Alumni Venture Named One of 2020’s ‘Most Disruptive Startups’

By Dave Hendrick


Tack, the contactless digital tipping company started by two Class of 2020 alumni of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, has been named one of the “most disruptive” startups of 2020.

The company, which was founded by Alexander Spencer (MBA ’20) and Stephen Joy (MBA ’20) received the accolade from Poets & Quants, which featured top startups recently born out of a number of MBA programs.

In a profile on the site, the founders detailed the origins of the company, which was a participant in the UVA VentureLab Incubator, as well as the corporate pivot they undertook in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how Darden has helped push their venture forward.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Besides teaching us the fundamentals to feel confident enough about starting a business, our second year at Darden really honed our entrepreneurial drive. Alexander’s second-year classes emphasized the new digital world, network effects, and what has made companies successful in the digital age. Stephen focused heavily on finance and venture capital, helping him to build a strong network of reliable mentors for our team.

Our team had started to talk with potential customers, and worked on the business plan, but it wasn’t until the beginning of our second year when we really got serious about the project. It started in the fall with taking Venture Capital with Professor John Glynn, a legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist. He forced us to write out a business plan and challenge ourselves with calling every single hotel in Charlottesville about whether they would be interested in our product. Professor Michael Lenox’s Strategy in the Digital Age helped us understand our digital value proposition and the value of customer and employee data to employers. We then worked on an independent study throughout the winter with Professor Saras Sarasvathy. Using her “effectuation” method, we began to build a pitch deck, enter into some venture discovery competitions, interview friends and colleagues, and start building out a network to help us launch the venture. The city of Charlottesville, and the larger UVA Darden community, has quite an active venture capital community that really helps to empower Darden students. It’s an ecosystem that has provided mentorship, advice, and confidence building that is essential to any early stage start up.

The founders originally envisioned their product as pitched to the hospitality industry, and while that remains a goal, the pandemic led them to hunker down, improve their product, and test with a surprising client: churches.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? The original idea was for Tack to partner with hotels. (We still will, eventually). When lockdowns happened in March, our beta test with a hotel was cancelled and we were forced to pivot to digital church donations, which was about the only thing happening on a regular basis. However, with classes completely digital, we had more time to double down on the development, branding, and vision for the company. Stephen was able to spend some additional time really getting our technology platform ready to bring on a number of clients. Alexander was also able to use his network to find some former undergraduate interns who worked with him at Toast last summer to help with the sales effort (they had their post-graduate plans impacted by COVID). Ultimately, the pandemic forced us to grow up very quickly on our entrepreneurial journey.

Read the entire profile.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

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