WeFinance: Funding for the Student Crowd

It’s a common student dilemma: you’ve got a full-time offer post-graduation, but you still have several more months to finish your degree. And you’re facing the up-front costs of relocating—before your first paycheck or signing bonus hits your account.

What do you do? Often, your only option is to pile more credit card debt on top of your student loans, and bite the bullet on the high fees.

WeFinance_WillyChuEnter WeFinance, a crowdfunding startup co-founded by Willy Chu, MBA 15, that launched last week. Though crowdfunding is becoming a crowded space, Chu acknowledges, WeFinance is the first platform focused on truly peer-to-peer loans.

“Many students are paying seven to 8 percent on their student loans—even higher if you’re international—and they have living and moving expenses,” Chu says. “They’re low-risk borrowers but their credit scores don’t reflect that, and they can’t refinance until they have more credit history. Meanwhile, a peer lender in these students’ network could earn four percent or more on their extra savings.”

Built-in Assets

WeFinance launched with two critical resources. First, it has a software platform built by co-founder and CEO Eric Mayefsky, a Stanford econ PhD grad and ex-Facebook product manager who spearheaded the concept. This platform fully automates disbursements and repayments between borrowers and lenders, allowing both parties to rest easy that payments are made on time. Second, WeFinance has been tested by Chu’s network of fellow Haasies, a dozen of whom have signed on as guinea pigs seeking funding.

“My classmates have been incredibly supportive, willing to try out the product,” he said. “Faculty members have provided core guidance.”

Ton Chookhare, MBA 14, used the platform to refinance some of his higher-interest student loans, raising $5,000 in just a few weeks and lowering his interest rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. He already had accepted an offer with Kaiser Permanente, and was working on a side project involving custom suits made in his hometown of Bangkok, Thailand. “I think many people will be surprised at how willing people in their network are to offer financial support, especially when they’re getting much better returns while supporting someone they know and trust,” he says.

Entrepreneurial Evolution

Chu says when he came to Berkeley-Haas, he thought he might end up working for a startup—but had no intention of launching his own. His thinking evolved while taking Entrepreneurship with Prof. Toby Stuart and Lecturer Rob Chandra. His new path began last summer when a Stanford MBA friend saw an email from Mayefsky seeking help with the venture. After a few months of working well together, Chu—who previously worked at Credit Karma and Kiva—became a co-founder. He’s focusing on marketing, partnerships, and growth while Mayefsky develops the technological infrastructure.

“I’ve benefitted from starting this in my second year, after I had a strong base, and I’ve been able to piggyback on my coursework and lessons learned from my peers who launched businesses last year,” he says. “In particular, New Venture Finance with Asst. Prof. Adair Morse has been useful.”

Chu’s goal is to expand WeFinance to 40 schools within a year, beginning with Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton. In addition to MBAs, the company will focus on law and other top master’s and undergrad program students.

Read more about WeFinance in TechCrunch.

Root Beer Floats With the Oracle of Omaha: 2 MBAs Recount Their Visit With Warren Buffett

On Feb. 27, a group of 20 Berkeley-Haas MBA students from the Investment Club trekked to Omaha, NE, to meet Warren Buffett. Every year Mr. Buffett invites students from MBA programs around the country to tour some of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio companies and participate in a two-hour Q&A followed by lunch.

In a guest blog post, two students share what they learned from the legendary Mr. Buffett.

By Ben Ferrara and Sulaiman Al-Bader, MBA 2015

If we had to choose our Top 5 favorite nuggets from the many that Warren Buffett shared with us, it would be these:

#5. Some people go back and relive their youth by finding old Playboys; I buy old Moody’s reports.

#4. Risk is losing purchasing power—NOT volatility.

#3. Always surround yourself with people better than you are.

#2. Study success and failure through the biographies of leaders like Sol Price and Sam Walton, who didn’t care about money but about being the best and winning.

#1. Success comes from thinking and by creating time to think without meetings, committees and PowerPoint.

But there’s so much more to say…

Buffett Trek_1200

It’s a brisk 8 degrees Fahrenheit and far from California 20 Berkeley MBAs are embarking on an adventure in Omaha. This special day includes company visits at Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheims, and Oriental Trading Company. Yet all of us are laser-focused on catching a glimpse of, inspiration from—and yes, a group photo with—the Oracle of Omaha. Warren Buffett is one of the few living and actively working legends in the game of finance.

En route to Berkshire Hathaway headquarters in Kiewit Plaza, we actively prepare for our Q&A with Mr. Buffett. We gather in a room with 160 MBAs—from Canada, Boston, and Austin—where a deep appreciation of capitalism and opportunity is brewing. When Mr. Buffett (and his world champion bridge partner, Sharon Osberg) enter the room, there is silence—and then, a feeling of warmth and familiarity when we see Mr. Buffett’s contagious smile and ever-present Coca-Cola product (which happened to be Cherry Coke).

Over the next two hours, the 84-year-old Buffett shares his wisdom on how to pick winners (both companies and people), personal models of success, how to develop a contrarian viewpoint, trends in income equality and philanthropy, and more. What makes the most impact on us is the importance he puts on picking “first-class human beings.” Mr. Buffett shares a story of meeting a Holocaust survivor who told him that whenever she makes a new acquaintance, she hears her internal voice asking: “Would this person hide me?” Her story provided a life lesson to Mr. Buffett, and now to us. He sums it up like this: “If you’re 70 years old, even wealthy, but you don’t have people in your life who would be willing to hide you in that scenario, you have not succeeded in your life, no matter how other people see you.”

Our Omaha adventure does not stop there: Mr. Buffett generously invites us to join him for lunch at Piccolo Pete’s, where we socialize with other MBAs. The two of us have the tremendous good fortune to sit with Mr. Buffett at his table, where we enjoy a plate of steak and fries, along with more of his pearls of wisdom in this intimate setting. One of these pearls is Mr. Buffett’s sharing his self-proclaimed favorite investment: GEICO. He says investing in the insurance company was a turning point for his career, and positioned Berkshire Hathaway for long-term success. He also encourages us to challenge the status quo by avoiding shortcuts in finance—for example, relying too much on third-party analyst reports—and thinking for ourselves, citing an example of exciting South Korean companies he found from a paperback book on equities.

“You’re unlikely to get great ideas from others,” Buffett tells us. This is a recurrent theme for him: thinking for yourself and following your own path, surrounded by gracious and giving people, is the recipe for success. It’s hard to argue with the sweet success of the Oracle of Omaha. As we finish our root beer floats, and leave that afternoon for Berkeley, we feel we have gained not only a renewed sense of purpose, but also inspiration about the endless possibilities we have to make a difference in this world over the course of our entire life journeys.

Sold-Out Crowd Expected at Women in Leadership Conference, March 14

When organizers of the Women in Leadership Conference began planning this year’s event, the impact of empowering the next generation of women felt tangible. Some of the organizers are in the Full-time MBA Class of 2015, whose work with admissions helped boost the percentage of women in the Class of 2016 to 43 percent. Energized by their record-breaking class, the first-year students are building on that work in what they are calling the Haas Gender Equity Initiative.

WIL organizers 2015

The 2015 Women in Leadership Conference organizers

The conference theme, “Empower Me: Invest in All,” reflects those experiences, says Co-chair Carmela Aquino, MBA 15. “This came about exactly because we were seeing the momentum at Haas around these ideas,” she says. “We wanted this year to embody the positive drive we were seeing, so attendees walk away feeling empowered to go beyond themselves in their respective paths and do more to help other women aspiring to leadership.”

The 19th annual conference, organized by the Women in Leadership club, is expected to attract more than 500 business leaders and students to the Haas School from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sat, March 14. Click here to learn more .

The primary goals of the conference are to help women gain concrete skills for advancing in their own careers, connect with others, and get inspired, says Co-Chair Libby Hadzima Perkins, JD/MBA 15. But that’s not to say it’s geared exclusively toward women. In fact, “manbassadors”—as the male student actively involved in gender equity are calling themselves—have been key.

“Without the support of men in the workplace, there is only so much we can do to help promote more gender-equitable outcomes,” Hadzima Perkins says. “That’s why we wanted our theme to focus on the benefit that investing in women lifts everyone up, and provides a benefit to society as a whole.”

Conference Highlights

Keynotes: The morning will kick off with Ann O’Leary, Director of the Children & Families Program for Next Generation and former Legislative Director to Hillary Clinton, in conversation with Prof. Laura Tyson. In the afternoon, Donna Morris, Sr. Vice President, Global People and Places for Adobe will be introduced by Asst. Prof. Kellie McElhaney to close out the conference.

Leadership Stories: For the lunchtime session, attendees will get “an intimate look into the cycle of confidence and failure in leadership” from four leaders in diverse fields.

Invest in All Alley: This new addition to the conference is a space for companies, organizations, and entrepreneurs to exhibit their products or services, to showcase their dedication to gender equality, and to raise their brand awareness.

Panels will focus on tangible skills, from mastering difficult conversations in the workplace to taking control of finances for the future.

Student Spotlight: Nikita Mitchell, Full-Time MBA Class of 2015 President & Diversity Leader

Nikita Professional optionIt was the scariest thing she could think of doing as a new MBA student.

When Nikita Mitchell arrived at Haas in the fall of 2013, her top goal was to develop her leadership skills—which she knew would require stepping outside her comfort zone. So instead of heading up a club or organizing a conference, she decided to run for class president.

“I’ve never been in a big public role. I’ve never had to be the face of something, and the idea was terrifying,” says Nikita, MBA 15. “Ultimately, I decided I should do it because I didn’t have anything to lose.”

A few months into her first semester at Haas she was elected, and in 2014 she served as the first African-American woman to head the MBA Association. She also served simultaneously as a liaison to the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which works to bring more under-represented minorities into top MBA programs. Along with co-liaisons Kory Vargas-Caro and Dan Wong, both MBA 15, she led the Haas group to win the Consortium’s highest honor and $10K to build on their work.

Just after passing the mantle to the 2015 MBAA President Dan Fishman, Nikita spoke with us about her leadership style, her accomplishments, and what she learned.

TEAMwin

Nikita and Kory Vargas-Caro, MBA 15, celebrate winning the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) trophy from The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management in June 2014. Not shown: Dan Wong, MBA 15

Team spirit

“I’ve grown a lot,” she says. “Most importantly–both personally and professionally—I’ve also learned how to ask for help when I need it.”

Nikita is up front about the fact that balancing outside leadership activities with the rigorous academic demands of the MBA was the biggest challenge she’s faced. During her first semester as president, she took on some big issues for the program, including how to make changes in the academic culture.

She credits the support of her classmates, and former MBAA President Stephanie White, for going out of their way to support her. “It was really incredible what people did to help me, often without even being asked.”

Her approach to managing it all was to build a strong team.

“I feel I created a high functioning team where everyone has been able to accomplish a lot in their own roles,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve been a strong voice for students.”

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

Making choices

As a natural collaborator, she knew being at the top of an organization would sometimes mean making tough calls.

“Being at the point of making a decision, where you know not everyone is going to be happy, was the biggest development area for me,” she says. “I think my biggest lesson was the realization that being in a leadership role among my peers wouldn’t harm my friendships. In fact, the relationships I built fueled my leadership.”

Though Nikita says the experience underscored how critical it is to not go at decision-making alone, she also learned that sometimes people don’t want to have input.

“That’s part of leadership too—knowing when people want to be brought to the table,” she says. “It started to become more instinctual toward the end.”

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

The importance of community

As the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Nikita is proud that she was the first African-American woman to serve as Full-time MBA class president—and it was important to her family in the tight-knit community around Howard University where she grew up.

Her father came from Trinidad on a soccer scholarship to Howard, and her mother immigrated from Barbados. They met in the 1980s at Howard, where both worked as accountants. Nikita and all four of her sisters earned their bachelor’s degrees at Howard as well.

After graduation, she landed a position at Deloitte Consulting. She later earned a fellowship through ProInspire, which matches young professionals with nonprofits, as she explored careers in social impact.

She applied to MBA programs through the Consortium, which offers full scholarships to students who get into their top-ranked school. At the last minute, she ranked the University of Michigan’s Ross first, which has a large and active minority population. But in a twist of fate, she visited Haas during the Women in Leadership conference weekend, and knew it was the right place for her.

“I was so surprised by how right the culture felt. The warmth was there. The connections I made with people felt authentic,” she says. “I felt included immediately, and I thought ‘that’s somewhere I’ll continue to grow.”

As she looks toward graduation in May, Nikita summed up her biggest takeaway:

“What this leadership experience taught me is that I like to run things,” she says.

No doubt she will.

Update, March18: Nikita has accepted a job as Chief of Staff for Cisco Consulting Services.

“Tangible Team Spirit” a Winning Strategy for Consulting Competition Champs

National Strategy Consulting winners_1200

Shadie Andraos and Andrea Soto, both MBA 16; University of British Columbia student Nicole Nauss; Dan Reddin and Anthony Patterson, both MBA 16.

A team of four first-year Haas students who thought on their feet took first place in the National Strategy Consulting Competition in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The team had 24 hours to create a market-growth strategy for a start-up focused on digital health services. Going head-to-head with students from the University of British Columbia in the finals, they won $1500 and first-round interviews with competition sponsor Deloitte.

Shadie Andraos, MBA 16, said the judges included the chief strategy officer from the startup that was the subject of the competition.

“The judges commented on how well we worked together as a team, emphasizing a tangible team spirit evident in our presentation,” said

“From an experience perspective, we are all interested in consulting and used the competition as an opportunity to apply lessons from our core courses, as well as our interview preparation in a practical setting,” he added.

The November competition, held in conjunction with a conference, gives undergraduate and MBA students the chance to hone their abilities in analyzing problems, solving cases, and pitching, as well as learning about the consulting industry.

Haas Community Comes Together in Solidarity Against Racial Profiling and Violence

IMG952014120495122842For four-and-a-half minutes on Thursday, Haas students, staff, and faculty stood in silence, with their hands up in the air in a position of surrender, in respect for Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and other young African Americans who have died recently at the hands of law enforcement.

The Stand in Solidarity demonstration was organized by several MBA students—in parallel with larger campus demonstrations—to call attention to issues of police brutality and racial profiling.

“Today we want to observe 4.5 minutes of silence because Michael Brown’s body had reportedly been left in the street for 4.5 hours,” said Angela Steele, MBA 16, who co-organized the demonstration with Emily Yao and Michael Young, all MBA 16 and members of The Consortium, a network focused on promoting underrepresented minorities in business education.

“Many of us have been wrestling privately with the events of the past week, and we wanted to gather publicly and recognize what is happening and respect the lives that have been lost.”

Demonstration_Organizers

Demonstration organizers Michael Young, Emily Yao, and Angela Steele, all MBA 16.

Steele, who is the incoming MBA Association’s Vice President of Diversity, was referring to the back-to-back decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New York to drop charges against white police officers involved in lethal altercations with unarmed African Americans—as well as the nationwide upheaval that has followed. Organizers also distributed information packets with news articles and information about the death of Eric Garner, who had been held down in a chokehold; the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; as well as statistics about police violence in African-American communities.

Dean Rich Lyons, Senior Assistant Dean & Chief Strategy Officer Jo Mackness, and Senior Assistant Dean for Instruction Jay Stowsky were among the Haas administrators, staff, and faculty who joined the students packed into the Bank of America Forum.

“I’m here to stand in solidarity with our students,” Stowsky said. “I’m also here because my son is half black. He’s only four years old, but he’ll grow up to be a young black man and he’ll face these same issues.”

Young, a first year student, said he was moved by the strong show of support.

“This has easily been my favorite moment at Haas so far,” he said. “If I wasn’t talking I would have been crying.”

The demonstration was followed that evening with the first of the student-organized series “Hot Topics: The Conversation You Haven’t Had,” where Haas classmates shared personal stories on controversial topics in talks titled Black in America, Muslim Extremist, and Death With Dignity.

“Hot Topics is supposed to be a conversation starter”, said Dan Fishman, MBA 16, who organized the event with classmates Amin Aaser and Kenny Vaughn, both MBA 16, and Ryo Itoh, MBA 15.

The goal of the series is “to create a safe space within the Haas community that triggers the important but difficult conversations around challenges that vex our society, in an effort to create self-aware business leaders who will always think beyond themselves on their journey to shaping our future.”

Video: 7 MBA student veterans share their stories of transitions and tranformations

We spoke with seven students—all of whom have been deployed to war zones and other hotspots across the globe—who inspired us with their stories.

These veteran scholars were all leaders in the military. In their transitions from the military to MBAs, they discovered they bring strong skills to contribute to their teams at school and in their careers. At BerkeleyHaas, they say they are adding more depth and new dimensions to their leadership experience.

Between the full-time, part-time, and executing Berkeley MBA programs, along with the undergraduate programs, we have 60 veterans at Haas this year. We thank them for their service.

Can You Lead a Horse to Water? MBA Students Learn “Natural Leadership”

Sixteen students from the Executive MBA and Evening & Weekend MBA programs headed far outside the classroom—to the paddock—to practice non-verbal leadership.

The setting for the two-day Leading Others Through Natural Leadership course was Devito’s Equestrian Center in Walnut Creek. Students had the chance to apply personal leadership challenges to on-the-ground work with horses.

“Horses create a ‘zero-base,’ because very few people know intuitively how to work with them,” says Lecturer Whitney Hischier, a lifelong rider who created the course. “Horses provide honest, accurate feedback in real time. They respond instantly and without judgment to our intent, our energy and our behavior.”

 

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Horses have become increasingly popular in medical teaching: they’ve been used to teach bedside manners to future doctors at Stanford Medical School, to assist nurses with work-related stress and burnout at Brigham Young, and to treat conditions such as autism, Hischier says. In the field of leadership development, working with horses is a growing niche.

The one-unit course also included traditional classroom instruction. Students were asked to come prepared with an aspect of leadership they are grappling with, including a current or recent real-life situation—such as leading and motivating an inherited and disenfranchised team. After spending time on theory and role play, they headed to the paddocks for “real play.”

“Horses cannot role play. They can only real play,” says Lecturer Rajiv Ball, of Haas and the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership, one of the course instructors. “If you want a horse to follow you, you need to real play your leadership.”

In addition to Hischier and Ball, the course was co-taught by Professor Dana Carney, who holds a joint appointment at Haas and the Psychology Department and specializes in psychological and physiological connections between body and mind. Nanna Notthoff, a postdoctoral Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Personality and Social Research and an experienced equestrian, also assisted with instruction.