Checking in with Chezie
Our first-ever featured founder shares the big wins and lessons she’s experienced since our conversation one year ago.
Way back in the early days of In the Works (a year ago — before we were live yet!), the editorial team interviewed our very first founder, Dumebi Egbuna, for a feature article in The Community Issue. Dumebi shared the story of how she and her brother, Toby, were building a brand-new platform for underrepresented job-seekers to learn about a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offerings before they started a new role.
Since that interview, the siblings and their company, Chezie, have experienced huge growth and change and have passed many milestones — including winning NPR’s How I Built This pitch competition, enabling Toby to make his role as founder and CEO a full-time gig. In this throwback snack, we got updates straight from the source: Dumebi tells us how the co-founders grew their customer list, switched up their core offering (without steering away from their core mission), and stayed resilient through loss and hardship.
It's been almost a year since we interviewed you for your feature in our first issue. How has Chezie grown since then?
We’ve grown and changed a lot. When we last spoke, we still had a job-seeker platform that gave diverse talent insight into the minority experience at a prospective company before they applied. We were also working on creating a management platform that would help companies to track and manage their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
We’ve dropped our job-seeker platform completely. It was dependent on employees submitting their reviews on the site, and we couldn’t figure out a way to get people to do that organically. We had started conducting story interviews with employees at various companies, but given that it was just me and my brother, it was extremely hard for us to scale that method. So, while we found that work to be impactful (we still get feedback from job-seekers that they really loved our platform), it just wasn’t a sustainable business model.
As for the management platform, we’ve iterated on this idea and it’s now our core offering! Our mission has always been to help create more inclusive and equitable workplaces, and we determined that a good way to accomplish that would be to focus on employee resource groups (ERGs). Having participated in ERGs ourselves, Toby and I know how impactful they can be on the minority experience, especially if they are managed and sustained correctly. But that’s the caveat — most ERGs are not.
Here’s the issue: ERGs are the centerpiece of corporate DEI work, but too often, they are under-resourced and under-utilized. ERG leaders are spending way too much time manually gathering data about membership and engagement, which takes the focus away from the activities that actually drive employee belonging and retention.
To help solve this problem, we pivoted to creating an all-in-one solution designed to help companies build and manage impactful employee resource groups.
Since launching our software in August, we’ve acquired five paying enterprise customers and have a handful more companies using our freemium platform. We also have roughly $200K in the pipeline with high probability-to-close.
What are some of the most significant milestones you and Toby have reached since then? What's been most exciting?
Our most significant milestone was definitely getting our first paying customer.
We pivoted in March of 2021 to focusing on ERGs, and since then we’ve had hundreds of conversations with ERG leaders and DEI managers about their pain points when it comes to management of their employee resource groups. After gathering this feedback and developing our MVP in August, we were officially off to the races in terms of scheduling discovery calls and trying to get our first paying customer. That first closed deal came in November, and we’ve been able to secure one new deal per month since then.
I think what’s been really cool to witness has been the solidification of our sales strategy. We realized that there was a lack of ERG-specific content out there, so that has been our main focus. We’ve created an ERG toolkit, templates and worksheets, a monthly event series, etc. — all with the goal of getting people to synonymize Chezie with ERGs and continue to come back to us for all of their ERG needs. I think once we get this strategy down, in terms of how we turn each interaction with our content into a sale, we really have the potential to take off.
What have been some of the biggest challenges or struggles you've faced, individually or as a founder team?
Candidly, the last few months have been extremely difficult. Our father passed away on January 1, 2022, so in the middle of trying to scale and build our company, we’ve been grappling with unimaginable grief. I think we’ve both learned to lean on each other more. When I'm having a tough day, Toby will step in and cover some of my workload, and vice versa. In the same breath, we’ve also had to adopt a new mantra of resilience. This company isn’t going to grow on its own; it requires a lot of work. Even when we don’t feel like doing it, we also have that in the back of our minds.
Another challenge has been figuring out our sales strategy. Although I have an enterprise tech sales background, figuring out the right sales method for our product has been hard. Whether it’s how often to follow up, when to present pricing, or how to get the decision-makers on the phone — it all took a bit of time to solidify. I think we’re finally settling into a sales strategy right now, but it’s taken a lot of unread emails, no-shows, and lost deals to get us here.
What are some things you've learned about yourself as a founder in the last year? How have you grown?
I think in the last few months, I’ve really gotten over my imposter syndrome. I used to almost feel like a fraud in sales calls, questioning whether or not our platform was good enough or if I, as an entrepreneur, was worthy enough. I think after getting so much validation from companies we were pitching to and also having some early success from a sales perspective, I really believe in our platform and myself even more.
As a Black woman, I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome my whole life. I’ve become so used to being the only Black woman in the room, and that has persisted into entrepreneurship. You don't see many Black founders in the tech space, so believing that we can “make it” is a difficult thing to overcome, but I’m getting there.
What's the current state of Chezie and what's next for the company — immediately and down the road?
In the immediate future, our goal is to get as many customers as possible. As we’ve solidified our sales and outreach strategy, we’ve gotten to a place where we consistently have discovery calls scheduled, so now it’s a matter of converting those discovery calls into closed deals.
We’ve also begun having conversations around fundraising. We’ve brought on a CTO and plan to bring on a senior engineer in the near future. With additional people on the team as well as continued tech development, we need money, and we are starting to discuss where that money will come from. We plan on doing a friends and family round and then seeking additional venture capital funding.
Lastly, I plan on going full-time by the end of this summer! Right now, from a sales standpoint, it’s still just me and Toby, and if we really want to scale, I need to give all of myself to our company. I’m excited for this step and am looking forward to what I can achieve when 100% of my focus is on Chezie.
Down the road, we plan to expand our ERG community to help companies recruit and retain diverse talent. ERGs can be a great recruitment tool, but right now most ERGs are internal — and we want to help companies utilize them in a more external way. More on that to come!