How I Made It

Emily Bitze, Community Founder

FLARE #HowIMadeIt celebrates 100+ talented, ambitious and driven Canadian women with cool jobs. Want what Emily has? Here’s how she did it

How I Made It community builders: Emily Bitze smiles in front of a house plant

Emily Bitze; Toronto

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

I am the founder of a community called Bunz. It’s mobile app and website based on the idea of barter; you can trade things you no longer want for things you need. I work on creating content, branding, art direction, social media, community management and product testing and planning with my team.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Lasalle College in Montréal and studied fashion design.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

Out of college, I felt pretty lost. I had become disinterested with working in the fashion industry; my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.

Through a friend, I landed a job in the customer service department of a company that marketed and sold male enhancement products. I would also play records at some local bars in Montréal a few nights a week.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

Moving to Toronto in 2011 was a rude awakening. I had trouble finding work, the cost of living was high and I couldn’t pay my bills, let alone save any money or eat well. Although I had an amazing group of friends and was part of a great community, I was broke and frustrated that I could barely keep my head above water financially. I started Bunz as a secret group on Facebook and invited some friends to trade things we didn’t need for things we did. It made sense to me considering nearly everyone I knew was also struggling financially and I was constantly annoyed by the amount of items I’d see thrown in the trash that still had a lot of life left in them. It made sense economically and environmentally.

By the following year, the group’s popularity had surged. Almost everyone in my neighbourhood was using Bunz to furnish their apartments, de-clutter or get consumables like groceries or freshly cooked meals. In 2015 I teamed up with an amazing group of people to develop the concept into an app. That’s when Bunz as we now know it began to form and gain serious momentum. I realized Bunz had become something that was much larger than I ever envisioned and that it had the potential to be a tool that could help a lot of people beyond my own local community.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

I’m not sure I have reached that realization! Everyday is a learning experience and I never let myself get comfortable with “success.” There is always room for improvement and there are still so much more we want to do with Bunz! I am really proud of the community and its success this far.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back? 

I think my biggest shortcoming is letting anxiety get the best of me and letting it affect my confidence. I would often second-guess my decisions because I was afraid. I’m gradually learning to trust my instincts and to advocate for what I think is best for Bunz.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Always trust your gut instinct and don’t let failures get the best of you. You need your failures whether you like it or not. Build a team with people you trust and treat them with respect. Be a good listener. If you have an idea that you want to try, talk to somebody about it. Give it legs, let yourself imagine how it would work. The first step is allowing your idea to live and treating it with respect.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

That you need a university degree to be successful. That you have to “fit in” to be taken seriously. That you can’t do something your own way or differently to succeed. You don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done to build on a good idea.

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they? 

I have dealt with barriers and continue to. Like most working women, I often have to work twice as hard to make sure my ideas are being heard and taken seriously. I’ve been in meetings wherein a man will ask me a question and then immediately turn to my male colleague beside me for the answer. I’ve been told to be more assertive, and then called a bitch for doing so.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it

I am making a fair income. This is the first time in my life I am able to pay my rent, my bills, buy groceries and start to save a little. I guess you could say my side hustle before Bunz was drawing and doing freelance art work, but because of time constraints I just do it now when I can. I had started doing some t-shirt designs and had sold some at my friend’s shop. I have always wanted to start my own t-shirt line as a side project.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

That we’re lazy. I think we’re the opposite. we are driven, ambitious and have a desire to grow. We want to learn from others and also have a fresh perspective and outlook.

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