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Culture Craver, co-founded by Julia Levy ’11, is a tech startup aiming to transform the way people discover culture. Levy, together with her business partner, constantly work to think of ways to improve Culture Craver’s interactive platform. “We work to make people smarter and savvier about culture,” said Levy “and help them to enjoy more culture experiences more efficiently along the way!”
We recently caught up with Levy to ask her more about her startup and her experience as an entrepreneur.
Tell us about Culture Craver.
Culture Craver is the go-to culture resource for the digital age: on our website or app, users can pick the friends and professional critics they trust. Then, we generate a custom snapshot of recommendations of the movies, art exhibits, plays, dance performances, talks, screenings (and soon music, books, TV shows, and more) that they’ll love.
What is unique about Culture Craver?
First and most importantly, trust powers our recommendations. Our recommendations come directly from the real friends and professional critics you trust — rather than from a generic people-who-like-this-like-that algorithm (such as Netflix or Amazon) or from a one-size-fits-all-average (such as Rotten Tomatoes or Trip Advisor). Recommendations from the people we trust have always driven decision-making; we believe this should be no different in the digital age.
What has been your biggest “A-Ha!” moment to date? How did it change your business?
I had two a-ha moments!
First, we were talking with an advertising executive about product design and user acquisition. He was urging us to develop better filters and more prominent messages about making purchases — features we have on our website. We quickly realized that he had only thought to look at our iPhone app. The message was clear: mobile is not an add-on. With people increasingly on the go, it’s the core product. In response, we’ve created an enriched (very cool) version of our mobile app — and we’re looking at creating a mobile web version, too.
Second, we went up to Montreal for a long weekend in late July. We didn’t do much planning in advance but printed out a recent 36 hours in Montreal from the New York Times. When we checked into the hotel, no one gave us any advice about what to do around town even though I was dying to know about current events, rather than months-old suggestions. I thought: what if the hotel told me to download a version of Culture Craver that was hooked into the hotel’s concierge service? We immediately started to discuss how organizations, such as hotels, media companies, or arts alliances, could use what we’re creating to better serve their customers. In response, we’ve been working to build business-to-business relationships in addition to marketing directly to individual users.
How has your Columbia Business School education shaped your business/management approach?
The speakers and cases in classes including Introduction to Venturing (with Professor Ron Gonen) and Starting and Running an Entrepreneurial Company (Professor Don Weiss’ EMBA course) helped me realize that creating something is hard. It doesn’t just happen — and it’s important to be persistent and confident throughout. I’m not sure if this was an intended lesson, but I think these courses also shaped my belief that bootstrapping is a sound strategy. Early funding is expensive — and, if you can avoid it, you both retain control and get to build your vision rather than complying with someone else’s.
Honestly, I’m constantly citing things I learned at Columbia: from Professor Jonathan Knee’s lessons on barriers to entry to Bernd Schmitt’s ideas about branding to Professor Oded Netzer’s lessons on marketing research. It turns out the curriculum was pretty practical.
The Columbia Alumni Connection: How have you used it?
One of our main advisors is my friend and TA from my corporate finance and capital markets class, Jonathan Gazdak, who is currently at Aegis Capital. Plus, we’ve gotten invaluable advice from professors, friends, and alumni. Fellow members of Cluster D ’11 were among our earliest and most influential beta testers.
What advice would you give to a graduating Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?
Here are a few pieces of advice:
1. Do it now! While at CBS, some people advised me to get some traditional private sector experience before trying to start something. In my view, seeking stability in fields like finance, consulting, or marketing will not put you any closer to realizing your entrepreneurial dreams. If anything, it will make it more and more difficult. There’s no better time to take a risk than after your graduation from business school.
2. Use your time at Columbia to refine your idea. I worked on elements of the early business plan in marketing research, venturing, and even Napoleon’s Glance. This helped to refine the idea in an academic context — which was helpful as I moved into the “real world.”
3. Just Do It! One final point: in tech, there’s a lot of talk about needing to have a “technical co-founder.” You shouldn’t allow a techie (or lack thereof) to interfere with your ambitions. My co-founder is a theater director and producer. I have a background in communications, marketing, and media. We have been able to learn what we need to know to build the front end and back end of an elegant, fun, website and mobile app. You can, too!