Observing Haas — With Tongue Firmly in Cheek

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.


Davis, Susan, & Jon peruse the news.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 4.58.22 PMWhere do you find material?

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.


Making it Rain in London: MBA Team’s Drought Mitigation Innovation Wins 1st in Morgan Stanley Challenge

By Nick Wobbrock, Chad Reed, Leigh Madeira, and Zach Knight, all Full-time MBA 15

2015_Competition_Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing

The Win: First place in the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge, at Morgan Stanley’s London Headquarters on April 17.

The Team: (left to right) Nick Wobbrock, Chad Reed, Leigh Madeira, and Zach Knight, all full-time MBA 15

The Field: The challenge began with 380 students, on 127 teams, from 78 graduate schools, based in 20 countries. The final round included 10 teams from 10 top graduate business schools.

The Pitch: Our team, Blue Forest Conservation Notes, pitched a financial structure that would allow investors to help California and the Western U.S. alleviate historic droughts and catastrophic forest fires, all while earning competitive returns. Blue Forest Conservation Notes utilizes pay-for-success contracts to monetize the shared benefits of proactive forest management among water and electric utilities, as well as the US Forest Service. We defended our investment thesis in front of a panel of industry leaders, including both impact-focused investors and more traditional institutional asset managers.

The Clincher: The judges cited the timeliness of the problem, and our team’s convincingly innovative financial structure, which they believed would bring investors and stakeholders together to take a step forward in solving California’s two most pressing environmental issues.

Read more about the win on ClickGreen.

Student Spotlight: Entrepreneur Dan Schoening, MBA 16

Dan Schoening_MBA 16Dan Schoening began his entrepreneurial career early.

At age 14, he was running his own soccer camp company. By 18, the Seattle native was advising high school students on how to get recruited to college athletic programs. As an undergrad, he started a mobile shuttle tracking service.

So it’s no surprise that Dan has continued his entrepreneurial journey at Haas, as co-chair of LAUNCH: the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator & Competition. He was also selected as one of two Berkeley students to go on the inaugural Silicon Valley Bank Trek, a tour of the Valley and San Francisco’s startups, banks, and investment firms. For three days this week, he and 18 other students from the across the U.S. are meeting a who’s who of influential tech leaders, stopping to visit the Silicon Valley Bank, the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, startup business analytics company BIRST and VC data provider Mattermark, and the San Francisco-based co-working facility WeWork Golden Gate.

We recently talked with Dan about the Trek, the LAUNCH competition, and his experience at Haas.

Haas: Tell us about your most innovative startup.

Dan: As an undergrad at Tufts University in 2009, I co-founded a mobile service that provided information about bus schedules to students traveling to and from campus. We were pleasantly surprised with the traction it gained on campus and we began to expand its applications into the shuttle management space.

Haas: What drove your decision to enroll at Haas for an MBA?

Dan: I was only interested in the West Coast—I wanted to immerse myself in the entrepreneurship world and the startup scene here in the Bay Area. This is where you have to be. I ended up doing a West Coast entrepreneurship search, and I chose Haas. I’ve only been here a few months, but I’m really excited about the program and the various opportunities and the resources it presents for entrepreneurs. I’m especially excited for Toby Stuart’s entrepreneurship class this spring—I’ve heard rave reviews about it.

Haas: What do you hope to get out of the Silicon Valley Bank Trek?

Dan: The Trek is a new event this year, so it will be fun to see how it unfolds. In addition to connecting with key influencers in the Valley, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet and learn from the other students from around the country.

Haas: As co-chair of LAUNCH, you (along with co-chair Franklin Russell and the student executive committee) are shepherding the established competition through some significant changes. Tell us about them.

Dan: The criteria for competitors are more stringent this year: applicants needed to be further along with their startups and present more mature businesses. We’ve also shifted the program to be more of an accelerator model versus a standard business plan competition.

We had over 100 applicants from all across the UC system, and all of them have validated a product in their space. Many have incoming revenue. Only one team member has to be an affiliate of a UC school, and applicants include alumni, faculty, and staff.

LAUNCH Bootcamp is coming up on Feb. 6-7. This will be the first full-group event with the 16 teams, the faculty advisors and the mentors. We’re feeling really confident about the new model.

MBA Internships: Thinking Big at Amazon

You don't need to work at Amazon to use an Amazon Locker. Jesse Silberberg MBA '15, is interning as a senior product manager.

You don’t need to work at Amazon to use an Amazon Locker. Jesse Silberberg, MBA 15, is interning as a senior product manager.

Student: Jesse Silberberg, MBA 15

Internship: Senior Product Manager with Amazon’s Kindle Education group. “We are responsible for building eTextbook functionality for Kindle, and study features including Flashcards, X-Ray and Notebook. I’m focused on making Kindle an even more powerful tool for students.

Amazon because: “I came into Haas with a passion for education, innovation and technology, and I’m getting to work on all three at once. I was excited to get experience working in product management, which involves interfacing with folks across different functions, including business, engineering and UX. In addition, Amazon has a reputation for giving interns ownership of really meaningful projects, and I was also excited to push myself to deliver something that would make a difference for the company and its customers over the course of my 11 weeks here this summer.”

Thrilled about: “Outside of my core project, I’ve had the chance to interact with the company’s most senior leaders, each of whom spend an hour with the MBA group talking about their experiences and answering questions in an informal setting. I’ve learned a lot from how they’ve approached their careers and solved challenges of a huge scale. It’s great motivation to push myself on what I can achieve as a leader.”

Highlight so far: “In the third week of my internship I had an hour to present my early thinking at a weekly meeting of product managers from across the Kindle group. They were supportive of what I was working on at a high level, but dug into the holes in my argument in a really constructive way. Their feedback helped me figure out the right questions to answer far more quickly than if I was working through the challenge on my own.”

Inside Amazon: “Amazon takes a lot of pride in its Leadership Principles, and uses them to make decisions on a daily basis. My favorites are “Think Big”, “Bias for Action,” and “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit.” They give everyone at the company, including interns, the grounds for taking a stand on a big idea, and it makes the work that much more exciting.”

Applied learning: “Everything Amazon does is in service of its customers, so for my project I wanted to get input from customers as quickly as possible. I held a focus group with students and brought some Haas flair to its execution, using design thinking tactics (and Post It notes) to push participants to really think outside of the box.”

Advancing career goals by: “From an exposure perspective, I had worked for an early stage ed-tech startup before school, and it’s great to work this summer for a much larger company to compare and contrast the two experiences. From a skill perspective, I’m flexing a lot of different muscles—customer interviews, survey design, data analysis, feature scoping—and getting feedback on my work from product managers, designers and developers. To sum it up, I’m doing— and learning—a ton.”

From student to startup

In the full-time MBA class of 2014, there at least nine serious startups percolating—and probably half a dozen more emerging. Many of the students who have pursued startup ideas while at Haas hedge their bets by accepting a full-time job offer, with plans to work on their venture in their spare time. But a few are jumping in with both feet.

Jesus Nieto Gonzalez, Mercadero

Jesus Nieto Gonzalez on the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala during a 2013 trek. Photo by Peter Brock, MBA 14.

Jesus Nieto Gonzalez on the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala during a 2013 trek. Photo by Peter Brock, MBA 14.

The Spanish make beautiful shoes. And people still buy them in shops. And, about one-third of those shops are small and local.

That’s why Jesus Nieto Gonzalez chose the Spanish shoe industry to test-launch the inventory management system he’s developing.

Jesus, who has a background in electrical engineering and worked in the Spanish telecom before coming to Haas, plans to return to his native Spain after graduation to build his startup full-time. He’s calling it Mercadero, from the ancient Spanish word for merchant.

“Offline commerce has a much bigger presence there, and one of the things I noticed when I was doing my research is that they still do things with pencil and paper. They don’t have a good system for tracking what they have in the store,” he says. “Now with the cloud and tablets, a small businesses can afford to go digital.”

Inventory management is critical to shoe retailers: if a shop doesn’t have the right size, a customer will go elsewhere. And keeping track of what’s in the storeroom is no less crucial for many types of small businesses–which gives Mercadero lots of opportunities for expansion once Jesus brings it from prototype to product.

Jesus says he moved across the globe to attend Haas because of its reputation for entrepreneurship and technology. The school did not disappoint: he learned about strategy in David Charron’s Business Model Innovation course, how to build mockups and use analytics in Design and Development of Web-based Products and Services, and how to approach investors in Toby Stuart’s Entrepreneurship. He has already taken the first steps to cultivate VC’s in the small Spanish investor community.

“Haas is the place to learn how to start something,” he said. “This is something I really want to do, and I need to try it.”

Albert Lucius and Agung Nugroho, KuDo


Albert and Agung on a 2013 exchange to the London Business School

These high school friends from Indonesia who ended up at Haas together plan to return home to build an electronic point-of-sale system that “transforms the shopping experience of consumers in Indonesia, where credit cards are virtually non-existent.”

They came up with the idea through their travels at Haas. “We viewed how payment systems are done in different parts of the world—in developed countries such as USA, UK, and Japan as well as emerging markets such as Morocco, Turkey, and Thailand. We want to bring the best of technologies in the developed market and apply them to address some of the restrictions and problems in the emerging market,” Albert says.

kudo_scale“The idea is that customers can find products from any of our e-commerce partners at KuDo machines located at retail stores. For example, instead of ordering online, you could use cash at a store like Walgreens to buy products sold by other stores such as Amazon.”

Prior to Haas, Agung worked at BCG Indonesia as a consultant, and he has postponed a new job there for a year. Albert, who had worked as a product designer at Apple in the U.S., will devote himself to KuDo full-time.

Kyle Rudzinki, Karmic

While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro over winter break, Kyle decided to pursue Karmic full-time.

While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro over winter break, Kyle decided to pursue Karmic full-time.

Using business to do good was always Kyle Rudzinki’s goal. He came to Haas from the Department of Energy, where he managed investments in innovative solar startups, and he planned to continue his career in clean energy and sustainability.

But just before his final semester, he stumbled on an idea that caused him to pivot in a completely different direction.

It started one evening with a Facebook post that reminded him of the power of asking for what you want. A classmate put out a call on for others to join him at a local radio station’s dance competition. Another replied that that she it was one of her life goals to do the same thing. Thus was born Haasies Helping Haasies—which has since morphed into Karmic. It has become Kyle’s new path.

“Karmic is my sole focus,” he says. “Ultimately the reason I’m building it is because of what it can do for people. It’s about taking online connections and bringing them offline, helping people to live more fulfilled lives,” he says.

The idea behind Karmic is that if people share their unfilled aspirations—whether openly or anonymously—someone within their social networks can probably help realize them. That proved to be the case with Haasies Helping Haasies. Students posted desires such as meeting Sheryl Sandberg, learning to surf, and even hugging a panda. “With such a talented group of people, someone was likely to have the connections to make these things happen. And they did.” More than five times as many offers to help were made as requests.

Kyle brought the concept to his Intrapreneurship class in November, which earned him an invite to Facebook. “That gave me an entrée into the VC world,” he says.

He’s now pursuing Karmic as a new platform, and leveraging his last semester to propel it forward. He’s tapping Berkeley talent through his courses in new venture finance, marketing research, and developing web products and services. Haas faculty outside of his courses are also lending their expertise and advice—from brand gurus Bill Pearce and Lynn Upshaw to startup experts Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra.

“I’m building all the scaffolding, so no matter what the edifice ends up being, I’ll have all the tools to build something great,” he says.

Ben Hamlin, Localwise

Ben came to Haas to study double-bottom-line businesses. He spent most of his time focused on social impact investing, hoping that an idea would emerge for a social enterprise to start.

Ben Hamlin at O-week

Ben and classmates during O-Week public service day

It wasn’t until his final semester—after he had registered for classes—that he hit on the concept. He was on BART with a classmate, tossing ideas back and forth to answer the question: in 100 years, what would be the ideal way to create and operate a local business?

“I started thinking about the high failure rate for local businesses. How could this be improved through technology? What if demand came before supply? What if local business owners knew what the community wanted before they ever made capital investments?”

That was the seed for Localwise (originally called OurTown), an online platform that will improve local businesses through engagement with local consumers and other local businesses. Inspired by his parents’ mom-and-pop, Ben, a former associate at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, believes he has landed on a solution to help mom-and-pops everywhere.

“Today, local entrepreneurs make business decisions and then consumers vote with their wallets. They take undue risk because they don’t fully understand demand, and they don’t share information. By collaborating with consumers and each other, they could do much better,” he says.

Ben plans to work on the venture full-time post-graduation. In his last few months at Haas, he’s taking advantage of every resource he can. He says last year’s Entrepreneurship and Problem Finding, Problem Solving classes have been invaluable. He also took Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad class online. He’s now working closely on OurTown with Whitney Hischier, Lecturer and CEE Faculty Director, through an independent study.

“I’m trying to tackle a big, complex problem using the tools taught by the Haas curriculum,” he says.