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Optimal Efficiency founder Karine Samson was told ‘it’s too dangerous for a woman’

Karine Samson was made project manager at the age of 24, the young person to manage a project at the company she was working for.

Working in the Arctic and later Fort McMurray as a young engineer, Karine Samson, 30, repeatedly witnessed costly errors on construction projects. She founded Optimal Efficiency to create a solution, recruiting experts from companies such as SNC Lavalin, Boeing and Microsoft. The team has released the first two modules of a software suite for management of projects in the construction, mining and oil and gas industries. Born in Beaumont, Que., now based in Vancouver, Ms. Samson graduated from Laval University and started her career with Construction Gély.

My first project was in Salluit [an Inuit community in Northern Quebec] and it was in the middle of nowhere. We were building a runway and some roads in the community.

Before I went to the Arctic, my friends told me, “Don’t go there, it’s too dangerous for a woman.” And when I got there, I was told that women belong in the kitchen. But six months after that project was completed, I was made a project manager [at the age of 24]. I was the youngest person to manage a project for the company I was working for.

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After I graduated, my goal was to acquire as much experience as possible in a five-year period. I spent 2½ years on projects in remote areas, and then moved to Fort McMurray so that I could learn English. I worked as a project engineer on a $350-million project in the oil sands.

I realized that the same inefficiencies were in a major project, as there are in small-to-medium projects. Because there is an absence of real-time collaboration, people are not on the same page, and that affects other components of the projects. For example, in one case a general contractor did not get updated drawings and built according to the original design. When the mistake was discovered, it all had to be redone. It’s so inefficient to have everything paper-based.

The human brain isn’t wired to see in three dimensions. Moving to a digital platform makes it easier to see conflicts as they develop. It enables us to be pro-active. We don’t just eliminate the paper; we eliminate the old way of thinking.

We began to develop the software in 2014. I’m not a software engineer, but I know how the workflow should be. I recruited a strong team on the technical side. For them, there is nothing impossible. I described the concept, and they make it way better. We have a very diversified team with incredible talent.

Creating a startup company is a lot like starting a construction project. You start with nothing – just an idea. The requirements are not defined upfront. You have your whole vision, and the timelines are very aggressive. I see a startup as sort of the same way. A lot of things have to happen in parallel, and you have to delegate to the experts.

All of my management team are way smarter than me in their own areas. Regardless of the setbacks, we will always find a solution.

You have to put your ego to the side. I encourage thoughtful disagreements. It’s all based on respect.

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In hiring, sometimes you find great people with good résumés aren’t a good fit for an organization. I have learned to read the résumés a bit more carefully. I look at not just the credentials, but the attitude. I also introduce them to other members of the team and see how they interact. If there’s someone who hasn’t worked out, it’s my mistake. I also learned that the best people are not on the market. I look on LinkedIn for the people who aren’t looking for a job.

I’m married to Optimal Efficiency. I’m working a lot. The only downtime I take is when I have to. We are building an empire and we are all committed to this. Some people criticize me, they say I’m too obsessed with the company. Our goal is to become the world leader in project-management software.

Since a young age, I have always been looking for challenges. I knew an engineering degree would open doors. I was not born with a golden spoon in my mouth. I financed my own education and I bought my own house while I was in university.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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