We support first-generation college students in transitioning from college to career by partnering with nonprofits to provide college access, training on work readiness, matching students with internships, and providing professional development training. All of this was motivated by the fact that first generation students face these enormous barriers to graduation. I think we can all relate to the feeling of not knowing what’s next, but if your family doesn’t graduate and you are the absolute first in the family, studies show that you are more likely to be underemployed and less likely make of a salary. The labor market is also dependent on networks, and we want to fight that. FutureMap is a workforce initiative that tries to level the playing field for professional growth.
What inspired you to start this non-profit organization?
I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I studied engineering and worked for a technology company. In my opinion, I got into entrepreneurship there for the first time because the company was always about new ideas. I’ve always been very creative, but until I graduated from business school I never thought about starting my own thing. I took a new venture development course and my professor asked me to do TA for him. Then I saw the support of other startups. I felt like, “OK, maybe I could really do this.” I had many areas of passion around training and helping people reach their potential and as a child of immigrants I always felt that career was an area where I didn’t always know what I was doing and I wish I did could have helped myself at the time and helped my colleagues.
What was your most valuable self-made snack?
Selfmade came at a time in my life when I was trying to figure out what to do next. I had worked as a consultant and knew that this didn’t really boost my creativity. I used Selfmade to evaluate if FutureMap can be something that supports me all day. I think the self-made community was amazing, everyone who was there had the energy and drive to do something creative.
The community was one of the biggest takeaways for me – with this community where people were ready to check out my pitch deck and share ideas, that energy was really fun. A couple of my other big takeaways were about pricing. When I went to the course’s office hours which were amazing I got the feedback that I thought my score was too low and I think this is probably a topic that many women have in common. It gave me the confidence to raise some of the prices and really appreciate what I was delivering.
What is the greatest challenge for you as a founder?
One of them was definitely time and prioritization. As a startup, it’s so hard not to be pulled in all of these different directions. What I kept hearing was that I had to be more disciplined to focus on one thing and do it really well over and over again. It gave me the discipline to focus on one thing compared to the 50 other things I had in my vision. This was still a huge challenge and frankly probably a huge win for 2021. I have to narrow the scope of my work and do it really well. I think the second challenge was to be a social entrepreneur. FutureMap is a mission-driven organization, so even the decisions to make it a nonprofit and find a sustainable business model were challenging.
Who do you look up to in the corporate sphere?
I started following Deepica Mutyala from Live tinted some time ago. I think I really saw myself in her because she is also a child of immigrants. She used her Instagram platform to talk about a lot of topics that I could relate to and she was really transparent about her entrepreneurial journey. When she got to Selfmade I was so excited because she’s someone I really follow and I don’t follow as many personalities on Instagram. I look up to her in the sense that she lives the reality of many of our lives and I really respect her radical transparency.
Tiffany Dufu is another businesswoman that I really admire. I love your business The cru. She is an amazing black founder who started a community based business that has been hugely successful. She is very direct and transparent when she speaks. I respect her as a woman of color in this whole ecosystem. It really is a challenge.
Which strategy helped you to start FutureMap?
I think the biggest one was the lean startup approach – test and learn. In business school in particular, I didn’t try to build the whole business at once. I did a little experiment and saw what I can learn from it. I started by taking a poll on Facebook and seeing if anyone wanted to talk to me about their career. I offered free career coaching, which made me realize that of everyone I coached, first-generation students had the biggest problems. When I started researching this, I found that I really had room to add to the market. It literally started when I volunteered as a career coach.
What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs who are about to start?
I think the most important thing is to just do it somethingand not be paralyzed by perfect vision. I know I have this vision of what my company should be, but if I focus on what I can do now, this week, I can probably do something. That helped release a lot of uncertainty. I imagined entrepreneurs as people who dropped out of school to work full time on their ventures, but I have financial needs and responsibilities and that’s not realistic to me. However, if you rightly prioritize your business as a sideline, it can be the source of so much creativity and future opportunity. I think my advice would really be: don’t think that you need to prepare everything and have your savings lined up before starting a business, just work on it on a small scale.
How do you stay organized? What tools or apps are you using to stay productive?
I’m kind of an analog to-do list person, I use post-its. My whiteboard was the best investment because I think visually. It was really important to me. The only app I use a lot is Miro for team brainstorming.
How do you stay motivated?
For me, the confirmation that FutureMap is important is also very important and motivating. I am constantly collecting stories from students and that really inspires me. For example, we just ran a growing up workshop to help graduating seniors think about what they need to know and people would say things like, “I had no idea that I am eligible to join my parents’ health plan, thank you for providing these insights “or” I appreciated the real conversation. “These stories and testimonials really motivate me because I know what we’re doing really helps them and that’s so stimulating.
Thank you Sruti!
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