Fatima Dicko, founder of Jetpack, shares her journey from Mali to Stanford. Jetpack is the first on-demand service built specifically for university students.
What inspired Jetpack?
Jetpack was spun out of mybestbox, a health and wellness subscription company I founded. Although mybestbox was growing 20% each month, the subscription box space became crowded as more players emerged. We started looking to pivot to a business model with greater opportunity for accelerated growth.
Of the models tested, the one that stood out was delivering on-demand supplies on Columbia’s campus. During the time we were thinking about these models, I found myself forgetting chargers or needing coffee on-the-go. I realized the on-demand space had scope to target the specific needs of university students.
What excites you most about Jetpack?
Where it can go in the future. Jetpack is a model of decentralized distribution, and it excites me to think about how this type of model applies in different contexts. For example, we met with a Nigerian company that simplified the country’s medicine supply chain. Where the former system involved hospitals distributing medicines to rural village communities, the simplified version uses SMS to facilitate distribution. It’s empowering to see the decentralized distribution model in a context that literally saves lives.
Has being a female founder influenced your experience in the startup world?
The current conversation on equality in the startup space is timely and important. As a female founder, I’ve found that not all biases are overt. Take pattern-matching: investors might subconsciously match a certain business with a certain kind of founder. If that person doesn’t look like you, they become more critical. The issues raised may be very valid, however the big question is whether those same concerns would have surfaced for founders of different genders and races.
A powerful statistic speaks to this bias: the average VC investment in startups led by Black female founders is $36,000 compared to the overall average of $1.3 million invested. Without funding, far too many entrepreneurs miss the opportunity to grow their businesses.
As an on-demand company, what are the top three challenges you expect Jetpack to face?
Groupthink. One person’s opinions can funnel through to what other people think, especially in investor communities. In the on-demand space, margins are a prevalent concern among investors. Aware of this, we consciously addressed margins early on.
Margins. We tackle the margin challenge by bringing value to our consumers and B2B customers. Our focus is on urgency, so sample-size products are perfect. Initially, we received free samples. Now, we charge certain companies to promote their products.
Physical product promotions are high value to the companies we work with. They allow for a deeper emotional connection in comparison to digital ads. When Procter & Gamble pulled $100m from their digital advertising, their business was unaffected. That’s a sign that there are opportunities to create new ways of connecting with your audience, what I refer to as “discovery through necessity.”
Applying learnings to cities. We see scope to expand into cities after nailing the university market. A university is a microcosm of a city, so there’s an opportunity to collect insights that transfer to city markets.
Why equity crowdfunding?
Equity crowdfunding gives the opportunity to act. Anyone, regardless of whether they're a student or experienced investor, can invest in an idea they believe in.
At 2AM, we put chewable coffee and a card explaining how to download Jetpack onto every bike around Stanford's campus. The next morning, thousands of students across campus woke up to Jetpack. This was our highest conversion event.
What is something you’d like readers to know about you?
My story is one of resilience. At age six, I moved from one of the smallest villages in Mali to NYC due to medical reasons. The journey so far—studying Chemical Engineering at Columbia, working at Procter & Gamble, now pursuing my MBA at Stanford—has been a constant test of resilience. Many times, my first try at something was not successful. I had to keep trying until things clicked.
This theme of resilience applies to Jetpack. Early on, we had very little traction. Rather than giving up, we chose to be resilient. One night at 2 am, we put chewable coffee and a card explaining how to download Jetpack onto almost every bike around Stanford’s campus. The next morning, thousands of students across campus woke up to Jetpack. This was our highest conversion event.
If you had one extra hour in the day, how would you use it?
Catching up with friends and family. The demands of running a business make it difficult to keep up with relationships. Unless there’s shared perspective, it’s hard to explain why I’m usually hard to reach. For that reason, my immediate network is primarily other founders who resonate with the emotional rollercoaster of running a business.
Any suggestions for people looking to build their startup network?
Having a tribe is the most important thing. Build a diverse network of people who are experts in areas you are either passionate about or want to learn more about. A great resource is Meetup.
We've received so much support from our network. The GSVLabs community is incredible for connecting us to different types of founders. One of our investors, Rough Draft Venture, focuses on student-led companies. Rough Draft connected us to companies like Fireflies.ai, an AI assistant for project management. As student founders, they've experienced similar challenges that we can learn from.
Being a founder involves a lot of highs and lows—how do you cope with this?
Take ownership and great pride in the fact that you’re taking a risk. I cope by having a strong sense of individualism that exists outside of my idea. When you attach yourself to an idea, your emotional state is tied to its success. If the idea is doing well, you’re doing well. If the idea is failing, you’re failing. Separate the two: you are not a product of how the idea progresses.
On that note, the startup community has gotten better at openly addressing mental health. Founding a company is psychologically demanding and you need to be mentally prepared from the beginning.
Thinking your business will be an overnight success comes from a place of deeply rooted ego.
You have to push past that.
What motivates you?
I’m inspired by awesome non-consensus ideas. These are the ideas that people tell you won’t work. If you pursue it and get it right, you’re brilliant. If you get it wrong, you’re a fool. You have to accept the possibility of building something great at the risk of being seen in a negative light.
The stories of other founders keep me grounded. I look to Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, who has screenshots of people telling him Airbnb will never work. On Crunchbase, you can appreciate the number of years it took most companies to get off the ground. Thinking your business will be an overnight success comes from a place of deeply rooted ego. You have to push past that.