The story of how Alexandra McManus became the co-founder and CEO of Eyrus is worthy of study. Naturally driven to entrepreneurship from a young age, Alexandra found herself a creative problem solver.
And the problems she’s found herself solving throughout her career include how to manage funding a startup, how to identify the right talent, how to secure the first client, and of course, how to develop a product that brings value to others and profitability to the creators.
She’s solved all of these problems for herself as a founder, and some combination of them for others as a consultant. And now she stops by Uptech Report for an edition of Founders Journey in which she shares her story and the many insights she’s developed along the way.
More information: https://eyrus.com/
Alexandra McManus is the co-founder and CEO of Eyrus, bringing to the company over two decades of professional experience in the construction technology space, across business development, operations, leadership, and more.
She provides a constant stream of vision and intuition for Eyrus alongside her co-founder and COO, Hussein Cholkamy. Together, they launched Eyrus to generate the ultimate workforce visibility platform by leveraging automated data collection and IoT hardware.show more
Eyrus provides simple and seamless solutions that enhance levels of workforce insight and support construction professionals in delivering their projects on time and on budget. To meet today’s challenges around COVID-19, Eyrus combines workforce data with site zone information to provide solutions for protocol mandates in the workplace, streamlining workflows, increasing collaboration, promoting safety, and supporting compliance.show less
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Alexandra McManus 0:00
We knew early on in order to just implement technology in a dynamic environment of a construction site, we need to make it as easy as possible for them.
Alexander Ferguson 0:13
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our founders journey series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Teraleap.io. I’m joined by my guest today, Alex McManus, who’s based in Philadelphia. She’s the CEO and co founder of Eyrus. Now, this is part two of our discussion, go back and listen to Part one where we heard a little bit more about their platform. It’s a workforce productivity tool focused around automated data for product sites, helping produce actionable metrics and insights. But here, Alex, I want to hear more about your journey. How did you get to where you are today? This is actually not your first venture. This is your second venture you already sold to the other one. Help me like, how, what’s the journey that you’ve been on?
Alexandra McManus 0:56
Alright, so the question is, how far back do we want to go?
Alexander Ferguson 0:59
Let’s go back.
Alexandra McManus 1:00
Let’s go back. Alright. So I mean, if I went all the way back when I was a kid, I was always entrepreneurial. And I was with my family, right. So to the point where we’re always trying to find different ways to to kind of make money from putting on little carnivals at the end of our street, which is a bit silly, because we lived in a country. So we didn’t have a lot of drive by traffic, right? To your typical, like, let’s sell chocolates at Christmas time. Right? But so I think not not just myself, but kind of my my brother and my sister, my cousins, we kind of all moved in that direction. You have that in just in you and Brad
Alexander Ferguson 1:35
and in your first business was with your brother, correct?
Alexandra McManus 1:39
Yes. So the first business we started was with my brother, he was a PhD chemist. So we were always basically our conversation was Stephen one day, you’re going to invent something, and then we’re going to create a business.
Alexander Ferguson 1:55
And it happened,
Alexandra McManus 1:55
you didn’t happen. It did happen to help said he had a lot of kind of insight into one specific knowledge base, which was chemistry. And he was very kind of creative background. So he had invented a new material, which enabled a kind of from a big picture, something that was not recyclable, to be recyclable. And he said, Oh, that’s kind of interesting. What can we do with that?
Alexander Ferguson 2:24
How we apply it? Wow.
Alexandra McManus 2:26
And at the time, he was in Berkeley, and I think I was still in San Francisco. So we were we were right in the middle of kind of venture capital. Everybody starting a business. I said there Yeah, there must be something we can do with that. So we should we should start a business and do venture. And and your your your side, your experience has been on the business side this
Alexander Ferguson 2:47
Alexandra McManus 2:48
Yes. So I started as a mechanical engineer, and coming out of school quickly decided that I didn’t want to necessarily be a traditional engineer. And I loved the idea of consulting, which was just getting into solving different problems.
Alexander Ferguson 3:05
So what you did it the Gordian group? Yeah,
Alexandra McManus 3:08
so it was the Gordian group, fantastic company really enabled me really out of school to get my feet very wet. Very early, right, and to work with them to solve problems. It happens to be it was a consulting company in the construction industry, which was the second company I started, right. So and they were amazing at kind of aligning incentives in the whole construction market, and bringing people together kind of prior to construction, and after construction. So they’ve been 42. My second company, they just left a big hole. And during construction, which was
Alexander Ferguson 3:47
in the middle, when it’s actually happening.
Alexandra McManus 3:49
Yeah. So I was like, let’s bring some data into that area as well. I’m with that company and enabled me to really early on get into the world of management, consulting, problem solving in the construction industry with data and software. But management and solving is very business focus, too, we reorganize organization around a new technology. If you could go back to yourself when you started either the second business or if you if you want to go back to the first business, and if so were there six years or was 1015 years ago, and you could share something with yourself? What would what what’s one thing that you would tell yourself? I think I’m actually still telling myself this.
Unknown Speaker 4:35
But it’s it’s really
Alexandra McManus 4:38
not to be afraid to reach too far. Right, if that makes sense? Like, right, so they have a lot of creative ideas, but not like, dude, keep thinking about how much farther and you can take the idea or the concept.
Alexander Ferguson 4:53
Because you’re finding that often we can be just near side and say, Well, maybe I’ll just go to here but it’s actually much better to if you’re gonna reach, just reach Further.
Alexandra McManus 5:00
Yeah, so being near sighted about kind of the impact something can have, right in the right the value that can be generated with the idea. I think a lot of times I think, Oh, well, I thought about it, somebody else thought about it. Right? But being able to say, Wait, I thought about this, and it does have these values. And let’s just let’s, let’s educate people and understand where we can go with that knowledge. Oh, no.
Alexander Ferguson 5:25
No, for you over this time, but for the first company, and the second one, VC backed or bootstrapped.
Alexandra McManus 5:32
Um, so a little bit of both. So the first company, it’s a chemical company, and I don’t think you hear a lot or materials company, you don’t hear about a lot of material startups. And there’s a reason
Alexander Ferguson 5:46
for that, like capital costs, I mentioned very high
Alexandra McManus 5:49
capital costs. And so we did take some venture backing, but then quickly found out right, in a, we got lucky and having really good relationships with people that understood material science. And we’re focused in moving kind of technology within materials is a huge opportunity there, it doesn’t scale the same way without the capital that you will in a software data business. Hmm. So we did took some venture, we took some venture funding, but quickly realized this was not going to be something that went through rounds of venture funding. So then at that point, we did some some grants, right, because you’re in that kind of material science side of the world, we got some chemistry going on. And we’re able to just run a very streamlined operation, and then we really funded more through joint development agreements, right. So worked with some of the bigger chemical companies, you know, as they funded the technology and eventually got bought by one of those companies. Right. So it’s not a bad exit strategy, either.
Alexander Ferguson 6:55
So if someone were exploring a similar route with a similar technology, actually, that’s that that could be an exit strategy that they keep in mind is finding those who may be in funding as you go along that they acquire you in the end?
Alexandra McManus 7:09
Yes, exactly. Yeah, in writing, right. It has its limitations, right? Because you’re, you have a very small market of potential acquirers. But at the same time, it’s a very, it’s my word of the day, but it’s a very allied market, right. So you’re able to kind of match your technology and your goals with the end acquire pretty early on, because it is so capital intensive. So in the end, the company that that bought kununurra, is, is building a chemical plant and making the material, which is amazing, and a fun thing to see in the world.
Alexander Ferguson 7:45
Now for Eyrus, was that VC backed as well.
Alexandra McManus 7:49
We started with founder funding.
Alexander Ferguson 7:53
Were you running the same company? At the same time, right?
Alexandra McManus 7:57
Yeah. There’s some overlap. But have you seen it, I came in, and we did do some initial founder funding, which I think really helps. And so we funded the initial kind of concept of the company. So as we were building that concept, and running, basically, kind of doing a test of it in the marketplace, that’s actually how we got our first customer, which was a huge fortune 100 company building headquarters. We said, Hey, what do you what do you think of this idea? And you know, what do you use it? And they said, that’s great. Can we have it by the end of the year?
Alexander Ferguson 8:38
You knew you had a contact, you’re like, we were thinking about creating this, they had a need, and they’re like, can you build it by the end of the year. And so that’s what started it.
Alexandra McManus 8:45
That is what started in fact, we had designed the concept out so right in a little pitch deck, so you could see what the software was gonna look like on a laptop. And they said, All right, we want them. So when we don’t have it, and I said, No, it’s right there on the laptop. And right there. So that was just really, really a mock up from our designer, put that together for us. So
Alexander Ferguson 9:06
we’re like, well, we should build this. Now. Did you have you have this contact already from your just previous work in management stuff and your partner as well?
Alexandra McManus 9:14
Yeah, so my co founder in this essential Kami, he comes from the construction industry, but from a different angle where he was kind of an architect for many years. Then he got into project management of large construction projects. And then he did a little bit on the real estate development side. So he came in with a lot of those kind of contacts on that side of building a big project. But But
Alexander Ferguson 9:39
selling selling the business already to your first client before you built the software. Sounds like a smart idea.
Alexandra McManus 9:48
A smart idea, right? I mean, it’s like the definition of like the lean startup, I guess, right? So yes, um,
Alexander Ferguson 9:56
were you able to get it done in that that before the end of the year,
Alexandra McManus 9:59
so what We did is we were able to build a kind of beta version. And we were able to put up kind of our network on site to collect data. But we didn’t have the so we were collecting data by the end of the year. And then we had the interface to do it a couple months later, so they couldn’t really visualize the data right away.
Alexander Ferguson 10:19
But the data was coming in. So the data
Alexandra McManus 10:21
was coming in, which was really important, and the kind of which is really fun. The other thing we needed to do, and we’ve since like, streamlined so many of these operations is we knew early on, in order to just implement technology in a dynamic environment of a construction site, we need to make it as easy as possible for them. And while we didn’t have the software feature set up yet, what we ended up doing is caught a lot of hamster wailing, right, but we instead of having the client do the work, we knew our our software and the engine do the work. But we didn’t have a built so we collected data from the site right by they gave us handwritten information. And then we inputted it.
Alexander Ferguson 11:03
When you’re starting out, sometimes you have to do a little bit of extra hard work, because you know, it will be valuable in the end.
Alexandra McManus 11:08
Yeah. And so and then we since built the systems and then kind of the beauty of doing that is it helps you when you’re really kind of getting your hands dirty and rolling up your sleeves, understand how you want to build your software to make that process easier, right? It gives you a little bit more insight. It’s not that we did that on purpose, just the way it worked out. But it then helps us build things in a way that you’re gonna make more sense. And potentially
Alexander Ferguson 11:32
by doing a handout, you don’t create a certain feature set or product, or inputs that you’re like, Oh, actually, we don’t even need this. So this is,
Alexandra McManus 11:40
yeah, so you really get to focus very quickly on what’s important if you have to do it by hand.
Alexander Ferguson 11:45
Now, funding is one thing, so you bootstrapped at the beginning, you got your first client, and then you got funding after that, once you’re like, Alright, we’re ready to really build this out.
Alexandra McManus 11:54
Yep. And what we did is we said, let’s do friends and family around, we got something here. And and, you know, taking friends and family is you know, it’s kind of stressful. Friends and family money, I think if you’re an entrepreneur, but we’re like, Alright, this is something real, I think we can, you know, allow people to participate. And in that process, I think we did a pitch competition in DC. And we got incredibly lucky, because at The Motley Fool, which is kind of a financial kind of services information firm was there at the competition, and they at the same time, were deciding, hey, we might want to start a venture fund. So we got just very, very lucky that they heard the pitch calm the competition. Think we won the first round, I don’t think we won the second round. But we did get an introduction from that to the Motley Fool who was kind of baiting whether they wanted to get into venture. And so they came into our friends and family round, which was great. Oh, wow.
Alexander Ferguson 12:56
Okay, just get them early on there.
Alexandra McManus 12:59
Yeah, we they came in early on. And they were able, which was very helpful to create some structure into that round early on, which is really important, and not something you’re always thinking about as an entrepreneur. Right. So we did a data room and tried to be a little bit better with our paperwork and our organization from the financial side. So they’re very, very helpful in that. And I think that set us up for success later on. And from from from that point, what was the what was the year that you pitch that one client, and
Alexander Ferguson 13:32
then how long until you did that, that rate that first friends and family.
Alexandra McManus 13:38
So 2000, mid 2015, we started the company, but we kind of started the company after we already talked to the client. So we’re like, Alright, this is good. And then I think we did the friends and family round in 2016. And then we did an internal round in 19. So we had the Motley Fool on board, we had another institutional investor. And so we’ve done that internal kind of round to again, actually clean up our share structure a little bit.
Alexander Ferguson 14:07
Gotcha. And then grow, grow from there. That one thing is, is to have the right funding. But the next thing is to have a good team to be able to execute and grow from building a team. How big is the team today?
Alexandra McManus 14:21
So I like the stat. So last year in the middle of the year, we were seven people and this year right now we’re about 17.
Alexander Ferguson 14:31
Okay, that’s great from last year for sure. Seven to 17
Alexandra McManus 14:35
Nice, nice amount of growth and just a fantastic team.
Alexander Ferguson 14:40
From those from those hires, what would you say is one of the the biggest learnings from hiring people whether it is from this venture, where your previous one that comes to your mind, maybe even people make some mistakes on how to avoid making those mistakes.
Alexandra McManus 14:58
So I think there’s a There’s a phrase that’s commonly used that’s like, hire slow fire fast. Um, we don’t follow that. But like, so I like I
Alexander Ferguson 15:12
Alexandra McManus 15:13
I like it, but we don’t do it. So we tend to hire fast. And then something I do think we need to do. And we don’t have, we haven’t had a lot of turnover, but when somebody is not a good fit the fire fast is very important. You know, we’re who’s saying that are both people, people, right. And we like our team, we like to create a family environment. So we haven’t had too many. But we have had some people in kind of strategic roles that were not good fits. And that really set us back, whether it’s from a person or even contracts you signed, right? So we had some people that we signed some big outsourcing, right? To do marketing for us, it just wasn’t a good fit. And I think we spent a long time trying to make it work, right. And that sucks up a lot of energy, right and focus when you could be doing other things, right? And then try realizing it’s not going to work and moving on
Alexander Ferguson 16:08
those initial hires, what would you say are some of the most crucial roles that you would recommend extra effort or focus or attention to, in that 10 to 10 to 20 range.
Alexandra McManus 16:21
So this is a hard thing to define on a piece of paper. But I think what’s really important on the early hires are finding people that fit the startup mentality, meaning they’re willing to come in and roll up their sleeves, do a lot of different things, which may be considered right, maybe beneath their pay grade, if you will, as well as being flexible in in kind of thought I was doing this today, we’re not doing this. Now we’re doing it this way. Right. And that is a kind of a hard personality set to find. And I think what we led with initially was finding the people that were willing to be fit that mold with us, versus necessarily finding the skill set with the exception of technology. Right? When you’re looking at kind of operational sales, marketing, you don’t have those systems set up in what you did today might change tomorrow. And I think you have to find the right flexible people. And we have people with us that were with us from the beginning. And we’ll just continue to find a role for them. Right. And what’s happens now is they know the company better than anybody else. Except for maybe, right the founders, right? So they fought with them to become really valuable down the road. Right. And they’re willing to go through those changing environments. Yeah. That said, we’re a technology company. So the other really great lucky hire we found is somebody kind of Zack Gerard to lead our technology that is also really skilled at building the technology. Very hard thing to find together. Right?
Alexander Ferguson 18:01
When did you find that? That individuals Zack,
Alexandra McManus 18:04
so we actually outsource the initial build of our software? Okay, because we were moving fast.
Alexander Ferguson 18:11
We need to make it happen.
Alexandra McManus 18:14
Yeah, we outsource that. And then as we were building that, we went and found Zack, so he came in, helped oversee that, but then he was really able to take that and take charge of the data and technology, right? So he’s, he’s on the backend side, where data company, everything about the backend is important. Right. And so then we quickly brought those talents in house. Gotcha. It was crucial that you you had that well under hand, because that is that is the core of your business. But it’s interesting as as non technical co founders, both of you to start this, it works to outsource at the beginning. But having someone fairly early on that owns it, who’s internal.
Alexander Ferguson 18:59
And how did you find exactly like, if someone’s trying to say I want to hire somebody they can take? They’re not not. They’re a non technical co founder, and they want to find, find somebody like that, what what’s a good method and to find someone like that?
Alexandra McManus 19:13
Well, we ran through networks, and I really like, and a lot of the hardware we’ve done so far is just through personal network. So it does. Hussein is he’s the son of a diplomat. And so I just look at that. And he just, he just embodies that personality trait. And I mean, everybody he’s ever worked with, is somebody he’s still connected to, right. And he’s, that has been very, very valuable. So I actually think, really, Zach came from a professor that he had when he was getting his MBA or his architecture degree that he was still in touch with how to some that had done a startup who knew Zack right. So You have to run that network and not just from the, you know, your first or second degree, but potentially like third degree of separations, right? And remember the storyline of, hey, they knew somebody, they were in the startup world, they had somebody, as you get bigger your your hiring strategy changes, but that is really the way we we started initially.
Alexander Ferguson 20:23
Gotcha. So having that core team allows you to then build the right product, the good product, you can you can build on and then to scale. You do need more customers and clients. When it comes to marketing. What have you seen is maybe some of the common mistakes that one has made? Maybe you’ve made a few that you’ve you’ve learned from that have grown and been able to go past?
Alexandra McManus 20:45
Um, yeah, yeah. I mean, I’ve learned from I don’t know what the right answer is, yeah. We’re all growing, we’re all learning. We’ve gone from the from, from the marketing standpoint, I think initially, we were kind of pigeon holed ourselves into, like trying to solve one specific problem, we have a technology that solves a lot of problems and how to explain that, right? So we’re looking to broaden out that message now. We did think, Oh, well, we don’t have the right marketing skills. So let’s go and outsource to a high level marketing company. That could be a great solution. It’s very expensive. So I think right now we find that we just hired a director of marketing, and it seems like the best thing ever, right? And probably we could have saved the money on the big marketing firms and had somebody with the expertise in house sooner, would have, I think, given us kind of gotten where we are faster?
Alexander Ferguson 21:46
And is it would you say because that they they could be more core to the technology, the product itself? Is that or is it still too soon to know the difference between an external versus internal?
Alexandra McManus 21:57
Um, I think you just you have somebody that understands the messaging, you’re trying to get out at a more intimate level and actually understands the kind of the restraints on the company when it comes to money. So and if you have somebody that’s experienced, that they know what levers to pull, right, so let’s do digital marketing, right, but let’s do it, you know, through just Google AdWords or LinkedIn, and we get ourselves out there doesn’t cost a lot of money, right? versus Do we need a fancy new, you know, video, right? Can that that can be very expensive, or can we just do little clips, right? And then also just having the their own network in the industry, right is very, very important.
Alexander Ferguson 22:41
Interesting. It’s both that that the the connections there, but it’s the frugality potentially or being able to Yeah, be scrappy with with the resources that you have. Interesting. Now for you guys? This is the large sales so sales lead. So are you still doing the the sales yourself as founders? Have you start to build a sales team? And how does that go? How’s that? Well, I
Alexandra McManus 23:06
mean, I think this is standardly true that initially, the founders right, are running the sales and the sales team. And we we do sell to a rather large clients, right. So it is a kind of enterprise sale type. Dynamic. But so now we have brought in a head of sales, right? But it’s always a chicken in the egg with startups, right? You have to have enough success to bring in the talent propel you to the next level, right? Because a lot of that initial success, right is is you kind of build with your initial team. Even from a technology standpoint, I’m a we have a great team on the technology side, right? But they have to be out we have to build the vision that we’re selling to bring in the talent to take it to the next level. I think the same thing is on the sales side, right? So now we have enough track record, we can bring in the really good sales team because they now can see how quickly this technology can move.
Alexander Ferguson 24:08
Always the chicken in the egg of when when can you happen when
Alexandra McManus 24:12
when can you switch we brought in I mean, as we brought in, I think I had to sales early. And it just it wasn’t successful. And it could have been the individual it could have been the timing, right? And so because we’re like, oh, we need sales, we need sales. But really, maybe what we needed was to build the company a little bit more to bring in a big sales
Alexander Ferguson 24:28
guy. Hmm. Powerful on knowledge that maybe only comes through experience. But that’s why it’s helpful to hear the stories because that’s what helps others be able to make for you as leader, how have you Where have you gotten your insight books, podcasts, audio books, anything that you can share that has helped you grow as a leader. Um,
Alexandra McManus 24:50
I’m a big believer that you get insight from a lot of different areas. So one is doing things in being out in the world. Right? talking to people right? It is incredible. The value of life and then just translating it back to whatever the issue is at hand on a problem set that you have at hand. podcast right now that I love is is I think it’s how I built this. Yeah. Yeah. Love, it
Alexander Ferguson 25:17
was basically a chance to see the school of hard knocks in someone else’s shoes.
Alexandra McManus 25:22
And I’ve always loved that, which is I guess why I’m doing it right the story of the startup, right. So I think I just happen to hear one in the car the other day on Kodiak cakes, which is just totally different world non technology, right pancakes, which I think we have in our cupboard anyway. And you just just a very interesting, long story right about just keeping coming back to something. And then I also did. Oh, because it’s just in the news every day right now, Robin Hood. fascinating, because I actually had no concept of right the technology and the people behind Robin Hood, I just understood it as an app. So just actually really interesting
Alexander Ferguson 26:09
to hear those stories that actually empower you and keep you you’re learning and growing in your own journey.
Alexandra McManus 26:15
Absolutely. I mean, we’ve I’ve read it, I read a fair amount of books. I love Malcolm Gladwell. He’s, he’s amazing and acceptable, or accessible and acceptable. But yes. And then I actually read, which I thought was really interesting. I don’t read as much fiction as I used to. And I really much prefer to write the business books in the nonfiction now. But I read the biggest bluff. And I can’t remember the author, it’s a it’s a woman author. And she actually went through and decided to teach herself poker, and to get a run to that kind of experienced journalism. And go, but it’s just how he was looking at the world and learning something new and how that affected and changed the way she viewed the world. So it’s, it’s just, it happens to be poker, right, which brings in all kinds of interesting psychology. But that was that was actually a fun raid.
Alexander Ferguson 27:08
Well, thank you so much. I was for both sharing of where you get your insights. But your journey itself, which is has been fascinating to hear, and you’re still on the way, there’s still lots to uncover and experience. For those that want to learn more about Eyrus, definitely go back to listen to part one of our interview, go to UpTechReport.com to able to hear that. You could also be able to check out their website Eyrus.com which is EYRUS.COM and you can give them a call to learn more about their workforce visibility tool to be able to help there. Thank you so much for the time, Alex, it’s great to have you on. Thank you. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.