Founder at Work: Dumebi Egbuna on building Chezie, all things employee resource groups (ERGs), and the founder’s journey

Dumebi Egbuna is the Co-founder and CMO of Chezie, an East Coast-based startup that provides an all-in-one solution for building, tracking, and managing employee resource groups (ERGs). Before starting Chezie, Dumebi worked at IBM within their sales organization where she was responsible for driving the company’s strategic initiatives for data and AI brand. 

Trained in business administration at Emory University, Dumebi has always wanted to help minorities break barriers and succeed that eventually led to co-foundering Chezie with her brother with an ambition to help companies retain their diverse talent by building impactful employee resource groups. 

In this fascinating conversation with Shoaib Ahamed, conducted online, Dumebi Egbuna talks about building Chezie, all things ERGs, the ups and downs of a founder’s journey, entrepreneurship, and much more. 

Future Startup: Please briefly introduce yourself and tell us how you would explain your work to someone outside of tech and startup. 

Dumebi Egbuna: My name is Dumebi Egbuna and I am the Co-founder and CMO of Chezie. Chezie is an all-in-one solution for building, tracking, and managing employee resource groups (ERGs). 

For those unfamiliar with ERGs, they are employee-led communities based on shared identities (ex: Black@Facebook, Women@Amazon, etc.) that are meant to foster inclusion, boost employee engagement, and support professional development. 

ERGs can be an integral part of an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, but they are often disjointed, and as a result, under-utilized. We want to change that.

Future Startup: How did you come up with the idea and get started? What went into building the initial operation/first version of the platform — how did you put together initial investment and other resources to get started? 

Dumebi Egbuna: My brother, Toby, and I started Chezie in June 2020. We actually started with a completely different idea, which was essentially a Glassdoor for minorities. We did that for about a year but found that it was really hard to scale. 

We pivoted in the Summer of 2021 to focus on ERGs after being approached by a potential customer who asked if we could create a platform to help them track and manage the groups at their organization.

Although neither of us has a technical background, Toby actually created our first MVP in Bubble, a low-code platform for creating web-based applications. We wanted to be intentional about validating the idea before we allocated a lot of money to build it out. Through conversations with ERG thought-leaders, we found that this was something that many organizations needed, so we’ve been committed to it ever since.

When it comes to resources, most of the capital that we received (prior to raising our pre-seed round) was through grants and pitch competitions. 

Our first notable “win” was through the How I Built This Fellowship in which we won a $50k grant. Following that, we’ve won several pitch competitions and have received other grants from AWS Startups and Google.

Future Startup: What is Chezie today? Who are your ideal customers? What are your products and services? 

Dumebi Egbuna: Today Chezie is a web-based application that is helping organizations to manage and track their employee resource groups. Our vision is to transition ERGs from a function of HR to a true business resource. We’ve seen examples from companies like Whoop or Riot Games, where they are using their ERGs to inform their product strategy and we want to help all organizations use their groups in this capacity.

Currently, our ideal customer is a mid-sized (1000-5000 FTEs) tech company with 6 or more active employee resource groups. They have a pretty solid foundation for their ERG program but are looking for a solution to help sustain and scale their efforts.

Future Startup: What is your business model? 

Dumebi Egbuna: We are a B2B SaaS company. We have a tiered subscription model, based on current ERG participation, to companies in exchange for our ERG management platform. Our starting price is $15k for 250 seats (ERG members).

Future Startup: How do your marketing and PR work? 

Dumebi Egbuna: Our primary GTM strategy has been around the content that we produce. Chezie's sole mission is to make inclusion the standard, and we have tangibly done that by offering free resources to employee resource group leaders. It seems that DEI practitioners are super secretive when it comes to best practices for employee resource groups. So from our inception, we decided to make these resources accessible to everyone who was trying to make their workplaces more inclusive and equitable.

By having these accessible resources, organizations of all sizes have been introduced to our brand, and as a result, most of our pipeline has come from these interactions with our content.

Future Startup: Who are the major players in this market? How do you see the competition?

Shoaib Ahamed: Other companies working on similar solutions are Benevity, Fivetonine, and some others. I think what separates us from companies like Fivetonine or Benevity is that our platform was made specifically for ERGs. 

The companies I just mentioned offer employee engagement platforms that have a solution that could be used for ERGs, particularly for event management. Chezie, however, is a comprehensive platform for all things ERGs - reporting, membership, events, budget, etc. I think our major differentiator is that our platform is a one-stop shop for your groups, whereas these other solutions are just part of our ERG tech ecosystem.

Future Startup: What are the major challenges for Chezie today? 

Dumebi Egbuna: I think our biggest challenge right now is just deciding on where our product roadmap goes from here. We’re implementing some product analytics and a customer feedback loop to help inform some of these decisions, but it can be difficult to narrow down exactly what we want to build in order to solve our customer’s pain points. 

We have our grand vision for ERGs, which I previously mentioned, but there are steps that we need to take before implementing some of that.

Future Startup: What are some of the major risks and opportunities for Chezie? 

Dumebi Egbuna: I think one of the major risks, or more so threat, for us right now is economic uncertainty. There have been a lot of layoffs, particularly in the tech space, and unfortunately, many of the folks that have been affected work in HR or DEI. We’re also seeing some companies cut budgets for HR/DEI tech, so it will be interesting to see how things play out.

I’d say our biggest opportunity is the fact that we have a head start in this space. Some companies are popping up with ERG solutions, but we were one of the first in this market, and with the content that we’ve put out, our brand recognition is very strong. I think we have a chance to build upon the content/resources that we have and offer that in a productized way.

Future Startup: Your biggest lessons as a founder so far. 

Dumebi Egbuna: My biggest lesson as a founder so far would be that I am never alone. What I mean by that is, on this journey, you’ll find that you don’t know what you don't know. At points, you’ll feel like no one understands what you're going through or you have to figure out the situation on your own, but that is never the case. There are so many people in this world that have been in your shoes and that are willing to have a 30-minute conversation with you just to brainstorm or throw out ideas. 

My brother and I have had so many formal, and informal advisors, over the past couple of years, and their support has been invaluable. 

Future Startup: 3 things you found most helpful as a founder.

Dumebi Egbuna: 

  • Finding advisors and mentors that can support you professionally and personally.
  • Having a project management or OKR system so you can clearly lay out your organization’s goals and the tasks/projects that go into them.
  • Making sure you prioritize your mental health and self-care because entrepreneurship is stressful.

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