Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making sure the world is safe and equitable! Today I’m excited to cruise around with Justin Henceroth, co-founder and CEO of Zite, a unique digital field monitoring tool! Let’s see what’s being done!
Spiffy: Welcome, Justin! Can you break it down for us? What challenges are you addressing?
Justin: Absolutely, Spiffy! When companies, governments, and organizations implement field projects — such as building solar panels on the roofs of schools, installing irrigation canals, or building local retail stores — they often struggle to get good information about what is happening on all of their sites. A lack of information not only makes management difficult, but it prevents managers and teams from catching and fixing issues. This can lead to poor quality infrastructure, cost over-runs, and serious safety concerns.
Spiffy: That’s not good at all! What motivated you to focus on a digital platform for field project management?
Justin: My co-founders and I met in Nepal while working to support the reconstruction efforts after the 2015 earthquakes. Those earthquakes were particularly devastating with regards to their impacts on the built environment. Over one million structures collapsed, including 800,000 houses, 30,000 classrooms, and thousands of medical facilities. Action reports showed that 85% of this failure could be attributed to poor infrastructure quality — almost all of which was a direct result of failure to comply with building codes, follow standard construction procedures or conduct proper maintenance.
Spiffy: Wow, these were preventable? How do you think Zite will make sure that doesn’t happen again? How are you helping to create a more equitable world?
Justin: With Zite, we are building a project site monitoring and management platform that will help any organization — whether it is a private company, government agency, or non-profit — to monitor and manage all of their field sites. We are focusing on helping improve the quality of projects that our clients deliver. Higher quality projects (and better infrastructure) are the core of any sustainable, more equitable future. Better schools improve learning, well-built factories and warehouses fuel manufacturing and growth, and climate-resilient transportation and energy networks will help us withstand the effects of climate change. Better infrastructure is the basis for sustainable and equitable development. That's what we're helping deliver.
Zite's mobile app helps on-site teams collect and report information about field operations and project status. (Image courtesy of Justin Henceroth)
Spiffy: That’s exciting! I’d love to know if Zite has reached any milestones recently!
Justin: You're talking to us at a really exciting time! Over the next month, we will be deploying Zite on two field projects — one is to monitor the environmental and social impacts of a new aqueduct network, the other is to monitor in-camp operations in a refugee camp serving about one million people. Both projects are with large international organizations. We are utilizing Zite to help them monitor the quality and delivery of their work, and help make adjustments to their field processes to better support social and environmental outcomes.
Spiffy: Congrats! I can see the potential already! I am always curious about failure — have you ever faced failure, but didn't give up?
Justin: Actually, Spiffy, we have had a very hard time getting the final structure of our deployment finalized with one of our customers. Our client is very committed to social and environmental outcomes, and we successfully pitched them on our ability to help improve outcomes on those metrics. However, when we put together a deployment plan, we focused mostly on process elements (who to work with, who approves, etc.), and did not reference their social and environmental goals. As a result, many on their team who were starting to engage, pushed back, saying this was an added tool with no benefit — a waste of time. It was a good reminder that what our clients care about is not necessarily the tool, the app, or even our process, but the change we are helping them deliver.
Spiffy: That sounds like the right kind of pivot, Justin. I’m curious if you’ve learned something interesting from anyone recently.
Justin: The other day, I was having lunch with a friend who works for one of Southeast Asia's largest corporations, and she was talking about how they manage — or in many cases struggle to manage — operations at 11,000 retail storefronts. She described her issues — lack of visibility, limited people, data that doesn't answer her questions — and it was exactly the complaints our users in public-sector and non-profit organizations experience. Her company, like many well-intentioned non-profits, had the same core challenges — building and managing better infrastructure as the foundation for achieving other goals. We are in the process of planning a pilot project and seeing how our tools might have corporate applications.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Justin: Well, Spiffy, one of the things that makes us successful is our founding team. My two co-founders bring different, critical perspectives, allowing us to be more creative, flexible, and adaptable. Nikita Rajbhandari, who is Nepali, is a social worker by training. She possesses a critical skill set that helps her support digital transformation projects, she understands what people need, and she can target support to help them achieve that. Arun Bhandari, who is also from Nepal, is a geomatics engineer. He has been critical in helping us structure a tool that delivers insights at the scale of a single site or a whole network. Working together, we often see multiple sides of a problem, which is critical not only for building better tools but also for understanding our clients' needs.
Spiffy: It takes all types of minds and perspectives to succeed, doesn’t it Justin? I can’t wait to see how far your team at Zite goes. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been an honor!
Justin Henceroth is the co-founder and CEO of Zite. Justin started his career in Colorado in environmental policy by helping to craft regulations around resource management and climate change. He moved to Bangkok, Thailand in 2012 as a Luce Scholar, where he worked on urban climate change planning projects. In 2016, he started working in Nepal to use tech to support disaster reconstruction, eventually serving as the Innovation Manager for a UN agency. He holds degrees in biology and urban design. (Nominated by True Digital Park)
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog