Christopher Cherian (W ’21) describes himself as an “accidental entrepreneur.” The management and finance student never envisioned himself as a startup founder. But after realizing how deficient existing video meeting platforms are for larger events, he left the well–beaten consulting path and began working on his Forbes–featured startup, Gatherly.
With an early April birthday, Chris had to forego a traditional 21st birthday celebration in 2020 because of the COVID–19 pandemic. He instead opted for a ‘new normal’ birthday party on Zoom. It was a 50–person party with friends from Penn and his hometown of Atlanta. However, Chris describes it as “extremely awkward” and lasting all of ten minutes.
“I would talk to one of my Penn friends, and everybody from Atlanta would be like, 'I have no idea what's going on.' And then I'd be like, 'Alright, this is super awkward.' [Then I'd talk to] my Atlanta friends, and all my Penn friends would be [confused about our] high school jokes,” he recalls with a laugh. However, this flop turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Chris realized that existing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and BlueJeans were good for small meetings, but not for larger gatherings like business conferences, networking opportunities, and parties. “I wanted something that kept the big group but also had a personalized feel,” he says. Chris began talking to friends from home who attend Georgia Tech, and they were also interested in working on the venture. Thus, Gatherly was born.
Gatherly's main mission is to simulate the feeling of a real conference virtually. Every Gatherly call has a colorful virtual map, which allows you to ‘walk around’ the space and join conversations with people and groups that you stand next to in the room. You can move rooms by going to the ‘elevators.’ You can also easily have one–on–one conversations with other people on the map and even lock the room during them. There’s a directory of everyone in the conference, which allows you to message other attendees, as well as a ‘group chat’ function, which you can use to message the people in the group you’re currently talking to. The platform is completely customizable with logos and images, and new features are constantly being added.
The pandemic was crucial for Gatherly’s development and success. Like many other college students, Chris' summer internship was canceled. In hindsight, he says it was the "perfect opportunity" to create the platform. The pandemic also made Gatherly an office space for the startup team. They started using it for every meeting and were constantly forced to fine–tune the product.
“It was like eating your own dog food [to test it out]. That's what we ended up doing. And that ended up being really, really valuable for the product,” Chris says.
Currently, Gatherly has hundreds of users and hosts about 100–200 events per week. Past clients have included MIT, Yale, Capgemini, and General Electric. The current company team is 11 people and one intern, and they are hiring four to five more people, which Chris describes as his “main priority.” The team is also in the process of raising capital. They’ve worked with mentors like Wharton professor Tyler Wry and former Wharton assistant professor and startup CEO Anoop Menon.
Chris and his co–founders are all working on the startup full–time after they graduate, and they hope to scale it up and add more features with time. He’s not sure where he’ll be based since the company has a fully remote workforce, with employees across the country and world. Right now, Chris is considering Atlanta, New York, and Boston as some of his primary options.
When he’s not taking investor calls or talking to his team on Slack, Chris is enjoying the second semester of his senior year. He loves playing poker and listening to show tunes, a hobby he’s picked up recently. Reflecting on his experience with Gatherly, he says that working on the project has been some of the most fun he’s ever had because it’s allowed him to wear so many different hats. But despite being an incredibly motivated worker, Chris also prioritizes something that's too often overlooked in grind culture: mental health. “There's always an additional call or additional sales material [we] could be putting out, but mental health is really important," he says. "Being able to balance [it all] is super critical.”