A word from the ‘drop-ins’

Harbus-LogoFor our August edition, The Harbus spoke to five (former) members of the Class of 2016, who decided to drop out of HBS to pursue a range of other opportunities. This month, we spoke with five new members of the Class of 2016 – people who dropped out after their first year, and have come back to HBS this year to finish their MBAs. They shared with us what they’d learned – and why they came back.


Ryan Allis, formerly Class of 2014

The Harbus: What did you drop out to do, and why?

Ryan AllisRyan Allis: I was originally in the Class of 2014 so I took two years off from HBS. During this time I co-founded a tech startup called Connect (www.connect.com) and a for-profit social enterprise called Hive (www.hive.org) which is a community of leaders and entrepreneurs working on creating a better world. I also became a Certified Life Coach and started new practices like daily yoga and meditation that have made me a much happier and mindful second year student.

DOW jpeg.jpg FINAL
Publishing Partner

TH: What did you learn, and why did you decide to come back?

RA: I came back to meet 1800 more extraordinary people and to learn the commercial real estate business. My goal is to build 10,000 Hive buildings in the next 35 years all over the world that are combination co-living and co-working communities with a hotel, healthy cafe, and fitness/yoga studio. Imagine going to Jakarta, Nairobi, or Sydney and staying in the Hive Hotel. I’ve found my passion and purpose in life now and so I want to finish my education before I commit the rest of my life to building communities around the world and helping other people come alive and pursue their dreams. I also came back so I could get that elusive Harvard diploma!

TH: How did you feel about dropping out at the time, and how do you feel about it now?

RA: I think taking time off between years at HBS is a great idea for students who want to try something really risky. Worst case scenario you come back to HBS and can recruit for a job. You can totally fail at something really bold and it’s not an issue in your career. After you graduate, no one ever asks about what you did between your years of your MBA. The time in between RC and EC year is essentially risk-less professionally and so I encourage many entrepreneurial students to consider starting or joining a company during the time between their two years and if it’s going well at the end of the Summer just stick with it. The time off enabled me to discover my passion and purpose (to build communities of leaders around the world). So now I’m an EC with clear direction and focus on this journey! It’s really helpful to go into the second year knowing what you want to do with the next phase of your life, so my advice is take some time off until you think you have a good working hypothesis.


Liza Yermakova, Class of 2014

The Harbus: What did you drop out to do, and why?

Liza Yermakova
Liza Yermakova

Liza Yermakova: My HBS story is a bit off the beaten path. I came to HBS when I was 23 after just 1 year of work experience. I knew I wanted to transition from finance to tech ops/product management and I went to HBS primarily to do this, having started out in the wrong field for me. RC year was a great experience: I learned a lot and made a lot of amazing friends. For the summer, I got an internship at a friend’s startup. I dropped out because during that summer, I realized how much I missed learning by doing. I knew I wanted to gain more experience and more confidence by actually building things. At the time, I felt like if I came back for EC year right then, I would spend the year “biding my time” to get out in the real world and help create something. It seemed like a waste of an opportunity to have that attitude going into the second year of this great program that I wasn’t in the right mindset to be fully invested in. I am so grateful that HBS has the option to allow students to voluntarily take off up to 5 years. This really allowed me to follow the path that was right for me.

TH: What did you learn, and why did you decide to come back?

LY: Shortly after I took the leap to not come back to HBS, I met someone who offered me the perfect job: running a web publishing company, optimizing the online business, and creating strategy to drive the business forward. I have been doing this for the last two years full time and it has been immensely rewarding. I have gained the experience and confidence that is necessary to effectively run an organization. I also oversaw the creation of a new mobile app from scratch that should launch in a few months.

The decision to come back this year was double parted: first I asked myself if I wanted to go back at all. Then I asked if it should be this year. The answer to both was yes. I have learned a lot for the past two years and was ready for change in role and organization. On a certain level, I was also ready to go back to school again, take a break from working and immerse myself in learning and the HBS community.  

TH: How did you feel about dropping out at the time, and how do you feel about it now?

LY: It was really scary to drop out at the time. I felt like it was the right thing to do to be true to myself but it wasn’t an easy decision. This was exacerbated by the fact that when I dropped out, I had no idea what the next step would be for me  in terms of city or job.

Now, I feel like it was exactly what I needed to do and I’m glad that I had the courage to do it at the time. The two years I took off in between RC and EC year were amazing and I’m glad to be back now, again feeling that this is exactly where I belong at this stage in my life.


Sarina Hickey & Drew Richard, Class of 2015

Ed note: Sarina and Drew tell us that they met when they were placed in the same discussion group at the start of the RC year. Things worked out well, and the decided to take the year off together, and are now engaged!

The Harbus: What did you drop out to do, and why?

Sarina Hickey
Sarina Hickey

Sarina Hickey & Drew Richard: We dropped out to travel and explore different career options. Drew was in the military

pre-HBS and wanted to get into finance and the energy industry, so he spent the year studying and passing the CFA Levels I and II, and worked at an energy start-up in SF, a hedge fund in Houston, and in equity research at Barclay’s in NYC. Sarina’s background was in investment banking and as an entrepreneur, having started four companies. She wanted the year to explore design consulting with IDEO in SF, health policy implementation work with the White House, Michael Porter and MD Anderson in Houston, and Healthcare Private Equity in NYC.

TH: What did you learn, and why did you decide to come back?

Drew Richard
Drew Richard

SH & DR: Drew learned he doesn’t want to work on Wall Street. Slightly kidding, but he knows he wants to work in the energy industry and in finance.

Sarina learned what she likes and doesn’t like about consulting, operations, and finance. She’s looking for opportunities that can marry the best of her experiences from the year.

We gave ourselves a year to try out different career options in the different cities, so coming back after one year was always the plan.

TH: How did you feel about dropping out at the time, and how do you feel about it now?

SH & DR: Sarina was more hesitant than Drew. Given Drew’s lack of civilian work experience, he wanted the time to hone in on the right career path and cultivate the skills to get there.

Sarina am more of the social butterfly in this relationship, and had established great connections with her classmates through being the Social Chair of J and investing a lot of time and energy into planning trips pre-HBS for my classmates (yacht week, an India trek). Drew suggested she become more involved with the Class of 2016, so she was fortunately given a spot on the SA which has allowed her to meet amazing people.

Given the insight we cultivated over the last year about our career choices, we are both so thankful for our year “off” and wouldn’t have changed any part of it.

As an added bonus, the extra time allowed us to focus on our relationship. We wound up getting engaged!! (Thank you HBS Discussion Group matching algorithm!)


Sergio Marrero, Class of 2014

The Harbus: What did you drop out to do, and why?

Sergio Marrero
Sergio Marrero

Sergio Marrero: I was working on a startup and got into the incubator Start Up Chile with my former start up, Plexx. Also after two years of cases (I am a joint degree student with HKS) I was craving to ‘learn by doing’, as opposed to ‘learning by discussion’.

After I recovered by backpacking around South America, then spent a year in design consulting, a summer in VC, and led a design thinking project in Italy. Focused on exploring, understanding what I want to do and deepening my background in design.

TH: What did you learn, and why did you decide to come back?

SM: I learned the grit of the startup world and how tough it is to truly imagine a product and bring it to life. I learned that, no matter how many cases I read, or years I spent in consulting, to go from ‘0 to 1’ (as Peter Theil puts it), I needed to try it, fail, get up, and do it again.

I also learned I love design and have become obsessed with the idea of ‘increasing the speed of innovation to create a better world’. I think an answer may lie in the intersection of design and business, but only time will tell.

In short I came back because my startup did fail and I wanted to reflect, fill in some specific skill gaps, look for teammates to start the next venture, and meet some more amazing people!

TH: How did you feel about dropping out at the time, and how do you feel about it now?

SM: I am a joint degree student with HKS and the hardest part was not continuing on with my joint degree cohort.

Looking back, I would not trade the experience for anything. I have a much clearer sense of mission and what I want to spend my life doing. Also, my classes, for the most part, are building on my experience (rather than being an introduction to a new topic) which matches more closely with how I prefer to learn and grow.


Harbus-Logo