Work For “The Man” Until You Know What You Need To Do On Your Own, A Founder’s Story with Whitney Hill
Whitney Hill is the co-founder and CEO of SnapADU, an accessory dwelling unit (ADU, guest house, granny flat, casita) construction company serving San Diego. SnapADU has become the leading builder of ADUs in San Diego as part of a broader shift in how California is thinking about generating affordable housing. The company designs, permits, and builds 50 ADUs a year and has $15M in revenue. Whitney also has a decade of experience working as a management consultant at Bain & Company specializing in supply chain and as an operations manager for industrial supply distributor McMaster-Carr.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up
I grew up in a small town in the middle of Kansas. Sports were a huge deal to most people, but I was the nerd participating in debate and math contests. Under an incredible high school debate & forensics coach, I had success competing at a national level and was encouraged to apply to highly selective schools. Coming from a rural area, I had a somewhat unusual background that stood out enough to get into several ivy league schools. My parents were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to live a life with no regrets. So I left the Midwest for Yale and have lived on the coasts ever since.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Throughout college and the first ten years of my career, I always fostered an interest in running my own business but had no idea what it would be. So without a specific plan, I set out to develop skills in general management and accepted a job at an industrial supply company. During that time I pursued an MBA, which allowed me to pivot to management consulting at Bain & Company. Again on a generalist path, I thought seeing how many businesses worked might spark my calling. Outside of work, I started educating myself on different opportunities in real estate investing and ultimately left to pursue real estate development on my own. In the first several years I tried many paths, a few of which crashed and burned. But in the process, I developed a deeper understanding of residential construction that I was able to use to jump on an opportunity to co-found SnapADU.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
My piece of advice to founders and small business owners is to become exceptional at delivering your core product or service offering. Keep refining that core until it is narrowly defined and you can knock it out of the park for that niche. This will allow you to build credibility more quickly, establishing a foundation from which you can thoughtfully expand. Being a business owner means you must be capable of saying no so that you can focus on your core — both your core product and your core role in the company. You will encounter many opportunities that could become a distraction from your mission to deliver. Be ruthless in your prioritization to ensure you aren’t spread too thin.