Anthro-Tech founder Suzanne Boyd recently sat down with members of the University of Washington’s Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship to share the story of starting her company. She discussed A‑T’s mission and inception 20 years ago as a one-person operation, how she’s working to grow the business, and her goals for the company in the upcoming decade.
Watch the full discussion above, or read the conversation highlights below.
VIBE: Why don't we go ahead and start off with your genesis story. Why did you decide to do this and how did it end up happening?
SUZANNE: I feel like being an entrepreneur is in my blood. It was always the path for me. I'm the daughter of parents that started and grew many businesses. Their parents did. I watched them pursue their passion and be successful at it, and it created a way of life for me and my siblings.
I feel like being an entrepreneur is in my blood.
I saw, from an early age, the opportunities that being an entrepreneur offered and how exciting it is to pursue your passion. I had a real job at a public relations company, and I while it was a great company, I was really dissatisfied with my inability to make an impact. I felt more like a cog in a wheel than being able to directly drive an impact that I wanted to make in my life. I think that's probably one of the reasons why I also wanted to pursue being an entrepreneur: having a direct impact with where I put my talent and my time.
And then the third reason, I think, is why not? I mean it just seemed like all I needed was my brain and my relationships and a computer to start something, and if it doesn't work out I could always get a job.
VIBE: What was it like when you first started landing customers?
SUZANNE: I was working at this PR firm I mentioned and had made a decision that I wanted to transition while I was in graduate school. I don't know why anyone quits their job while they have tuition to pay, but I did.
I talked to my boss and said, “You know, this is a transition I want to make, this is the right thing for me.” He was very supportive, and as word got out that I was leaving that company, one of the clients that I was working said, “Suzanne we really want to continue to work with you,” and I discussed that with my boss. He was supportive, so I started my business with a client in hand, which was a great place to be.
We were living as I mentioned in a duplex. We had a spare bedroom, and there wasn't enough space to both have a bed and a desk at the same time, so my husband built me a loft bed. For the first two years, I spent time under this loft bed, and I couldn't actually, you know, stand up under it. The first years were balancing studying and getting my master's degree with starting to build up my company.
Most of the work I did at the time was website design and web development. As I was studying, I realized that two of my loves started to collide. I have a background in anthropology. I really love studying people and cultures, and then in graduate school I was exposed to technology, and the two came together. I realized that if I can study human behavior and what people need and use that knowledge to inform and to make technologies more usable, more useful, more impactful, to improve people's lives. That's when the name Anthro-Tech really came about.
We pride ourselves not just in coming in and fixing a product but also teaching the organization to become more customer-centric. It's a new way of making decisions for a lot of government agencies.
After I graduated, I had many mentors, both professors who put me in a way of some awesome opportunities, and one of those opportunities was doing a project for a state agency – Department of Labor and Industries. They wanted to understand why it is that small-business owners don't use or act on safety and health regulations in the State of Washington. Perfect project for me. First project with a state agency. We went around and visited all these entrepreneurs to understand their way of life and also to understand why weren't they using these safety and health regulation. With that knowledge, we completely re-architected the rules, plain-talked them so that small businesses could understand them, and put them into action in the workplace. That was one of that agency's first forays into listening to their customers and acting on what they were learning to make something more usable and useful.