Innovate and improve: Be confident that what you’re doing is unique, innovative and improving the industry or problem you set out to solve. Devote yourself to building something you’re proud of.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charu Thomas.
Charu Thomas is the CEO and founder of Ox Fulfillment Solutions (Ox), the company transforming the supply chain industry by helping retailers leverage their stores as distribution centers. At 18-years-old, Thomas founded Ox, formerly known as Oculogx, to utilize her experience in augmented reality to maximize order picking and fulfillment for industry-leading Fortune 500 retailers. Thomas is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in industrial and systems engineering and operations research. A young and influential game changer, her awards and accolades include being selected for Forbes 30 Under 30, TechCrunch’s SF Disrupt Top Pick in Retail/E-commerce, winner of the Atlanta Startup Battle 3.0 and second-place winner for the Microsoft Imagine Cup.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I wanted to be a mathematician and economist when I was in high school, and never really considered entrepreneurship as an option until after my freshman year of college. In 2017, I was working at Martin-Brower, which handled the supply chain for McDonald’s North America. It was my first job and my first look at a high-performing supply chain. I learned a lot that summer but I was also intrigued by the prospect of entrepreneurship. I spent my time after work at Entrepreneurs’ Night at ATDC, the Georgia Tech incubator. I loved the experience of networking with entrepreneurs building game-changing technology, and I definitely saw myself in their shoes for the first time. When I was doing research at Georgia Tech under Thad Starner, the inventor of Google Glass, I got the first idea for what would be my company Ox.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There are too many to choose from! I will say that one thing I am consistently in shock of is how many incredible leaders I get to learn from everyday, whether it’s people in my industry, in academia, or in our community. I am so grateful for that.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My first VC meeting — I didn’t have a pitch deck, didn’t know what questions to ask, and didn’t know how to follow up. My biggest takeaway lesson from that: don’t talk to VCs if you’re not looking to raise money.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Starting a company like Ox (or Oculogx rather, which was the name of the company when we first launched) was the last thing I expected myself to do. I always wanted to go to grad school and get a PhD. When I started the company and it started to take off as a viable idea, my mom encouraged me to keep going. She told me I could get a PhD anyday, but my first priority should be making my company successful. So I decided to go all in and do it. I will never forget that advice and keep it with me whenever things get tough.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In truth, every single person I’ve interacted with has impacted me in some way, and I’m eternally grateful for it. One person I’m especially thankful for is my advisor, Thad Starner. He’s the inventor of Google Glass and by far the smartest person on the planet. Working with Thad gave me tools and skills that I needed to make it to where I am, running and operating my own business serving Fortune 500 retail clients at 23-years-old.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The father of one of my best friends gave me some really good advice that has guided a lot of my decisions: “The best start is showing up.” That advice is the reason I went to Thad Starner’s lab in the first place and ultimately was able to start my career.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the main point that your company is helping to address?
Ox is a complete fulfillment platform built for the future of supply chain. Ox allows companies to fully optimize their fulfillment operations by empowering their workforce to do more. The platform integrates seamlessly with current systems to automate warehouse and pick routing to maximize unit shipment per hour. By implementing Ox into all areas of fulfillment, supply chains can be pulled into the future and into the competition. Ox continues to grow, with current clientele including numerous Fortune 500 companies.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have a great client culture and a great company culture. For clients, order-picking typically accounts for about 55% of warehouse operating costs, but Ox is able to help cut those costs. After implementing Ox into its supply chain, employees never have to touch a button, worry about scanners or carry around a handheld device again, helping to boost client company culture.
I’m really proud of our culture at Ox as well. One of our core values and morning questions during standup is, “Did You Wake Up Excited?” — We aim to answer “yes” four out of five days, but we usually get a perfect 5/5 score. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard team members, myself included, say they woke up feeling a bit drained, only to get totally jazzed up and energized for the day thinking about working with their fellow amazing colleagues. It’s something to brag about and be proud of. I think most of the workforce couldn’t say the same.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
With our recent 3.5M dollars seed funding round that we announced in March, my team and I are looking forward to expanding our operations and continuing to leverage the stores that we work with as distribution centers. We’ll also use the funding to invest in partnerships and develop a wider in-house team. The supply chain industry was tested due to the pandemic, and many failed under the pressure — we’re prepared and excited to help any Fortune 500 retailers with seamlessly automating their retail operations.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’d love to see more women in tech, and supply-chain, specifically. As a female founder in supply chain a male-dominated industry where men hold 75–80% of jobs and 90% of senior roles, I’m constantly thinking about ways to close the gender gap across all industries and get more women in C-Suite roles.
My advice to women wanting to break into technology is to be authentic, be decisive and, most importantly, show up. If you’re wondering why someone isn’t solving a specific problem, be that someone. Have confidence — you can do it.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest challenge for female entrepreneurs is the lack of funding, and the solution is to fund more women. It is important to democratize access to capital by doing away with warm intros, removing clear bias in funding processes and having more accountability of partners through public NPS scores like VCGuide.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Ox’s technology can be used in a variety of industries like fashion, grocery, third-party logistics and more! We have a great ecosystem of partners, system integrators and tech providers who we work closely with to find the right clients to partner with.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
The Ox team is laser-focused on problem solving and finding and providing the best solutions for those we serve, instead of selling them things they don’t need. To do this, we build solutions that help our customers be more effective. Our user experience is incredibly modular and enables our customers to customize their experience for their particular process and business rules.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the three most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Learn from others: I’m very lucky to have amazing mentors in my life and working with them continues to help me grow and better myself and my business everyday. Never be afraid to ask someone for coffee. Usually, anyone who’s achieved anything with help will be glad to pay it forward.
- Bet on yourself: You can’t be afraid to take risks and fail. “Failures” happen and can be opportunities to learn and improve.
- Innovate and improve: Be confident that what you’re doing is unique, innovative and improving the industry or problem you set out to solve. Devote yourself to building something you’re proud of.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have a few of these movements that I want to create in my life. One of them is Human-Computer Integration — I want to make everyone cyborgs.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
One of my favorite entrepreneurs: Sara Blakely. I admire her grit and entrepreneurial gusto!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!