In the summer of 2020, Eric Westphal (MBA 2021) was looking for an internship where he would have the opportunity to work closely with a startup founder. He considered Boston based startups originally and then broadened his scope to look at startups in Brazil where he had been born and spent part of his childhood.

A classmate introduced Westphal to a friend in VC in Brazil and immediately, the VC partner knew the right person to introduce him to, Diego Dzodan (MBA 1999), founder of Facily.

A Non-Linear Path to Entrepreneurial Success

Dzodan co-founded Facily in 2018 after a successful career in technology, serving in senior leadership roles in Latin America at SAP and Facebook. However, his entrepreneurial story started years earlier with his family business.

“My dad had a small manufacturing company that made construction materials. When I was studying in university, he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a couple of years later,” Dzodan shared. “After he passed, I had to start working on the company because it was a small business and there were no managers.”

Their father’s passing took an emotional toll on the Dzodan family, but they were able to continue his legacy and grow the business to five times its size over a period of three years. Then when Dzodan graduated university, he decided to temporarily pivot away from entrepreneurship, and he joined a large Argentinian company as an accountant. From there, he made the decision to attend Harvard Business School where his passion for entrepreneurship was reignited and he founded a software company, Certant, in 1999 after graduation.

Shortly thereafter, the dotcom bubble burst and Certant ran out of funding. However, the co-founders and team managed to keep the company afloat and Dzodan stayed on as General Manager for three years. His next step was back into the corporate world to provide stability for his growing family.

“I joined SAP and was promoted seven times in ten years eventually leading the entire Latin American team,” Dzodan said. Then an opportunity arose to join Facebook, which Dzodan often referred to as the “dream job” and “the best possible job in all of Latin America!” Clearly, there was a fit for the tech executive with Facebook and he served as Vice President, Latin America for nearly four years.

The Birth of Facily

While at Facebook, Dzoadan traveled to China, where he saw how social e-commerce operated there in lower income areas. During that trip, he identified an opportunity to bring a similar model to Latin America and the entrepreneurship seed was planted yet again. It was time to leave the “dream job” and start something new, Facily.

“In Latin America, only 6% of the population buys online and as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a lot of benefits,” Dzodan shared about his business thesis. “The model we built for Facily is that we let people get together so they can place bulk orders directly to producers and manufacturers. We cover a wide category of items including grocery, clothing, and small ticket electronics.”

It was exciting for Dzodan to return to entrepreneurship after a career at SAP and Facebook, but it was also a significant change. “At any large corporation, it’s very comfortable and you can focus on the area in which you add the most value,” he explained. “When you move to a startup, you need to do everything or nothing happens. You can divide tasks among the co-founders, but there are a lot of functions you don’t have a team for yet and that’s a tough transition when you’re used to delegating.”

Dzodan and his co-founders were committed to the company’s success, and as the business grew it was time to hire. They brought on strong talent, like their head of strategy, who has helped the company to grow and scale rapidly. “A key learning from HBS is that the best talent makes a huge difference. The right team is the real accelerator,” Dzodan said.

Building an Internship Program

As Facily began to take off in 2019 and the team was expanding, Dzodan attended his 20 year HBS reunion and found himself eager to engage more with the school. “I went to the reunion and the inspiration of HBS resurfaced,” he shared. “These are some of the smartest people in the world, and when we left the reunion my wife and I committed to staying more connected.”

Shortly thereafter, HBS Career Coach and Corporate Relations Director, Phillip Andrews, met with Dzodan regarding hiring students and alumni at Facily. From that meeting, the idea of a potential internship program began to grow. So, when Westphal read about Facily and was connected with Dzodan, the timing and pairing was ideal.

As the first intern in Facily’s history, Westphal utilized his experience from investment banking and private equity to help the company gear up to raise a Series A. “When I spoke with Diego, he shared five problems they were thinking about and gave me the option of what I wanted to work on,” Westphal explained. “The project I chose allowed me to spend 90% of my time working with Diego. I did a bunch of financial analysis and modeling. I also helped to put together the investor presentation and figure out how we were going to tell our story so that people could grasp the power of what Facily was trying to do. And ultimately, we got to put this in action in a number of meetings.”

While Westphal is modest about the financial modeling he did, the work he accomplished in a short time was exceptional. “Eric did exhaustive research and talked to every single person on the team,” said Dzodan. “The financial model he created was exactly accurate for 9 months (until business growth skyrocketed in February 2021) and proved the business could work. This was core to getting the funding that we did ($360M in funding as of their latest round).”

The Power of the HBS Connection

The connection Westphal and Dzodan formed was clearly a win-win. Westphal got the startup experience he was after and Dzodan received the help his company needed to reach a milestone – a valuation of $1B.

Based on this experience, Dzodan encourages other alumni and entrepreneurs to spend the time necessary to bring on interns, even when there are dozens of other tasks on your list. “It can be scary to think about using your time to build an internship program as time is our most valuable resource, but it’s definitely worth it. We have the evidence. We got a $1B valuation with the model Eric built in his internship so the impact is very clear.”

Fast forward to today, and Facily has hired a Head of HR and the team is in the process of structuring a formal internship program based on the success of summer 2020. Dzodan and his colleagues are also ready and waiting to have Westphal join the team again should a move to Brazil be in his future. Dzodan said with a hopeful grin, “Eric is an amazing professional, and we’d love to have him full-time.”