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2021 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Culturora, Carnegie Mellon University

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Article originally written by Jeff Schmitt and published on PoetsandQuants.com. Photo and content courtesy of PoetsandQuants.com See the original article here.


Culturora
Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Industry: HR Tech / Future of Work
Founding Student Name(s): Jody Madala

Brief Description of Solution: Culturora is an early stage, enterprise SaaS solution for employees and HR leaders. We take an employee’s personal and professional goals and preferences and connect them to another employee around a shared activity like a coffee chat, a walk, or even a phone call. More and better connections help employees fight isolation and help strengthen company culture during remote and hybrid work.

Funding Dollars: To date, we have taken a $25K investment from CMU as part of the 2021 VentureBridge program. We will be raising a $500-750K pre-seed round in late October, followed by a $2-3M seed round in early 2022.

What led you to launch this venture? The pandemic has completely changed the way we work and 95% of business leaders believe company culture can’t survive remote and hybrid work. Poor culture leads to voluntary turnover, which costs the US $600B in 2018! That’s going to get worse as employees can now switch jobs with remote work opportunities. This mass migration of talent results in companies losing their key competitive advantage: their employees.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? This summer, we built our beta product, and we are ready to pilot customers! We are excited about all the customers we are talking to, but our biggest accomplishment is our upcoming pilot with The Home Depot (THD). Super-large, enterprise companies like THD make up the sweet spot in our target market. Getting in the door of THD, and the other large companies we are in discussions with, all stems from networking.

For example, I attended a roundtable with the Chief Operating Officer of THD in 2020 and made sure to ask him a question about their company culture during the pandemic. His response gave me a perfect inroad to connect with him after the event! He then put me in touch with his head of HR, who then connected me to their leaders in Talent – which is our perfect customer contact. The timing was perfect since the Talent group was thinking about how to drive culture in the pandemic and post-pandemic world. THD has great use cases for us, and we really believe we connected with then at the perfect time!

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Honestly, without the entrepreneurship classes I took during my last year at Tepper, I may not have Culturora today. The entrepreneurship classes and professors really pushed me to test out the idea, the hypotheses, and the audience to learn the process and apply it real-time (especially doing essential customer discovery). It’s the customer discovery that makes me confident in what we are building and delivering. We are 100% focused on delivering value to the customer, and that customer feedback is what drives our product development, expanded use cases, potential new modules, etc.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? It was my dad for the advice he gives and because he survived a horrible life in India. While lying in the fields and looking at the planes above, he dreamed about how he would get to America. And he did! My dad worked as a janitor during the days and got his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey in the evenings. He eventually opened a pharmacy and a medical center in the South Bronx. We didn’t have much when I was growing up, but I did love spending my Saturdays with my dad in the pharmacy, helping put things away, counting pills, and putting labels on bottles (all under his supervision, of course!). It has never been easy for him or for my mom. Despite setbacks in life, they never gave up. To this day, they never give up. They are excited about what each day might bring, and about what my sister or I might be doing next. Hard-work, determination, always finding a way, and never giving up – these are the motivations I get from my dad.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Marketing for Entrepreneurship, which was co-taught by Dave Mawhinney and Robert (Bob) Blattberg, was most valuable to me because it was this class that forced me to put stakes in the ground for my company. We needed to pivot as a result, and really nail down our target customer and how we planned to quantitatively measure value is a squishy space like culture. It’s this class that gave me the belief that Culturora could really be a company.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Hands down, it is Dave Mawhinney. Dave has been a believer in me from the start and has been my champion throughout product iterations, figuring out metrics and how we were going to measure value tied to pricing. Honestly, Dave’s belief in me as a person and a leader has given me tremendous confidence in taking on this incredibly ambiguous undertaking. He is always thinking about how he can help us move forward, particularly how we can leverage the CMU network. Dave is constantly challenging me, and providing amazing opportunities for me, for my team, and for Culturora.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? We are changing the way companies think about creating culture in a remote and hybrid world. Our dream is to see all employees super-connected to their company culture, and happy and engaged with work as the result.