How an Artist Created a 3D Technology Startup
Most entrepreneurs have a unique moment of illumination that inspires and fuels his or her journey. For Modsy CEO Shanna Tellerman, the moment came during her undergraduate studies in Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University. It was where she realized she didn’t have to abandon her love of art for engineering, but rather combine them to build her dream career.
As a young grad student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, Shanna focused her energy on combining art and 3D engineering, which led to her founding her first tech company, Sim Ops Studios (later acquired by Autodesk). She blazed a brisk career path with stints at Autodesk, Illuminate Ventures and Google Ventures. Most recently, she founded Modsy, the culmination of her diverse passions and skills.
Modsy joined the Norwest portfolio in February 2016 and publicly launched in September. Modsy’s impressive personalized home design solution uses 3D technology to show consumers what furniture and home decor would look like in their home before they make a purchase. For more information about how Modsy works, visit this page.
We recently sat down with Shanna to discuss her personal journey as a founder and lessons she learned along the way that helped her build a thriving team and company.
On The importance of “Diversity of Thinking”:
Shanna Tellerman (ST): I went to Carnegie Mellon with a strong interest in math and fine arts. Like any wide-eyed freshman, I thought I could do it all – but soon found that the world wanted me to choose one path over another; I felt lost.
That feeling of uncertainty lasted until a breakthrough moment my senior year that was propelled by the now famous professor, Randy Pausch, who wrote the book The Last Lecture. In his class, we learned about the unbridled power of building teams with diverse backgrounds, skillsets and mindsets. This was the “aha” moment I needed; I suddenly realized there was a path in the world that valued my unconventional love of creativity, arts and sciences. And, from this point forward I was determined to uncover this dynamic team based collaboration in all of my future endeavors.
On Defining Core Company Values:
ST: I’m an artist as much as I’m a technologist. And I’ve built a company that celebrates these differences. Everyone who works at Modsy has expressed their own passion for design, art and or creativity throughout their career; whether or not their career path would normally require a differentiated mindset. Even engineers at Modsy, who are technical geniuses and specialize in advanced 3D technology, embrace their own creative endeavors. This mindset is the backbone of Modsy’s core offering. We combine art and engineering to deliver consumers a personalized design solution that doesn’t exist in the marketplace today.
On Scaling a Company and Culture:
ST: We’ve built a very different-looking and very different-thinking group from the beginning and is one of the exact reasons why we’ve been able to scale so quickly. Great people attract great people. Everyone on our team plays an important role in creating the experience that delights our customers every day.
Our team also has a very strong, organic sense of culture. In fact, we have been quite explicit about defining our culture recently, while still maintaining a very high level of diversity. Sometimes this can create an opposition in companies. But because our culture is based on elements that are fairly universal, like an appetite to learn and a desire to inspire our customers, we’ve found that these traits encompass our entire team; rather than being exclusive to a specific profile of person.
On Challenges Faced as a Leader:
ST: A lot of the challenges I’ve faced are not unique nor surprising. It’s what you would expect in building a great team and product. However, what has been most surprising is that the company is very open and the team is not afraid to tell me what’s on their mind. As a leader, I’m thrilled that I’m not on an island where I’m being asked to figure it out all on my own. I’m not always going to get it right and they tell me when I don’t get it right. The whole team is committed to what’s best for the company and the consumer; and I feel incredibly lucky that they too are as committed if not more to protecting our unique culture.