In many ways, it was like any other August morning in Boston.
The air was thick with humidity, and Drew D’Agostino’s phone buzzed with notifications for website errors and other work-related alerts requiring his attention. He and his business partner, Greg Skloot, woke up that morning as 23-year-old executives in charge of a burgeoning venture-backed startup. By the end of the day, they found themselves sitting in a McDonald’s booth, jobless and wondering—over a shared carton of chicken nuggets—how it all went downhill.
Theirs isn’t so much a riches-to-rags story as it is about processing and learning from failures and setbacks, and about perseverance and reinvention. Now, six years later, the Northeastern graduates are co-creators of Crystal, an app that helps users identify personality traits of people with whom they want to communicate better.
The company has raised $7 million from companies, including the cloud-computing software company Salesforce, and garnered 3,000 customers comprised of sales people, recruiters, managers, and consultants.
Along with seven other Northeastern graduates, D’Agostino and Skloot have made Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” lists of 600 young entrepreneurs who are using their ambition and ingenuity to blaze new trails.
A full account of how they were fired from Attend, their first venture-backed tech company, is outlined in D’Agostino and Skloot’s book, Predicting Personality. Contending that the cause for their termination was miscommunication, the entrepreneurs explain that their new app is designed to help others avoid similar situations by using personality data to improve daily communication in negotiating and writing emails.
The business partners credit Northeastern for their success—and friendship. It was where they developed a prototype for their first company, with the university’s alumni relations office as an early client.
“Drew and I were roommates and built our relationship from years of shared experience exploring entrepreneurship ideas, being part of the entrepreneurship club at Northeastern, and building a great friendship as students,” says Skloot, who received a business degree from Northeastern in 2012.
D’Agostino, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in marketing and entrepreneurship, attributed his success partly to the co-op experiences that allowed him to work in sales as a student.
“Building a book of business from scratch is very challenging, and it forced us to learn so many entrepreneurial skills: pragmatic thinking, effective communication, negotiation, and persistence,” he says.
Forbes also recognized 2018 graduate Joshua Martin and his co-founders at Fortify, who met in the lab of Randall Erb, an associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern. Martin and his colleagues Andrew Caunter, Dan Shores, and Scott Goodrich Delos, who graduated in 2016, and Karlo Reyes (who graduated this year), are credited with creating a company that developed a new type of composite 3D printing. The co-founders have raised $13 million with venture capital firm Accel.
Also making the Forbes list is Brian Sanderson, a 2013 Northeastern graduate who specializes in financing buyouts and corporate mergers at Morgan Stanley. Sanderson has led the execution of deals that have raised more than $150 billion for companies such as Uber, Slack, and Netflix. He also finances deals for software-focused private equity firms.
Ryan St. Pierre, who graduated from Northeastern in 2012 and is now a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, was honored by Forbes for designing tiny robots that can accomplish tasks too tricky for human hands. Hoping to match the biomechanical abilities of insects, St. Pierre has dedicated his career to building bug-inspired bots and applying new types of materials to robotics.