MBA Startups: From Carnegie Mellon To A Winning Idea

Brazilian-born Rodrigo Carvalho used his Tepper MBA experience to help launch a successful company

Rodrigo Carvalho is CEO and Co-Founder of BlackLocus, a highly successful startup that provides a pricing strategy platform for enterprise-level businesses. He incubated the company with two co-founders while earning his MBA from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. During 2011, Carvalho’s BlackLocus competed in the Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest and richest graduate- level business competition in the country.

In addition to winning the $100,000 DFJ Mercury Technology Transfer Prize at Rice, the BlackLocus team also walked away from that competition with their first round of Series A funding—a $2.5 million purse. Just before Christmas ‘2012, BlackLocus was acquired by Home Depot, becoming one of its innovation labs in Austin, TX.

Prior to joining Tepper’s MBA class of 2011, Rodrigo, now 30, earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Penn State University. After completing his undergraduate degree, the Brazilian-born entrepreneur worked as a process improvement engineer for several firms before landing his pre-MBA role as an IT consultant for IBM.

My Story

I came to Tepper already knowing that I wanted to start a business.  I had actually come up with several ideas (including the original idea for BlackLocus) while working for IBM.  One such idea was a clothing line for English bulldogs.

My mother had been complaining that she couldn’t find clothes for our family pet (an English bulldog) due to the odd shape and proportions of its body. I did some quick-and-dirty market research that revealed that English bulldogs were the second most popular breed of dogs in the United States. My dog clothing business taught me a lot about both e-commerce and pricing—two areas in which my prior experience came in extremely handy while building BlackLocus.

I also came up with other ideas during that time and attempted to recruit some of my friends as co-founders. What I found, however, was that while many of them were very excited by the sound of my ideas, none were committed to making the sacrifices that would be required to bring any of them to fruition.

Entrepreneurship involves a ton of hard work. As a new entrepreneur, I had a difficult time finding others who possessed a level of passion and commitment similar to mine; especially when you consider the fact that we all had full-time jobs. Under any circumstances, however, few people are willing to make the financial and social sacrifices that it takes to build a successful business.

My #1 goal upon entering Tepper was to meet people with goals that were similar to mine. I wanted to get to know people who were looking to start a company; people who weren’t just looking for a “job”; people who wanted to go “all in” on a business idea. I wanted to know people who I could build something with; and that is exactly what I found.

  • Oguzcan Ozen

    Rodrigo is one of the coolest person i’ve ever met.

  • Proud Entrepreneur

    A true Entrepreneur talk! Ups and Downs; seeing peers get their money on time and in fat figures while you look at your light bulb waiting to be lit; Entrepreneurs not fitting into the ideal profile (though frankly a sinking entrepreneur is the best student you can recruit as she/ he has really seen the downs and in most cases has grown over it). Ask the founder of any company in the world and he shall tell you why he/she is still the best to lead (not manage) his own company irrespective of the many MBA grads that the company hires anyways from the top schools. The instinct, the grit, the sacrifice and the confidence in one’s self only comes when you have seen all the lows that entrepreneurship has to offer. Superb talk and thank you so much for raising the voice of entrepreneurship at the B School level. All the best Rodrigo!

  • Benjamin Garber

    Great article with some great advice. Rodrigo is a rare example of someone who energetically crossed departments to leverage the resources of the entire university, not just the business school. I hope he serves as an inspirational example for future students of our alma mater.

  • Cynthia Knapic

    Rodrigo is so helpful to his fellow entrepreneurs and alum. Great advice as usual. Couldn’t agree more with your points on recruiting an early team. Congrats to you and the team!

  • Cam

    I remember meeting Rodrigo at RBPC. I asked him how he manages balance of school and business. “There is not balance” he told me; “you do really well in one and bad at the other”. I also met you there, Aziz. Glad to see it worked out so well for him.

  • The “real deal” indeed!

  • Rodrigo is the real deal! Started a company while still in school and sold it 18 months after graduating. Listen to his advice!