A word from the ‘dropouts’…

Steve-Hind1-150x150
Steve Hind, Editor-in-Chief & HBS MBA ’16

Harbus-LogoEditor in Chief Steve Hind speaks to (former) members of the Class of 2016 who elected to defer their EC year to pursue their dreams…

Every year, a handful of RC students elect not to return for their EC year. Most of those who defer have spend their summer getting deep on an opportunity they feel they just can’t leave while they finish. They choose to see where the opportunity takes them over graduating with their section mates. It’s not necessarily the end of their HBS experience – the school allows them to return any time in the next five years.

As you can imagine, the kinds of opportunities that lead people to defer their MBA tend to be pretty cool. So this year the Harbus got in touch with a few of the (now former) members of the Class of 2016 to see what they’re doing instead of EC year, why, and how the made the decision.

If nothing else, their stories tell us two things: Just one year at HBS opens up some incredible opportunities, and, for RCs, no matter how clear your plans now, you never know where you’ll be next fall.

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Dropout #1: Nate Houghton

The Harbus: What are you doing instead of EC year?

Nate Houghton: I’ll be continuing to develop a business that I co-founded this summer called growth IQ. We work with multi-unit retail concepts (franchised restaurants for the most part) to improve the execution of expansion plans through data analysis and strategic leasing connections. I had an awesome chance to found the company this summer under the “umbrella” of a larger startup called Main Street Genome in Washington, DC founded by two experienced and awesome entrepreneurs. This gives me the resources (mentorship, engineering, funding, etc.) of a company that’s already off the ground while I develop my own business.

TH: Why? How did you choose between it and EC year?

NATE HOUGHTON
NATE HOUGHTON

NH: We’ve seen great traction in a really short period of time, the work is a lot of fun and extremely challenging, and my gut tells me that it could be a very large, successful business. Staying to run growth IQ wasn’t actually a very difficult decision: The opportunity cost of going back was much higher than the opportunity cost of staying. In my view, HBS gives me a decently high “floor” for my career, but launching growth IQ raises my “ceiling” significantly by forcing me to learn things like product and break out of my mold. The hardest part is not seeing my friends as much – something I figure I would have had to deal with in less than a year anyway. I’m planning to be around for section retreat, Holidazzle, etc.

TH: Do you think you’ll come back to finish your MBA?

NH: They give you five years to come back and, I recently learned, you can actually re-enter either semester – which is nice given startup uncertainty. I absolutely plan to go back. There’s a ton of EC classes I want to take and I don’t like the idea of having half of an MBA. Nevertheless, I’ve always failed to successfully predict the future.

TH: What is your advice to incoming RCs about deferring their EC year?

I would remain open to it. I decided in the spring that the best case scenario for me would be if any business I was working on was going so well that I couldn’t come back. That’s exactly what happened and it’s exciting.  

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Dropout #2: Alec Lee

The Harbus: What are you doing instead of EC year?

ALEC LEE
ALEC LEE

Alec Lee: I’ll be in San Francisco working on a biotech startup that I joined/co-founded called Extem.

TH: Why? How did you choose between it and EC year?

AL: We raised a small round to test our hypothesis about the market for the next several months. Because of that, it was a now-or-never decision that needed me full time. But really, RC year went by too fast. I picked all my EC classes haphazardly and don’t really know what I want out of the rest of the HBS experience. I know I won’t regret taking my time but I’m pretty sure I’ll regret rushing through.

TH: Do you think you’ll come back to finish your MBA?

AL: Most likely. I’m not delaying because I didn’t get value out of RC year – in fact the opposite is true. I got a lot out of it and want to maximize what I get out of EC year. But if I don’t come back it will probably be because I had an even better opportunity elsewhere, so I look at the decision to delay as a win-win.

TH: What is your advice to incoming RCs about deferring their EC year?

AL: For me the only downside was not graduating with my friends. But we’re adults and I trust the strength of the relationships I’ve made in the last year. I don’t think you need an “alternative” opportunity to take time off if you need to reflect on RC year to get the most out of EC year. If I weren’t working on Extem I might have just taken a year to travel and explore new hobbies/skills.

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Dropout #3: Ellen Chisa

The Harbus: What are you doing instead of EC year?

Ellen Chisa: I’m the first employee at Blade Travel – a new startup in Fort Point. The founders were the technical team at Kayak. Right now I’m doing a little of everything – I’ve written code, made financial models, and do the day to day product work.

TH: Why? How did you choose between it and EC year?

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ELLEN CHISA

EC: I spent all year thinking I was going to spend my summer VC. It was May before someone pointed out to me that I really love making things, and I’d learn more learning from a founder that I respect, and who has scaled a business. Paul English fit that bill. It started out as an internship, but as the summer went on, I got attached to both the Product and the team.

I actually also dropped out for a year during undergrad, so it didn’t feel like that big of a deal – especially since HBS allows up to five years leave.

TH: Do you think you’ll come back to finish your MBA?

EC: I do! Five years is a long time and I think it’d be great to return to HBS at some point to incubate my own company. Although every time I talk to one of my mentors, they say that I won’t. I guess we’ll see!

TH: What is your advice to incoming RCs about deferring their EC year?

EC: I think people assume the world is linear, but it isn’t. Who says you need to do two years in a row? Sometimes, that’s not the best option, given what you have available to you. I learned a lot during the RC, I’m applying some of it, and I’ll go back when I’m ready for more time in the classroom.

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Dropout #4: Nik Pereira-Kamath

The Harbus: What are you doing instead of EC year?

Nik Pereira-Kamath: I moved to Rwanda to launch my business Africa Healthcare Network. Africa Healthcare Network (“AHN”) aims to establish the first dialysis chain across Sub-Saharan Africa, providing high-quality, life-saving dialysis at affordable cost. AHN brings world-class technical expertise combined with developing world practical operating experience to a region in dire need of quality dialysis treatment. Dialysis is a life-saving treatment for patients with Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) and End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). The few

NIK PEREIRA-KAMATH
NIK PEREIRA-KAMATH

hospitals that provide treatment operate centers that are slowly deteriorating while charging prohibitive prices. Additionally, the lack of trained professionals and limited capital investment in care for non-communicable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa, dialysis centers are few and far between, causing patients to endure the high costs for travel to receive care. Those who cannot afford the costs of treatment and travel are resigned to death. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and AKI are on the rise in the region due to strong epidemiologic factors, including increased urbanization leading to lifestyle diseases, other non-communicable diseases, HIV and other infections and toxins. Utilizing our network of executives/partners, we will secure high-quality equipment and train professionals to provide superior care. Our ability to source lowest cost consumables, operational efficiency and scale, will allow us to lower the cost to patients. The net result is increased access, higher quality and lower cost to patients, while maintaining profitability. Our goal is to launch 20+ centers over the next five years.

TH: Why? How did you choose between it and EC year?

NPK: This has been the hardest decision I have faced in my life as my heart is split, between spending the next year with all the people who have made the past twelve months unbelievable and getting to graduate with an unbelievable group of friends, and pursuing my passion project. This in no way has been an easy decision and I kept trying to convince myself that I could balance both school and managing a business in Africa. If there has been one thing I have learned from my past three months in Rwanda, considered the easiest country to do business in Africa, there is no way to operate and business and have it succeed if you are not on the ground pushing it forward. Passion drives performance and if I were to leave, I am saddened to admit that it will fail. Secretly, I think I knew this from day one when I joined the HBS, but did not want to admit it (looking back, I actually wrote this in my 10 year reflection…). After having conversations with a number of professors and close advisors/friends in life, I came to this decision last month.

TH: Do you think you’ll come back to finish your MBA?

NPK: I honestly don’t know. I am taking it all one year at a time. I value the education but I’ve found something I’m truly passionate about. If I fail, I’ll be on the next flight back to campus!

TH: What is your advice to incoming RCs about deferring their EC year?

NPK: Do not think about it. I had an unbelievable experience my first year and not once did I seek out advice on deferring. Embrace the fun and make the decision when the time comes. If you start thinking about it, you’ll miss out on an amazing first year with a unbelievable group of friends.

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Dropout #5: Ethan Bernstein

The Harbus: What are you doing instead of EC year?

Ethan Bernstein: I founded a travel technology company called Freebird (www.getfreebird.com).  Freebird empowers travelers to rebook their trip on any airline at no additional cost when their flight is cancelled or significantly delayed.  Our rebooking service lets you “cut the line” and rebook a brand new ticket — in less than 30 seconds – with only 3 taps on your mobile device.  No waiting in line. No terrible call-center hold music or desperate online search.  Just straightforward options at no additional cost, available instantly at your fingertips.

TH: Why? How did you choose between it and EC year?

ETHAN BERNSTEIN
ETHAN BERNSTEIN

 Although I am sad to miss EC year with my friends and sectionmates, the decision was a no-brainer.  Our team is having more fun working on Freebird than any of us have ever had before.  Personally, I’ve never been happier.  We believe we have the opportunity to solve a huge pain point for consumers and build a scalable business at the same time, so we’re swinging for the fences.

TH: Do you think you’ll come back to finish your MBA?

Great question.

TH: What is your advice to incoming RCs about deferring their EC year?

Search for something that makes you truly happy.  It probably won’t be the first place you look and it probably won’t be what everyone else is looking at.  Then go for it.

 

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