Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.
FcF: Tell us about yourself?
Chantal: At my core, I’m a builder- of people, businesses, and community. This started with my own building in leaving home (Bermuda) to come to Saint Mary’s University to study Psychology, Business, and Human Resources. Following university, I made Nova Scotia my home and began supporting leaders in the private and public sector as a Consultant. This led to a role with a North American technology company, where I led the development and execution of their human capital strategy for four years as the company tripled in size across North America. After reconnecting with my passion of helping others find careers that they love in 2015, I started the journey to what would become EnPoint.
I’m a believer in experiential learning and an active advocate for women and mentorship and love when I get to speak on these topics! Feel free to check out one of my talks and let me know your thoughts! In the community I co-chair the Mentorship Committee for Women in Communications and Technology Atlantic Cda, and serve on the Unity Charity board, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce WorkForce Taskforce, and the Program Advisory Council for Techsploration.
FcF: What is EnPoint?
Chantal: EnPoint exists to help people connect their passion to their career- we’re on a mission to support 1 million people do just that. We believe people should love what they do and live a career that is “on point”. We also know this is hard work and don’t think people need to do this alone.
Mentorship helps people achieve career goals, build confidence, and establish valuable connections, but mentorship programs can be overwhelming to build and implement. That’s why we’ve created an easy-to-use, customizable and automated platform that helps clients create and scale high-impact mentorship programs. We help universities/colleges, non-profits, and employers build mentorship programs that achieve their objectives with minimal administrative time and measurable outcomes. We also provide Mentorship Program Design and consulting services to help them create their programs with intentional design from the beginning!
We work with clients such as the Nova Scotia Community College, YWCA Halifax, the Black Business Initiative, Women in Communications and Technology, and the award-winning Atlantic Canada Study and Stay™ program with EduNova. In 3 years, we have supported 20,000+ individuals and worked with 30+ organizations to help their ‘people’ build the confidence, skills, and connections to be successful for many years to come.
FcF: How did you come up with EnPoint?
Chantal: EnPoint was initially created in response to the provincial need to keep young, talented professionals in Nova Scotia. Our focus was to address the systemic problem of talented young professionals leaving after graduation. After many discussions with young adults, institutions, parents, employers, and other stakeholders, we discovered the problem. And so, we set out to create the solution – helping young people figure out what they are passionate about and helping them to create a strategy, tools and meaningful connections to enable them to transform that passion into a career.
One of the first students that I met with, and still keep in touch with, was a really brilliant Dalhousie student originally from Nigeria. He graduated with an engineering degree and in his fourth year started a web development business. When he and I sat down to meet, I asked him, “Why engineering?” His answer was the same one that I had heard so many times before; which is that the career choice was made because it seemed smart as a starting point, or because a family member advocated for that particular career. Thousands of dollars in debt and needing to work as a way out, the student realized that what he was really passionate about was solving problems. While there was applicability in engineering, he didn’t want to do that, he wanted to do it in a space of creative and technology problem-solving, which is a space he is still in to this day.
It was about closing the gap between these individuals and the employers/careers that they wanted. Through thousands of conversations I realized that the gap that we could solve (and that I am passionate about) was helping people answer the questions “I don’t know what I want to do, I don’t know what excites me” or “I’m excited about too many things and I don’t know how to connect that to a career path”. After that, mentorship became a natural tool to help people navigate those big questions.
Mentorship supports what we refer to as “beneath the iceberg” stuff- self-confidence, self-worth and self-esteem- and the external display of those things, i.e. confidence, something that every single one of us struggles with at some point in our life. For example, when you are pitching an idea or attending an interview how does your confidence allow you to portray who you authentically are? Or how does it inhibit you from doing that? The inner work plus the external capabilities to practice, build new skill sets and connections, and apply yourself to make that self-confidence known to the world and the community you want to serve will allow you to pursue the career you want to do.
Mentorship is the vehicle that allowed us to close the gap that we were repeatedly seeing, to reduce the anxiety and overwhelm around careers we saw, and ultimately to help people be less alone in building meaningful careers. To translate this into a business model we knew it was important to find clients who believed in mentorship and its use in career development.
FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue building En Point?
Chantal: What a great question! Funny to think about what those steps were. This may not be a perfect recollection, but this is what comes to mind as I think about it three years later:
The first was probably freaking out in a good way once it settled in and I knew that, with every fibre of my being, starting EnPoint was what I was meant to do and what I wanted to do. I definitely still feel this way today. There was definitely the internal “Holy crap!” moment, but in a good way and filled with excitement. Using that excitement, I was able to put things into place.
For me, what was important was creating a brand identity (name and logo etc.) that was meaningful to me. I think as founders we associate a lot with the brand and care about it so much more than anyone else. I laugh about it now, but it was a painstaking process that took so much longer than what I thought it would take. It’s something that I spent a lot reflecting and time on. However it was worth it. I grew up dancing (ballet, tap dance, jazz, the whole nine yards!) from when I was 3-18 years old. As you do ballet, the aim is to grow the strength to dance “en pointe”. The idea of being able to build strength, capacity, resilience and determination to accomplish this, as well as the actual act of lifting up and standing tall on the top of your feet, resonated with me when I thought about the feeling that I wanted to invoke in others when they are in the right space in terms of their career. The visual, imagery, and emotion of “This is right and I put in the work to get here”, as well as the colloquialism of “on point”, meaning that when your career is on point or on target you are going to live a much happier life, was extremely important to me.
The second was understanding that I couldn’t do it alone. I had never built a business before and I needed to continue to build my confidence and skills. So I regularly worked with my mentor and a couple of other community influencers pretty consistently in the first year with regular touch points. When you’ve never built a business before, you’ve never created a business plan, never put together a marketing or sales strategy, etc . Almost everything you need to do in the early days is for the first time; you’re building new muscles. Having someone to help break it down and navigate through the overwhelm in the early stages was very helpful.
The third was telling people. Getting out and meeting people and practicing the “pitch”. Articulating what EnPoint was going to be/ my vision for it, what we were trying to do, and what type of clients we wanted to work with because they aligned with our model and values. I did this consistently and constantly during the first year. To this day I spend a lot of time “selling” and profiling EnPoint- sharing our mission and our “why”- while trying to connect to the right organizations and people. COVID-19 has presented both challenges and opportunities in this aspect.
FcF: How were you able to validate your idea to ensure it was something people wanted?
Chantal: As the brand, EnPoint is celebrating our third birthday in June 2021. Building EnPoint took time; before formalizing and committing our brand to our mission of supporting 1 million people in building careers that they love through mentorship, we spent a year on market exploration. Through that we validated the concept of mentorship as a vehicle to support people in career development and career advancement.
We did this in a couple of ways; the first way was by creating partnerships with two organizations who at the time were influencers in the space and who were willing to try something different. We created “living labs” to test our theories and further validate our business model. We worked with them to create a career development model using mentorship as a core pillar, iterating and evaluating what did/didn’t make sense as we went. We were collecting large amounts of data to form the business model that we now use with 30+ organizations across Canada.
The second way was by consistently talking to others like our living lab partners, sharing how the concept worked and results to date. By doing this, I built a network of individuals who understood what it was that we were trying to do. By asking for advice as opposed to sales, we built the right relationships with organizations that then materialized into contracts or referrals. Those living labs became an active referral point for other work, particularly as we started focusing on international student retention, which was a key goal for Nova Scotia and post secondary institutions at the time. Once we had proof points from early adopters (most of whom we still work with!), we gained credibility which opened the door to referrals. The challenges faced by international students trying to start their careers post-graduation in a new country are paralleled in student athletes who perform at a high level athletically, and because of that sacrifice experiential learning opportunities and career prep while in school. The overwhelm of “what’s next” is common. For some it’s also layered with other challenges, such as systemic racism and discrimination in schools and workplaces. We’ve found that mentorship can be a powerful tool to support people from all walks of life in building the confidence and connections to live their best career life. The ability to take our work and make it applicable to a number of different groups, came about from being in the community, having conversations, asking for advice, and listening.
The third way is consistently validating that what we are offering is meeting the needs of our clients and looking for ways (with them, through feedback) to add more value. As founders, we often hear, “Don’t get married to the solution but stay committed to solving the problem”; I think we can only do this if we understand the importance of continuous feedback and reflection.
FcF: What has been the most challenging for you so far in building EnPoint? How have you been able to overcome, or what are you currently doing to try to overcome it?
Chantal: We entered 2021 knowing that COVID-19 was still a presence with the clients and the target markets that we operate in. However, a couple months into an intentional sales campaign, we have seen success in terms of a number of outreach activities that resulted in new relationships and projects, such as a national initiative we are helping to launch this month! We’re excited by the possible applications of mentorship and our expertise in new markets and different verticals. When you consider that the global Mentoring Software market is estimated to grow to $889.60USD million by 2025, you can see why. Currently we’re seeing this manifest as re-skilling and upskilling initiatives are funded and implemented to support economic recovery post COVID-19. We are actively looking for ways to support these initiatives through direct outreach to those nonprofits and academic programs who will be responsible for managing those initiatives.
From a personal leadership perspective, confidence in business, particularly a start-up where there is no charted path, is critical to making decisions. No one can make the “right decision”, all the time, and in fact, in most cases in the start-up world there is “no one, right decision”. It is a matter of making informed decisions. I make decisions based on my values, the values of EnPoint and doing what is best for the clients and communities we serve, always with the understanding that I’m doing so within a degree of uncertainty. I believe that you can’t let the “unknowns” or the “what ifs” paralyze you from not moving forward. As a female entrepreneur in the tech industry who is constantly faced with peers who seem to make decisions very differently and at times more intuitively, it’s a core responsibility I take seriously and aim to model to my team. I often say let’s aim for ‘good enough’ because our good enough is great; striving for perfection in decisions and execution in business just isn’t feasible. Yet it is something that I think female entrepreneurs can often struggle with and/or thinking that if we work harder or know more, we’ll be aimed with all the data to make the best decisions. I have found it helpful to surround myself with people who can challenge me, help me uncover my blind spots, and work through the imposter syndrome/fear that also comes with this ‘job’.
FcF: Following up in this article that EnPoint is not looking to raise funds any time soon. Are you able to tell us more why and what advice you have to other founders who are in the same boat to decide whether to raise venture funds or expand with partnerships?
Chantal: The lead up to EnPoint was a big part of my own career journey. Over a year and a half I spent time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life that ultimately led to the start of what would become EnPoint. So when we launched, I wanted time to build the company organically. I wanted to experiment where there wasn’t any pressure from an external investor because that was a part of my own career building. I wanted to explore what I enjoyed doing, what challenged me, and what pushed me, and to understand what the market could bear. From a founder’s perspective, it is integral to do the grassroots work in your business; that allows you to figure out what you love doing, what you are the best at, and what you need to bring in help to do. You also get to hear feedback and meaningful questions first hand and learn what’s working and what’s not from your buyers and potential buyers.
I liken it to putting a puzzle together; we are trying to figure out what pieces of the puzzle you (a) already have from past experience, (b) are filling in with your passion, (c) are new skills you are going to build because you enjoy doing them, and (d) are skills have you not used in the past but will use in the new venture. The rest of the puzzle is filled in by the people you surround yourself with, whether that’s financial backing, strategic partners, advisors, employees, etc.
I enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together. I value partnership and authenticity in any relationship. That’s an integral value for me as a founder and I look for it when making any key decisions, such as when I hire a new team member, engage with client organizations, and consider partnerships. We are always open to exploring strategic relationships where there is an alignment of values and purpose and ability to complement and create a bigger sustained impact by working together.
My advice to other founders who are evaluating financial and/or other partnerships:
1. Firstly, know that the direction of your business will evolve. So the decision on how you finance your business, who you bring into the organization, who your partner with, and which clients you work with are key decisions that will evolve over time.
2. Secondly, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. In particular sectors, there’s a lot of doctrine that’s about scaling/ growth and becoming a “unicorn company”, but that’s not for every founder or every business. I don’t think we should be judging the success of a founder or a company by these metrics. Success ultimately has to be personal and you are the only person who can define what success looks like for you. Define your version of success, continuously re-evaluate, and don’t let anyone sway you from what it is you actually want.
3. Thirdly, if a conversation comes along that aligns with your potential direction and it scares the shit out of you- take the call, take the conversation, and go to the meeting. You never need to commit to anything, but there is an opportunity to learn and test your own aptitude, skill set and risk tolerance. You will also learn and challenge yourself and blind-spots.
4. Finally, at any level of strategic need, as the founder and leader of your company you must evaluate what is critically important to you. Figure out what criteria an organization has to have in order for you to use the term partnership or want to be associated with the organization, then identify the top three criteria that have to be present and stand firm on those.
FcF: EnPoint has recently accompanied the software service to clients and you mentioned this was not part of the business model. Can you tell us more how you decided that it was time to introduce this change and how it went for you?
Chantal: When we committed to using mentorship as our primary vehicle in career developer, it became evident that it wasn’t going to be enough to just have a tool to support clients’ mentorship programs. It was actually more important to help them understand and become clear on what they were aiming to do through mentorship, how they were prepared to track and monitor results, who they wanted to help, and how that aligns to their overall organizational objectives. We were hearing a lot of the same things from clients and organizations that we wanted to work with and knew we could help, so we created our Mentorship Program Design and Consultation offering. These organizations had a desire to “do” mentorship and/or they had tried mentorship in the past but were not able to sustain it because they didn’t have the resources or expertise in-house to set it up efficiently and impactful, or to scale as the organization grew. After hearing that several times, it became a lightbulb moment for us. We had helped several Client organizations set up scalable, impactful mentorship programs and we’re committed to continuing to learn more about mentorship in all its forms. We thought “why not bring this to our clients and partner with them to help make mentorship real in their organizations.” and so a new offering that complements our EnPoint Mentorship software was born.
The software carries the administrative burden of running a mentorship program, but bad inputs in, means bad outputs out all the time. So it was a no brainer for us to invest in creating the Mentorship Program Design and Consultation offering to provide guidance where needed to help clients create ‘good inputs’. We provide these clients with a customized Mentorship Toolkit that is theirs for years to come, complete with in-depth recommendations, samples, and content for them to activate their mentorship program(s) as quickly and efficiently as possible, but also designed with impact and scale in mind from in the beginning, which is often where see organizations fail.
FcF: How have relationships with other founders helped you build your business?
Chantal: As someone who has built a business that is all about relationships, I make every effort to practice what I preach. Figuring out what you want to do with your life and career is hard work and worth it, but it does take time and is a journey that is easier with others around you to help. For me, peer-to-peer relationships have been foundational in continuing to bolster my confidence when I need it most. As a start up with a small team I use my network to help fill expertise gaps in areas that are brand new to me or to find a trustworthy referral to speak with regarding a new space. Another valuable support is “sanity checks”, which is critical to move forward in business. Others who understand the ups and downs of the journey you are on, have experienced it themselves, and have lived what you are going through, can truly be empathetic to the challenges and opportunities and the severe highs and lows of creating a business, particularly a business where there is no existing path and you have to create it as you go.
Community groups like Female Cofounders and our local Volta Woman Taking Over The World, and national level initiatives like Women in Communications and Technology have been a major part in helping me build my network of female entrepreneurs and female founders. The next layer is facilitated peer groups such as the Wallace McCain institute here in Atlantic Canada. It is a lifelong commitment; I am honoured to be in a group with 15 entrepreneurs who have a variety of experience in business and who are willing to share their time, the pain, and their wins, with our group to help each other learn by sharing experiences in an intimate setting.
I think we need all kinds of relationships to help move through different kinds of problems, challenges, and opportunities. There’s benefits to broader community groups that are voluntary where you show up and contribute time when you can. There are different benefits when you go a layer deeper in peer groups; these allow for a much more intimate setting, have in-depth conversations and build deep relationships over time. I think that’s where the strength in particular founder relationships is because running a business is a journey not a one stop shop; it’s a hard-go and it takes time to build meaningful relationships and deeper relationships with other founders.
Ultimately surrounding yourself with individuals who can help you understand and appreciate that even as entrepreneurs and founders, our business is only one part of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very big part and it is almost always on my mind, but not active all the time. Yet, we have only one life to live and our career, our value, and our hard work is one part of that one life. So my advice to any founder, but I think in particular to female founders, is that life by design is key. Business can easily consume our entirety of life and if that’s what you want because it matches up with your life plan, perfect! It is important to stop and reflect on what the plan is, what that rough goal is, what kind of lifestyle you want to live for yourself, and then actively create a business to support as opposed to working in contradiction to this. Surrounding yourself with the right people can make this reflection much easier.
FcF: If you were to give advice to yourself as you were starting out, what would it be?
Chantal: First would be to listen to my own instincts and to put in the work and effort to understand what my instincts are telling me. It’s not to listen blindly without understanding and doing blind-spot check, particularly in the early stages when what you don't know is significantly more than what you do know. Frankly this is mostly still true; you are constantly evolving and learning new things as you grow a business. Depending on your path to growth you are stretching yourself, and that is where I am in terms of a business perspective. So there are still equal amounts of what I know, and in some cases more of what I don’t know, or what I don’t need to know.
My second piece of advice would have been to surround myself with peer groups earlier on to help surface, reaffirm and work through what my instincts were telling me. I am now lucky enough to be surrounded by advisors, mentors and friends who I know buy into what I am trying to create, and more importantly, they buy into me. They care about me and put my interest first and foremost, and I think that is something that is really important, particularly in the early stages.
FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?
Chantal: I think there’s still a lot of narrative in the world around the concept of “work/life balance” as “a thing”. We only have one life- period. Balance is what each of us interprets that to be for our own lives and well-being. There is a lot of pressure in growing sectors to scale quickly and to do whatever is necessary to be able to see growth. The idea of a unicorn company is not necessarily for everyone and that’s okay. If it’s by design and what you truly want to do, great! Go for it! But it’s not the only way of creating a business and a life.
I think we all need to be aware of what we want and surround ourselves with other people who understand the founder journey, and can call bull on when you might be giving an answer that you know in your heart of hearts is just not true. It’s when you don’t follow your own instinct, goal and plan that burnout and regret come. I don’t want that for my fellow female founders and co-founders.
Surrounding yourself with other co-founders who are in different industries than you is helpful, but it is also equally important to include people in the same industry because there are nuances there that they can appreciate. I think diversity of perspective and entrepreneurs who are in different stages of life, career and/or business growth are also meaningful connections. I know there’s space for one-on-one relationships that typically tend to come as friendships and evolve overtime, and I consider myself very lucky to have a few individuals who I would place in that category, as well as space for the other levels of support in terms of intimate peer groups and community groups.
FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?
Chantal: This is a great question to have! As founders and females in particular, in every opportunity that we can, we need to be open to asking for help. When we show up to a networking event, a speaking gig, or a panel discussion, we need to know what we are asking. I think this is a skill that we need to build. I appreciate the opportunity to gain exposure like this. With a small team and no in-house PR/marketing expertise, it can often become something that doesn’t get as much attention as it needs. But in service of our mission, we need more of the right people to know who we are. We need to be able to put ourselves in a position to build the kind of community and to participate in the kind of communities that align our vision and can help us grow. The opportunity to become a part of the Female Cofounder group as well as the exposure opportunity of sharing our story is a really great start. Thank you!
Practically speaking, we are currently recruiting our first in-house Developer. If you know someone who has 3 - 5 years of experience with Drupal and/or PHP we would love your support in getting our job posting in front of the right people.
Part of what I hope for in communities like this in particular is that if there is an organization in your network that you work for, or an organization that is trying to figure out how to use mentorship to support their people, I would love to chat with you. I think as female founders we don’t always ask for the sale, and I’m not the best at it myself either, but I’m going to practice that here in a written format.
Lastly, if you are someone who wants to learn more about advancing your own career, or have a mentorship story to share, I would love to hear from you. If there’s anything that resonated with you in my story and I can help your business grow in any way, shape or form, feel free to reach out to me at my email email@example.com. I am happy to make some time to chat with individuals and communities like this.
FcF: How can people contact you?
Chantal: If you are like me and are interested in the topic of helping your people build careers that they love, sign up to our newsletter where we share carefully curated content on articles, news and events in the career development and mentorship (A.k.a, career transforming) space.
You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also DM @Chantal Brine in our Slack channel!
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