your boundaries.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Billdr is only two and a half years old and if all goes well this company will be my focus for the next 10–20 years. I will continue to work relentlessly until Billdr becomes the number one home renovation platform to get quick access to all the services homeowners need for their renovations and all the services for construction professionals to grow their business.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I learned about fundraising by listening to This Week in Startups (TWIS) in 2019 so I’d like to thank Jason Calacanis for building this podcast. I was in a gym in Jakarta the first time I listened to TWIS. It was early 2019. I was listening to episodes where Jason was explaining best practices for fundraising, which helped me a ton in structuring my fundraising process for our pre-seed round in 2020 and our seed round in 2021.

Today, my favorite podcast is The All-In podcast. As a founder, the podcast helps me better understand the perspective of investors — from assessing the quality of a company to the macroeconomic context, to how it could impact my company to keeping up with the most pressing news in tech & American politics.

If I had to recommend a book, I would say Siddharta. I read the book twice while I was depressed in 2020. It narrates the story of a man going through multiple life stages, seeking what the essence of life is, and its purpose on this earth. I was going through a similar process at the time, and reading the book helped me move forward with my life reflections.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Minimize regrets in your life: I’m keeping this thought very close to my heart as I move forward in life. Whenever I have an opportunity to see family or friends, to get coffee with someone new, or when I have to make an important decision I ask myself “will I regret not doing this activity, taking that call or making that leap of faith 5 to 10 years from now?” If the answer is yes, then I do it. If the answer is no, I walk away and never look back.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of my dreams is to create a tuition-free school program dedicated to high IQ children across Africa. I’d like to build a scout team actively seeking gifted children even in the most remote villages. My thesis is that if we actively seek and develop the most brilliant minds across Africa, they will be the ones driving innovation and economic development through entrepreneurship on the continent. Yeah you can think of this program as the X-Men for gifted children and I’ll be Professor X 🙂

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Billdr’s innovation on Instagram at billdr_renovation and my personal journal on Twitter: @bnembot.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Meet The Disruptors: Bertrand Nembot Of Billdr On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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