Photography by Becca Lemire
How does a passion in animal care turn to a career in Real Estate Development? This week we’re learning from Daphne De Groot, the CO-Founder of Justo. Read about how she turned lemons into lemonade and what success means to her.
Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade?
This is very personal to me, but my father disappeared from our family picture early on in my life. Not having a father figure around to shield and support me in difficult times forced me to deal with more lemons than others might have had to at the same age. I don’t shy away from problems, and I like to take a very hands-on approach. However, the loss of a family member also inspired me to mediate conflicts, because, as I learned the hard way, when someone walks away from the table, everyone loses. So I keep myself busy and make sure to defuse tensions around me, at home or at work, by compromise and combining interests in an effort to inspire optimism and creativity in those around me.
Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.
Our office has a lot of glass and most of it is covered in notes, which are constantly evolving. Being surrounded by the evidence of our collaboration always gets me excited, but also confident that we are nurturing a productive work environment. Above all though, I value being surrounded by people I can trust. As much as I enjoy the productivity of teamwork in the office, I also value taking a step back and knowing I can rely on my team to help me make the harder decisions.
After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?
We’re still just getting started, but the last few months have felt like all the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. I’m regularly surprised at how much we learn each day, and often thankful at how flexible our team can be to adapt for each new challenge. Whether it’s coming from our customers, our employees, or our expanding partnerships, every interaction is a step further to improve the business. That constant drive to improve every angle is what builds collaboration and trust. As you know, Justo is the Latin term for fair, and we are working hard to make the real estate market a fair industry for agents and consumers alike.
How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?
You can’t create something from scratch without taking risks of course, but we like to take calculated risks, which implies a lot of horizontal testing. We test many ideas out first, and talk to the right people, before committing to a strategy. In a way, we navigate those risks so that our customers don’t have to. We’re also taking a risk in tackling the old established model, but we believe wholeheartedly that Canadians deserve better, and that we are contributing to delivering a fair and transparent real estate option; one which can provide better solutions for all that are buying a new home or selling their current home.
How do you measure success in your career?
Every entrepreneur hears, at one point or another, that success is about identifying an issue faced by many and creating a simple solution. The first part is relatively easy, and imagining the broad outlines of a solution can also be done quite fast; it’s actually building the adequate response, and most of all making it simple, accessible, which is the really hard part. Nevertheless, it’s also the achievement of that simplification which actually creates a sustainable connection to a wider audience. Success is then measuring the breadth of impact that my team’s solution can bring to an obvious problem. The scale of adoption ultimately speaks volumes.
“You can’t create something from scratch without taking risks”
You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?
Notebooks of all shapes, colors, and sizes are one of my guilty pleasures; I have so many in every corner of my home, office, car, and handbag, just to make sure that I’ll always have access to my stream of thought. Sometimes, the notebook at hand will have scribblings from no later than a year before, but it’s the process of going over notes and setting thoughts down which ultimately always helps me frame my ideas to fit the circumstance. The occasional coffee napkin just has to do the job though.
If you could attend a dinner party with 3 people of your choice - past or present - who would they be?
The Dalai Lama, my great grandparents, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Do you have a mentor? What role have they played in your success?
My mentor is probably the smartest person I know (but ask me again after my fantasy dinner party). He inspired my shift from marine biology into the business world and helped to ignite my passion for real estate. He encouraged me to follow my entrepreneurial spirit, and I wouldn’t be who I am without him.
What excites you most about your career?
Career is a big word and with all my focus on Justo, I can’t say that I’m thinking of much else these days. What’s most exciting in our current project though is a notion I’ve cherished since my days as a marine biologist: we are creating a new ecosystem in the residential real estate space, which has the potential to generate tremendous virtuous cycles, so I can safely say I am impatient to see our system grow and evolve to serve our customers and partners alike.
Remaining fresh and innovative as a business owner can be hard. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?
With so much innovation and inspiring entrepreneurs, in our current age, inspiration is all around us. I try to read as much as possible, I also truly enjoy listening to how others have solved problems, and find that sometimes the greatest ideas come from moments when you least expect them. Here again, though I find that the team you surround yourself with is the most important factor in determining a business’ ability to be relentlessly inspired.
Give us the play-by-play of your typical morning routine
My routine is pretty boring, but I work to keep it that way. I think ritual is undervalued by most, but it’s actually the mundane, repetitive bits which help me focus on the bigger issues efficiently.
In the morning I drink my coffee and make a shake for the day, then the commute to work is a big part of how I prepare my focus for the day ahead, and most importantly, I pick up my best friend and business partner Moti, on my way to the office.