By Jose de Cabo, Pau Sabria, and Luis Sanz
Olapic is a leading visual marketing platform that amplifies brands’ engagement and performance in every channel with curated, high-converting images and videos taken by real people. This summer, Olapic was acquired by Monotype, a publicly traded company focused on font design and technology, for $130 million. Here, Olapic’s co-founders reflect on how their shared CBS experience impacted their early journey.
Picture the following scenario: It is the summer of 2010, the world is still shaking after the financial crisis of 2008 and you are about to graduate from Columbia Business School. You are fortunate to have a generous offer on the table to return to corporate America. Would you take it? Or would you pursue the entrepreneurial project you have been building between classes, full-time?
For us, we chose to follow our dream, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made, as our side project became a company with over 200 employees and has become the clear leader of the still-nascent visual marketing field. Of course, six years ago the outcome was far from certain, but our experience at CBS helped to shape us and our company, Olapic, in more impactful ways than we ever could have imagined.
We met at Columbia Business School – on a group trip, the seed for our project was initially planted. The first investment came from Columbia (more on that later). If one were to ask what the biggest influence for us was in those early days, the answer would be obvious. None of this was a coincidence; one of the primary advantages of being at Columbia is that we were surrounded by like-minded people who shared similar ambitions. Additionally, being surrounded by a diverse set of individuals representing varying industries, ethnicities, and backgrounds was helpful in understanding the need for a combination of skills to succeed.
The alumni and faculty network.
There are plenty of successful entrepreneurs among the CBS alumni and faculty network and they are incredibly supportive. When every new stage of the company was a learning experience, being able to connect with people who had been through a similar process was immensely valuable, and we found that every alum we sought out was willing to help us learn, improve, and grow.
Developing a necessary skill set.
The skills gained from the CBS education are valuable at different stages depending on the industry. In our case, the early days of a tech startup are all about building and selling the product; so most of the marketing, strategy, and financial analysis courses were not immediately relevant. However, as we grew the company, we realized that the breadth of coursework was intentional, and on several occasions, we found ourselves reaching out (again) to faculty and our alumni network for advice on various topics. The same holds true for all of those leadership classes: Building a company is hard; making tough calls and lifting a team through challenging times is part of the process. Certainly, no class could prepare us for that, but having a foundation helped!
During our last year at Columbia, we incubated our initial idea for Olapic in the Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program. At the end of that program, we were given the opportunity to present in front of the board of the Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund, a fund that provides early-stage investing opportunities to qualifying MBA teams. This opportunity resulted in the first investment the company received. While that was absolutely helpful, the value of the investment was less important than the endorsement from such a prestigious institution, which ultimately helped us close our first round of funding.
CBS did not create a successful career for us, nor did it build a company of value. But it was a tremendously valuable resource, and has been a critical component of our personal and professional journeys.