Q&A With Francesca Brady, CEO and co-founder of AirRated
Metrikus Meets is a series where we talk with some of the brightest minds about the future of work, IoT, the built environment... and most importantly, themselves! We want to get to know the person behind the ideas.
Francesca Brady is best known for being CEO and co-founder of AirRated – the international indoor air quality certification. Since the company’s launch in 2020, Francesca has been on a mission to improve conversations around air quality, and shift the focus indoors to create healthier working and living environments. In 2021 her pioneering work was recognized when she was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list, in the Manufacturing & Industry category.
Join us as we chat to Francesca about how she found herself in the PropTech industry, career highlights, and her hopes for the future of work.
How did you first get into the industry of property and air quality? And what interested you before this career?
At uni I studied petroleum geology, and it was probably in the beginning of my second year that I thought, I think this is a finite career option. We all know that oil, gas and the natural resources that we've been relying on for so long are finite. Knowing this, I had a real crisis of consciousness: so I switched to environmental science, and studied that for the rest of my undergrad. For my Master’s degree I really focused my attention on indoor air quality.
At this point, policy and legislation only focused on outdoor air quality, and I figured it was only a matter of time before general interest began to pivot. It's a shame because it actually took until 2020 for that to happen. And I genuinely think that if COVID-19 hadn't happened, we'd still be in the same position as before, where people didn't really care about indoor air quality.
So, I finished my degree and didn't really know what I wanted to do, and found an opportunity to join a tech startup – Metrikus! I loved science and data, but wasn’t having any luck with graduate programs. When I first joined Metrikus it was an admin role, then I moved across to sales – it was a lot of moving around from one role to another because I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
They were using devices to monitor CO2, temperature and humidity; just three really basic parameters, they were putting them into their platform, and not really doing much with the data. Around about the same time, the Harvard study came out about CO2 levels, TVOCs (total volatile organic compounds) and cognitive performance. And I’d been reading a lot around the subject matter because it was still really interesting to me, and I went into work one day and said, “Did you know that actually, levels of CO2 can impact your productivity.” They were like, “Oh my God. That sounds really cool, maybe we can do more than just notify people that CO2 is going above a certain level... Maybe we can show them how it's impacting cognitive performance and that sort of thing.”
So that's how it kind of developed in the tech space, or rather, the PropTech space. And then AirRated came about, and that was using indoor air quality data to go to the next level in terms of communication. It’s one thing to have this data in a real-time dashboard, it's another thing to try and communicate it to a lot more people than just the ones operating the building. And that's where the passion for indoor air quality was kind of leveraged in the best way possible.
I'm really pro educating people and making them more aware of this subject matter. It can actually be quite scary because you can't get away from indoor air quality: we're all in buildings and breathing in these invisible pollutants.
From there, I then became Head of Environmental Research at AirRated which involved developing our product: the AirScore, the certification for air quality, indoor air quality and buildings. Six months later, I then got promoted to CEO – it’s a great platform to have, because I am the most passionate person about indoor air quality that there is!
So what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
This is more of a continuous highlight, but one of the best parts of my career is when I'm sitting in pitches and talking about air quality and the product, people are so engaged, and they actually care and start asking some really good questions. I always thought I was a nerd and always wanted to know more about indoor air quality – but it turns out loads of people are into this “thing” and want to know more.
Another highlight has been seeing everyone's shift in mentality and thought process around indoor air quality, because it was so neglected before and it was a bit disheartening. And now people really care. They're really interested, always engaged in pitches, they'll be really keen to ask questions and learn more. Even sometimes, we'll be talking about building on their portfolio and then they'll pivot to start talking about their house. That’s great to see because people are realizing how air quality impacts their personal lives too. So I think a highlight has to be watching people's growing interest and engagement.
Where do you see the industry heading?
I think the focus will continue to be on indoor air quality in the built environment. I see the industry heading towards a more conscious way of building, with a focus on more sensitive design.
There are gaps in knowledge at the moment between sustainability and healthy buildings, so I see those two coming together more, because they're two of the factors that the property industry seems to be really, and rightly, focused on. It's just bringing together the expertise to join the dots in the background. I think the next wave is: how do we future proof buildings against changing physical climates? And how do we do this in a way that delivers the best environment and doesn’t compromise our health? Because in the past, buildings absolutely have done that.
What does the future of work look like, in your opinion?
I know that most people in the property space are huge advocates for coming back to the office, maybe 80–100% of the week, but I don't think that's how it will play out.
I think the future of work will be seeking much higher quality spaces, and creating a space that suits the workforce you have. I am also a massive advocate for having open, collaborative spaces, but again, not everyone works in that way. And there are people in every workforce who are far more introverted, more reserved, and like to work in quieter spaces. I think sometimes these employees are neglected because there’s such a focus on collaboration.
Open plan spaces don’t necessarily work for everyone, because lots of people might prefer a quieter space in the office because they find working from home too isolating. They want to come back to the office, but they don't feel like they can because everything's open plan and feel that it’s far too intense.
I think the future of work is going to be more focused around health and flexibility, so that people are able to work from home if and when they want to. But also, I think part of that future work piece needs to be the fact that it's built for different types of people.
Let’s end on a non-work related note: who would be your three dream dinner party guests?
Oh, John Malkovich, he's just so bizarre and wonderful. And this would be a weird dynamic, but David Attenborough because he's absolutely my favorite person. And Emmeline Pankhurst. Odd mix, but I think it could work!
A huge thank you to Francesca for spending time with us for our Metrikus Meets series: we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
If you have someone you think we should speak to for Metrikus Meets – maybe it’s you! – then drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their (your!) name and what you think we could chat about!