Tell us about yourself.
I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area and studied biology in college, so I have a non-traditional business background. I didn’t want to get my Ph.D or MD, so I worked in health care strategy consulting in Philadelphia prior to Darden. I learned that consulting wasn’t for me because I missed the execution aspect behind the strategies I was recommending. So, I moved back to California and worked at a small biotech firm that was developing novel drugs. I led the company’s first clinical trial.
After the company’s funding ran out and the pandemic began, it was a good time to reassess my career and I wanted in life. I was debating between my Ph. D and MBA. The biotech industry values the Ph. D more, but I wasn’t committed to it. I thought earning my MBA would be more useful in broader contexts.
I didn’t come from a business program or work in business functions, so I looked for schools with a great educational experience and smaller programs, since I came from a smaller college and liked that. I was happy I was accepted to Darden and decided to come. It was my first time living in the South, so it was an adjustment.
What did you do over the summer between First and Second Year?
I participated in Batten’s Summer Accelerator program to build Cobouchy, a kombucha company featuring a drink that ferments coffee into kombucha. I got my business off the ground, in grocery stores and farmers markets, but I didn’t want to do it full-time. It was too risky. My timeline to pay myself a meaningful salary was three years. I have MBA debt and wanted to be able to pay that off.
I had my business idea before coming to Darden but didn’t think I’d work on it during my First Year. I went to Startup Academy before orientation and connected to Professor Damon DeVito. He advised me that if I waited until Second Year to start my business, I wouldn’t be in a place to continue it or not. He encouraged me to start as early as I could.
It breaks my heart when people say they wish they had worked on their company before graduation. So, it was emotional to put my business aside. At the end of the summer before my Second Year, I knew the way I was running the business wasn’t sustainable. I was doing every function, from making everything to bottling.
I craved stability post-Darden, and I wasn’t making any money over the summer. Unfortunately, there was no way I could grow my company to a more sustainable size by the time I graduated. The business needed someone full-time and going full steam. I didn’t have that interest, so I wasn’t the person to continue running the business.
How did you ultimately land your full-time role as a Deferred President for Teamshares?
I knew I wanted to recruit my Second Year and attended a private equity info session about a program where you could serve as a CXO, COO, CMO or CFO with Chief of Staff type roles. I wasn’t recruiting for President type roles until I heard about Teamshares’ Deferred President program. Teamshares reached out to Michele Rankin in the Career Center, who passed on the opportunity to the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, where I found it.
To be in a search firm wasn’t on my radar. Teamshares offers an industrialized search where they find a business for me and I’ll end up running it. When I got the offer, I didn’t think I was ready. I didn’t think it would happen. I’m still processing that emotionally and still feel anxious about it, which I think is a good sign, ultimately. It means I recognize the level of responsibility the role will give me.
It’s a good business with good management. I get to work on the business versus in it, which was very much what I had been doing for Cobouchy. It’s the leadership opportunity I’ve been looking for, after I had to rethink my long-term career goals and personal objectives. I want to become president. I thought I’d have to work my way up the career ladder, but I’m starting as President. There’s no more ladder to climb. I could jump ladders. Overall, I’m thinking where I want to go after I’ve had this type of experience.
Did anything surprise you about your recruiting experience?
I was surprised at how much faster Second Year recruiting was than First Year. In my experience, there were fewer hoops to jump through, less networking, and fewer interview rounds. I had struggled in interviews where I was asked about failures and after my summer working on Cobouchy, I had a lot of rich experiences to draw on.
What advice would your share with students also seeking to launch a business while at Darden?
There are lots of resources at Darden to help launch your business, including Professors Saras Sarasvathy and Damon DeVito. Sometimes there are disparate pockets and it’s hard to understand who to tap for what and how to keep making progress, so it requires a lot of commitment.
My confidence was that it was the most interesting option. You’ll never have this safe of an environment to take this risk, so why not? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The main thing is to de-risk your business. Many students don’t feel like they can talk about it until it’s a perfect product. But, it’s much better to just go-to-market with MVP. The information you get back from customers is way more valuable than the time you spent perfecting your product.
Don’t be afraid of rejection. Separate your personal sense of worth from your company’s sense of worth, and have a growth mindset.