From Axe Throwing to Automotive Tech Startup: NuBrakes' Catherine Hennessy Shares Her Adventures Into the Unknown

As part of our "Building the Future of Car Care" series, NuBrakes’ Senior Support Manager, Catherine Hennessy, talks about life at a rapidly growing startup, leading in a male-dominated field, and the incalculable benefits of embracing the unknown.

On taking risks

I am always interested in learning and doing new things. Before NuBrakes, I was managing an axe throwing bar. I had moved to Cincinnati, OH, for the role (which I loved) but was homesick and wanted to be back in Texas. It was quite serendipitous, really. I had just started looking when Jake in marketing reached out to me. We went to college together, and had also worked together previously at Lawn Starter. I love the startup environment. Full of challenges. Constant change. Growth opportunities. Right away I was interested, and he kinda sold me on it. 

Since there was no support function when I started, I basically had to come in, learn the business, build the support team from the ground up, and figure out the tools we needed to do our jobs well. I also had to earn the trust of the technicians. It was daunting, but also exciting. I was like, I guess I’ll just have to figure this out as I go. 

For me, it was about being open to pushing the self-doubt aside and saying I can do this, even knowing I was not going to have the answers to everything.

A definite up was making my first hire. It was a huge relief just getting some help. I brought on two additional team members a few weeks later. Now, each of them has moved up into different roles. It’s been great seeing their hard work pay off and being able to reward them for their efforts.

The longer I’ve been a manager, the more I realize that my job is really to help my team reach their goals. When you help people grow in their career, it’s a great feeling, and it ultimately benefits everyone. 

On the ups and downs of working in a startup

Coming on board during the pandemic, right around the time that everybody got their stimulus checks, we got insanely busy and weren’t quite prepared for it. It was a positive time for the company, but in support, we were overwhelmed. 

Support in general is sometimes a thankless role. Our job is to solve problems all day, every day. We support both customers and technicians, and we are often bouncing around between platforms, so you have to be able to adapt to new technologies quickly. It can be stressful. It can be exhausting. And you just really have to stay focused on what we’re here for, which is to provide an excellent customer experience. 

When you have a tough interaction, sometimes you just need to vent it out. Something I tell my team is, you can always come to me. And if you get off of a challenging call, it's okay to take a break. Step outside, clear your head, and let it go. Working in customer service, you’re constantly giving to other people and dealing with a lot of emotions. So it’s important to make sure you take time for yourself. 

One thing I love about NuBrakes is the trust. I work from home. I work very very independently. I have bosses, but I’m not constantly being managed in terms of what are you doing and what are you working on. And on the flip side of that, there’s accountability as well. We have very open and honest feedback with one another And if there’s an issue, we communicate and work through it. Walker as the CEO really instills those values in us.

When you join a startup and hear things like “unlimited vacation,” you’re like, how can that be real? But everyone trusts each other to get the work done, and then when you need a break, you can take it, no questions asked. 

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On being a woman in an industry dominated by men

I mean, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. I used to think going into an interaction that someone might question my capabilities, but ultimately, no one ever has. Still, I want to be as knowledgable as I can be, so that there’s no question in anyone’s mind. There are no negative feelings about it. If anything, it kind of pushes me to change that - to seek out more women and bring them in, since there’s no reason this needs to be a male-dominated industry.

Something that I love about NuBrakes is how forward thinking they are. Walker, our CEO, has reached out to me to have conversations about it. I feel blessed to work for a company that is doing everything they can to create a diverse work environment. The day that we have a female technician, I think we should have a huge celebration.

On being intentional with your own development

I think growth is really about putting yourself in a position where you’re very comfortable with giving and receiving feedback. I think a younger version of me would hear some sort of critical feedback and immediately be defensive, but I’ve realized the importance of taking that feedback and understanding what others see. 

Something I’ve learned is to never be afraid to ask for help. I use my teammates, my managers, to help me anytime I’m stuck on something. Being honest about times that I’m stuck, and being able to admit that and ask for help, is what allows me to tap into the expertise of others on my team who can be a part of the solution.

On lessons learned in leadership 

Something I’ve learned in managing people that everybody learns at their own pace. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to management, and you have to take the time to get to know your employees. Empathy is also important, understanding that everyone’s a human being and people go through rough patches. There may be moments when you think people are slacking, but actually they’re just going through something difficult, and if you take some time to dig into that and work with them through, they’re going to come back 10 times stronger, because they see that you care. Obviously performance is important, and I do make that a priority, but I always want to mange people in a way that is respectful of their humanity.

I remember the first time I had to give tough feedback. I at first wanted to tiptoe around it, but at the time, my boss was really helpful in just working with me through that, and she also taught me to look at it in a way that, ultimately, the goal is to help this person. If they don’t want to accept your feedback and try to improve, that’s on them, not on you. If you look at it from the standpoint of you’re being helpful, it gets a lot easier. 

Parting thoughts

I love working for NuBrakes. It has been an amazing experience and opportunity for me. I feel that we’re on the verge of something really amazing, and I would encourage anyone (especially women!) to jump on board and be a part of it. 

We’re a team that’s growing exponentially at this point. If you come here looking to grow, and are willing to put in the work, you’re going to go places.

Check out current career opportunities with NuBrakes, and come help us build the future of car care.

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