The eco-friendly entrepreneur with a mail-order home vision

Bec Chapin co-founded Node to make green housing easy to buy, ship, and build

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In The Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

You’re probably used to the idea of buying an assemble-yourself dresser in a box. But what if you could buy a home that way, then sit back as three or four people snap, click, and slide it into existence?

Bec Chapin, co-founder of the Seattle startup Node, is working to make that experience a reality, and not just for the convenience of consumers, but for the health of the planet: Node buildings are sustainable, nontoxic, and energy-efficient.

“We have all the technology to make homes carbon sinks instead of carbon emitters, and we just don’t do it,” Chapin says. “Why?”

Her co-founder, Don Bunnell, approached Chapin with a similar question in early 2017. When they met, Bunnell was a serial entrepreneur who wanted to “go nuts with [housing] sustainability,” and Chapin was a construction expert with more than half a decade of experience in green building. After a few months of “co-founder dating,” the two determined they were an ideal business fit.

When they launched in November 2017, the idea was to construct modular, big-box homes offsite, then transport them to a buyer’s property. But after completing two such homes, including the one pictured, which belongs to Bunnell, they realized the approach wouldn’t easily scale.

“The problem of modular is you need big trucks, big cranes, and all these extra specialty services,” says Chapin, a member of WeWork Labs at WeWork 1411 4th Ave in Seattle. The question became, “How do we create a system that’s so simple to assemble that we could quickly train regular folks to do it? We need certified contractors to do all the groundwork, but can we do everything else? That’s what we’re focusing on now.”

Node, which recently received seed funding from Y Combinator, is currently building a mini-flatpack prototype with the help of contractors (the company has a full-time team of five), and plans to build their first full-scale version for a prototype partner in June. Here, a diary of Chapin’s recent workweek.

Monday

6:30 a.m. Wake up and go for a run on Lake Washington.

7:30 a.m. Eat breakfast and ride my bicycle to work.

8:30 a.m. Shower at WeWork and grab an espresso on the reception floor.

8:45 a.m. Quick check-in with my co-founder. Don and I make all important business decisions together, and we have amazing candor with each other. When conflict does come up, we resolve it fast.

9 a.m. Check email and fill out deck for all-hands meeting.

10:30 a.m. Prototype-development meeting. We’re building a 7-by-7-foot mini-house to mock up the connections of all the pieces. That way when we build a bigger prototype with a client—a 400-square-foot backyard cottage or a big house—we’re not out in the field like, “Oh, we thought this would work.”

11:30 a.m. Insurance call for the workshop we started renting last week. It’s 1,800 square feet of old Seattle shop space—it doesn’t have any wall windows, but it has some skylights. We’ve got a bunch of construction tools, work benches, table saws, and prototype parts.

12 p.m. Prep for all-hands and grab a bite.

1 p.m. We do an all-hands meeting every Monday. We start with appreciations, go over problems with solutions, discuss any personal rose/thorn issues, and have vertical check-ins using the OKR format (CEO, COO, sales, design, development). It takes five of us about 45 minutes, and we get to spend the last 15 minutes on whatever topic has us hooked.

One piece of news I share with the team: We got into Davis Wright Tremaine’s Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp. Whenever we get a chance to uplevel our network, I take it, because we’re in a numbers game for fundraising—and I grew up paycheck to paycheck, so my network isn’t incredibly wealthy.  

2 p.m. Weekly check-in with our San Francisco-based sales director.  

3:45 p.m. Answer questions for ModernPrefabs.com. Someone from the site emailed saying they wanted to feature us, then sent a list of Qs. My sales director answered most of them, but I go through and add extra information.

4:30 p.m. Sign legal docs for new board chair.

5 p.m. Email.

5:25 p.m. Ping sales director about hiring an intern. We decide not to move forward because they require so much management. And because of my socioeconomic background, I’m really pro paying interns. We want to help train folks, but we’re just not that company yet.

6:30 p.m. Collect survey responses for next week’s monthly leadership meeting. We’re reading The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. We’re at the chapter where you try to figure out what your zone of genius is. The idea is to make sure we’re all moving toward the stuff that we love, and that we’re actually doing our best work. In the meantime, if there’s anything we can identify in our zone of incompetence, let’s pass it off—there’s got to be someone on this team that can do it better than you.

6:45 p.m. Bike home for family dinner. Sometimes family dinner is with just my partner, sometimes it’s with my sister and dear friends. Showing up for the people who show up for me and keeping our relationships strong is superimportant.

11 p.m. Bed.

“We have all the technology to make homes carbon sinks instead of carbon emitters, and we just don’t do it,” says Chapin. “Why?”

Tuesday

6:45 a.m. Review and edit prototyping roadmap presentation for potential investors. Usually when I work before 8 a.m. it’s an issue of time—like, I ran out of minutes the day before and I need to get things done.

8 a.m. Get ready and ride motorcycle to the shop. I started riding motorcycles right after college. I don’t get to ride all the time, but every time I do, I feel like everything’s fun again: Yeah, I’m stressed out, but I’m riding a motorcycle!

9 a.m. Daily stand-up. We go over the last 24 and next 24.

9:30 a.m. Walk to investor meeting at a coffee spot. We’re in an angel round, and one challenge I’m up against is that investors don’t easily invest in hardware. In a software world, people are apprehensive about investing in real things.

11 a.m. Walk back to the shop.

11:10 a.m. Prepare prototype floor for assembly.

12 p.m. Phone call with potential hire. A former colleague who’s built a couple of sustainable communities and has amazing job experience was looking for a new gig, and I jumped on that. He was like, ‘I’m working out my exit plan on Thursday.” I’m like, “I need to talk to you before then.”

We’re largely looking for folks who are scrappy and committed to the mission, more than those who fit a specific job description because we can hire consultants for various specific tasks that have to get done.

1:10 p.m. Assemble electrical wiring mockups for prototype as well as the floor prototype. I’ve built houses and remodeled houses, so I’m really hands-on. But I look forward to the time where other people do most of this work.

6 p.m. Check in with co-founder, then clean up shop for investor visit Thursday.

7:15 p.m. Head home, check in with partner, make dinner.

11:30 p.m. Bed. Normally we put the phones away and disconnect—that way, we talk or relax without content in front of us.  

Wednesday

6:30 a.m. Check email. I also look forward to the days of having a morning routine, but it’s hard right now because there’s a lot going on.  

7:15 a.m. Run to the office. It’s more of a jog, really … or a fast, bouncy walk.

8 a.m. Shower at the office and grab coffee.

8:20 a.m. Check in with co-founder, send emails, and schedule meetings.

9 a.m. Daily stand-up.

9:30 a.m. Finalize prototype roadmap.

11 a.m. Meet with co-founder instead.

12 p.m. Lunch with founder from Techstars Sustainability, an accelerator program we did last July through October. It was an outstanding learning experience, and it was good to reconnect.

1 p.m. Judge the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington. I’m happy to pay it forward. I understand investor or adviser whiplash—where you talk to a bunch of people and they all give you opposite advice—so I’m careful about how I engage up and coming entrepreneurs. I try to ask questions: Have you found this out? What about this? Maybe then they’ll find their own answers, which is more powerful than anything I can tell them.

5 p.m. Meet with potential new hire from yesterday. He’s going to spend a day a week with us for the next few weeks and make sure he’s stoked to join.

7 p.m. Family dinner.

Node is building a prototype with the help of contractors and plans to build their first full-scale version for a prototype partner in June.

Thursday

7:30 a.m. Check email and go to the shop.

9 a.m. Daily stand-up.

9:30 a.m. Prep for investor visit and continue assembling prototype.

11 a.m. Investor visit. She seems really excited! We’re a startup getting out of concept, so I think what’s nice about the shop is that folks can see exactly where we are in the process and infer our capability.

1 p.m. Continue assembling prototype.

4 p.m. Go to woodshop to make a prototype piece. We can do all the basic cutting at our shop, but I have a membership to a woodshop with industrial-size tooling for specialty projects.

6 p.m. Send emails from home.

8 p.m. Family dinner.

Friday

6 a.m. Work on presentation for investor meetings. We’ve decided the way we’re telling our execution strategy is not helpful. We created it because potential investors wanted more detail, but we went way too detailed, so now we’ve gotta get 10,000 feet up.

9:30 a.m. Check in with co-founder.

11 a.m. Call with potential investor (rescheduled from earlier in the week).

12 p.m. Lunch with board member of Homestead Community Land Trust, which buys property in Seattle and builds houses to sell to folks who in a socioeconomic demographic. We’re interested in working with them down the road, so it’s a matter of warming up those connections.

4:30 p.m. Start shooting prototyping video so people can see our vision and how it works.

5 p.m. Clean up shop.

6:30 p.m. Date night at Equinox Studios, which is a cooperatively owned art space in Seattle. We pick out some art for the shop and our apartment, then go to dinner.

We try to do date night once a week. It matters. It’s OK to pull a super late night every so often. But not all the time. It’s going to be great to build Node and bring this vision into reality—but only if I have the people I love nearby. So I stay really clear on that.