Panelist Spotlight: Jean Brownhill, Sweeten

Our next featured panelist for our Changing the Conversation spotlight series is Jean Brownhill, Founder and CEO of Sweeten. She gives great insight into the challenges of an evolving company, advice she wished her younger self would have known, and the importance of having allies and champions in your corner. To hear more about Jean's journey, join us this Thursday on October 26th at 6:30pm for our event, Sponsors: How to Find and Manage This Essential Relationship

Jean Brownhill, Sweeten

Jean Brownhill, Sweeten

Describe a challenge that you’ve overcome in your career.

Sweeten's first round of growth and fundraising was a really exciting time -- we had new partners on board and we were so ready to get moving with our mission to help people find great general contractors for renovation projects. Over the course of just a few months, we doubled in size—twice. This was exactly what we'd planned for, but I missed one key piece in helping our team evolve: the excitement of new funding and growth can mask a loss that people often feel during transitions.

Growth and change shouldn’t be surprising to anyone—it might even be part of what attracted our employees in the first place. But our scrappy little team of six was used to hustling in a small open office, sitting elbow to elbow. We all wanted more space and more help; achieving that meant we were also losing some of the things that made coming to work every day fun and interesting. It was no longer possible to overhear every conversation, email traffic tripled overnight, new management structures formed, and it wasn’t feasible for the entire team to spontaneously go out for lunch together. 

These were all signs of good changes, but some of our employees felt a loss as something new replaced what was familiar. To mediate, we talked about what was changing and what we might be inadvertently losing, we scheduled weekly team lunches to keep people connected, we planned regular field trips and a volunteer day to explore new places together, and we tried out a few different feedback loops (open invitations to meet, anonymous feedback tools) to stay more connected. These efforts didn’t slow change, but they helped us articulate what was important about our core team so that we could preserve those values.

What’s a piece of advice you wish you could give your former self?

I've been thinking a lot about how it's possible to overwork a painting. It's so important to have big dreams—HUGE dreams! But you can overwork an idea or burn yourself out if you are over-delivering at every milestone along the way. When I look back on much of the hard work in my career, I see places where 80% might have been enough. You can undo the good idea altogether and you can really lose the joy in getting there if you hold yourself to exacting standards at every turn. I wish I could tell my former self to do the sketch instead of the technical drawing sometimes, because that might have been enough at certain points in the journey.

What’s one way that being or having a sponsor/champion/mentor has improved your company’s performance?

It’s so important to have people in your corner. I tend to find that those people fall into two categories: allies and champions. Allies are in your corner generally because you have shared goals or benefits, or maybe even because you'd both suffer if a shared goal fails. Allies can be helpful thought partners and connectors and cheerleaders. Champions, on the other hand, have no stake in your game. They're in your corner simply because they believe in you and your idea, and they are driven by a genuine desire for you to succeed. Sweeten's champions have lent their time and expertise to me and my team because they think we can do what we're working to do. It's important to have all of these people in your corner, but distinguishing between allies and champions can help you invest in the relationships you care most about building.