Wildfire 2018: Globe Talk

Globe Talk is one of the latest startups coming out of The Garage that is focused on increasing cultural awareness. The startup has a cultural exchange program for high school students to interact with their peers from around the world, with the goal of facilitating cross-cultural learning.

The Garage sat down with the Globe Talk team: Tazim Merchant (Weinberg ‘18), Felicity Yuan (Weinberg ‘21), Chris Gustanto (McCormick ‘19) and Alex Li (McCormick ‘21) to learn more about Globe Talk and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is Globe Talk?

Felicity: Globe Talk is a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural exchange to reduce stereotypes and cultural misunderstandings. The program, called the Cultural Exploration module, is specifically for high school students and is a virtual exchange, sort of like a pen pal, for two high schoolers in two different countries to talk to each other and learn about each other’s culture without having to travel across the world. Recently however, we are pivoting to another program focusing on service learning, where we would partner with a local nonprofit, and pair up two students to do service work for that nonprofit organization. Essentially, we are adding another dimension to the interaction. We are still trying to figure out the details of this new program, and validate its model (the problem we seek to solve) via a needs assessment but we’re very excited to introduce it.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Tazim: When I was in high school, I went with a bunch of my friends on a service trip to Kenya. Since I went to a high school that was almost completely caucasian, and not very racially or ethnically diverse, I thought my high school would benefit from exposure to these kinds of individuals who were from very different cultures and societies. I ended up connecting with a girl named Sharon in Kenya, and we were going to try and start a pen pal exchange. Although that didn’t work out, I thought this could serve as a model to break down the small bubbles that we live in, and teach students that the world is far bigger than what we think it is.

How does the matching process work?

Tazim: What is unique about our model is that it is a chapter based model where we have chapter leadership at each school, and they are responsible for recruiting and matching participants. The participants fill out a survey, in which we ask fun things like what are their favorite Millennium Development goals, how many hours do they want to spend on Globe Talk, and other questions that are geared towards their personality. Then the chapter leaders come together and match students based on different factors.

We have a Globe Talk ambassador who is the point of contact in our organization and helps facilitate the matching process. This year, the chapter leaders decided to match students based on their personalities. We chose to match students with opposing personalities. For example, we matched someone who likes to listen with someone who likes to talk. Matching opposite personalities also helps students interact with people who think differently or have a different worldview than them. They don’t necessarily have to accept that view, but it opens their eyes to other opinions and ways of thinking. Currently, we have 56 students in two chapters, New York and Madrid.

Why did you decide to pivot?

Alex: About two months ago, we had a meeting with Billy Banks, one of the heads of The Garage and the Wildfire program. After just five minutes of our conversation, he told us that although what we were doing sounded very nice, in theory it could be boiled down to educated guesswork. We didn’t have a curriculum, and although we were building our network with schools and students, we didn’t have data to back up the existence of any sort of market. That is why we decided to take a step back and reevaluate our model. We want to use the 10 weeks of Wildfire to finalize the details of what our new model will be, but feedback from Billy has been encouraging.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Tazim: Our biggest challenge was that initially, we didn’t focus primarily on the problem-solution fit. There’s a mission that we have, and originally, it was different than the problem that students, teachers, and administrators wanted us to address. Pinpointing that was really the first step that we needed to take. In a way, the pivot brings everybody closer together, to make sure that we are solving a real problem that is out there.

What is the most important lesson that you have learned?

Felicity: We’re all very passionate about facilitating cultural understanding. But I think that entrepreneurs should know that their vision might be different from what will actually work in the real world. Customers might want a different thing and your vision might be too grand to be implemented at the current point in time. For example, we’re thinking global in the long term, which is a great way to promote cross-continental cultural understanding. But the best first step is to go local, not global. Initially, we need to narrow down our search. For example, we start with only the Chicago Public School area, then expand to other cities in the United States, and finally expand globally. So I think it’s really important to realize that initially, you may have to adjust your vision of your startup to make it feasible.

How has The Garage helped you?

Tazim: The Garage is a great space to work and conduct meetings. Weekly family dinners provide us with the opportunity to meet other student entrepreneurs and mentors, and learn from their experiences. The guidance that we have received has been invaluable, because we don’t necessarily have much experience in this field.

Chris: The Garage has also provided us with a wide array of resources, and one of our mentors, Suzanne Cohodes, has been an integral part of Globe Talk. She was the one who heavily advocated for the pivot, and she also adds a wealth of experience and expertise in dealing with information gathering and analyzing. She has had a lot of experience in conducting consumer surveys and interviews, and shared with us what works well and what we should avoid. She’s been a strong proponent of gathering data that is more qualitative than quantitative.

You can keep up with Globe Talk on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.