Kryshon Bratton has embraced — and driven — change both in life and in business. Learn how the Houston pool-builder harnessed a keen eye for opportunity and used the entrepreneurial “pivot” to stoke growth and create the work-life balance she wants.
KRYSHON: It’s a better lifestyle choice and we get better financial benefit.
COLLEEN: (as music plays lightly in background) Welcome to The Story Exchange, featuring the stories and strategies of entrepreneurial women around the world. I’m Colleen DeBaise.
SUE: And I’m Sue Williams.
COLLEEN: Today we are talking about change. Most people are resistant to it.
SUE: But one group of people tends to embrace it: Entrepreneurs.
COLLEEN: In the startup world, change is so common that it’s known by its own buzzword: Pivot.
SUE: It simply means, adjusting your business strategy.
COLLEEN: Or in the case of Kryshon Bratton, it means finding an entirely new direction for one’s company. She now runs Bratton Pools of Houston, Texas.
KRYSHON: Bratton Pools is a pool builder, renovator, re-plasterer. We also are building outdoor kitchens and pavilions.
COLLEEN: But before Kryshon and husband Michael were building pools, they were running a related but very different business.
KRYSHON: Avant-Garde Aquatics, which was a lifeguarding company. I was in charge of all 500-plus teenagers.
COLLEEN: Now, switching from guarding the pools to building the pools is quite the pivot.
SUE: But it’s certainly paid off: She’s now making $2 million dollars in revenue a year. And spending a lot more time with her family, which is what motivated her in the first place.
COLLEEN: We were fascinated by this concept of “radical change” -- and the types of people who can do it -- so we headed down south to Houston, the Space City, to talk with Kryshon. If you go to our website, TheStoryExchange.org, you can watch a video we produced, telling Kryshon’s complete story. Today, we’re going to share snippets of that conversation.
SUE: If you’re stuck in a rut, or looking to switch to Plan B, or simply hoping to evolve, then this is a podcast for you.
COLLEEN: Change is difficult for a lot of people. So we wanted to first look at Kryshon’s background.
KRYSHON: I was born and raised in Houston, Texas.
COLLEEN: Kryshon’s mom is all-Texan. But her father is originally from New Delhi, India.
KRYSHON: The origin of my name is it’s Hindu. It means “of God.” My sisters and I all have Indian first names. I’m the only Kryshon anyone has ever met.
COLLEEN: Change has always been a part of her life. Her parents divorced when she was 7.
KRYSHON: And it did get rough because they lost their home, we lost the cars, and my mom all of a sudden became a single mother with three children all under the age of ten.
COLLEEN: At one point, her mother was working three jobs to support Kryshon and her sisters.
KRYSHON: … a very transient childhood, we lived in -- with friends, with family, sometimes we spent time in the car, sometimes, you know, in the car but in someone’s driveway.
COLLEEN: Kryshon thinks all this -- including being homeless for a short while -- has made her the type of person she is, which is fearless.
KRYSHON: We’ve achieved a lot, you know, overcome a lot, “never give up” attitude in life.
COLLEEN: Kryshon paid her way through college at the University of Houston by selling cars, and at 21, she married Michael Bratton, who had a lifeguarding business.
KRYSHON: He provided the lifeguards and the maintenance services for community associations, neighborhood country clubs, people who use lifeguards at their swimming pools during the summer.
COLLEEN: Five years later, while pregnant with their second daughter and working long hours with her husband, she saw an opportunity to better her family’s situation.
KRYSHON: And so Mother’s Day…I’m at a pool, I’m dealing with other people, and it kind of hit me that I wasn’t with my own child, and even that still, not even with Michael. Just, you know, we’re going in a different direction at a million miles an hour.
COLLEEN: And that’s when she decided that a pivot was in order.
KRYSHON: Having a lifeguarding company, at least the way we did it, was all encompassing. It’s pretty much a cattle call. You put up signs, you send somebody to the local high school, “If you want to be a lifeguard, show up at this date.”
COLLEEN: Instead of dealing with hundreds of teenagers in greater metropolitan Houston, Kryshon wanted to deal with dozens of adult homeowners in a few select neighborhoods, repairing and maintaining their pools.
KRYSHON: I talked to Michael, and mentioned it a few times, and he was very resistant.
COLLEEN: Like we said earlier, not everybody likes change. But Kryshon was insistent.
KRYSHON: And then one day he came home and I said, “Well, I’ve talked to the attorneys, I’ve talked to the accountant and I’ve already signed the paperwork.” And he hadn’t even walked in the door really, and thankfully he bought in and he said OK.
COLLEEN: We’ve been sharing the story of Kryshon Bratton, who decided to embark on a major business pivot when she up and restructured the family business. I’m being joined again by Sue Williams, our resident filmmaker, who spent a day in Houston, shooting our video profile.
SUE: We were all over the Houston area that day and spent a lot of time in the car driving from one worksite to another.
COLLEEN: Yes. Houston is massive and sprawling, isn’t it?
SUE: Yes, it took nearly an hour to get to each appointment. But Kryshon loves and really identifies with her city. She says it’s very multi-cultural, that there is room for everyone no matter where they may come from. And she especially loves the Richmond area where her office is -- when we were there it was still in a doublewide trailer surrounded by fields on the edge of town. But they were just about to move into the center of town -- across from the courthouse and the local museum. And being as family-oriented and community-minded as she is, it really suits her.
COLLEEN: What’s interesting is that she decided to pivot not because the business was in trouble, or it was losing customers, but really because she wanted more time with family.
SUE: Yes. And a big problem with the lifeguarding business is what I was just saying -- that Houston is so huge -- and that Kryshon and Michael were spending most of their time in the car.
KRYSHON: Instead of having 50, 60 pools all over the city of Houston we can now build pools in Katy, and in Sugar Land, Richmond, Rosenberg…our circle is a lot smaller. That’s where the shift changes for us, and why there’s a benefit.
SUE: And of course, transitioning to a pool-services company made a lot of sense, as they were already somewhat familiar with pool maintenance, but Kryshon was surprised at what happened after they launched Bratton Pools.
KRYSHON: We didn’t start out with the idea that we were going to build pools. We, uh, had a friend who said, “I want to have a pool but I don’t want anybody else building it for me. Will you do it?” And we did and from there we, uh, did their pool in 2009, and then the next year we did two more, and the next year we did four more, and the next year we did this.
SUE: Kryshon spread the word using social media…
KRYSHON: We’re on Facebook. And we would take pictures of the start, which is the excavation and the stub out and, you know, the homeowners, they’re Facebooking…and the next thing you know their friends are calling and saying, “Can you build a pool for us?”
SUE: They’re currently focusing on renovation.
KRYSHON: We put in spas where there weren’t spas. We put in outdoor kitchens where there weren’t outdoor kitchens. The profitability isn’t all in the building a new swimming pool. You can have better profit margins in a renovation.
SUE: It’s really a fascinating industry.
COLLEEN: It is…so different! What is Kryshon like in person?
SUE: She’s a go-getter, that’s for sure, but she doesn’t feel as intense and driven as some of the women entrepreneurs I’ve spent time with. She’s calm and practical and this is a practical business. It’s construction and she understands the cement, the tiles, the pools, hot tubs, decks and awnings. And so I think she can see quite clearly the possibilities for expansion and opportunity.
COLLEEN: Inspired by the success of the pivot, Kryshon has started another business.
KRYSHON: We started to work with permeable on the side yards or the offshoots of the pool itself. And that kind of grew away from swimming pools and into driveways and parking lots.
SOT: It’s a little windy so far.
-Right, we’re just going to have to make it work.
-Once we get the fabric down then we’ll, uh, start laying the grid.
KRYSHON: We all at one point have dealt with flooding in Houston and it’s never a question of “if.” It’s always a question of “when.” Permeable, uh, allows for proper drainage. So whenever you have concrete water goes everywhere, but with permeable it’s all going back into the ground. So it’s cleaner. It’s environmentally friendly.
COLLEEN: Last year, Kryshon started Piper Whitney -- named after her two daughters -- to build walkways, parking lots and drivable lawns. And while it might sound boring -- it just might be her most ambitious project yet.
KRYSHON: We’re sending more and more bids and estimates to Austin. We’re sending more and more to San
Antonio because those are cities that experiencing a huge growth. Well, growth is fabulous. I love growth.
COLLEEN: She’s on her way: Piper Whitney brought in about $500,000 dollars in revenue in its first year, and Kryshon expects the business to reach over $1 million in 2017.
KRYSHON: I would love to be doing double what we’re doing now for Piper Whitney, and doing it in different cities.
COLLEEN: Kryshon acknowledges that her drive to succeed may have something to do with her difficult childhood…but now, she says her motivation comes from a different place.
KRYSHON: My goal personally is to get to a point where I can tell my parents and Michael’s mom: “We’ll take care of you. Don’t worry about it.” But to get there it’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s going to take a lot of hard work.
COLLEEN: And like many entrepreneurs, she’s pleased to be building something bigger than herself. She’s thrilled that Piper Whitney is eco-friendly.
KRYSHON: I just love the fact that it’s green. I love the fact that it’s responsible, and this is my city. This is my town. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I’m creating something and it may be a parking lot, and it may just be a sidewalk, but I created something that’s going to last and it’s going to have value.
COLLEEN: Join us next time to hear more stories about innovative and inspirational women doing the things you’d never dream of. Or…maybe you would. This has been The Story Exchange. If you liked this podcast, please post a review on iTunes. It helps other people find the show. And visit our website at TheStoryExchange.org, where you’ll find news, videos and tips for women entrepreneurs. Sound editing provided by Nusha Balyan. Interview recorded by Sam Shinn. Executive producers are Sue Williams and Victoria Wang.