Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Checking out Dublin’s Tech Scene

Career & Professional Development recently spent a week in Dublin at the 4th annual Web Summit.  It was evident from the attendance and energy at the conference that the technology and entrepreneurship scenes are thriving in Dublin.  In addition to the Web Summit, we checked in with the Dublin offices of Dropbox, Google and Twitter.  It was great to meet HBS alumni and recruiters at their place of work and to see that the cultures of these firms are alive and well while incorporating the Dublin vibe.  As for the Web Summit, HBS was represented in a big way with speakers from HBS alumni founded companies Cloudflare, Peek, Zynga, Gilt and others.

We left Dublin feeling super excited about the career possibilities for our students and alumni.  For our recruiting partners in Dublin and Europe beyond or for organizations based in the US with international opportunities, we’d love to hear from you about your hiring needs for the coming year.  With 6% of the Class of 2014 who sought employment accepting jobs in Europe and 17% accepting jobs in technology overall, there’s an ongoing pool of interested talent to meet your hiring needs.

-Cathy Hutchinson, Corporate Relations Director, HBS Career & Professional Development


BaubleBar Brought to Life, and Other Tales of Joining a Start-up

It’s Tuesday afternoon, March 4th.  A lively group of HBS students passionate about retail entrepreneurship sit in Aldrich 108, waiting.  Then “ping!” – up pop Julia Straus (HBS ’11) and Katharine Hill (HBS ’12) who both work at BaubleBar, the growing one-stop retailer for affordable jewelry, on the big screen.  Our virtual conversation is live!

Julia Straus (HBS '11)
Julia Straus (HBS ’11)

Julia is the Director of Business Development at BaubleBar, and oversees the company’s global digital and offline partnerships.  Before HBS, Julia never worked in retail, but had lots of good finance experience.  Katharine is the Director of Offline at BaubleBar, after stints in retail and finance.  Both had good advice for HBS’ers looking to break into a retail start-up, and discussed the business of BaubleBar.

Katharine Hill (HBS '12)
Katharine Hill (HBS ’12)

Go in ready to roll our sleeves up, they said.  Katharine shared a funny memory of her first week.  One of her first projects was to create the company’s first shop – in the NY office.  Sure, she said, where are the drawings?  What phase of development are they in?  As she stood in this blank space of a room, the founders (Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky, both HBS ‘10) explained, “that’s why you’re here!”

Words of advice for 1st year students without retail experience?  Julia encouraged them to get relevant summer experience, like her internship at New Balance.  She jumped on an e-commerce project there, and did related independent work during her 2nd year that definitely helped her sell herself to PopSugar Media, her first job post-HBS – where she managed the development, launch, and operations of their e-commerce business.

Also, be ready for a possible multi-step job process, Julia said.  Maybe you work in tech over the summer (think Yahoo, etc.) and then in your 2nd year, do independent e-commerce projects.  Whatever you do, it’s key to be both patient and passionate.  You’ll send out a lot of emails and have a lot of coffee chats.  As long as you really do your homework for every conversation, know the company, and bang on the door as many times as you need to – it will happen.  Julia shared the tale of one Bauble Bartender; this woman sent 14 emails.  They decided she was either crazy or they needed to hire her.   She got the job.

“What else should we think about, when looking at different start-ups?” 

Don’t be afraid to pitch a position, they said.  Offer to spend the summer exploring some specific need or project facing the start-up.  This advice dovetailed well with what we in Career & Professional Development hear from entrepreneurs all the time.  Don’t go in to an interview without a point of view on the start-up, and what you could specifically do to contribute to the business.  Founders don’t have the time to hear someone offer to do anything… they value focus.  Yes, it’s also good to be flexible.  Just don’t approach an interview vaguely.

“What challenges are next for BaubleBar?”

One ongoing task is customer acquisition.  How to get that next person who can’t touch or try on the jewelry?  The offline partnerships are key for BaubleBar now, as were the pop up stores the past couple years.  Anthropologie now carries BaubleBar pieces, and the partnership is off to a great start given the customer fit.  Other deals are in the works, and the company continues to look at demographics and/or geography as criteria for future partner prospects.

Julia and Katharine agreed that the leadership team is focused on where the company is in terms of its scale.  They have 85 employees now, and are looking at internal operations carefully.  In fact, both Julia and Katharine agreed that this issue of thinking about company size is important for anyone looking to join a start-up.  Have a sense of how you would perform given the challenges of wherever the firm is in its growth.   What are the operations like?  Amid all the opportunity, are you ready for the hurdles and obstacles?  What size start-up would you perform best at?

Final words of wisdom for would be start-up joiners? 

Katharine admitted that she herself didn’t take the advice she was about to share.  “Really, do not stress about waiting for the right role”, even if your section-mates are all set in February, and it takes you to Spring to land the start-up.  It’s so easy to lose perspective, but please don’t.  You’ll find the right job, and you’ll be so happy you did.

Julia nodded, “It can be discouraging… so many meetings; what feels like so little structure to your search.  Keep at it.  If it’s really what you want to do, you will absolutely find a way in.  I have been so happy at BaubleBar.  A product I believe in, a great group, a perfect job for me.  So just don’t take it personally when you have to keep plugging – it’s worth it.  Do it!”

–          Laurie Matthews,  Career & Professional Development, Sector Lead: Retail and Entrepreneurship

MBAxAmerica Update: Week 6, New Orleans

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French Quarter at Night

When we arrived in New Orleans after a long drive from Albuquerque, we were immediately struck by two things: the music—it’s literally on every corner—and the humidity, which is even more prevalent. Of course, the city’s culture and vibe go much deeper, and, in our down time, we were lucky to have our hosts from Idea Village introduce us to the city’s history and charm.

mbax with sara
MBAxAmerica Team with Sara Thomas, Director of Product Management at Idea Village
MBAXAmerica IdeaVillage
Amaris presenting at one of Idea Village’s events for entrepreneurs

Idea Village is an organization dedicated to identifying, supporting, and retaining entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans and has played a major role in New Orleans’ start-up movement and post-Katrina revitalization. We worked with CEO, Tim Williamson, and Director of Product Management, Sara Thomas, (GSB ’09) to develop a strategy for supporting start-ups that have outgrown the early stages of their business and are dealing with challenges of scaling. We talked with various members of the Nola start-up ecosystem–Idea Village staff, program alumni, successful start-ups, early stage start-ups, impact investors, and the head of the Louisiana Buyout Fund. We also looked at recently released data from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and stats from Idea Village’s own programs. Even though businesses over the $1million revenue mark are usually beyond the scope of Idea Village’s work, we determined that providing strategic help to some of these companies is crucial both to get these businesses to the next level and to provide powerful proof points to the ecosystem that this success is possible and sustainable in New Orleans. Moreover, this supplemental programming creates a potential revenue opportunity for Idea Village that can reinforce their core programming. The programs and events we developed will be piloted at this year’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and developed further throughout Idea Village’s entrepreneurial season.

While in Nola, we also met up with two of our HBS classmates, Eric Sonnier and Broderick McClinton, who were passing through Idea Village as they worked on their start-up, Equity Endeavor. We had an amazing time discussing our adventures and sharing the lessons we’re learning from our entrepreneurial summers. We also talked about the challenges and opportunities of building organizations with purpose—such  as explaining to investors why, if you’re building a crowdfunding platform for small, community-oriented businesses, it makes sense for you to be headquartered in somewhere like New Orleans instead of in San Francisco.

All in all it was an amazing week (and yes, we went to Café du Monde).

Cheers from the road,

Amaris + the MBAxAmerica Team, MBA 2014

Four Weeks on the Road with MBAs Across America

It’s our fourth week of MBAs Across America. We spend our weekends driving between cities, but that’s where the routine ends. Every day is a remarkable, and remarkably different, adventure. Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to:

Week 1: Detroit, MI
Detroit_Community Workshop Sebastian Jackson’s multicultural salon, Social Club Grooming Company, not only brings people together across racial lines, but also brings people together to revitalize Detroit. Instead of throwing away hair trimmings, Sebastian works with Green Garage, the green business incubator, to compost hair (its nitrogen richness makes it an ideal compost accelerator), plant trees, and restore Detroit’s urban canopy. We worked with Sebastian on his community and environmental engagement strategy, compensation model, and team culture.

We also held a community workshop on inclusive revitalization with Impactor and the co-working space, Ponyride, and took an incredible tour of the Brightmoor neighborhood with Kirk Mayes, Executive Director of The Brightmoor Neighborhood Alliance.

Week 2: Boulder, CO
MBARoad1We worked with Made Movement, a creative agency dedicated to supporting the resurgence of American Manufacturing, and their e-commerce business, Made Collection.  We helped the Collection refine their target audience and customer acquisition strategy, and Mike and Hicham managed to fit in a jam session with some of their resident musicians, too!

We also explored Boulder’s dense entrepreneurial network by hosting a community workshop with Made, meeting with the Mayor and City Council, attending an event with Bill Aulet, MD of the Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and talking with local entrepreneurs and City Council Meeting_Boulderinvestors. We were also lucky to meet with VC investor Brad Feld. He talked about his Boulder Thesis, his recipe for creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and gave us advice on scaling MBAxAmerica into a movement with lasting impact. We were blown away by his openness, sense of humor, and willingness to “give before you get”.

Week 3: White Sulfur Springs, MT
We worked with, and were inspired by, Sarah Calhoun and her women’s workwear company, Red Ants Pants. Sarah, her team, and hundreds of volunteers were gearing up for the annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival. Proceeds go to the company’s non-profit foundation, supporting women’s leadership, family farms, and rural communities. In addition to volunteering, we interviewed festival goers and Red Ants Pants customers. This qualitative research, coupled with online analytics, guided our recommendations on Red Ants Pants’ brand, marketing allocation, and product expansion strategy.

Week 4: Las Vegas, NV
Our fourth stop is, unintentionally, about as different from rural Montana as you can get! We’re learning from the wonderful folks at The Downtown Project and had a fantastic meeting today with Laura Berk from The Vegas Tech Fund. Tony Hsieh is very generously putting us up in Zappos’ “crash pads” and we’ve enjoyed meeting some of the visiting entrepreneurs who are also crashing. It’s the Downtown Project’s vision of urban collisions at work!

Cheers from the road,

Amaris + the MBAxAmerica Team, MBA 2014

Product Launch Day

At Sonation we’ve been working all summer toward product launch day, and the day has finally come!

Last week I went to Michigan with my cofounder Paul to demo the app at Interlochen, one of the premier summer arts camps in the US. Of all the things entrepreneurs do, user testing is definitely my favorite! The night before demo day, though, we got an email from Apple saying the app was rejected. So we had to fix a bunch of issues as we got ready for the students, and exchanged a flurry of emails within the team to find the quickest solution. Then we waited.

At 8 AM we set up a concerto station at a central location on campus where we thought a lot of students would pass by. We even set up a green screen on the wall behind us with a bunch of bright green posterboard so students could take pictures of themselves playing at Carnegie Hall. But a few hours passed and it was apparent we were in the wrong location. We were next to the piano and percussion building, and unfortunately those instruments aren’t available on Cadenza yet, so all the students we were meeting ended up walking away with sighs of resignation (and free candy). Cardinal rule of business – always go to where your users are!

We moved our station to main camp, an open area near the performance stages and the coffee stand. The coffee stand alone should have been enough to justify our move – there were always people there! Pretty soon a violin student and his friends dropped by and tried a concerto. The open space around us was filled with the sound of his playing combined with the orchestra coming out of the speakers, and we started attracting an audience.

Throughout the day we saw a lot of fun reactions. One of the best parts of user testing is when people surprise you, thinking up inventive ways to use your product that you hadn’t imagined before.

  • Four violinists tackling the Bach double violin concerto simultaneously.
  • Interpretive dance to the Strauss horn concerto.
  • A student playing Massenet: Meditation from Thais, originally a violin piece, on a mandolin. Cadenza still followed him perfectly.
  • Several students trying to trick Cadenza into losing them by playing outlandishly fast or slow.

IMG_1436IMG_1439  IMG_3804 IMG_3828

But the common theme tying everyone together was the pure enjoyment of leading an orchestra, something most of them haven’t been able to do yet even at their level of talent. We saw it in their expressions and body language as they were fully “in the zone,” engrossed in the music and imagining a real orchestra behind them. One student said she honestly felt like she was in Carnegie Hall. Some came back multiple times to try as many different pieces as they could, and had their friends record them to show their families. And we saw how the students encouraged each other with the fact that this was a judgment-free zone. People could try any piece they wanted, even sightread something really difficult, without the pressure of being graded or criticized for not being good enough. This is the spirit that we wanted to establish from the beginning, in our company vision.

Beyond their excitement about using the app for the first time, the students all asked us a common question: “so when can we get it?”

The answer is today! We got approval from Apple and you can download Cadenza here. Treat yourself and your instrument to a Carnegie Hall experience, and have fun!


Ann Chao, MBA 2013

The Art of Naming a Start-up

We recently chose new names for our music startup and product. Music+1 is now Sonation, Inc. Our app, previously also called Music+1, is now sona:Cadenza. And we’ve just made a new intro video featuring the app logo with footage from the Harvard Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge.

I approached the naming process eagerly at the beginning, since as an amateur writer I enjoy picking names for fictional characters and places. But there were rules to follow, as my cofounder pointed out when the three of us began brainstorming in June. The process turned out to be quite drawn-out and elusive.

1. The names could not sound foreign or antiquated. That ruled out candidates like Cantabrio, Cantissimo, Vivissimo, basically anything ending in the suffix “–issimo,” and many other beloved musical terms. We browsed this Wikipedia list at length anyway, as I’m sure every audio company has done.

2. The names had to be unique. That ruled out using words like “music” and “sound.” It’s astounding to see how many audio companies and apps begin with “sound.” Soundcloud, Soundhound, Soundbrush, Soundwave…we were definitely staying out of that.

3. The name had to connote the essence of what we do. This was the most important rule, and the most difficult. We are about enhancing people’s musical voices. Technology at the service of human expression. Freedom from technological restrictions. Creating tools for magical experiences.

Mulling over the above rule was always the last check on whether a name passed or failed. We didn’t want a run-of-the-mill name that simply told people we were related to music. Whatever names we picked had to be imbued with musical character, expressiveness, and an invitation to experience something beautiful of one’s own making.

We almost settled on Sonoloft for the company name, since it was related to sound and invoked an aspirational feel (or maybe not, in retrospect). But I couldn’t help but associate it with the image of a white-walled IKEA-furnished lounge, so it failed.

Finally, in early July we sat down for two hours one morning in the i-lab with no other distractions, determined to settle the name issue and be done with it. We revisited numerous sound-related Wikipedia articles and music glossaries. At some point we started discussing birds that were known for song. That led us to an article about birdsong where one term, mentioned almost as an afterthought, caught our eye: “sonation.”

Even before we looked up the definition, it sounded right. Its meaning made it even better. Sonation is the sound produced by birds not through their voice, but from other structures like the wings, tail, feet, feathers, or by use of tools. Our company is about supporting people as they make music, providing the accompanying sounds to their solo part. Ornithologists might roll their eyes, but the name fits.

To tie the names of the company and product together, we chose “sona” as a prefix for our first app (which serves classical musicians) and other apps to follow. The second half of the name, “Cadenza,” refers to an important passage in a concerto where the soloist shines, displaying their virtuosity in free time (flexible tempo) while the orchestra waits and listens.

Almost ten years ago in college, I entered two concerto competitions with the Schumann piano concerto. What I remembered most about that piece was the cadenza. It was intense and emotionally demanding. I couldn’t practice certain parts of it for more than a few minutes before my hands got tired. As the cadenza ended, I imagined the orchestra joining the solo part, tense and quiet in the buildup to a breathtaking finale.

I didn’t win either of the competitions. At that point, I gave up on my dream of ever playing a concerto with an orchestra. As an amateur musician, my chances were basically zero – and even for professionals, the opportunities are few and far between. It was sad and frustrating, to practice for months and love the music while knowing that I could never experience it fully.

A few months ago when I discovered Music+1, as it was previously called, I felt my dream was actually possible again – in a different form, with an adaptive orchestra recording instead of a live group. I was even more thrilled to join the founding team alongside the inventor, Christopher Raphael, and a software entrepreneur and musician, Paul Smith. We have new names and logos, a Mac app soon to launch, design for iPhone and iPad versions well under way, and demos at the Eastern Music Festival (this week), Interlochen and Tanglewood. While piano isn’t available on the app yet, I look forward to the day it is, so I can finally play that cadenza, joined by real orchestra sound that will be more than I’ve imagined.

Ann Chao, MBA 2013