i.Lab Startup Helps MBAs Find Their Perfect Match

For students seeking their MBA, the search for their future job is like a complicated courtship dance. The job hopefuls need more than a résumé-hosting site. They need a matchmaker.

RelishMBA is their corporate Match.com.

When RelishMBA co-founder Sarah Rumbaugh enrolled in the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, she knew she wanted to start her own business, but she wasn’t sure exactly what it would be.

“I didn’t know that I would be so intrigued by the MBA recruitment space. The first thing I learned is that you are immediately immersed in the recruiting process,” she said. “It starts before you even arrive on campus and takes up as much time as your academics.”

The process can be overwhelming for students, and for companies it’s often expensive and time-consuming. Determined to find a smoother path, Rumbaugh began interviewing students and employers to find out what was missing from the experience.

She discovered that unlike other job markets, where the burden of persuasion falls mostly on the applicants, the companies and the recruits in the MBA market spend about equal time trying to woo each other.

“I felt like the whole process was pretty inefficient,” Rumbaugh said. “It took up a lot of time for the students, and employers spend so much money without the online tools to track and improve their recruiting decisions.”

In 2014, she joined forces with fellow Darden student Zach Mayo to found a new online platform that would streamline both sides of the MBA search. They imagined a site that, unlike other online recruiting tools, would be tailored to the demands of the MBA process.

“The basic nature of MBA recruiting is really about building relationships and finding a cultural fit between students and companies,” Mayo said. “As a student, over the course of six months, you’re expected to juggle all of those relationships and keep yourself informed about what’s going on with the company – all for several different companies in several different industries.”

With that in mind, Rumbaugh and Mayo joined U.Va.’s i.Lab Incubator for entrepreneurs and started RelishMBA. It began as a pilot program that focused on relationship management. The early program was available only to Darden students and helped to connect them with a select group of 30 employers. Students set up their own profile page and had access to digitized brand information for each company. Later on, Mayo and Rumbaugh added the ability for students to track each interaction they had with companies.

Within their first year of operation, they brought in more than 340 MBA students – the majority of Darden’s enrollment – and signed up Fortune 500 pilot companies like Google, Goldman Sachs, General Mills and General Motors.

Prior to RelishMBA, large companies would have to fly up to 10 representatives to top business schools in order to engage students and give in-person briefings. It’s a pricey endeavor that doesn’t necessarily create a worthwhile return.

Students may have the chance to hear more than 200 briefings from visiting companies, but their academic schedule rarely allows them to go to many of them.

“What we offer to the employers is catered branding at each school so that they can change it from school to school, online on our site prior to them getting to campus,” said Rumbaugh.

This allows large companies to give their elevator pitch to students prior to their in-person arrival and gives students enough information to schedule around the briefings that they are really interested in. Resource-wasting is cut down on both sides. Companies get a better yield of genuinely interested students for their efforts and students can prioritize the in-person meetings that matter to them the most.

RelishMBA also opens an avenue for smaller companies to market directly to potential employees, despite a lower budget that might prevent them from sending representatives to campus.

“Relish removes that size distinction and helps companies create a virtual presence at schools where before they would just have to depend on happenstance or some sort of circumstantial networking event to even get in touch with a student from Darden,” Mayo said.

Their model struck a cord with Darden students. After a successful year on Grounds, Rumbaugh and Mayo both earned their own MBAs in May and returned to the i.Lab this summer to begin expanding Relish. At the end of June, the team opened the site to MBA candidates across the country, reaching students at 33 of the nation’s top business schools, including the Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Less than a month after expanding, RelishMBA has already grown to more than 1,000 users – averaging about 50 new student sign-ups every day – and is steadily attracting new companies.

“We have many sales in the pipeline right now beyond those 30 companies that were part of the pilot,” Rumbaugh said. “I’m our salesperson and I’m probably working with about 150 potential new companies right now.”

Relish’s niche focus is its biggest selling point to those companies. They don’t post any job openings directly or have an application process; instead they offer a way to manage the relationship-building that is the hallmark of MBA recruiting. Companies can track their recruiting success by monitoring their level of student engagement over time.

“I think most people are looking for us to say we’re unique because we have an algorithm and we better match people, and while we have both those features, they are not our true competitive advantage,” Rumbaugh said. “As far as competitors, there are people who do recruiting platforms. There isn’t anyone else that does what we do.”

The company’s founders are excited to start expanding into the MBA alumni market, but they won’t stop there.

“We think that the future of online recruiting platforms is going to be specialty recruiting software like what we’re developing for business schools,” Mayo said. “We hope to eventually develop similar platforms for law school and other graduate and undergraduate programs.”

Media Contact

Katie McNally

University News Associate Office of University Communications