With over 17 years of experience managing teams of software testers, developers, data investigators, and technical support analysts, Shane Hodgkins, founder of Matrak, is passionate about building and sustaining high-performing teams.
He has an intense love for all things AI, and has been playing with neural networks for most of his life.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Shane Hodgkins: Hello, thank you for having me! My name is Shane Hodgkins and I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Matrak. We’re a Melbourne-based startup that’s helping to revolutionise how construction supply chains work globally.
My role is to help the company grow and expand its network. Much of my day-to-day is dedicated to scaling Matrak into a successful startup that’s not only supporting hundreds but ultimately, tens of thousands of construction companies around the world.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Shane Hodgkins: I’ve been working in software development leadership for the past 18 years, which is wild for me to even comprehend – time really flies! Being CEO was something that naturally happened, it was never something I actively aspired to be one day.
When my brother (Brett Hodgkins, Chief Technology Officer at Matrak) created this amazing software solution that was starting to get a lot of traction in the construction industry, he asked me to jump on board. I said yes, as I was really excited about solving industry problems and helping construction businesses build better together, through the power of technology.
Initially, we both had other full-time jobs and were juggling launching a startup in our free time. We actually both took periods where one of us would have a full-time day job, and use those funds to pay for the other brother to work on Matrak. It was mostly happenstance that as we were closing our first funding round, Brett was working full-time and helping me pay rent, while I was closing the deal with our investors. It made sense for me to step into the role of CEO as I had great relationships with our investors and new incoming board. It’s been really exciting so far, and I’m loving the challenges the CEO role presents.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Shane Hodgkins: This is a tough one! It’s hard to pick just one person — there are so many people who have been integral to Matrak’s growth, from my brother and co-founder Brett, our family, and of course, our amazing team. I would like to give Matt Gillett a special shout out though. He was a colleague of mine who’s incredibly entrepreneurial, providing guidance and mentorship during the earliest period of us starting the business. He loved the idea of Matrak and how it could change the construction industry for the better, and he became our first investor after spontaneously offering a generous amount of money to help make our plans a reality. Matt has been an absolute pivotal supporter since day dot, and I’m very thankful for his support.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Shane Hodgkins: This is my first time being a CEO, so I was essentially experiencing all the challenges with fresh eyes. When you’re a CEO and growing a new company, you’re almost the “face” of the company and the one that people turn to for guidance when things go awry. One of the challenges faced was that when you’ve got an early company, with only a handful of customers, proving credibility can be an uphill battle.
For example, during our first funding round, one of our customers — a large construction company and our biggest customer at the time — unfortunately, went through a restructure, and axed the department that was using our software. So here we are, most of the way through the raise, it’s going great, and we lose our cornerstone customer towards the end of the funding round. This scenario was truly out of the blue. Luckily, it just so happened the procurement manager from Icon Construction signed up to use Matrak at the right time. Our positive experience working with them then created momentum, which gave investors the confidence that this is a company that can grow organically and is worth investing in.
This brings me to the second challenge, which is the importance of building relationships and working with the right people. As CEO, fostering great relationships with investors and important stakeholders is paramount in my role. In the early days, we did have one challenge due to some misalignment between one investor and the rest of the shareholders and board. Eventually, they sold out successfully, and everything turned out well for all parties. But it showed me how important it is for due diligence to run both ways, before deciding to partner with anyone in business.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Shane Hodgkins: Born out of first-hand frustrations, Matrak was created to enable visibility and create connections throughout the supply chain. More than just a materials tracking tool, Matrak connects every stakeholder on a project and helps ensure it’s delivered on schedule, so you can focus on getting the job done.
As CEO, I’m focused on growth and long-term strategy. It’s a big job with a lot of pressure, but I love it. My responsibilities day to day often vary. Some days it will be checking in with investors or our sales team, or working with the executive team to identify areas of opportunities and growth. Truly, no two days are the same!
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Shane Hodgkins: My definition of CEO is helping everyone in the team be as successful as possible. I try to remove blockers at that structural level to just make it really easy for my team to get their wins and achieve goals, no matter their role, every single day.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Shane Hodgkins: The biggest surprise was how big an impact the label can make on people, which I seriously didn’t expect. I’m used to being a team member and I never really had a lot of respect for job titles, but people give it a weight that can sometimes get in the way of close collaboration, especially with new starters. Perhaps there’s merit to that segregation between roles, as it does help the team build autonomy and really take ownership of their work, but it’s definitely something I didn’t expect when I first stepped into the role of CEO. I love getting to know everyone in the company, outside of their role and who they are as individuals.
Another surprise is how important relationship building is, especially if you’re a CEO. It’s been fascinating getting that frontline exposure to all different types of investors, each with different backgrounds and motivations. Coming from product development land, I was always so focused on problem-solving so it’s been interesting shifting my responsibilities to relationship building and growing our Matrak network.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Shane Hodgkins: In my experience, a CEO should focus on how to communicate the vision and end goal concisely. It’s something that will constantly change and improve over time, but it’s essential to be able to easily convey your product to different people, whether it’s customers, investors, or your own team. Another one is helping your team set a clear vision for a project, then getting out of their way and letting them do their thing.
For example, we launched a “Year in Review” campaign for our customers. I worked closely with the marketing team on exactly what I was thinking. And while I could have babysat them because it was an important campaign for us, I decided to be as clear as possible in conveying my vision to them, then I stepped away from the whole project. The marketing team did an amazing job and the results were out of this world, and vastly better than I honestly thought would have been physically possible.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Shane Hodgkins: I would say no longer offering a particular component of the Matrak software that had really revolutionised the product. The feature was an industry first, customers loved it and our first pilot was a huge success. But the overhead to support the feature at scale was absolutely astronomical, not to mention it was taking up a lot of our team’s time to develop. There were a lot of late nights, overtime, and constant hurdles to overcome in trying to develop this revolutionary feature.
Rather than continue at the pace we were, we made the difficult decision to work on it over a three-year program instead, releasing it in smaller but much more scalable pieces. It would have been great to have the full feature live quicker, but the overhead and effort weren’t sustainable in the long run. The positive impact of doing this was that everyone could focus on other projects and priorities, not to mention it vastly improved all of our mental health and prevented burnout. It’s always hard to postpone something that people are so excited about, but it was ultimately the right call.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Shane Hodgkins: My definition of success is being able to do whatever I can to make the biggest positive impact possible. You only live once, so I simply take steps towards being able to help more and more people over time and just do whatever you can to leave a good impact on their lives. For me, success is making the unachievable achievable and having a crack at those outlandish goals if it means the end result is helping as many people as possible. I feel like we’re doing that at Matrak, which is really exciting for me. It’s also something my brother and I have in common, which I think is why we work so well together.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Shane Hodgkins: It’s important to legitimately care about people. I like to think I’m an empathetic person, and that has always influenced my decision-making and how I interact with others. They are also incredibly important when building relationships with team members, customers, and shareholders.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Shane Hodgkins: Honestly, the team stepped up, across every part of the business, in a way that completely blew my mind. From how we conducted sales, training, product research – particularly as so many of our clients are overseas and non-English speaking, everyone came together and the results have been astounding.
From an internal perspective, our P&C Lead helped the company pivot quite quickly and efficiently towards a remote-first culture, so when lockdowns happened, everyone had guidance and comfort within their roles. We’ve been quite fortunate in that everyone at Matrak values kindness, compassion, and empathy, so each person stepped up and contributed to ways we could keep morale up. Things like cooking classes, quizzes, mental health check-ins, and more were implemented early on to foster a positive work culture, even during the lockdown and the uncertainties of the global pandemic.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Shane Hodgkins: If you’re starting out, give yourself a strong idea of what an absolutely perfect person in that role would look like – how they would talk, interact and conduct themselves. Then try to compare yourself to that ideal vision so you can identify areas where you can improve to be a better CEO as you grow into the role. I am a long way away from that ideal role and make mistakes all the time, but being able to compare my performance to where I’d like to be, and being consistent about setting that high standard, really helps.
Another piece of advice, and it’s a difficult one to say, but a CEO has to be the highest example of the type of culture and values that you’re building in the company. Everyone has good days and bad days, but in this particular role, it’s not an excuse to behave below the standards you set just because you’re having a bad day. In this role, there are no excuses. You have to live the culture you want to see, every minute of every day. It’s impossible as we’re all human, but you have to seriously strive to perform at that level. This is part of what I find so exciting and challenging about it because it keeps pushing me to achieve more for the team. I really think it’s a fundamental responsibility of the role, and if you’re not comfortable holding yourself to those standards, then I think you should be finding another job
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Shane Hodgkins: I wish I was bi-lingual! We have a growing number of China-based customers, and I would love to communicate with them in Chinese properly. I’m learning (very slowly), but I’m still far away from being fluent.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Shane Hodgkins: ‘Yet Another White Guy Talks About Himself’
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Shane Hodgkins for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Shane Hodgkins or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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