Category Archives: Start-Up

CPD on the Road in Manila

I recently visited Manila to meet with organizations regarding recruitment of MBA students and alumni. The Philippines is a vibrant market for business professionals and youth is a key part of the allure of businesses to the Philippines today. The country’s median age is about 24; compare that to the 40+ medians common throughout Europe and Japan. Labor continues to be one of the country’s biggest exports with overseas workers remitting cash to their families back home, but there’s a growing local consumer market. With 38 million internet users—that’s only 36% market penetration—the country is the largest English-speaking online market in East Asia. According to Kleiner Perkins’ 2014 recent Internet Trends Report, the Philippines is one of the world’s top 5 fastest growing internet markets, with 18% growth in 2012 and 27% growth in 2013.

An important upcoming milestone will be the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015. This attempt at regional economic integration should increase business opportunities and cross-border trade for the Philippines. In addition, English is an official language so foreign entrepreneurs essentially find no communication barriers to starting businesses in the country. E-commerce and online services seem to dominate the start-up arena, but tourism and food-relatskyline1ed companies are also springing up. These businesses are targeting not only the burgeoning middle class but also consumers at the base of the pyramid. I had the pleasure of engaging with alumni, as well as representatives from several organizations, including: Ayala Corporation; Globe Telecom; Lenddo; FortmanCline Capital Markets; ICCP Group;; Kickstart Ventures; IdeaSpace Foundation; San Miguel Corporation; Pure Foods; the Asian Development Bank; and JG Summit Holdings.

If your organization is interested in recruiting top talent from HBS, we’re here to assist, so please reach out to me or another member of the team.



From FIELD to Field, Putting What I’ve Learned at HBS into Practice

If you asked me two months ago whether I learned anything during my first year at Harvard Business School, my response would have been a resounding “Yes!”  But, if you followed up by asking me for an example of how I applied the lessons I learned into practice, my response would have been a hesitant “Umm…”

The FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) curriculum provided me an incredible opportunity to learn leadership skills not only in the classroom, but also through practical experience in Ghana and in Boston. However, at the end of Minh_HBSthe day, FIELD remains an exercise constrained within an academic environment. The question I asked myself was “How do I actually put what I learned to the test?”

As I was starting my summer internship in Zambia over seven weeks ago, I pondered “What am I bringing to the table that I would not have been able to had I not gone to HBS?” At that moment, the answer was not quite clear. However, as the days passed and the summer (technically, it’s winter here) progressed, it became clear that what HBS equipped me with was not the hundreds of cases I read and analyzed, as I will be the first to admit I will be the last to recall any of the case facts. Rather, it was the persistent pushing and prodding by my professors, section-mates, and discussion group members that I remember the most.

As I dove deeper into the managerial and operational issues of working in Zambia, I found myself asking whether the problems were really as simple and clear as they appeared at first glance. The many times I was pushed to justify my stance – from the morality and ethicality of pharmaceutical patents in the developing world to the negotiation tactics I would use with Steve Jobs – became constant reminders for me to go deeper than just the first layer of the metaphorical onion.

What I learned at HBS and what I have applied in Zambia was more than just root cause analysis or the typical “Five Whys” questioning. It requires combining a dose of empathy with an equal dose of traditional problem solving. Just as I had to put myself in the case protagonist’s shoes, trying to understand the motivations, pressures, and stakeholders influencing his/her decision making, I found myself standing in the shoes of our sales captains, sellers, and buyers. I forced myself to distinguish what the problems appeared to be and what they really are, as well as what the solutions should be and what they really could be given the real and practical constraints we face. This “method” of thinking has become my de facto mindset whenever I’m in the field with our sales team or in a meeting room with a multinational telecom.

There isn’t a simple list of “Things I’ve Learned at HBS and How You Can Apply Them Too,” because the skills I’ve learned, and am constantly honing, are those that can only be learnt through the experience of having been forced repeatedly to defend my logic despite knowing it was not perfect.

To end this post on a lighter note, my HBS experience also never lets me forget that having fun is just as important of a success metric as any other. Here are a couple snapshots to explain why I may never leave Zambia (more on Google +).

– Minh Chau, MBA 2015

Cambridge to Nairobi

I’m sitting in the outdoor veranda of an upscale café, sipping a perfectly made cappuccino and digging into a vegetarian quesadilla for lunch. It’s a pleasant 70 degrees and sunny, and all around me, young entrepreneurs are lost in their work – coding, tweaking UI designs, excitedly discussing business ideas with peers. At first glance it’s San Francisco—except that we’re 9,586 miles away, in Nairobi, Kenya.

This summer, I’m interning at Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company that uses crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability. The company was one of the first to use “activist mapping”—a combination of citizen journalism and geospatial ihub-roominformation—to allow citizens to submit reports using their mobile phones or the internet to create a map-based account of events. Among other things, the platform has been used to monitor election violence in Kenya, disaster response in the Haitian earthquake, and collect eyewitness reports in Gaza and Somalia.

During my first year at HBS, I wanted to find a job that blended my previous experiences—technology and government—as well as provided new opportunities for learning. I first heard of Ushahidi while working for Google in 2010, and they had long been on my list of “dream companies to work for.” In the spring, I reached out to Ushahidi’s Business Development lead, interviewed, and received an offer. A few formals and five finals later, I found myself on a 16 hour flight to Nairobi.

As an intern, I’ll be doing a combination of product management and business development, helping the company to monetize and think through feature development of a new mapping platform. I’m thrilled by the opportunity and the level of responsibility I’ll have. I’ll be spending the first three weeks in “The Bat Cave,” the unofficial name of Ushahidi’s headquarters in Nairobi, before heading to San Francisco to work closely with the company’s business development team.

Beyond the internship, the environment is full of energy: the Nairobi office is located in the iHub, the heart of Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah,” and a nexus of African innovation and tech startups. With so much economic growth in Africa, a rising Kenyan middle class, and staggering levels of internet and mobile phone penetration relative to GDP per person (this is after all, the country that invented M-Pesa), it’s an exciting time to be in Nairobi. With the next three months stretching before me, the experience feels a bit like the Swahili word that Arab traders used to connote a long journey—a safari. I look forward to sharing a bit of my safari with you this summer!

– Jen Bullock, MBA 2015

Learning to fail at HBS

I’ve spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday reflecting on my first year at HBS. In that process, I wrote an email to a few close friends updating them on my time here. As I started to write this post, I realized that the content of that email fit exactly what I wanted to communicate. So, here it is:

I started HBS a little over 9 months ago with no clear idea what I wanted the outcome to be in two years’ time. Was it to come out with a career change? To finish with a broad network? To, dare I say, “learn”? I didn’t know. What I did know, however, was how I wanted to spend those two years – that is, to be outside of my comfort zone and to spend my time at HBS consciously as an end in itself.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the past 9 months have certainly been a brief, but transformative experience both personally and professionally. It was at HBS where I first felt I was truly getting my money’s worth (every dime of it!). The student body is as talented as it is diverse, and the professors’ excitement is explosive. With that as the backdrop, I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore Ghana while helping a banking client tap into an undeveloped market, as well as launched and shutdown two startups – a culinary curation service (you can see the remnants of it at and a date idea recommendation engine (the origins of this are as nebulous as its fate). I think I knew this somewhere in the back of my mind, but these last two “successful failures” hit home the importance of failing fast and failing often versus failing over a long period of time. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how to cope with the vagaries and uncertainties of startups. I’ve learned the dangers and necessity of making too many assumptions. I’ve learned that picking the best team does not mean picking your best friends – even if they’re capable. That’s just a recipe for disaster!

So what’s next? As I was contemplating what to do this summer, I knew I wanted to knock out three things – 1) get more international exposure 2) get more startup experience 3) get some operational experience. With that, as the summer is dawning upon us, you’ll find me in Zambia, a landlocked country in the south/eastern part of Africa. I’ll be working for a recently launched e-commerce startup (the “eBay of Africa”), helping the small team scale and operationalize. I am equally nervous as I am excited about the challenges of working in an emerging market, but I truly believe that without a little pain and discomfort there can be no growth.

With that, I will stop, because, honestly, I don’t know what lies beyond the next three months. To paraphrase one of my professors, it is ridiculous to plan too far in the future when we live in a world as uncertain as the one we live in today. Besides, I’ve tried to plan for the future before, but, to inappropriately appropriate an Adele quote completely out of context, “the more I do, the less I know.”

– Minh Chau, MBA 2015

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.

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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.

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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