You can now find stories and news about our MBA students on The Berkeley MBA blog.
Last spring, a team of Haas MBA humorists decided to have a little fun at the expense of the school they love so well. The result was the Haas Observer, funded by $5 contributions by fellow students to a Tilt campaign.
We spoke with co-founders Susan Lee, Davis Jones, and Jonathan Prowse, all MBA 16, to gain insight into the minds behind the madness.
Why did you start the Haas Observer?
Jon: Susan and I were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about our favorite Onion headlines. Then we started to think of all the ways we could make fun of the little quirks that make Haas a place we all love. SYNERGY.
Susan: Just to clarify, when Jon says “sitting around drinking coffee” he really means “making side comments in the middle of Strategy class.” Everyone here has their own student commitments, friends, even life outside Haas. I see the Haas Observer as a fun way to bring us all together, because as Haasies, we’re the only ones in on the joke. We’ll all walk away from Haas with a variety of experiences, but every one of us will remember the first time they were terrified by that giant Mac ‘n Cheese photo in the Bank of America hallway. And that’s kind of beautiful, you know?
Davis: Susan had asked me to join after she and Jon came up with the idea. I was an editor for my undergrad school paper, and my favorite issue each year was always our Onion-style issue, so I was excited to work on something similar at Haas. A self-published paper like this provides a good outlet for humor, self-reflection, and maybe a little bit of humility in our self-mockery, which is good for all of us.
Since you’re Haas students, we know you’ve had great starts to your careers and you aced the GMAT, but what qualifies you for this endeavor?
Susan: I briefly ran a comic strip in my college newspaper. Once I realized it took me 30 seconds to write the joke and seven hours to draw the cartoon, I decided I should stick to words.
Jon: I’ve always thought I was hilarious…. But no, I have a great appreciation for comedy and I’m a big fan of The Onion. I’ve always secretly wanted to go into comedy, but instead, I went to business school.
Davis: Yep, I have tons of background and experience, which I think is really what helped make me a leader/mentor figure on this team.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from fellow students & the school administration?
Jon: We’ve had a super-warm reception from students. We were very careful to be funny and poke fun but try to celebrate the unique place this is, and we hope that came through.
Susan: It’s been a trip to hear people reference the jokes and have it all be in good fun. As far as administration, we heard Asst. Dean Stephanie Fujii was going to pick up a copy, and—now that it’s too late to reject us—we’re thrilled to hear it. No word from Dean Lyons or a response statement on the contents of The Folder.
Susan: After a year’s worth of Haas experiences, frankly, we were teeming with material. Just thinking back to the daily absurdities, the class Facebook group threads, that ‘Cool, Hip, Unique Gear’ sign at the Haas store we walk past every single day—these are things every Haas student knows are ridiculous in the back of their heads. We just had to bring that to front of mind. We reached out to a bunch of friends and started a Google Doc of potential headlines, of which probably 10% made it into print, so we’ve got plenty more to go around next year.
How do you walk the line between good-natured humor and ridicule?
Jon: It’s a bit of a balancing act. Humor is not universal either, so we had to be cognizant that not everyone would find this style of humor funny. These conversations sometimes took longer than the actual writing itself. Regardless, we put a disclaimer in the back so no one can sue us, right?
Susan: It was really important to me that this be seen as a funny way to celebrate Haas—not ridicule it. My general rule was “don’t make fun of anyone who doesn’t make fun of him/herself.” By that standard, we were a little rough on Cheit Hall.
What’s next for the Haas Observer?
Susan: We plan to reach out to advertisers so we can distribute the Haas Observer for free next year, so I’d like to use this interview to make Davis publicly accountable for managing the money.
Davis: I plan to make a lot of money from future publications. Since Susan and Jon are both financially illiterate, I shouldn’t have a hard time paying myself a generous salary for my role in this.
Jon: Back-to-school special? It would be great to make this a multi-generational project by bringing in some fresh blood from the new class. I’d also like to fire Davis, which might be tricky since apparently he controls the purse strings now.
Drinking coffee is a given for students pulling all-nighters to finish up final projects, but for a dozen MBA students this spring, coffee drinking was the project.
The students spent hours on recon at local cafes, serving coffee to classmates and surveying them on every detail of the experience, and conducting a nationwide poll on coffee consumption habits. The research team was part of the Haas@Work program, and their goal was to help Peet’s Coffee & Tea find new ways of engaging Millennials.
And they did: Jessica Mitchell, Peet’s Director of Innovation, said that the students’ ideas are more than likely to see the light of day. “We felt they had a lot of potential to reach customers who are new to coffee. They’re really tangible solutions that we could see implemented.”
Peet’s earned a place in local lore and helped launch a nationwide specialty-coffee trend after opening its first store in 1966 in North Berkeley. Peet’s now has 237 cafes and 141 licensed partner locations nationwide, including seven in Berkeley. So it was only natural that Peet’s turn to Berkeley-Haas for a shot of creativity.
Haas@Work dispatches teams of MBA students to help inject fresh thinking into client companies. Students began with insight generation, identifying Peet’s core competencies and its customers’ core values, before moving on to idea generation—“It’s literally putting as much stuff out there as you can,” says team member Michael Christman, MBA 16.
After paring their list down to 15 ideas, the team worked with Peet’s management team to select the top three. Next, they designed and ran micro-experiments to validate their key assumptions. Students then transformed their insights into concrete recommendations for some of the company’s top leadership, says Ceren Baseren, MBA 16.
“The fact that you, as a student, have a chance to have your voice heard and to present in front of such a high-level client is extremely valuable,” she says.
Past Haas@Work clients have represented a wide range of industries and products, including banking, enterprise software, electric vehicles, health care, cloud computing, and pet food. In addition to the dozen students at Peet’s this semester, another 12 worked for Bio-Rad Laboratories, a 63-year-old medical diagnostics company also founded in Berkeley.
“What’s really unique about the model for Haas@Work is that the teams operate like an outsourced innovation agency,” says Dave Rochlin, Haas lecturer and Haas@Work executive director.
Over the course of the semester, students are introduced to the innovation framework and tools, and the teams collectively put in thousands of hours identifying insights and developing novel concepts for—and with—their clients, Rochlin explains.
“In the case of Peet’s, we took a deep dive and fresh look at both coffee drinkers and cafes, and how people connect with coffee, to try to understand areas where Peet’s innovation team can take advantage of unmet needs,” he says. The team also spent time examining how the company’s unique sourcing and roasting model might be further leveraged, holding in-depth discussions with Peet’s coffee roasters, buyers, and baristas.
In addition to Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA students, Haas@Work is open to students in the Haas school’s Executive MBA program and the UC Berkeley School of Information.
Full-time MBA students went way beyond themselves this year in their annual Challenge for Charity (C4C) campaigns, raising a $85,000 for charitable causes—including $43,350 for the Special Olympics of Northern California. The total was a 25 percent increase over last year’s fundraising.
C4C is the nation’s largest MBA charitable organization, with nine West Coast member schools. Haas came in 3rd among the members this year. Sara Oon and Tiger Lee, both MBA 15, led the 2014 C4C campaign before passing the mantle to Marisa Johnson and John Maus, MBA 16, in January.
For their C4C campaigns, Berkeley-Haas students raise money and provide volunteers for the Special Olympics of Northern California; the Alameda Point Collaborative, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing for and aiding the homeless or those at risk of homelessness; and Reading Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to improving children’s literacy rates through weekly mentorship. In addition to raising funds, students volunteered 2,300 hours for the three charities during the year.
Outside of C4C, Haasies logged another 1,700 volunteer hours for a variety of other causes, bringing the total for the year to 4,000 hours—a 50 percent increase over last year, Johnson said. Students also raised $6,000 in a crowdfunding campaign for Nepal earthquake relief.
Photos: Jim Block
Evening & Weekend MBA Brandon Middleton’s Commencement Rap
It’s appropriate to be sent off by the class’s favorite rapper
When I heard I’d been elected to give to you this message
I knew I had to try to do it big and make it epic //
For the record this was the last assignment I accepted
First commencement rap ever … Guinness Book of World Records? … hmm
Student Always, Beyond Yourself … forever
Questioning the Status Quo so we can change the world … together//
DCF, SG&A, and WTP,
LBO, IRR, and EVC
All foreign concepts to Brandon at the start
Thousands later though they’re tattoed on my heart//
MBA equals marriage babies and academics
Manifestations from all three I’ve seen from the beginning
I’ll miss a lot of things like taking naps on that shuttle
Like sometimes not reading a case and somehow not getting in trouble//
Like rich case discussions, the insights and lessons
Not getting to the insight because we asked so many questions
Like Jim the photographer and Dean Lyon’s dances
Like Saturdays not checking and showing up at the wrong campus//
Y’all never did that right, probably wasn’t your struggle
But you must admit that being EW teaches you how to juggle
It teaches you how to hustle, my look at how we’ve grown
Multitasking homework, family, and watching Game of Thrones//
So thank you Haas for the challenge and thank you for the love
We did more than what we thought we were capable of
Congrats to the spouses, professors, and the staff
On a job well done filled with lots of fun and laughs//
And finally my hats off to the class of fifteen
You’re a good looking group … you’re So Fresh and So Clean
This for gold and for oski to axe and to blue
It’s B. Middleton signing off I will now bid you adieu//
Full-time MBA Sandeep Pahuja’s Commencement Speech
My greatest fear in life is that I won’t live up to my potential. And two years ago it seemed more certain than ever that I would have to settle for a life I didn’t want to lead. There was that nagging voice of self-doubt in my head telling me, “You’re not ready.” Round 1, rejection email. Round 2, rejection email. Round 3, rejection email. Each time, every successive round that voice screaming louder and louder in my head “I told you so.” In those moments of intense self-doubt, when all that I had worked hard for seemed futile, my family and friends picked me up—because they knew that I could. And they believed in me when I stopped believing in myself. And they gave me the gentle push to go after the life I wanted and I applied to Berkeley in Round 4.
I remember getting the phone call, and being so afraid of the possibility of what might happen that I let it go to voicemail (sorry Stephanie), because something I worked so hard for was about to happen and it was scary. I like to think that I was the last person the school let in, the one that Haas took a chance on, the one with below average GMATs, but above average facial hair growing ability. I wanted to come to Berkeley not only because Haas creates leaders, whether in investment banking or non-profits, but because Berkeley teaches us how to think differently, find the right problem to solve, and most importantly, helps us find the right path for us.
But we never would have gotten here today if it weren’t for all of those people that believed we could even when we were sure we couldn’t. To the partner who told you that you needed to go across the country to go to Berkeley-Haas even if it meant a long distance relationship, the friends that continued to ask you what you really did at business school since all they saw on your Instagram feed was pictures of HaasBoats and VegHaas and HaasLoween and HaasDogs and #HaasTag and #Haasome and every other event we like to combine with Haas, the professors who’ve dedicated themselves to teaching us to recognize the pitfalls of the leaders that came before us, and the amazing staff that does all of the little things with no fanfare and makes this place better year after year. THANK YOU.
But I want to especially want to thank our families who made us we are—I am thinking of my family today, that couldn’t be here today because my mother needed emergency surgery yesterday, who thankfully is doing okay—love you Mom. Hopefully the livestream is working better than AirBears2. But most of all, thank you class of 2015. Because if you happen to be by yourself today, I want to remind you that you have 250 family members sitting with you today in this audience. We’ve spent the last two years growing into this family, and we’ve accomplished amazing things. And we did it because we pushed, challenged, and supported each other.
Take my friend Gordon Yu, who pushed me to join Ben Killmer’s Lean Launch Pad team. A push and a challenge that’s changed my path and led me to co-found a startup. Together we won 12 case competitions, started 10, soon to be 11, companies, raised over $170,000 for charity and volunteered the equivalent of 155 days, had more than 5,000 people attend the 9 conferences we organized, created our own signature cocktail, and incredibly had 9 babies born in two years. We were all admitted to Haas because they saw who we could be, we’ve spent the last two years pushing each other to reach new highs, and now it’s our time to go out into the world and live up to that potential.
I want to turn my fear into an asset so I am going to leave you with a challenge today. Find your own path. Don’t go follow someone else’s because it’s what you are supposed to do. Associate to engagement manager to partner—throw it away. Make your own—skip around, skip ahead, go backwards, but do it because it’s yours and it’s the one you want to be on, not the one you think you should be on or the one that’s going to give you the most money. You have to. You’ve given so much of your heart and soul, and frankly, your bank account, to become the leader Berkeley believed you could be. You know right now in your gut if you are on the right path or if you aren’t. I want you to make calendar invite for one year from now, and invite the classmate that has pushed, challenged, and supported you the most. If you haven’t found your right path yet, spend the next year doing what you’re passionate about in all of your free time. On May 22, 2016 call that person up, and talk to them about where you are at because you’ll need a push to walk away from a comfortable life to go for one that holds meaning for you. And if in a year you don’t get the push you need, call me because we’re family, and I know you can.
Our lives are short, and our time is fleeting. Spend it with the ones you love, doing the things you want, with the people who matter the most. We are ready.
By Tom Garland, MBA 15
- The company’s free cash flow has been negative since 1994, owing to poor sales and a highly capital-intensive industry
- Significant declines in ROIC
- Opaque ownership and incentive structure
Moses Lo, MBA 15, has lived a border-spanning life. Born in Singapore to a family with roots in Malaysia, Indonesia and China, he spent his early years in a one-room house with a bucket shower before moving to Australia—and indoor plumbing. For a time he had a business selling custom suits made in Thailand and China. He has studied in Sydney, New York, and now at Berkeley-Haas; he worked at the Boston Consulting Group and Amazon.
It was this global existence that inspired Xendit, an cross-platform app that lets anyone transfer cash around the world in seconds, for a fraction of the cost of established services like Western Union—or even upstarts like Transferwise and Xoom. The funds can go directly into a bank account, or even to a post office or convenience store where the recipient collects it.
“I grew up in one world, and moved to another, and I’ve gone between different worlds all my life,” says Moses, Xendit’s CEO. “I know first-hand how difficult it can be to move money across borders, especially for people who are outside the traditional banking system.”
The startup team includes COO Vivek Ahuja, MBA 15, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent five years on a nuclear submarine; Casey Lord, MBA 15, who worked at Paypal and in impact investing, and is serving as head of Asia; as well as as CTO Bo Chen, EECS 13 and Lead Engineer Juan Gonzalez, CS 13.
The group has made quick progress: they won the Andreessen Horowitz’s Bay Area Bitcoin Hackathon last November, coming in first among 200 competitors. They took 2nd in last week’s LAUNCH startup competition, and Xendit was a finalist at the Global Social Venture Competition in April. The team has recently been funded by one of the most prestigious names in the Valley and will spend the next few months preparing for a public launch.
Xendit is focusing first on Asia, a massive market. Remittances from the U.S. to Asia alone are estimated at $50 billion, according to World Bank estimates; transfers within Asia are billions more.
Xendit’s user interface couldn’t be simpler. Simply choose a contact’s email or phone number, choose a currency and amount, and hit “send”. The app displays real-time exchange rates, and the cash is transferred in seconds. Within seven clicks, you’re moving money across the globe.
The back end is a bit more multifaceted: The cash moves through a combination of traditional bank channels and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ripple. Xendit has already negotiated relationships with banks and non-bank cash-out locations in Asia and moved $35,000 in a six-week pilot.
For bank-to-bank transfers, fees are between 1 and 2 percent. For a non-bank transfer—to someone who does not have an account and may be picking up cash at a 7-Eleven in Malaysia, for example—fees are considerably higher, because of extra service charges along the chain. Xendit is aiming to keep the fees about half of what current competitors charge.
Support Back Home
It’s that market that gives Xendit a social-impact component. Moses says he has met many low-wage immigrants over the years who lose thousands of dollars annually to send support back home. He describes Thomas, a friend in Australia who was a South Sudanese refugee. His father died during the civil war, he arrived on a UN passport and with a scholarship to study in Australia. He was always working two jobs to put himself through school, and paying 15 percent fees to send money to his family in a Ugandan refugee camp.
“Banking is unjust. It’s simply inefficient and too expensive to serve these markets,” Moses says. “I believe that a business worth pursuing should add value to our world.”
Moses says he came to Haas specifically to build an entrepreneurial venture. After taking time to build a team that spans Haas and the engineering school, he and Vivek have been able to leverage their 2nd-year MBA coursework this year to strengthen Xendit. They took Entrepreneurship with Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra, then Workshop for Entrepreneurs, offered through the Lester Center and taught by lecturers Nancy Kamei and Doug Galen.
“Startups are about the right team, the tech talent and access to funding networks,” he says. “Berkeley is the place to be for all of that.”
By Karen Sorensen, guest blogger
Haas startups Xendit and Optucourse were among the four teams to take home $50,000 in prize money Thursday at the annual finals for LAUNCH—the Berkeley Startup Competition.
Now in its 17th year, the event featured a start-up expo, fast-paced pitches from five finalist teams to a group of judges, VCs, and a live audience of more than 300 people, as well as plenty of B-School related jokes from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, MBA 86.
This year’s LAUNCH competition, organized by Berkeley MBA students and hosted by the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, attracted more than 100 entries, each with a required UC-affiliation.
The 15 semifinalists, working on everything from healthcare to financial tech to electronics, participated in a new, rigorous four-month accelerator program—complete with training, networking, and mentorship.
Event organizers said they were amazed by how accomplished the finalists are this year.
“Investors have been clamoring to meet with the teams,” said Dan Schoening, who co-chaired the competition with Franklin Russell, both MBA 16.
The new LAUNCH format is part of a move at Haas to shift entrepreneurship programs to a new accelerator/lean-startup model.
“From hackathons to Lean LaunchPad to LAUNCH we can teach and support our entrepreneurs from the idea stage all the way through to where they can credibly talk to angel investors,” says Andre Marquis, executive director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.
In true Dilbert fashion, LAUNCH keynote speaker Scott Adams—a supporter of Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator—offered a contrarian view of success, reviewing his “36 business failures.” His final comment—making fun of the students’ attempt to solve all sorts of problems, including toe fungus asthma—drew roars of laughter. “I’m really happy I came here, not just because I got to meet great folks, but because I have asthma, toe fungus, and I snore.”
Grand Prize ($25,000): Transcense, which has created a mobile app that allows people with hearing-impairments to understand and participate in group conversations. The company’s founder and CEO, Berkeley engineering alumnus Thibault Duchemin, MEng, 14, was mentored through Haas Lecturer Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad course. Transcense plans to launch its product next month and is currently working on seed funding. The company attracted $30,000 of pre-orders within just six days, Duchemin says.
While participating in LAUNCH, Duchemin said, the focus on customer interviews helped the company refine and improve its product from a transcription device into an easier-to-use, more intelligent “personal captioner” for the deaf, Duchemin said.
Transcense now uses speech-recognition technology to deliver what’s being said into multiple users’ phones at a given moment—and shares all parts of the conversation with a deaf person, he explained.
Runner Up ($15,000): Xendit, which has built an app to transfer money around the world at a fraction of the cost of established money-wiring services. The team includes Moses Lo and Vivek Ahuja, both MBA 15; and Bo Chen and Juan Gonzalez, both EECS 13.
Moses Lo, MBA 15, co-founder of Runner Up award winner Xendit, said the help of LAUNCH mentor Philip Inghelbrecht particularly helpful. Inghelbrecht is co-founder of music app maker Shazam, “He helped us do the right things faster.”
Audience Choice ($5,000): Optucourse, which aims to improve online learning via live online discussions. The team includes Jonathan Heyne, MBA 15; Armando Fox, PhD Computer Science, 98
Faculty Choice ($5,000): DeviceFarm, which has built a medical device to cure fungal nail infections. The team includes Jeffrey Roe, PhD Bioengineering, 89.
UPDATE: The campaign wrapped up May 8 with $6,000 raised! Many thanks to all who went beyond themselves—after already contributing to other C4C campaigns throughout the year. The organizers will keep donors informed on which organizations receive the funds.
MBA students who traveled to Nepal last year with the International Business Development program, and with Challenge for Charity (C4C) leaders, have spearheaded a crowdfunding campaign for earthquake relief in the devastated country.
Launched on Tilt, the campaign funds will target non-governmental organizations on the ground in Nepal. Student organizers are working with international contacts in their networks to quickly identify the most high-impact organizations, and will keep all donors apprised of how the funds are distributed.
“It’s a very, very scary situation over there,” says Jackie Laird, MBA 15, who was part of Team Beauty for Ashes in Kathmandu last June. “We are trying to get funds there sooner rather than later.”
Jackie says she and other students have been in touch with the women they worked with, and all of them are OK—but their families are not. They are not only trying to get help to their relatives, but they are fanning out throughout the city on foot—the only way to get around at this point—trying to help others in need, especially children.
“The way the hospitals work in Nepal is that you don’t get anything for free—including water. Your family and friends have to bring it to you,” she says. “Hospitals are way underfunded. Many of them only have one bathroom.”
Jackie says her team’s experience in Nepal was eye-opening. “Nepal was far worse than I expected, in terms of how destitute it is. If that’s the way it was like in good times, I can’t imagine what it’s like now,” she says.
With monsoon season looming and tens of thousands without shelter, the situation is critical. The 7.8-magnitude quake that rocked Nepal last Saturday killed more than 5,500 people, and injured at least 12,000. The death toll continues to rise, with many remote villages still inaccessible.
MBA students will be in the courtyard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday (with baked goods!) to raise awareness for the campaign. If you have any questions, please reach out to the C4C organizers: Marisa Johnson, John Maus, and Sara Oon, all MBA 14. You can also contact Jackie Laird with questions.
The first-ever business forum at Berkeley focused on the world’s second-largest continent—and second-fastest-growing economic region—will take place at Haas on Saturday.
MBA students organized the Africa Business Forum to fill a gap at the school, where students have long held regional business conferences focused on Asia and Latin America.
“Our vision is to make Berkeley-Haas the premier destination for the development of innovative business solutions to Africa’s challenges, and a home for visionaries who want to develop these solutions,” says Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15, one of the event organizers.
They chose the theme, “Africa: The Next Frontier For Mobile Technology,” to resonate with the larger Berkeley community.
“We didn’t have to look far to find our theme,” says Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15. “Mobile is where everything is happening in Africa—when you talk about access, it’s through mobile devices. As a business school, we should not be missing this emerging market.”
The forum is not only a first for Haas, but for the larger Berkeley campus as well, organizers believe. Conferences and panels have focused on politics and policy, development, and advocacy, but never business. But given the growth forecasts for the continent, that’s likely to change.
A few stats:
- For 2015, Kenya has the world’s 3rd-fastest growing economy, behind only China and the Philippines, according to an analysis by Bloomberg. Nigeria has the 6th fastest-growing GDP.
- Only about 16 percent of Africa is currently online; the connected population is expected to grow to about 50 percent by 2025.
- Africa’s middle class is expected to double over the next ten years.
- Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be the global leader in growth of mobile usage over the next seven years
- Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have emerging Silicon-Valley-type tech ecosystems.
Gathering of Big Thinkers
In the face of such rapid growth, what will Africa look like in ten years? That’s the central question of the symposium, to be explored by entrepreneurial speakers and panelists who are pioneering a range of innovative ventures, as well as in a hands-on business-model-design session for attendees.
Sophia Bekele, founder and CEO of DotConnectAfrica—which has advocated for .africa domain names—will give the keynote address. Panelists include Shashi Buluswar, co-founder and executive director the Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Stephen Ozoigbo, CEO of the African Technology Foundation, Sarah Kunst, venture partner at Future Perfect Ventures; Twitter developer advocate Bear Douglas, who will talk about Twitter’s Digits—a free mobile app authentication framework suited for emerging markets; and Kevin Schuster, growth director for VOTO Mobile, a Ghana and U.S.-based enterprise working to amplify disenfranchised voters’ voices through mobile phones. See the full speaker list.
Organizers expect a crowd of about 70 people, including students from Haas and other schools, and working professionals. The group has also been marketing the event at meet-up groups focused on African business.
The event will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 2 in the Wells Fargo Room. Click here to register. Follow the forum on Twitter: @HaasAfrica.