Poised for Growth: Creating an Inclusive Company Culture Through Lived Experiences

“Diversity is the engine of innovation. It generates creativity that enriches the world.” 

                                                                                                              – Justin Trudeau

FunnelAI recognizes diversity of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, cultural background, skill sets, experiences, thought, and abilities. Why? Because it makes us so much better at what we do; not only is it the right thing to do, it is the smart thing. Diversity and inclusion are foundational to the success of our team, so we are taking the time to step back and reflect on the individuals who make us FunnelAI.

We want to share a few of the FunnelAI team members and dive into their diverse backgrounds and experiences. FunnelAI believes that the uniqueness that each of us bring from our life experiences help shape the organization. Fast Company shared in an article about a company that only had part of the diversity benefit figured out, “There was obvious diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation. But was there also diversity in class, background, upbringing? Lived experiences can be defined as any “personal knowledge about the world gained through direct, firsthand involvement in everyday events rather than through representations constructed by other people.” At FunnelAI, we recognize that diversity has many different dimensions and we strive to embrace them all.

In this piece, we highlight Srujana Bobba, Chief Technology Officer, Esme Araiza, Marketing Strategist, and Larry Gonzales, Full-Stack Developer. By bringing their own lived experience to the team, each person gives us a much deeper appreciation of different perspectives’, and empowers us to create inclusive and innovative solutions. 

Tell me about your background and your first job. How did you get to where you are now?

Srujana: I am from Hyderabad, India and I received my bachelors’ degree in Computer Science from B.V. Raju Institute of Technology. I am currently attending Georgia Tech to obtain my master’s degree in Specialization in Machine Learning. 

I became passionate about computers in 8th grade when my dad got me a Windows computer. I was so intrigued that I took the computer apart to see what parts it had and put it back together. I loved using Notepad and playing Minesweeper. Notepad got me interested in typing and I later learned HTML in high school. I read a book on HTML that my friend gave me and that is how I got into website design. 

I worked at a data entry job in high school correcting text. My first professional job was at Cognizant Technology Solutions as a Programmer Analyst. I have also freelanced and established several of my own companies in India after college. Reachfree, which is a website for free messaging, and Creative Tree, which was a service company that helped other industries set up websites. Another position was at NOKIA in their HERE Maps division. I joined FunnelAI after talking with Sri and was excited to be back in the startup environment.

Esme: In high school, I really enjoyed Journalism and was the editor of our school’s online newspaper. It was during this time I found my passion for communication and learned how to use InDesign (my gateway to Adobe products). 

I attended The University of Texas at Austin and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communication. My very first job was at Taco Cabana as a cashier, but my first professional position was working as a Marketing Intern at a children’s museum during college. This was a turning point in my career because I discovered my fascination with marketing. 

Fast forward to my summer of junior year of college, during my search for a marketing internship, I came across a position for Apposphere, which was Sri’s previous start-up. I drove to Austin from San Antonio, met with Sri and got the job! It was very exciting for me; I was so new to the start-up/tech world. The team was so small back then, it has been amazing to see so much growth within the company.

After graduation, I moved back to San Antonio and worked with another company. Around that time, Apposphere had turned into FunnelAI and relocated to San Antonio. It was perfect! I joined the team again as a Marketing Strategist and am happy to be back. I have really enjoyed the last year with FunnelAI. 

Larry: I was born and raised in San Antonio and started working at Bill Miller as a busboy at the age of 16. I later became a repair technician for eight years and was taking college courses in tech. I joined the FunnelAI team as a programmer and was one of the company’s first hires. I found FunnelAI by attending a local coding bootcamp in San Antonio, where one of the founders also founded the RealCo accelerator, which FunnelAI was participating in. Soon after the bootcamp, I joined FunnelAI as a programmer. I was one of the company’s first employees and the rest is history. 

What drew you to this field, and FunnelAI in particular?

Srujana: Sri brought this field to my attention when he asked me about joining the team. I started as an intern for two weeks, having the opportunity to analyze the team. When it comes to FunnelAI, teamwork is our best asset. I really liked the team and I had the opportunity to complete a lot of research and implementation. Together, as a team, we are constantly learning, holding each other’s hands and bringing each other up. 

Esme: I have always been interested in consumer behavior and learning about what drives people to make the decisions they make. In college, I took a class called “Theories of Persuasion” that focused solely on human behavior and understanding why people do what they do. There was also a sales focus, highlighting how to persuade people to buy your product. This class drew me to the marketing industry and I was able to bring that expertise to FunnelAI.

Larry: I have always had an interest in technology, and I was interested in what FunnelAI was doing as a start-up. The idea of prospecting with social media was very cool and unique to me, and something no one ever thought of before. When I started, FunnelAI was not 100% focused on automotive, we were considering other industries. At FunnelAI, I can learn and have the ability to make an impact. 

What is your favorite part of your role?

Srujana: Talking to the team is my favorite part of my role. I have access to everyone in a different way and I look through the lens of what else I can do to help the team grow and make a difference. 

Esme: I love having an outlet to be creative and getting the opportunity to practice my skills. I have had more opportunities here at FunnelAI than I ever could have at a large corporation. 

Larry: I like coming up with solutions for things. Since FunnelAI is such a unique platform, you cannot just use Google for the answers, everything is trial and error. Sometimes there is more error, but it is all part of the process. I like seeing things come together and everything working out.

How does FunnelAI’s environment support diversity in your role? How does your diverse experience help you and FunnelAI?

Srujana: FunnelAI is always looking at different ways to solve a problem. We look at the product side to see any pain points for our customers and solve them as best we can. The company provides opportunities for people to grow. FunnelAI has a family environment and helps everyone grow, which helps the family grow. Our female founder, Suja, is dynamic and focused on the team and Sri is amazing and always looking for investors/partners who understand our vision and the importance of having a diverse team. There is no bias at FunnelAI and we utilize the best resources to figure out our priority. 

Esme: Sri and Suja have always been really open and honest with the whole team. I really value that. Our leadership hires with diverse intentions as a priority, whereas, at other companies, diversity is in the back of their mind. In my role, I get to experience the entire world of marketing from content creation to live events. It has been exciting and rewarding to see the start-up you have been at since the beginning grow and become successful.

Larry: FunnelAI embraces everyone’s opinion and has faith in its employees. There is never any question of can you do this, rather, we focus on getting it done. We all look at problems from different perspectives, we create innovation through collaboration. Our team is global and most come from different industries. There is always a solution and we find a way to get things done. At FunnelAI, we get to it and figure it out. 

What advice do you have for someone new to the tech industry/startup environment and what three qualities are key for being successful?

Srujana: Take care of your health and respect your body. If you respect your body, it takes care of your mind. Respect each other and do not bring others down to help you grow. Being disrespectful creates an unhealthy work environment. To be successful, learn as much as you can in your role, be proactive, and think ahead. 

Esme: If you want to get into marketing, take free courses online and watch YouTube tutorials. HubSpot is a great resource to utilize for acquiring marketing certificates. To be successful, you must be adaptable, organized, and a good communicator. 

Larry: In programming, it is okay not to know everything. No one knows everything, so have faith in yourself and get your tasks done. At a startup, nothing is out of your scope and you have the opportunity to wear multiple hats. You will be successful if you are flexible, adaptable to learning anything and have a can-do attitude.

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