Female Founder Feature: Reetu Gupta – CirkledIn

Reetu Gupta is the founder and CEO of Cirkled In, a platform that helps high school students showcase their accomplishments and helps universities recruit candidates. Cirkled In launched back in August 2017 and is headquartered in Redmond, Washington. Since launching, Cirkled In is being used by tens of thousands of students all over the country. Various schools, districts and even universities are using the platform for their students.
• Tell us a little about Cirkled In? What inspired you to start the company?
Cirkled In is “LinkedIn for students and colleges – Only Better!” We’re a Recruitment Platform matching colleges and universities with best-fit students using students’ detailed portfolio, creating a win-win. Colleges improve returns on $10B+ recruitment spend, and students showcase themselves in the best possible way and get discovered.
I come from a very humble background in India. Growing up, I was influenced by Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, wanting to better my life and the world. Helping my mom run an elementary school, education went deep into my DNA. I believed in Nelson Mandela’s quote that “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” Over the last 15 years, through navigating the U.S. education system with my own kids, I identified many opportunities for innovation in the U.S. education system. I came up with the idea of Cirkled In after personally experiencing the painful admissions process with my daughter. After interviewing 100 families, a need to maintain students’ records in a way that showcases students holistically and authentically emerged. Further research found that the pain was double sided – on the college admissions and recruitment side as well.
On Cirkled In, students maintain a detailed profile and portfolio through their K- 12 life, highlighting their holistic strengths and talents, both inside and outside school. Student share the portfolio with any application, such as college applications, scholarships, internships, and jobs, and increase their success rate.
With access to high quality leads, colleges improve their return on $10B+ annual recruitment spend and meet their enrollment goals and their equity and diversity goals. Colleges improve subsequent metrics like retention, graduation and employability, resulting in an improved institutional ranking. Harnessing the power of predictive data analytics and machine learning, Cirkled In is disrupting the college recruitment market and could be the next unicorn.
• How is Cirkled In making a difference?
Our guiding principal is “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world,” by Nelson Mandela. And we believe that we can make a big social impact while being a wildly financially successful company.
By making a best-fit match between students and colleges/universities, Cirkled In improves the outcome for both sides. We not only bring better financial outcomes to the higher education industry of $1.3 trillion, we help our youth finish their degree on time and be ready for the future work force.
Part of Cirkled In’s mission is to level the playing field for all students irrespective of their gender, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. There are 16 million kids living under the poverty line in the U.S. Half of them continue to be poor by age 35, because they don’t have equal access to opportunities. Today, these youths go to college at a 30% lower rate than typical students. We believe that this contributes to the staggering income disparity in our society.
By bringing these youth on Cirkled In, we create the possibility of these youths attending college (4 yr or 2 yr) by providing the information and support they need. We believe that by getting more at-risk youth into college and improving their lifetime wages, we can shrink the income gap in our society. Youths who go to 4-yr college make $1M -$3.5M in lifetime wages and break the cycle of poverty in their family. And when they enter the workforce, they bring diversity into our workplace, resulting in a more efficient and equitable world. So, it becomes a win-win for students and our economy, nation and society.
• What are some challenges you’ve faced?
Starting a company is very difficult. As a society, we’ve glamorized entrepreneurship beyond any measure. No one talks about the true cost of success. Being a woman entrepreneur is even harder. Being an immigrant women entrepreneur is even harder. Being an immigrant woman entrepreneur of color may be hardest of all.
The biggest challenge I have overcome in this journey was raising funds. I had to prove to the investor community that I can be a driven and successful business woman who can build a successful business.
This was a difficult challenge in spite of my very rich 20-year career from startups to Fortune 50 companies. Since we raised the seed round, our growth has been phenomenal. Since the launch of Cirkled In 2.0 in January 2018, we have grown 1700%. And this proves that with the right resources, women can build successful businesses.
On the business side, selling to K-12 schools is a long sales cycle and it took us awhile to accept that. Initially when I started, I thought that we’d be able to sell faster. I was wrong. So we pivoted and decided to go direct to students, using schools just as a channel, not as a revenue source. This change in marketing strategy has resulted in the amazing growth we are seeing with Cirkled In 2.0. Interestingly, there is enough buzz created that schools are now approaching us for adoption as well.
• What’s been your biggest win?
The biggest win is still in the works . But we are well on our way. We have had many amazing wins this year. We generated our first two revenues, have had phenomenal growth numbers, and students are spending 3X time on our website vs comparable websites on all key metrics that prove our product has market fit. We have pilots with hand selected universities for our college recruitment portal that will launch in September. We have pilots in some of the biggest school districts in multiple states. Last but not the least, we have been selected as a top 10 finalists for the Grace Hopper Conference 2018, a semifinalist for SVP Fast pitch 2018, and have already won several other pitch competitions this year. We have established ourselves as SME on education, leadership and diversity topics.
• Who is your role model?
Nelson Mandela, who believed in the power of education as a world-changing force. I believe that current social issues – whether it’s unemployment or homelessness, crime or corruption, fake-news or climate change – all need one systemic solution: education. If we could educate every single person on the planet, we increase common sense, critical thing, and problem solving, and fix most of our problems because people will be able to think and reason well for themselves and for others.
As for my day to day life and business, I have a growth mindset. I learn from everyone I interact with. I learn how to have fun from my younger daughter (now 12). I learn empathy from my older daughter. I learn grit and resilience from my mom. I learn humility from one of my existing investors. I learn from my team members. I learn from people of all genders, races, and socio-economic status.
• What has been your experience been with FFA?
Starting a company and building a business is harder than having a baby and raising him/her. I’m eternally thankful for the Female Founders Alliance as a community. Having a cohort of other women entrepreneurs who understand your pain is priceless. FFA has become that village to me that I didn’t have but clearly needed. I have relied heavily on FFA over the last year and a half. No big decision has been made in Cirkled In without checking with at least few team members of FFA. FFA members are at various stages of their company life so I get to learn from people who have been where I am today.
In addition, FFA members share opportunities and even open doors. Our recent selection as a top 10 finalist in Grace Hopper is a result of a post in the FFA group. Someone posted the application and I applied. And boom! Now we have an opportunity to tell the Cirkled In story to 20,000 people. It doesn’t get better than this. Thank you FFA and thank you, Leslie, for staring this group.
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