By: Stephanie Scott
Photos by: Deniece Griffin
Carlo Martinez is a Georgia State alumnus from the class of 2002, having graduated with a Business degree in Finance. After working several part-time jobs and struggling to find a job that was meaningful to him in his degree field, he decided to turn his passion for education and data analytics into a startup company called Steppingblocks.
“I define entrepreneurship as having passion and a vision for something, and nothing can stop you from making that vision come true.”
How did you come up with the idea for Steppingblocks?
When I graduated, I was a bartender, I sold perfume, I worked at Wendy’s, and several jobs for a number of years. The first job I got in finance was as a bank teller at a SunTrust. I intended to work my way up the corporate ladder, hoping to eventually become an executive in the company. I started networking, learning new things, and eventually made it into the field of risk management. That is where I learned about data analytics and how the bank was using data to make decisions.
I wanted to apply those skills to education. I thought about all the students like me, who prior to graduating, would have benefitted from having knowledge about the job market. Knowing information and statistics on what degrees align with certain jobs, what starting salaries typically are, what the highest paid positions make, and what skills are needed to get those jobs, would ultimately help students make informed decisions about their education and career. I started to manually collect data on education and certain careers, because there wasn’t a systematic way to do this. I wanted to solve that problem. When I came up with the solution, I left my corporate job to develop this project full-time. That was a little over three years ago, and that project became known as Steppingblocks.
Who is your target customer?
Initially, it was built originally for someone like me graduating from college. But now, it’s more than that. This is something that can be used throughout college as you take certain classes and find internships. Or, even prior to that, in order to pick a good college, get scholarships, and pick the right major, you might find the tool useful in high school and even as early as middle school. On the other hand, there’s people who are interested in switching careers that could even use the platform.
Finding the target audience was hard. You can’t successfully run a business with everyone as a target. We decided that the right market for us is colleges and universities because of the data we have. We can provide colleges and universities with data about their graduates. We can give them information like what companies hire their graduates, what fields they’re going into, whether their graduates are getting jobs in their field of study, who is getting advanced degrees, and how they compare to their peer from other universities. We provide a bird’s eye view of institutions with all of our data and make that information available to the students.
What is your funding story?
The first year and a half was just me developing my idea into a product. Then, I needed to find the right people to help me develop that product. My first funding was people quitting their jobs and investing their salary to earn potential equity in the company. We got $1.5 million in seed funding from an equity deal with a great investor that has helped us a lot. After that, we applied for a grant for $250,000 from the National Science Foundation. Now we are eligible to apply to Phase II, where we will get another $750,000. That will help, on top of the revenue that we are now getting.
What’s it like having a workspace in Atlanta Tech Village and how has it helped your business?
During the development phase, I was able to network with coders and engineers. It’s open 24 hours a day, so I was able to be here all night coding and working on my business. Atlanta Tech Village is not an incubator, so it’s not like you’re being guided through the process of developing your business. You have to open your own doors, but it’s easier to do that here because everybody’s accessible. It is a community, and Atlanta Tech Village has lots of events to support and encourage that. They have workshops and mentors that you can speak with, and lots of people to point you in the right direction. It’s one of the coolest coworking spaces in Atlanta.
What has it been like working with your S2S intern, Paris?
Paris was very passionate about education, outreach and telling people about Steppingblocks. She was very excited about being able to be part of this. When she started working, she had a lot of energy and was willing to learn new things. Any task she gets assigned, she’s like, “okay, I got this.” She fit really well into the culture of Steppingblocks’ work environment.
What is the vision for Steppingblocks in the future?
The vision, from the beginning, was to be a household name for individuals making decisions about college and careers. If we could join forces with larger companies and local government initiatives to create a more robust platform, that would be great. We want to continue to grow our base, collect more data, and be able to provide more valuable information to our users.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
Growing up in my culture, I’m Colombian, being an entrepreneur was seen as a bad thing. It meant a person could not secure a job, so they found another way to make money. I define entrepreneurship as having passion and a vision for something, and nothing can stop you from making that vision come true.