The Technology Management MBA (TMMBA) Program is known for it’s Entrepreneurial curriculum, which is highlighted in full during the 5th quarter of the18-month program. For many students with Entrepreneurial aspirations, the Entre curriculum and Business Plan Competition give them the foundation to start their own company. Also essential to the TMMBA Entrepreneur’s success is making connections with our network of over 1,200 alums. Here we interview Reetu Gupta, TMMBA Class of 2010 valedictorian, about her entrepreneurial journey and how TMMBA prepared her for starting her business.
Reetu Gupta is Co-founder and CEO of Cirkled in. Before Cirkled in, Reetu spent 20 years in corporate America from startups to Fortune 50 companies, from engineering to marketing, and from individual contributor to a supervisor. Reetu has broad and deep experience in many aspects of business that she is utilizing in her role as “Chief Everything Officer” for Cirkled in. Reetu earned her MBA (Valedictorian) in Technology Management from University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
Tell us about your business
Reetu: My company’s name is Cirkled in. Cirkled in provides an e-profile and e-portfolio platform for K-12 students to showcase themselves in front of admission officers. It’s a secure, centralized, mobile friendly online platform customized to compile and track students’ entire school life achievements – both inside and outside school. Students can share their holistic profile with recruiters and admission officers for all applications. By showcasing their holistic strengths and talents, students increase their success rate.
With Cirkled in as e-portfolio solution, schools prepare their students for 21st century admissions process, track alumni beyond graduation and improve operational efficiency in the classrooms. Schools see instant benefits along with long term advantages of using Cirkled in.
How did TMMBA prepare you to start your business?
I graduated from the Technology Management MBA Program in 2010, and I started Cirkled in in 2014, four years later. Honestly, I don’t think I would have done it if I had not gone through the MBA. Before TMMBA, I was in an engineering role. All I knew was how to build products but not how to market and sell and do customer discovery and market surveys. TMMBA gave me tons of tools, knowledge, and the confidence to know that I can do this. If I had not gone through TMMBA, I don’t think I would be an entrepreneur today.
Did you have entrepreneurial goals when you started the Program?
Reetu: No. When I joined TMMBA, I was at a certain point in my career where I said “Okay, at some point I need a check mark for MBA to get to the next level even within my organization.” At that time I was at a project manager level, and then to get to the director level or above I had to say that, “Yes, I have an MBA.” So I came in for that and within 18 months, I had so many doors open for me that I didn’t even know existed before. I came in with a goal to get that checkbox. I came out knowing I could run a business, I could do marketing, I could even do a Ph.D. if I wanted to.
For me personally, it was a pretty big shift. TMMBA changed the course of my life and of course, my career.
At what point did you decide to take the leap and start your own business?
Reetu: During TMMBA, we did a business plan competition. I had an idea that I was toying with, and we used that idea for three or four quarters, doing every component of it from go-to-market strategy to business plan to entrepreneurship class. We went all the way to the business plan competition, and that was a great experience. After that I was trying to raise funds and everybody looked at me and they said, “Your founding team is all built of engineers. You don’t have a marketer.” Then I went and switched my functions to marketing and product management, and I did that for five years or so. With marketing under my belt, experience in the field, and my previous engineering experience, I decided to start my business full time.
There were pros and cons, just like anything else. Many spreadsheets were made with many columns. If we do this, what are the impacts? I have two kids. So it was not an easy decision, but I had my success criteria defined, and I said if I don’t do it now, I’ll never get to do it. My success criteria was that when I’m on my death bed, I shouldn’t have this regret that I wish I had tried. So if that’s my success criteria, all I had to do was go ahead and try. By that token, I’m already successful because now I can say I’ve tried.
What are a few aspects of entrepreneurship that you most enjoy?
Reetu: Going to networking events and meeting new people, like other entrepreneurs and advisers. I have built so many connections in the last two years. I could never imagine making that many connections if I was in a job. It really makes me happy meeting new people because you learn something new from every person. Meeting different schools, teachers, students and parents and hearing their stories and then knowing that you are doing something to help them.
The pain point that we hear from customers is “I don’t even know how to think about college admission. I don’t have a resume. What do they look for?” or a parent saying, “I can’t remember anything my kid did in middle school because we didn’t put anything down anywhere.” So knowing that you’re serving someone’s pain gives you some self-satisfaction and makes me think I’m doing something right.
What’s driving you?
Reetu: I just came out of a meeting with a mentor. He’s a big believer in me. We were talking about passion, and I was telling him that I’m giving a talk next weekend where the title of my talk is: “Passion is not enough, you’ve got to be crazy.” Honestly, I don’t think passion can get you through what entrepreneurship throws at you. You really have to be crazy. And there’s a fine line between passion and craziness, so you have to cross that line to be able to do this. In my mind, there’s passion, then comes courage, and then comes craziness, so you have to cross that line to go through entrepreneurship. That’s what keeps you going. Action is not enough. When you are at the point where you say you just cannot NOT do it, that’s the point when you cross that line, and that is when I believe revolution happens.
What can you share to current or prospective TMMBA students that would be helpful about entrepreneur life?
Reetu: Once you are in the program, make the most out of it. Networking is the biggest thing. Network, network, network. Build connections. That’s what I believe in.
If you already know that you want to be an entrepreneur coming into the program, definitely there’s a lot you can do. You can get involved with the business plan competition. There is C4C Center (now Comotion). There you get to learn about business, find an internship at a start-up while you’re doing an MBA so you can give to them and you can learn in return, in the process. So there are many resources that are available. Explore them as much as you can.
Any final words of advice?
Reetu: Be mentally prepared. Be ready that you just don’t know how hard it is. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I have done a lot of hard things. I left my country with two suitcases 18 years ago. It’s one thing when somebody tells you how hard it is, but it’s not going to sink in until you personally experience it. So just know that and be mentally prepared for that.
Recently Cirkled in won 4 Stevie awards. The company’s CEO, Reetu Gupta was selected for the Gold Stevie® Award of “Female Entrepreneur of the Year”. Cirkled in also won three Silver Stevie® Awards for the “New Product and Services of the Year”, “Startup of the Year”, and “Company of the Year” categories in the 13th annual Stevie® Award for Women in Business.