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Meet the Mother Shannon Changemaker Award Winner: Charlotte Kohlmann Dales '04

Alum Award Spotlight
Charlotte Dales '04
Mother Shannon Changemaker Award Winner 

Charlotte Dales mother shannon changemaker award winner 2023

Charlotte Dales '04 is the founder and CEO of Inclusively. After working for five years at Deutsche Bank, Charlotte co-founded CAKE Technologies, a mobile payment app that was acquired by American Express in 2017. Now Charlotte is changing the world of hiring by connecting employees in need of workplace accommodations with employers. 

In 2020, she launched Inclusively, a technology platform that transforms the way large enterprises accommodate candidates and employees with disabilities, mental health challenges and chronic illnesses. She was inspired by her cousin, Cameron Northup, who became the first licensed aesthetician in Florida with Down syndrome. Upon getting her first facial from Cameron, she saw how easy (and free!) it was for Cameron's employer to make some slight adjustments to her working environment and the incredible impact it had on her career. She wanted to figure out how to use technology to enable employers to address the individual needs of its prospective candidates and employees at scale. Inclusively has established partnerships with several Fortune 500 companies including Apple, Delta, Accenture, Charles Schwab and Pfizer, and placed candidates across the US. Charlotte graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder and lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, daughter, and son.

Every start-up company has its “war stories,” said Charlotte Kohlmann Dales, ‘04. She the other cofounder of “Cake” are no exception.

“We made every mistake in the book,” Dales said.

It was 2012 when Dales and her business partner, Michelle Songy, got the idea for the mobile paying app, “Cake.” The two of them and several other friends dined out a restaurant in Chelsea, London, near where they both lived, to celebrate Michelle’s younger brother’s visit. It took an hour to pay the bill, Dales said. There had to be a better way, they thought.

“Michelle and I both really wanted to do our own thing, and we didn’t want to stay at our current jobs,” Dales said. They saw the frustration and the disruption of their dining experience as an opportunity to fill a need through technology.

Dales, who graduated in 2008 from University of Colorado in Boulder, had been living in London for about a year at that point and worked in finance at Deutsche Bank. Songy, a friend from Atlanta who Dales had known since college after Songry was roommates at University of Georgia with Dales’ friend from Sacred Heart, Brooke Parker, ’04, worked in corporate finance for Coca Cola.
The idea for the app was hatched at the dinner, and the planning began.

“We literally started this company sitting on my bedroom floor, writing stuff down,” Dales said. For nearly two years, the partners planned on the side, while working at their corporate jobs. Then at the end of 2013, they had raised their first batch of money from investors – mostly friends and family – and quit their jobs. They devoted their full time and attention to their new company.

“It started as a bill splitting app, but we quickly realized that through integrating with the restaurant’s existing point-of-sale system [computer systems where servers input customers’ orders], we were connecting all these fragmented systems that existed in restaurants,” Dales said. And getting restaurants on board was key. “By doing that, we were actually collecting data that no one else was collecting,” she said. That data, Dales said, helps companies develop valuable customer profiles.
While the app aimed to make bill paying a piece of cake, as the name suggests, starting a technology company from scratch proved a constant roller coaster of challenges, Dales said.

“Everyone says when start your own company, you have to work really hard. You’re busy and you’re working a lot. What no one says is how much stress and anxiety you have. The biggest challenge is that every time you hire someone, or do anything, if it all falls apart, it’s all on you. You have employees, and their lives depend on it. Investors put money in it, and you want them to get their money back. Your reputation is wrapped around all of those things,” she said Cake Technologies grew to a company that employed 15 people and was live in more than 200 restaurants in London. The company was sold in October. While Dales is not authorized to comment on the sale, the LinkedIn profiles belonging to her and her 15 employees show they now work for American Express.
“The biggest sensation is relief,” Dales said. “And then I thought, ‘Did we really do this and pull it off?’” Dales’ faith – faith in herself, in her company, in God and in St. Jude – helped push her toward the finish line, she said.

When Dales was 12 years old, her mother, Mary Bond Kohlmann, gave her a prayer card: St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. The prayer is titled, “Don’t quit.” It would become her anthem.
“Randomly, a year ago I thought of it. I read (the card) every day for the past year, and eventually memorized it,” Dales said. “I would recite it on the tube on the way to work, repeat it over and over.”
Growing up Catholic at Sacred Heart planted the roots of Dales’ faith, she said, and those years of leaning on her faith when the odds seemed stacked against her and her start-up company prevented her from losing hope. “There are so many lessons I learned about business and starting a business, and mistakes I know not to make anymore. The only thing that I knew for sure, the whole time, regardless of what was happening, was that my gut just kept telling me that I shouldn’t give up when many people probably would have,” Dales said. “As my mom says, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will keep moving forward. It’s your decision to give up or to keep going.”
In such a competitive atmosphere, Dales said, doing the right thing often meant doing the hard thing. A lesson she received from her sixth-grade teacher, Kitty Mattesky, provided a bedrock reminder that doing the hard thing pays off in the long run.

Dales recalled she got a test back from Mattesky with a score of 98, an A+. She went back to her desk realized, though, that her test had been accidentally switched out with another classmate, also named Charlotte. Though Dales said she suspected the score on the other Charlotte’s test was not near 98, she brought the switch-up to the attention of Mattesky. Mattesky used her pen to add 20 points to Dales’ grade, rewarding her for her honesty.

“That is one of the first times that I learned that, sometimes, doing the right thing is not the easiest thing but you usually get rewarded in the end. So many times I wanted to give up. But I would think, that’s not right to do for my investors and employees. Certainly, if I could keep going, I will figure it out.”

While the stress was like a tunnel that sometimes seemed to have only a sliver of light at the end, Dales said she cherishes the experience of starting her own company and even wants to do it again.
“I feel so fortunate. Not many people get to go through this. Even though it was so hard -- I loved my job, every second,” Dales said.

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