Before Michelle Darby became Co-Founder and CEO of Boston-based software startup, Roomzilla, she was a leader and winner in another forum - athletics.
A native of North Andover, some 25 miles north of Boston, Darby attended Philips Academy where two major components of her life would come into play during those high schools years – electrical engineering and rowing.
While engineering would become her most notable tangible skill, it was on the water where Darby would find and hone her knack for leadership.
“I was one of the first students to take the electronics elective. Even though my parents are both engineers, I didn’t really know I wanted to make this a career. Ultimately, electrical engineering and rowing are what led me to University of Washington.”
The University of Washington in Seattle, WA met Darby’s needs. It was not only a top tier engineering institution, but also renowned for its crew teams. With the best of both worlds, Darby shipped across the country, much to the dismay of her parents, for four years in Washington.
In a day where we hear so much about the barriers for women in tech or and lack female entrepreneurs, when you speak to women that have broken through those barriers, there’s a common theme – a mindset if you will – that they give off; a “Nothing will stand in my way” attitude.
For Darby, it’s no different. It’s also no surprise that she’s been able to succeed in the tech industry that is so heavily male-centric. Darby, you see, was the Coxswain for UW’s men’s rowing team. She was the lead voice and director of the boat. A team of male athletes took orders from Darby in the heat of action. Those orders and that direction led to multiple gold medals and 3 National Championships.
“Teamwork and leadership were clear takeaways from rowing. I had to work with a lot of strong personalities and be the voice that was heard by the team. Being the lone female on the boat, which isn’t a widely accepted practice, I had to earn my respect – so I did.”
Photo Credit: Joshua Trujillo / seattlepi.com
TURNING ATHLETIC SUCCESS INTO BUSINESS SUCCESS
After returning home upon graduation (along with her championship rings), Darby landed an engineering role with a startup housed in the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) in Kendall Square and got to know Tim Rowe, the founder of the CIC. Rowe, looking for help building out an internal app, Roomzilla, to alleviate the challenges around booking community conference rooms at the CIC, turned to Darby to get the product built.
“Michelle had this way about her,” Rowe told me. “I knew she’d be able to take this side project and turn it into a viable standalone business. I was thrilled when she got on board.”
With a working beta version of Roomzilla, Darby was approached by Martin Trust Center at MIT Sloan to use the software. At this point Rowe knew there was an opportunity here so Rowe helped Darby to spin Roomzilla out as its own company.
In early 2013, Roomzilla was incorporated and CIC was officially signed on as its first paying customer, with MIT right behind. For the next 18 months, Darby continued to grow Roomzilla on her own until she brought in some outside angel funding from John Chatzky, a former Olympic Coxswain. With that funding in hand, Darby brought on her first full-time hire, Lilian Mitchell, who currently sits as Director of Customer Relations.
Today, that list of customers includes companies, big and small, around the world. “We have users around the world, including in the UK, the Netherlands,and Ireland,” Mitchell told me.
Some notable companies using Roomzilla to streamline their conference room booking process include Harvard i-Lab, Cornell University, Tyco and Boston-based video marketing company, Wistia.
So what exactly is so attractive about Roomzilla that has them locking down customers around the globe?
Sitting with both Darby and Mitchell there was one constant theme – simple and effective. You could hear that message in every way they spoke of the company and product. The demo I was given of Roomzilla only emphasized the fact.
“Roomzilla was built to be super effective, yet very easy to use. Any changes we make to the product are based around a better experience for our customers, and are often driven by their requests. We believe that booking a meeting room should be quick and simple and our solution allows for just that,” Darby said.
Roomzilla’s software blends into your workflow. Their tool combines a website and an iPad at each room to provide real-time access for reservations and availability information.
We’ve all dealt with the awkward conference battle – is it booked or is it not booked? Are they going to get out so I can start my meeting? Roomzilla’s platform alleviates these situations.
Many tech companies today are trying to create their own solution – be it a self-built app or use of Google Calendar, but with such an easy, effective and affordable ($20 per month per room) solution available with Roomzilla, one may wonder why. One may also wonder how long will it be until every office, at least in Boston, will be utilizing Roomzilla.
One thing is certain; Darby has the drive and both the tangible and intangible skillsets to get Roomzilla to the next level. Will she bring her tech company to the business version of a National Championship? I guess that partly depends on how you achieve success. For Darby, not surprisingly, it’s simple:
“Team sports create the opportunity for intense collaboration, and modern companies are using tools like Roomzilla to help their organizations do the same. Ultimately this is what leads to success, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”