Summer 2017: What Did You Do?

How was your summer?! It’s a common question this week on campus as MBA2s reunite, and a question that has a lot of different answers. Whether you loved or hated your internship, tried something drastically different than your pre-GSB life, or took a different path, read about eleven experiences below.

George John Jordan Thomas Aquinas Hayward | Still Talkin’ To ’Em

Releasing his first comedy mixtape: clips from his live shows in New York and Stanford. Put respect on his name, like Birdman on Hot97

This is the story of one man with six names with one goal with one name.

Laughter.

Simply put: our country needs more laughter. Donald Trump’s toupee is not enough. We need more.

So, back in the year 2017, I became the Sole Co-Founder of Hayward Motivational Comedy to pursue standup.

I incorporated the business in Delaware, registered Highland Hall N106 as headquarters, set up a LinkedIn page, started a mailing list, and filed a trademark for the slogan “He takes jokes seriously.” I purchased the domain www.georgejohnjordanthomasaquinashayward.com, which was miraculously still available.

It turns out standup requires none of these things, but you can’t be too careful.

I also no longer live in Highland Hall after being lotteried off campus in three consecutive drawings. In hindsight, perhaps this might not have been the best place to set up headquarters, but in startups you don’t get the benefit of hindsight because you’re too busy disrupting the industry, failing fast, and being lean.

I look forward to meeting the MBA1 who’s moved into headquarters.

Photo credit: Eskor Johnson

One of the best explanations of why standup is hard comes from Reddit.

Someone asked why the comments on Reddit are funnier than the original post. Another user replied that it’s because a comment only has to find a spin or an angle on the universe set up by the original post — much like a “caption this” game.

But in standup you have to create both the original post and then make that comment about it.

You have to get the audience to see the same article, so to speak, that you see. We call this part the premise. Then you have to, essentially, tell the audience the most upvoted comment for that article. We call this part the punchline.

This process is hard enough, but in standup you need to do it in front of a live audience.

Many people fear public speaking. And standup is like a kind of public speaking where, on top of the regular fears, you’re evaluated in real time. This adds pressure.

And now here are some highlights from my foray into the professional comedy circuit this summer.

New York City

Photo credit: Eskor Johnson

New York has hands-down the most open-mics per night in the country. So if you’re trying to work on new material and get better stage presence, New York’s a great place to start.

After just two open-mics, I came across a rare opportunity: The Broadway Comedy Club on West 53rd Street had an opening if you could fill a room of about 70 people.

This became The Lake Reporter show, which I will release on YouTube on October 5. I booked two comedians I’d met at my first open mic and I brought the GSB’s own Ruchir Shah on as host. This show filled the room, and raised over $700 for the Palo Alto-based grief support charity Kara.

In promoting the show I released a promo called “Politics & Comedy” just for the people who thought I had lost my way and forgotten about running for office!

Los Angeles

Photo credit: Louis Baudoin

After a month in New York, I flew to Los Angeles for experience in that comedy scene. LA has fewer open mics than NY does, and they’re more spread out, but they seemed to have larger audiences.

Flappers Comedy Club has one of the best and most supportive vibes I’ve seen in the comedy circuit, and it holds a weekly audition. I performed a three-minute set there, and they agreed to book me in a guest spot set for October 12. This is like an entry-level position in the comedy club circuit.

Tokyo

Photo credit: Masaki Sekine

After a month in Los Angeles, I headed to Tokyo to help sell sake for Nihonshu Oendan.

One of the most important skills in standup is learning to read a room. Tokyo presented a challenge because of language and cultural differences. To navigate this, I just started talkin’ to ’em about my misadventures in the city. I called this set “Say Ma Sen” after a basic Japanese phrase (すいません) that I spent weeks mispronouncing.

Kunisaki

Photo credit: Shota Setoguchi

One of the most surreal moments came during a trip to Kunisaki, Japan, to harvest rice.

I’m sitting at a dinner table in a place so out-there it’s only called “Sushi Restaurant” on Google Maps. I’m the only non-Japanese speaker.

The locals heard I was a comedian, likely because I carry a large poster of myself.

“Tell us a joke,” they asked through a translator.

I looked at my friend, who was doing the translation, and he looked at me.

“Tell them that I went to the onsen (public bath house), they took one look at me, and I got banned.”

He translated it. There was a time delay as he spoke in Japanese. Then the locals started laughing.

Why was I banned?

I can’t put the reason into print, but as President Trump would say, “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”


Different languages, cultures, perspectives. Through laughter, it didn’t matter.

It reminded me that we’re all human, and a smile needs no translation.

Logo designed by George John Jordan Thomas Aquinas Hayward

Jeremy Avins | Want Impact? Try This Place

Imagine a state poorer than any other in the United States. Imagine it has no Fortune 500 companies, no major cities, and is losing Millennials faster than any other state. Imagine if the combined endowments of all the foundations in the state equal less than one-sixth of one Bay Area foundation’s assets.

Imagine also that this state has a large minority population that, while among the most marginalized in US history, also has strong community groups that have weathered years of adversity. Imagine a “deep red” state whose capital city recently elected a mayor pledging to make it “the most radical city on the planet” and that could elect a progressive governor soon — with the right support.

In other words, imagine a state where resources are scarce, enormous impact is possible, and local leadership is committed and battle-tested.

If you were a philanthropist or impact investor, wouldn’t this be an obvious place to invest?

Budding GSBillionaires, welcome to Mississippi. The most heavily African-American state in the country, Mississippi is also the only state whose flag still includes the Confederate flag. It has the highest poverty rate and second-lowest bachelor’s degree attainment.

Mississippi’s Delta region, once called the “South’s South,” has the country’s highest rate of medically underserved people and lowest homeownership rate.

Yet in the poorest areas in and around Mississippi — including the Delta — foundation funding is under 10 percent of the national per-person average and barely 4 percent of New York’s average.

I would have known none of this were it not for a professor at the GSB, Anne Marie Burgoyne. Thanks largely to her assistance, I spent the summer with Hope Enterprise Corporation and Credit Union (together, “HOPE”). Based in Jackson, HOPE is a community loan fund, credit union, and policy institute dedicated to strengthening communities and improving lives in Mississippi and other Southern states.

Led by its founder, Bill Bynum, whose biography speaks for itself, HOPE has the most holistic approach to community development I have encountered. It helps those with deep financial insecurity attain affordable savings and loan services; provides responsible mortgages to borrowers who don’t qualify for loans elsewhere; lends to small businesses with limited access to credit; finances the development of affordable housing, grocery stores in food deserts, and school buildings; and leverages this experience to advocate for public policies that improve economic opportunity for HOPE’s members.

Take the Delta town of Moorhead (popularized in an old blues song as the place where the “Southern crosses the Yellow Dog” railroad). Early on, I visited a public housing development that HOPE is renovating there, after fires due to faulty wiring gutted the home of a “Ms. B” and several other houses. Soon after, I met Ms. B’s daughter at a HOPE training: she, like me, recently joined HOPE, in her case to staff a new credit union branch in another Delta town with no other banks or credit unions. As the summer continued, HOPE expanded a partnership with the under-resourced Moorhead government to develop a plan for infrastructure development. And near the end of the summer, I helped push for more public investment in towns like this.

Through all of this, I couldn’t help wondering what keeps more foundations and impact investors from investing in this region. I spent five years advising foundations, so I’ve heard my fair share of proclamations about the need for innovation and devoting resources where they’re most needed and can have the highest impact.

If you share those objectives and you are a funder or investor with national bandwidth, investing in Mississippi is a can’t-miss opportunity.

And for us grad students or recent grads, whose aspirations are exceeded only by our debt, let me suggest community development organizations like HOPE as worthy of more consideration for our internship and career choices. Credit unions and loan funds may sound less sexy than neighboring industries that get their due at BBLs and career fairs, but, at least in my experience, community development provides a more comprehensive approach to economic mobility than many other methods I’ve seen at GSB.

John Goedert | My Summer at a 9-to-5

The closest lodging to my office.

I spent the summer outside Atlanta working at a manufacturer of specialty filters for life sciences and industrial applications. The company is a division of a filtration conglomerate, which in turn is owned by an industrial holding company.

…Anyone still awake out there?

But the company is a really neat business. Most of its products are customized, highly engineered, patent-protected and mission-critical to their customers. Its products are in everything from children’s markers to the International Space Station. It’s the crown jewel and growth engine of a massive industrial company.

Still, the company runs at a tempo different from what the type-A GSBer is accustomed to. The company is headquartered in Fairburn, Ga., an industrial zone 30 minutes south of Atlanta. The vast majority of employees work from 9 to 5 — sharp. After years of being nervous if I had to leave work before 8 PM, I found myself in an office where I was locked out of the bathrooms at 6. I was not in Silicon Valley anymore.

Early on, the difference in culture was a shock to the system. For example, I found that implementing change of any type — even just improving or eliminating errors in routine processes — faced resistance. More than that, I didn’t see a life-or-death connection to the work. I was incredibly frustrated.

But I began to realize that for many on staff — good employees, doing good work — this job was, well, a job. It was a way to generate income to allow them to pursue fulfillment in other areas of their lives, be it family, faith or other community. I couldn’t blame the staff for resisting change: for many of these folks, their roles and compensation allowed for limited upside, and almost unlimited downside. Why listen to the 27-year-old with California license plates when you’re afraid you could lose your job if he’s wrong?

I had to pivot. I spent more time paying attention to what was driving individual members of the staff. I learned to stop saying “this is how we improve data quality” and start saying “this is how we free up time in your day.” And, by God, I had to force myself to understand that what looked to me like irrationality could be fully rational, but under a different set of constraints. Not everyone cared about maximizing shareholder value, and you know what? Everything was OK.

Katie Hayes | My Summer Experience: Maverick Ventures & POC Sports

I decided to split my summer into two parts and spent roughly two-thirds working at Maverick Ventures, a VC firm in San Francisco, and the final third at POC, a sporting goods company in Stockholm.

Maverick Ventures is a team that spun out of Maverick Capital, a large hedge fund with operations in New York, SF, and Dallas. The small size of the venture team — only three full-time professionals and two interns — provided an awesome experience for the summer. After having worked at a large bank and medium-sized investment firm prior to the GSB, I enjoyed having more visibility into the investments and operations at Maverick Ventures.

I spent my time at Maverick focused on sourcing, conducting diligence on potential deals, and working with one portfolio company, Blue Talon, that was started by a GSB alum. This variety was enjoyable and sometimes felt like three different jobs in one because the skills needed for each were quite different. I also helped write a whitepaper with one of my managing directors on unicorns in Digital Health with the goal of identifying commonalities in business model, founder backgrounds, and funding history.

For me, by far the most interesting part of the job was the “people” aspect. I enjoyed getting to know management teams that came into our office and seeing how my colleagues assessed their ability to scale an organization, attract talent, and work well with investors. I ran into a strangely large number of GSB alums leading companies we evaluated or invested in, and it was inspiring to see “GSB” traits — seeking feedback, developing strong interpersonal dynamics, and leading with compassion — on display in the working world. I can imagine those seats at portfolio companies and in pitch meetings filled with my awesome GSB classmates down the road!

Getting about as far away from the GSB bubble as possible, I then took off for Stockholm, Sweden to spend a month doing special projects for the CEO and CFO of POC Sports. POC is a company I’ve loved for a long time. As a former ski racer, I wore their helmet for many years and always admired the design. At the core of the company is a focus on safety for gravity sport athletes and innovative, stylish design. They produce ski and cycling helmets as well as soft goods including race jerseys, cycling jackets, and activewear. You can tell that design is core to their culture from the second you walk into their offices in the hipster Sodermalm neighborhood of Stockholm.

This internship was my first time working at a company that produces a real “product” (i.e. something other than a professional service), and I enjoyed the close look at how the business units interacted. In my mind, product design and R&D really were the heart and soul of the company at POC — this was confirmed by the CEO’s desk position amidst a group of product designers. I helped with two main things while I was at POC: evaluating their North America eCommerce channel for operational improvements and reviewing a high-end “commuter” cycling line (primarily jackets and apparel) to see how to launch it successfully. I felt sort of like a one-person consulting firm, placing calls within the organization and with external vendors, analyzing data and mining for insights to present to the CEO and CFO in a final deck. I even got an analyst staffed to help me with the project, which provided me a valuable opportunity to practice managing and motivating someone.

Reflecting on these experiences and thinking back to where I was as an MBA1, here were a few of my takeaways:

  1. Be patient with the summer job search — it felt like it took forever for these internships to materialize. Persistence and patience ultimately paid off for almost all of my classmates, myself included.
  2. If you’re going to split your summer, be intentional about what you want to get out of each experience. I was proactive with POC about asking to attend meetings and staying in the loop on things outside of my project, which helped me learn as much as I could about the business in one short month.
  3. VC recruiting is not as scary as some make it out to be. If you want to do VC, even if you don’t have the “textbook” perfect background, you should go for it. I really enjoyed the space and am really glad I wasn’t scared off by the rumors that it’s super hard to get.

Sithara Kodali | The Dancing Star

Summer in Denver: tailgating at Red Rocks.

By the time I took off for Denver, I had become accustomed to the reaction I got last year when I told other GSB students I was interning at DaVita. The details varied, but largely followed a three-step process:

Step 1: “That’s the dialysis company in the culture case, right?” I would nod and watch their face as they recalled the dancing-star-and-costumes video from fall’s strategy class.

Step 2: If they were bold, they would go for it: something along the lines of “the culture is kind of a lot, right?” I would laugh a little and acknowledge the obvious corniness of a person dressed as a dancing star.

Step 3: They would close the conversation with a wide smile and a quick change to “Well, being in Denver for the summer is going to be awesome!”

Full disclosure: I didn’t see anyone in a dancing star costume this summer. But for three days, the interns were shipped to Atlanta for Academy, DaVita’s professional development and cultural introduction for all new teammates (translation: employees). Yes: all DaVita employees. There are more than 70,000 of them, so putting on a two-day event multiple times a year is a massive undertaking.

I sat next to patient care technicians from Chicago, nurses from Las Vegas, and an equipment technician from rural Alabama. Most worked for hourly wages; it was often the first time their employer had paid to fly them to a conference and put them up. I can’t remember the last time I had met people from so many different walks.

DaVita provided all these employees with professional development, from conflict resolution to understanding personality styles, and, yes, a cultural crash course in being part of the village (translation: company). I was alternately profoundly moved by a woman who told us about being on dialysis for years before getting a kidney transplant and deciding to work at DaVita to care for other dialysis patients, and sheepish about putting on my Three Musketeers hat (yep, that happened). But the sense of community was real, and I learned that as much as a rational, spreadsheet-oriented business student might avoid it, culture does trump everything else. People want to be heard, and to have a sense of purpose. DaVita, for being a Fortune 200 company, does an incredible job of providing that to its employees.

Healthcare was new to me and it was fascinating to watch DaVita continue integrating Healthcare Partners, a medical group it acquired in 2012. DaVita is renowned for its operational excellence with dialysis clinics, but medical groups encompass all sorts of specialists, care delivery, and regions. It’s a whole different ballgame to switch from operating one service well to dealing with the sprawl that is regional healthcare. It kind of felt like heading into Mordor: not a good idea, but I couldn’t help myself from trying to sort it out anyway. It’s clear that DaVita couldn’t either, motivated by ambition and its inherent sense of purpose. It remains to be seen how they move forward with their medical group acquisition, but I was fortunate to jump in, receive great mentorship, meet incredible GSB alums, ask questions of top executives, and work at a mission-driven company.

And yes, being in Denver for the summer was awesome too.

Natasha Malpani | Reimagining Media Entrepreneurship

I spent my summer at Matter, which supports media entrepreneurs building a more empathetic, inclusive and informed society. Here are my takeaways:

It takes a village. Matter’s core strength is its powerful community. I’ve been struck by the generosity of Matter’s staff. From the challenges of building a cohesive team to raising your first seed round, Matter feels the entrepreneur’s pain and celebrates their successes as if they were their own. It’s easy to say you’re a “founder first’’‘ firm, but hard to live it. I’ve also been impressed by the teams’ support for peers; these people are willing to put other’s needs before their own.

Capital is not the constraint: your mindset is. How Matter’s inspiring media entrepreneurs try, fail and continue to fight and build their ventures has been eye-opening. One team is trying to make podcasts more searchable, another is trying to give voice to underrepresented groups, and a third is trying to connect the public with journalists, to rebuild trust in the news industry. Challenging the status quo is powerful, but staying practical, action-oriented and open to feedback is even more powerful. There is no right path or answer when it comes to building a company: all you can do is put yourself in the middle of the action, ask for feedback on a product that’s not entirely ready, and then continuously improve it. .

This is why Matter emphasizes creating a safe space to allow entrepreneurs to fail fast. Matter’s genius is that it encourages entrepreneurs to build great processes but stay flexible on the outcome, balance a sense of urgency and openness, and emphasize customers and mission over product. Matter also builds a powerful community to support entrepreneurs through their most difficult times.

People over product: put your customers and team first. As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly told that your team will make or break your venture. But what you don’t hear as often is that managing people is much harder than building a product. Your product will evolve; your people need to, as well. I think you can tell early on from watching a team interact, learn, grow and struggle together whether they will succeed.

On the other hand, you can have an amazing team and build a great product, but unless you really understand your customers’ needs, desires and pain points, and design for them first, you cannot build a successful company.

The culture of listening to user feedback and constantly prototyping is powerful. I’ve been impressed that Matter emphasizes “customer development” coaching over “product development” in its program. They only focus on business model building and fundraising once the companies have thought through their core purpose, values and key customers.

Storytelling and branding are more than half the battle. Given that it is increasingly hard to differentiate your product and be discovered, being proactive about reaching and delighting your customers is more important than ever. I’ve learned that telling a very simple and relatable story while appealing to people’s emotions is key.

Moreover, having a clear mission that guides your team, venture and customers is powerful. If you know what you stand for, and what you really believe in, and you are unwilling to compromise on your core values even if your product iterates, your stakeholders — your team, customers and investors — will always know who you are.

There are no right answers. My biggest takeaway from this summer is that no one knows what they’re doing in this new world: high-tech ventures, powerful incumbents, highly respected investors are all thrown by the new normal. Consumers are losing trust in well-established brands, social networks and recommendation systems have disrupted conventional distribution channels and consumer decision-making processes, and traditional business models are broken. Yet you can learn to do and build anything, as long as you stay adaptive.

However, it’s almost too easy to continue to build out your product, without articulating your priorities. Having a strong mission and culture is not enough: unless the team aligned on a common vision and execution plan, your firm will get pulled in many directions. You will waste time and energy, lose your way and be forced to hurry big decisions, unless you constantly realign.

There is no right answer: strategy is about making choices. You have to decide what you will not do. I’ve learned the importance of asking hard questions, of surfacing the key choices facing an organization at a given moment in time, and giving people the vocabulary and agency to choose a direction.

Robbie Mitchnick | Ripple

My accidental journey to the center of the commercial version of the blockchain/cryptocurrency universe proved once again that it’s better to be lucky than good. Partway through a summer recruiting process that turned out to be far less quick and easy than I’d naively anticipated, I stumbled into a still relatively unknown fintech company in San Francisco called Ripple.

Ripple’s digital asset, XRP, stood at $0.03 when I interviewed in April. By the time I showed up for work on my first day in June, It had exploded to $0.28. That meteoric rise gave the 150-person, Series B “start-up” $18 billion in cryptocurrency on its balance sheet, solidified XRP’s status as the #3 cryptocurrency in the world behind Bitcoin and Ethereum, and helped make Ripple a household name within the tech community.

While I should clarify that Ripple, just like every other company in the world, does not hand its prospective summer interns a bunch of stock upon signing up, the fortuitous timing of my arrival at Ripple nonetheless opened up some extraordinary opportunities. In addition to working on the go-to-market for the company’s new product aimed at integrating large corporates into its international payment network, I was given the chance to take a leading role in building out the company’s strategy for deploying its newfound cryptocurrency riches as a strategic weapon. The aim of the program ultimately proposed was to rapidly accelerate network adoption and volumes using XRP, in a way that would cement Ripple’s early lead as the blockchain-based disruptor of SWIFT — the highly-dysfunctional and archaic current global interbank settlement standard.

Along the way, I encountered a fascinating young company with many brilliant, highly-energized people (including a club commonly referred to as “the certified geniuses upstairs”) clamoring to figure out just how to capture the enormous opportunity thrust upon the company by virtue of its ground-breaking technology and the recent explosion of commercial interest in blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies. The breadth of exposure afforded by my intern status gave me the chance to delve into many corners of the business and directly witness these enthralling challenges. What was once a totally foreign and mystifyingly complex world to me is now something I’ve become reasonably fluent in and highly energized about. For that I owe good fortune, almost entirely.

Jenny Xia | Adventures in Startup Land

The crew (minus summer all-stars Matt, Leandro, Bronson and Bryn).

I spent the summer building FreeWill with Patrick Schmitt, Helen Zou, Alex Leishman and a radically adorable team of four interns. My role was chief product officer and CFO. And I’m not gonna lie: it has been the best summer.

I biked to work in the coolness of 7 am. I would arrive to a tranquil, empty office and crank: responding to customer questions, checking user analytics, and triaging feedback. Occasionally, I would send a meaty email to the co-founders synthesizing ideas that had been amassing on some larger topic (e.g. competitors, distribution, fundraising).

With five other startups, we worked out of Highland Capital: a land of infinite La Croix, 
Greek yogurt and Nutella snack packs. It was striking how creature comforts took the edge off the undertow of desperation — for clients, feedback, attention, money, employees — that inevitably comes with startup life. I have taken note for when we set up our permanent home.

Soon it would be time for Standup, my favorite daily ritual. At exactly 9:45 am, the team would file into our back cubby. Each person would report on his or her accomplishments from the previous 24 hours and battle plan for the coming 24 hours. We would resolve workstream issues and share significant successes or failures. There was almost always something to celebrate — a sale, a new feature that had been deployed, a big bequest — most of which had involved multiple members of the team. It was daily validation that each individual’s work was setting someone up for a tangible “win.” Bounce, bounce, bounce, smack, score!

There are a few things about our business that make it particularly joyful to run: 1) As a marketplace (FreeWill provides services for nonprofits and will-makers), we have twice as many metrics to celebrate than if we had just one customer base; 2) Both sides of the marketplace are expecting a terrible process (asking people to contemplate their mortality and contemplating their mortality, respectively), and then voice their pleasure at our product; 3) As a web app, growth happens far beyond our direct reach and while we are sleeping. These are things I try not to take for granted.

After Standup, I would enter product management mode: review nonprofit dashboards an intern built, look at how to add advanced healthcare directives to our platform, edit copy for our “How to Pick an Executor” blog post. Lunch would fall prey to the “flow” state of work: carrots and hummus and sugary energy bars consumed while bent over my computer.

Afternoon would be a potpourri of meetings: debate the relative merits of allocating resources to beefing up security or to an earned media campaign, interview a potential hire, discuss one-off pricing for a lighthouse client looking for a concession, chat with our lawyer on some fundraising terms we received versus what is standard in Silicon Valley, have a heart-to-heart with an intern, ask advice from an amazing GSB classmate on this or that.

I would leave the office around 7 and return home to Hufflepuffs (link included for non-Harry Potter fanatics). If there is anything that will make you feel better at the end of a long day, it is coming home to ‘puffs who give you smiles and hugs and words of moral support. Everyone needs Hufflepuffs in their lives, but especially entrepreneurs.

The summer was not without its tradeoffs. The co-founders celebrated the Fourth of July — also my birthday — by grinding to prepare for our v2.0 product launch. I am in the worst physical shape I have been in for years. Even when I try, I am not as sharp around my friends and family. I struggle to fall asleep because of all the thoughts bubbling in my head — and finally get out of bed to draft an email at some silly hour because I can’t otherwise make the thoughts go away.

Still, over 10 weeks, we raised over $20 million for charities like the ACLU, the American Cancer Society, and the Nature Conservancy, and enabled over 750 people to do end-of-life planning. On a good day when I worked in finance, my impact was getting the teachers of California a larger, less volatile pension return. Now, I don’t have to wait for the day that my impact manifests itself tangibly and at scale. Nor do I have to pauper myself or my employees in pursuit of that impact. For all this, I am very grateful.

My cofounder, Patrick, often says that his favorite part of startup life is having amazing people to celebrate with. I found this concept strange at first, and chalked it up to his strong extroversion. Over the summer, I have come to realize what his comment is really about. It is about undergoing emotional volatility with a team you respect and enjoy, for something you think matters. And then tasting victory together.

P.S. If you know any nonprofits who might benefit from more money, feel free to send them to Patrick, Helen, or our Partners page.

Sohayle Sizar | Submit to Colors

I was afraid. I hate to admit it. It was January 2017 — the beginning of internship season — and I worried I’d waste my time at some meaningless, soul-sucking internship.

I was disheartened by many of the traditional MBA summer opportunities. I desired experiences that broke my boundaries, pushed me to grow intellectually in ways that I never have, and cultivated my inner Self to find comfort in the uncomfortable.

So I decided to break the mold and craft my summer in a way that would challenge me intellectually and personally. I broke my summer into three components: first, a computer programming boot camp; second, a one-month GMIX in Beijing at the Chinese social media company Renren; and third, a one-month GMIX at Careem, a Middle Eastern ride-hailing app based in Dubai.

In the first part of my summer, I decided to break the chains of computer coding illiteracy. I enrolled in the Front-End Design track of Treehouse.io, a popular online coding boot camp. I learned HTML, CSS, and a bit of JavaScript. The boot camp was well designed, and I realized that learning code satiated my appetite for logic and structure. It was also therapeutic. I felt powerful that for the first time I could translate my background in graphic design into code. I found comfort in a subject that I had found uncomfortable.

After completing the computer programming boot camp, I headed to Beijing, where I worked with the corporate development team at Renren. I gleaned profound insights on artificial intelligence and sectors affected by AI. But I also learned that Jason — the director of the team — wanted to be the best father he could be for his newborn daughter. I learned that Joey, a colleague, loved philosophy, and we chatted forever about it. Alison has the cutest cat called Fifi. And Monica loves German guys. We all connected. In fact, here is the “cultural exchange” word list I created with the team based on the conversations we had:

I learned that despite knowing no Chinese, despite the cultural differences, we all love. We all hope, dream and desire. I saw it with my team and with friends I made on other teams. I saw it with all the people I met who extended kindness to me with no expectation of reciprocation.

Then there was Careem. I worked on the Strategy team and a bit with the corporate development team; specifically, I worked very closely with Bizar and Bdeeb a.k.a. “Big Bad Wolf.” Both are impeccable former consultants who challenged me to be my best and improved my analytical skills. I had arrived with some trepidation. Everyone was very different, and I was homesick and a bit lonely. In some ways, it was an identity crisis: I looked like everybody, but I was not really like them. I felt socially adrift from the company. Until we started getting to know one another. I put myself out there. Poco, a colleague, and I had deep conversations on life. Demitra made us cry with laughter. We even made a love-notes wall where colleagues could anonymously write notes of positivity and gratitude for one another.

And despite dealing with the huffing and puffing of the “Big Bad Wolf” and Bizar’s craziness, I found both to be profoundly beautiful humans. I went from loneliness to connecting with individuals who were so different, but also so alike. At Careem, there are individuals whose souls are brimming with goodness. I never expected such love.

Sometimes in life your breath is just taken away. You are stunned, unable to react or say anything. And you are overtaken with awe and wonder. It is in these moments that you forget yourself. You forget your desires and whims. You are nothing but humbled and honored to be humbled. Whether it was learning to code, experiencing China, or changing the Middle East through Careem, this summer took my breath away.

I felt that the beauty of life is revealed in the oneness that binds us all. This oneness starts with recognizing the colors of all people — the colors of culture, love or language. For it is the diversity of colors that not only makes us so different, but also so alike. Thus, my takeaway this summer: submit to colors. Submit to all the diversity, culture and differences in the world. Let yourself be uncomfortable; bask in the diversity. Because when you do, you realize that although these colors may look different, they are, ultimately, all light.

Neha Samdaria | My Summer at Stitch Fix

My ten-week marketing internship at Stitch Fix — a personalized styling service that is changing the way shoppers find what they love — was an ideal opportunity to explore my three summer goals: 1) Gain cross-sectional insight into a company operating at the forefront of retail and ecommerce; 2) Test my interest in marketing; 3) See if I enjoy living in San Francisco. Working at Stitch Fix changed my outlook on how successful retail companies are run. Here are four nuggets I’ll carry with me:

1. Stitch Fix is a tech company operating in the world of apparel, yet it has no product managers. This means that individuals within marketing not only work on the “traditional” marketing aspects of initiatives (i.e. advertising) but also manage strategy development, execution, and post-rollout analytics. In the span of my internship, I built out a strategy for the company’s first-ever free-gift program, and I am sure if I had stayed on, I would have also managed its rollout and future expansion. As I look to full-time opportunities, I will be looking for this level of ownership if I choose to remain within marketing.

2. The company’s meritocratic culture encourages employees to take initiative and be entrepreneurial. Early in the summer, I became interested in “Marketing Labs,” a “0-to-1” innovation team within marketing that works on pie-in-the-sky initiatives that could transform the Stitch Fix business model. I discussed this interest with my manager and quickly developed a collaborative project with an associate on the Marketing Labs team. This project not only culminated in a final presentation to members of the marketing, strategy and design teams, but also led to a company-wide design process workshop scheduled for the fall.

3. Data-driven companies are the future of retail and ecommerce. At Stitch Fix, the numbers drove every aspect of the business, from project prioritization to buying and planning. This approach made the company nimble and customer-centric, and reduced the influence of company politics in major business decisions. As an intern, I noticed that when I backed up my ideas with data, I usually gained traction quickly.

4. The highlight of living in San Francisco was spending the summer with my classmates. There were over 100 MBA2s in the Bay Area this summer. Add in the relatively reasonable working hours and some disposable income (finally), and you had all the ingredients for an incredible summer. I went on biking trips to Sausalito, had bonfires on the beach, attended a 1920’s Prohibition party in North Beach, and foot stomped my way through a Missy Elliott warehouse party in SOMA. I deepened friendships with members of my class and learned a great deal from their summer experiences.

My summer at Stitch Fix gave me insight into working at the intersection of technology and retail and has cemented my interest in the space. I have walked away with a great deal of admiration for the company, meaningful relationships with my colleagues on the marketing team and a love for my summer in San Francisco.

Kayiita Johnson | B2B to B2C: My Summer as a Google PM

I’ve been a B2B professional for most of my career. This is more than a cliche or a reference to the Brazil-to-Berlin trip I took this summer — all of my internships and full-time experiences prior to business school were focused on businesses as customers. In this environment, I learned to translate product features into benefits for a specific customer or segment but had less experience with the end-to-end user experience and consumers’ fickle expectations.

This summer gave me a taste of the other side — of the complex world of B2C. I was a product manager at Google’s Project Fi, working under a GSB alumna, and it was an incredible experience.

Up there with artificial intelligence, crypto-currency, and startups, “product management” is one of the buzzwords of the moment at the GSB. As a result, it’s very easy to feel as if you know everything there is to know about the role. I certainly thought I did, until this past summer when I lived every day what I had only heard about during brown bag lunches and 1-on-1 coffee chats.

Product managers need to be masters of communication. You spend most of your day in meetings, where you represent the voice that’s not in the room (whether that’s engineering in a partnership meeting or design in an engineering meeting), convince folks to do work at the bottom of their priority list, or dig deep into the details of engineering or design. You are constantly context switching and need a strong grasp of the product, as well as different disciplines across the organization.

You also need to really own the product because at the end of the day you are the one responsible for the product’s success. That means you need to be 100% focused on prioritizing features, eliminating roadblocks, and managing the timeline. This also means considering edge cases. Whereas in B2B, edge cases might account for a handful of situations, at Google millions of users could end up in an edge case so it becomes critical to focus here as well. If you don’t own the product, you inevitably will miss these cases, which could substantially limit the user experience.

When I look back at this summer, I can easily say it was one of my best work experiences. The projects, the people, mentorship, learning new areas, and the constant focus on making the best product possible for the user really inspired me. Three months is not enough to truly understand the PM role, but it gave me enough of a taste to leave me wanting more.