Three years ago, Reetu Gupta found herself asking the agonizing question that plagues thousands of parents of high school students: How can I help my child get into the college of her dreams?
She spent weeks helping her daughter fill out application after application and grew frustrated that she had to start over each time.
“I didn’t know what will resonate with the admission officers so I sent them writing samples, science fair projects etc.,” Gupta said. “In the end, she was accepted, but I lost access to that platform. Meaning for the next application, I had to start all over again. I thought there must be a secure platform that students can use to compile and share all their accomplishments over time.”
Gupta describes Cirkled in as a LinkedIn-like platform that helps high school students showcase their accomplishments and helps universities recruit candidates. She began building the startup while she was still at Honeywell and eventually left her job to focus on entrepreneurship full-time.
“I believe that I’m living my dream right now,” she said of her gig as a startup founder.
Since launching, Cirkled in has partnered with over two dozen schools and youth organizations and is used by thousands of students.
We caught up with Gupta for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: Redmond, WA
Computer types: Dell Laptop
Mobile devices: iPhone7 Plus, iPad, Kindle
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “We are addicted to free tools. Google Maps and PayByPhone (for parking in Seattle) – I won’t get in the car without these. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn apps help me stay on top of these constant streams on the go.
Azure has been great for us. Microsoft has been generous with a BizSpark account that gave us three years of free runway. Google Drive is the best storage for everything I do. I don’t have to worry about moving data when I change my laptop. It’s all a snap. Not only that, multiple team members can access/edit any documents on Cirkled in. Bitbucket — free version control for software is a savior for our engineering team. MailChimp — tells me if my users/investors/friends are reading my messages or not.
Skype — great coordination tool for working in global teams. I prefer face to face meetings but Skype provides the next best alternative.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “I start my day at my kitchen counter, answering emails, planning my day, catching up on news, etc. for couple of hours. After that I go to my work place, a UW TMMBA facility in Kirkland. Being an alumnus, I get the perk of using this great facility, which has been a savior of my sanity. I start on a clean table every day without any mess, and that is a great feeling. Also, its strategic location lets me get to all my meetings very quickly.
Day ends with an 8 to 10 p.m. team meeting with the international team at my home office. One essential part of my every work space is white board. Lacking one, I use windows as a white board. Whiteboards give me a feeling of a blank canvas where I can draw anything I want. It unleashes the creativity and innovative thinking.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Don’t try to go against the current. With ‘always on’ technology and culture, work and life are no more two different worlds. Find work that you love and can do for your life. For me, I do what I love. So, work and life blend in very well. I bring my life into my work and it’s easier to do that when you are following your dream. Being an entrepreneur, I work pretty much all awake hours of my day. But sometimes it also includes my life, like dropping kids at the swimming pool, attending a school info session, or a piano recital. And when I’m driving my kids, they transcribe my messages and emails that I dictate to them. That way they get quite a bit of context on Cirkled in and are more involved. They say, ‘As an entrepreneur you work 24 hours a day, but you decide which 24 hours.’ And it’s very true for me. I feel like I have flexibility like no one else.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I‘m not crazy about any social media because they can be addictive and just a blackhole on my time. It has become a necessary evil though. Since we serve a wide range of audiences, from high school students and parents to teachers and school administrators, we maintain six social media channels for Cirkled in — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus. We spend time in curating the content so our readers find it useful and they keep coming back. We use social media to increase awareness about Cirkled in. We have a team member dedicated to the social media work. I still end up spending good three to four hours on most day as well.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Zero. I stay on top of my emails. In my last job, it was normal to have 200 unread emails every morning, even if I emptied the box the night before. Now it’s all about communicating with whoever is communicating with me.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “18, which is actually lower than average. This is the week before new school year starts, so it’s the calm before the storm. Once school starts, as part of sales and biz dev job, I get lot more meetings scheduled every week.”
How do you run meetings? “Well laid out agenda is part of the meeting invite. At the start of the meeting, we go over the agenda and ensure we stay on the topic. Multi-tasking is highly discouraged during meetings. We respect everyone’s time and engage in focused discussions. With international teams, we do video calls every day with video on. Body language communicates a lot, along with words, and is essential part of any conversation.
In advisors/mentors’ meetings, I reiterate the goal of the meeting and try to stay on track. My goal is to learn from them as much as I can. Also, one thing I am very conscious of is, if I ask for a meeting from someone, I bend backwards to accommodate their time and venue. That way I show my respect for their time.”
Everyday work uniform? “I go for comfort. I hate dressing up and wearing make-up. I’m mostly in my jeans and T-shirt or collared shirt. I believe in ‘it doesn’t matter what’s outside rather what’s inside.’ I do dress up for clients’ and investors’ meetings.”
How do you make time for family? “Not sure I have the secret sauce for this. As a young startup founder, I do spend most of my awake hours on Cirkled in. One thing I do is to involve my kids into work as well. Since we are a students-focused company, it creates a win-win for all. My kids (middle schooler and high schooler, our target audience) give input on UX/UI, test the product and even review my press releases and blogs. That way we are spending time together even when I’m working.
Sometimes we dedicate time for the family and go on big hikes. This summer we did Mount Si, Lake Serene, few others and 70 miles of hiking in Yellowstone National Park over 6 days. Physically exhausting myself is the only way for me to unplug from work mentally and connect with my surrounding.
I also put every family/personal appointment on calendar too. That way if I get a conflicting meeting, I can intentionally prioritize and not accidently double book myself. I have color coded 3 different calendars (family, personal and Cirkled in) that I combine on my iPhone calendar.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I live in fairly green wooded area. So, when stress reaches a point, I just go out for a walk in my neighborhood woods. I walk for about four to five miles and that helps me decompress. Sometimes I watch TV. In case of extreme stress, I turn on fast Bollywood music and dance to it. Try dancing to ‘Jai Ho’ by AR Rehman. It can make you forget that you live on planet earth.”
What are you listening to? “NPR is my favorite channel to listen to. Any time I‘m in my car alone, it’s on. NPR gives me news not only on local topics but also global issues. With NPR on, I feel like I’m utilizing my time while driving. I have two daughters so my music choices are driven by them. I listen to latest hits of Adele, Taylor Swift and that is how I stay young and connected to my user demographics (students) too.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “Various subscribed blogs and newsletters that show up in my inbox every day. I read about startups, productivity hacks, technology trends etc. Crunchbase, GeekWire, Harvard Business Review, and edtech newsletters are some channels that I use. I also use Facebook for the latest news. I try to stay focused on topics of education, technology, innovation, leadership and equity.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Ha ha. I wish I had time for a book. It may not sound very smart but at current stage of the company, I have no time to read a book. Someone recently recommended a book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ by Daniel Kahneman. It is a fascinating book but I could only afford to read first 30 pages. I got the gist and that was all. Two of my all-time favorite business books are ‘Lean Startup’ by Eric Reis (I used a lot of tactics from this book) and ‘The Goal’ by Eli Goldratt (really good book on running a business and supply chain). “
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I’m very balanced here, probably the only area. I cannot function if I don’t get eight hours of sleep. So, I’m usually in bed by 10:30 p.m. and up by 6:30 a.m.. For short sprints, I can cut my sleep short and during that time, I’m a night owl.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Anywhere — I have gotten some ideas in shower, some while driving but mostly while brainstorming with an advisor or team members about a problem. White boards bring out the best of me. Sometimes when I see a problem/gap in market space or in a product, I get new product ideas too.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I don’t know if I would like to emulate any one’s work style. My work style is unique to me and works for my personality. I would like to get more productivity out of my work hours. So, any proven hacks are welcome. “