Founding Student Names: Milan Raj
Brief Description of Solution: stay.EAT+DRINK is the first ROI-centric social engagement platform for the hospitality industry. While nearly 75% of the consumer base will soon be Millennial or Gen Z, hotels continue to cater to an aging demographic on the brink of retirement. To make matters worse, hotel occupancy rates are hovering at just 60%. stay.EAT+DRINK finally allows properties and hotel owners to take direct action and boost utilization across restaurants, bars, and spas in real-time by proactively engaging using the official language of Millennials and Gen Z: social media.
Funding Dollars: $12,500
What Led You To Launch This Venture? As a MMM student at Northwestern University who is earning both an MBA from Kellogg and a MS in Design Innovation from the Segal Design Institute, I was given an early first year crash course on leveraging design thinking and ethnographic research to mine critical pain points. This dynamic way of thinking set the foundation for me to be able to take full advantage of my time back in school to think about business differently.
Further, Kellogg’s full embrace of experiential learning has been an incredible opportunity for me. For example, I embarked on a quarter-long course called Global Immersion in Management: The Frontier Markets led by Dan Keeler, an Editor for the Wall Street Journal. Not only did Dan bring in an incredible network of speakers from around the world throughout the quarter, but the 25 students then embarked on an on-site immersion venturing across Myanmar and Vietnam. Each student group dove into a specific vertical, with mine being focused on the Hospitality and Tourism industries. Being on the ground in these vastly diverse countries and interviewing executives, operators, entrepreneurs, and managers shed light to a utilization problem across the industry. While it may sound bizarre to discover an unmet business need thousands of miles away that also exists in the US, I’m not so confident it would have been as obvious.
Lastly, a summer internship supporting innovation efforts for Hilton Honors allowed for industry-specific immersion including the opportunity to gain mentors across the organization and the chance to try things outside my comfort zone like working the front desk at the Washington Hilton. What better way to discover pain points than to feel them first hand?
Biggest Accomplishment So Far with Venture: It was earning first place in Northwestern University Pitch Night (where entrepreneurs across undergraduate and graduate programs at Northwestern pitch their ventures in under one minute) and second place at Kellogg Venture Challenge (where eight startups are selected to pitch ‘Shark Tank’-style to staple Chicago Venture Capital firms).
How Has Kellogg Helped You Further Your Venture? Kellogg has an incredibly robust entrepreneurship strategic initiative and offering that has no doubt played a pivotal role in my development as an entrepreneur. It ranges from an incredible departmental team that orchestrates the menu of unbelievable resources, alumni, and programming to a phenomenal cast of faculty who have lived and currently live in the real world launching their own businesses and brands. The impact these faculty and initiatives are having on entrepreneurs at Kellogg is undeniable. For example, New Venture Development led by serial entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Troy Henikoff, drove home the ability to execute via a series of the narrowest of minimum viable products to test specific and crucially important hypotheses. Meanwhile, sales guru Craig Wortmann’s Selling Yourself and Your Ideas embraced the curation and leverage of one’s unfair competitive advantages to become a thought leader capable of making change.
The capstone hallmark of entrepreneurship at Kellogg is the Zell Fellows program spearheaded by David Schonthal, with its New Venture track shepherded by Gregg Latterman, who founded Aware Music while studying at Kellogg. Zell Fellows serves as an incubator of entrepreneurs who are determined to utilize their second year at Kellogg as a launching board to create, develop, and launch their ventures. In just a few months, Zell Fellows has offered me an incredible safe haven for ideation, dealing with typical founder struggles, and rapid iteration in the comfort of a nine person cohort all working symbiotically to go-to-market.
In addition to the welcomed seed funding supported by legendary businessman Sam Zell, there is the network of advisors and resources that is made available. From a design firm on retainer to monthly check-ins with business leaders (such as Ellen Havdala) to treks meeting with diverse businesses across industries, these opportunities have shaped how I think about targeting real customer pain points and how to build with a focus on scalability. To launch a business side-by-side with other dedicated students who are launching their own disruptive businesses which solve unique challenges across industries has been the ultimate confidence booster.
Long-Term Goals with Your Startup: I am fully committed to launching my business before graduating from Kellogg. While the uncertainty of any startup requires a certain degree of risk tolerance, I am far more confident in my ability to make entrepreneurship a viable profession post-Kellogg thanks to the resources, network, and skillset Kellogg’s entrepreneurship offering has afforded me.