Wharton’s Mother’s Day Graduation Is Both Fitting and Bittersweet for One MBA Mom
That graduation for the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School MBA Class of 2017 falls on Mother’s Day could not be more poignant for impending graduate Divinity Matovu. Her path to business school—and her journey while there—has been indelibly marked both by her own mother and by being a mother herself.
A Wisconsin native who studied political science and African-American studies as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California (USC), hers was far from the traditional route to Wharton. For starters, she is a first-generation college graduate, the daughter of a truck-driving father and a machinist mom. That said, her mom’s entrepreneurial instincts ran deep—and their examples lodged firm in her daughter.
Study abroad during college—in Kenya and Tanzania—made Matovu fall in love with Africa. Three months after graduating from USC, she decided to pour her life savings—totaling approximately $2,800—into moving to Uganda to enter the non-profit sector. She met and fell in love with a Ugandan man, whom she would later marry, and together they opened a community center that for three years provided food and nutrition, arts enrichment, and educational programs to hundreds of children and women living in extreme poverty. But ultimately, the business model—too dependent on grants and individual donations—proved unsustainable, and Matovu decided to close the organization’s operations.
That experience catalyzed Matovu’s decision to pursue business school, which she saw as an opportunity to develop the professional network, resources, education, business acumen, and access to capital she would need for future entrepreneurial success. It also made her a mother for the first time—she adopted a Ugandan son, Shafiq, while there. With another child in utero, she returned to California to pursue her business school dream.
She has made the most of her two years at Wharton, despite some pretty significant hurdles. In her first year, she balanced Wharton’s notoriously tough quant classes, the pressures of recruiting, and leadership roles in Wharton Women in Business, Wharton Impact Investing Partners, and the Africa Student Association while also navigating bicoastal co-parenting with a husband she had recently divorced and grieving her mother, who committed suicide in April 2015, just one month after she received her admission decision to Wharton.
We should mention that she did all this while also serving as CEO of one startup and working tirelessly to get another off the ground. Because despite hedging her bets with a summer internship at Goldman Sachs, she’s come to realize that it’s the entrepreneurial instincts she inherited from her mom—and her commitment to supporting other mothers—that truly drive her.
Her first startup, MBA Mama, is an online platform she launched with a fellow business school student from Fuqua to provide a community of support for women seeking to pursue an MBA while managing the competing pressures of having a family. Though they ultimately decided not to pursue monetizing MBA Mama, it has helped inform Matovu’s second startup in a major way.
Realizing that childcare was by far the greatest challenge she faced as an MBA student, Matovu surveyed the community she had built on MBA Mama to understand its members’ greatest pain points. The resounding answer she received echoed her own.
“That’s where Watotolly was born,” she says. After first thinking it could be an offshoot of MBA Mama, market research led her to believe it could be a stand-alone venture. Watoto means children in Kiswahili, one of the dominant languages in East Africa, where Matovu saw firsthand how a communal approach to childcare forges strong bonds within communities. Watotolly is a tech-enabled, peer-to-peer platform to schedule and coordinate free, on-demand playdates with members of existing trusted networks—reducing the cost and complexity of childcare for families. The idea was born from Matovu’s own intimate familiarity with the challenges of childcare and her entrepreneurial belief that just as the sharing economy has revolutionized healthcare, transportation, and lodging, so too can it reinvent childcare.
Her second year at Wharton has included a continuous string of pitch competitions and other presentations to investors, the launch of Watotolly’s website, partnering with a CTO, and welcoming 10 pilot Watotolly families. Matovu was also selected to be one of a 12-student cohort in the Ballard Academy for Student Entrepreneurs (BASE) program, a legal accelerator for student start-up founders, and Watotolly was chosen as a finalist in the Wharton Women in Business 2016 Start-Up Showcase and won the 2016 Whitney M. Young Startup Pitch Competition.
All the while, she’s been raising her own fierce, independent daughter Nyah, who turned five in April and will graduate from pre-school in tandem with her mom’s graduating from Wharton. Not only that, she’s been actively advocating for other MBA moms. In addition to all her work on MBA Mama and Watotolly, she has also served as co-president of [email protected], including leading a successful campaign to get lactation suites (along with gender-neutral restrooms) installed in Huntsman Hall.
And to mark what would have been her mother’s 49th birthday, she announced the creation of the Barbara Goss Memorial Scholarship Fund. A portion of Watotolly’s future profits will be donated to the fund, which will award childcare grants to exceptional women with children who are pursuing a college degree at the community college, undergraduate, or graduate degree level.
As she shares candidly in the interview that follows, being an MBA Mama has definitely not been without its challenges. To suggest otherwise would be setting her compatriots up for defeat. But we are incredibly inspired by Matovu’s successes as an MBA Mama and the work she has done to support others like her. Recognizing that Mother’s Day and graduation—without her mama—will be profoundly bittersweet, we congratulate her heartily for all that she has accomplished, and all that she continues to do, for other exceptional mothers like herself. Happy Mother’s Day, Divinity.
Q&A with Divinity Matovu, Wharton MBA ’17, Watotolly Founder and CEO
Clear Admit: What have been the biggest challenges of being an MBA mom?
Divinity Matovu: For me, honestly the biggest challenge was financial. I exhausted my savings paying for an unexpected funeral right before starting school, and the student budget is designed for a single person in their mid-20s. While I was able to get some adjustments to my budget based on having a dependent, it was still very challenging to cover my childcare costs.
CA: What would you do differently if you had the application process to do over again? What would you absolutely do again?
DM: As a non-business major in undergrad, I was advised by a coach at Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) to take some quant courses before applying. I would not have known to do that if it wasn’t for MLT. I took statistics and calculus at UCLA for a grade and submitted those as a supplement to my application. I had a great undergrad GPA, but as a Humanities major, I wanted to show I had the analytical chops to make it in business school.
In terms of what I’d do differently, I would have given myself more time for GMAT prep. After several months of going it alone with free software, I hired a private tutor. Though I understood the content, doing well on the GMAT is just as much about time management and test-taking strategy as it is about the subject matter. The tutor I used was recommended by a Wharton alum. It was a big investment but absolutely worth it. Working full time, raising my daughter, and going through a divorce, I needed the flexibility that a private tutor could offer. I also loved the one-on-one instruction.
CA: Why Wharton? Are there factors that you didn’t consider—or didn’t consider enough—when deciding on a school that you now wish you had?
DM: Ranking and prestige was definitely a factor, but the investments Wharton is making in its entrepreneurship resources were very compelling. I felt like it was an environment where—even though the class size was large—there weren’t many people who were serious about starting a company. Wharton’s semester in San Francisco also appealed to me greatly. Though I was admitted to the program, due to childcare challenges I wasn’t able to participate. But I believe it is a huge value add for Wharton students to be able to get Silicon Valley exposure for one semester.
The lower cost of living in Philly also factored into my decision, since I knew that finances would be a challenge. I was leaving the comfort of my community in Los Angeles—but even factoring in a cross-country move and starting from scratch in a place where I didn’t know anyone—Philly just felt very manageable.
CA: As you approach graduation, what has been the most rewarding part of your time at Wharton? One thing you would change?
DM: I am most proud of the lactation room project which is going to help so many women and children in the years to come. I am very proud of having been a part of an initiative that moved the needle on an important issue in such a behemoth of an institution in just two years.
If I had it to do over again, I would have made more of an effort to participate in the travel opportunities. There are a lot of amazing student-led treks to the home countries of some of the international students, but many were loosely organized or last minute. As a parent, I couldn’t just decide to pick up and head to Colombia at a moment’s notice. I went on a trip to Cuba with a small group of classmates. This was definitely a highlight, but in order to make it work I had to budget in two days on the front and back end, and fly Nyah out to California to stay with her dad. My trip from Philadelphia to Cuba was via Los Angeles and Mexico and meant paying for not one but two flights back and forth. There were also weekend conferences I had to miss, because it would mean paying $20 an hour for a nanny.
CA: What advice would you offer to female entrepreneurs?
DM: Know your audience when you are pitching. Find a way to craft your message so that it will resonate with the decision-makers in the investor community, most of whom are middle-aged white men. Additionally, when you have big aspirations to disrupt an industry, you must break through the noise to clearly demonstrate your value proposition and why you will be successful. Wharton has taught me that data rules—so I think that gaining traction and showing measurable results are critical to securing support for your entrepreneurial ideas.
My final piece of advice is to be resilient. For those who are mothers, get inspiration as much as you can from your little ones. Because no matter what the nature of your business is, you are going to get told “no” a lot.
CA: What advice would you offer to other prospective MBA moms?
DM: There are so many things to do at business school that on any given day you could have 10 opportunities that would fill up your entire calendar. My advice is to figure out what are the three or four buckets you really care about. For me, those were entrepreneurship, investing, and leadership. If something came along that didn’t fit into one of those buckets, I passed. That approach made it easy to filter through and not suffer through continual fear of missing out.
Outsource as much as you can and don’t feel bad about it. I outsourced laundry—it was worth it for the time I saved to know that on the same day every week I would get 20 pounds of clean laundry neatly folded. There were also a few times each semester when I had someone come in and do a deep clean of my apartment. I also implemented Take-Out Tuesdays—a night every week when I gave myself permission not to cook. Don’t feel bad about outsourcing if you have the money in your budget to make it work. We feel like we have to do it all, but sometimes your time is better spent elsewhere.
Try to be very diligent and disciplined in how you spend your time and don’t just do what everyone else is doing because everyone else isn’t an MBA mom. Typically, we are less than 1 percent of business school students—your experience is unique, and your life won’t look like everyone else’s. If you are not taking care of yourself first, you won’t be the best mom you can be, the best partner you can be, the best student you can be.