Hoya Highlight: Carly Chamberlain (C'09)

Carly Chamberlain (C'09)

Co-founder, CaterCow.com

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

I am the cofounder of CaterCow.com, an online marketplace where you can find awesome catering you never knew existed and order it with the click of a button. Individuals and companies like Martha Stewart, The Ritz, Gawker, AOL, Blackstone Financial and Etsy have used CaterCow to order from guacamole artists, s'more assemblers, soul-food caterers and picnic lunch deliverers.

My co-founder, Chris, and I were two of the first employees at Airbnb.com in San Francisco. We started out working in the founders' apartment (I literally made sales calls in the kitchen) and saw it grow into a $2.3 billion business. The founders were scrappy, passionate and solving a huge problem. We identified a similar problem in the catering market as the vacation rental market and decided to apply many of the lessons we learned from Airbnb.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

We recently pushed a feature on CaterCow where caterers can see how much money they've made through our website. As I was browsing various caterers' profiles I noticed we've made many caterers thousands of dollars, and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Chris and I built CaterCow from nothing and have now made food entrepreneurs thousands of dollars in less than a year. That's an incredible feeling!

What is the best career advice you have received?

For those who want to start a company, get your first customer. Whether you have a fully functioning website, product, etc., find someone who is willing to pay you for your services. Then, build a product based on real customer feedback.

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

If you are looking to join an early-stage startup, I recommend staying up-to-date on new tech companies via websites like Quora, The Daily Muse and Angel.co. Find a company you love, use their product and then send an email to everyone you can at the company (whether you are qualified for a position or not) and tell them you will do anything to work there.

If you want to start a company, start it. Don't wait until you go to business school or read all the right blogs or books about starting a company, just start one.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

Our biggest challenge was actually self-inflicted; create a successful business without taking venture funding or hiring full-time employees (for as long as possible). We are doing this by leveraging technology. Typically, I first try something out manually. If we find that it's successful and worth continuing, Chris builds an automated, scalable solution. Then I repeat the process for a new project. Money and employees can be distracting; this has forced us to be extremely focused and resourceful.

What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?

I'd say the two most important skills you need to start a company are the ability to sell something and embrace failure. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, once showed me a long list of testimonials of hosts who signed up for Airbnb and subsequently had their lives changed for the better. For me, that was a turning point in learning how to sell.

Sales isn't about pushing someone to buy or sign up for something they don't want, it's about letting someone know about a product that will solve a major problem for them. If you realize no one wants your product, you aren't solving the right problem.

If you could have another career what would it be?

Honestly, a rock star. I would be like Gwen Stefani. Stefani's "Just a Girl" was the first song I learned on the guitar, back when I played the guitar.

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path

In retrospect, I think my time on Georgetown's sailing team was a huge influencer in becoming an entrepreneur. Every year we had the goal of winning nationals in the spring. To achieve that goal we sailed in blizzards, traveled every weekend and worked together as a team. I learned what it's like to sacrifice to achieve a goal and how important every single person involved is. Each one of the more than 450 caterers on CaterCow, Chris and all of our customers are part of my team. I work with them daily to achieve our goal of creating a successful company.