I’ve chosen to invest my next two years into building a company and earning an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management at The Wharton School of Business at UPenn.
First World Problems
From the moment that I first got “the call” from Director of Admissions Ankur Kumar welcoming me to Wharton’s class of 2015, I began to lean strongly in Wharton’s direction for a number of reasons. I had received a similar call from Chicago Booth the day prior, and would get the nod from MIT Sloan about 5 weeks later.
Still, I really wanted to take my time to vet the pros and cons of each institution and make sure that I was making the right decision. I registered for both Wharton and Booth’s admit weekends right away. Since MIT’s decision date lagged the others by more than I month, I decided that I would plan for their R2 admit weekend instead of their R1 festivities.
I was only given a couple of weeks to prepare to attend R1 admit weekend for Sloan and I didn’t want to have to be on a strict budget on any given weekend, so I pushed that one out. I also figured that in doing so I would only take up that space at admit weekend if I knew that I’d be attending Sloan.
Choosing Just One
If you would have asked me to choose between these same institutions a year ago, my knee jerk response would have been:
However, the past 3-5 months of research, welcome weekends, conversations with multiple students & alums, talks with professors, reading books, studying curriculum, meeting fellow admits, sitting in classes and throwing back shots with current students made things eventually shift to:
Wharton vs. Booth vs. Sloan
While Booth was always a bit of an outlier in this decision, it was oh, so attractive and came with many things to like. I had a really hard time declining that offer on the 2/19 deadline. From Eddie Pulliam and the wonderfully welcoming admissions staff to Kurt Ahlm to my close friend Cheetarah1980 and all of the fun, fantastic people that I met in Chicago, that community has just really been good to me. I also mourned passing up the opportunity to study under the likes of Craig Wortmann and Waverly Deutsche.
Ultimately, I felt that Booth had everything that I needed to achieve my goals, but that the breadth and depth of human capital, mentorship and network within the entrepreneurship space was both stronger and more relevant to my goals at Wharton and Sloan. So, I submitted my decline on Booth’s deadline and asked Wharton for an extension to continue to mull over Wharton vs. Sloan.
Wharton vs. MIT Sloan
The choice between the other two schools was a bit more hairy for me. Still, I felt that I had the info that I needed to decide. Though I had not visited Sloan, I knew more than enough about the institution to where I felt comfortable in my ability to make the right choice based on the knowledge that I had.
Next to Stanford, MIT is the most famed school for entrepreneurship; yet, my research brought me to conclude that Wharton would be just as good for what I wanted to do, and with less competition for the exact same resources.
I saw a greater diversity in the aspirations of the Wharton entrepreneurial community in terms of industry and market. At Sloan, most of the folks there are looking to do something quite similar to what I want to do; which means that we will probably end up bumping heads for the same resources, mentors and even business partners.
Could I make it work at MIT? Oh, hell yeah; but I decided that I’d rather do so in an environment where it would be easier for me to be more collaborative rather than competitive with the other entrepreneurs–an environment that had all that I needed without hordes of people clamoring to compete with me for it.
Then there was the love. I’ve developed a deep affinity to the Wharton community that I probably couldn’t shake if I tried. From Ankur to Kembrel to Pete Fader to my classmates to the Founders club et al, Wharton is just”where I wanna be”. Period.
Oh, How I Love Thee; Let Me Count the Ways
Deep affinity notwithstanding, there are some very specific people, faculty, thought leaders and resources that have made Wharton arise as the best choice for me.
- Bi-coastal Footprint – Currently, the top ecosystems for tech entrepreneurship and activity are the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Austin. Boston is generally considered the next hottest area and Philly (to my surprise) is apparently a step or two behind that. Wharton’s east and west coast campuses and network give me fairly direct access to any of those places except Austin. Philly, New York and the Bay Area in particular (the 2 heaviest hitters and one secondary) are definitely within easy reach of a Wharton entrepreneur. Check.
- Professors Peter Fader, Eric T. Bradlow and the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative – I am about 99% sure that I will end up building something that deals with data. For that reason, I”ve been crosseyed about the prospect of working with Peter Fader, Eric Bradlow and the WCAI faculty since I stumbled into their area of the website some months ago while writing my essays (I wrote an entire essay on the WCAI). Professor Fader is one of the foremost thought leaders in the world on customer analytics–something that I have a ton of interest in and a good deal of experience with. Even if I were not looking to build a data-based company (most likely dealing with customer analytics), his knowledge is priceless to any entrepreneur; especially when one considers the fact that the #1 reason why most start ups fail is that they are not able to attract and cultivate a paying customer base prior to running out of capital. Then when I discovered how willing prof. Fader was to speak with me and how energetic he was when he realized that I loved his discipline, Wharton earned about 1,000 points. I felt it foreshadowed quite a bit about what my experience might be in engaging the right mentors. Check.
- Professors Karl Ulrich, Christian Terwiesch and Innovation Tournaments – A while back, Ankur Kumar introduced me to Davis Smith, the 2011 Wharton grad who founded Baby.com.br Brazil’s (well funded and handsomely profitable) online Target for moms with babies. Thing is, I’d been following the guy on Quora for months and didn’t even realize that he had gone to Wharton. During our talk, he introduced me to the concept of an innovation tournament–basically a data-driven method for selecting one to a couple of exceptional opportunities from a hoard of opportunities of various quality (generally as the result of either submissions or brainstorming). The phrase and book were the work of Wharton professors K. Ulrich and C. Terwiesch, who had also developed a free online tool called The Darwinator to implement the process. I set up a Darwinator account right away and have been playing with it ever since. The larger picture here is that I realized some time ago that a lot of my struggles in prior entrepreneurial ventures came from jumping into an idea that had inherent, mission critical limitations that I did not see because I was so adamant about “getting started right away”. In many ways, Innovation Tournaments provides an answer to one of my biggest developmental weaknesses that has haunted me for years. I’m great at operations but blah when it comes to idea creation and development. I need to learn from mentors who are leading thought in that area right now. Turns out they’re at Wharton. Check.
- Negotiations Class at Wharton – Something else that Davis shared with me was that the Negotiations class that he had taken with professor Diamond (living legend) at Wharton had been worth the entire investment in his MBA. One of my c/o 15 classmates whose husband graduated from Wharton a few years ago and now works in gaming tells me that over time there is another professor who has matched and sometimes even exceeds Diamond in the demand for his Negotiations class. Either way, I’m fairly adamant about positioning myself under the tutledge of at least one of these professors for that very course. Check.
- OPIM 654: Design of Web-Based Products and Services – I was tipped off by this course, taught by prof. Karl Ulrich, by Carlos Vega, a fellow Whartonite from the c/o 2014 who is also interested in data-based business models. I wrote in my essays how I wanted to build a company around Sotware-as-a-Serivce (SaaS). This course ties directly into much of what I will need to know to extend my existing knowledge and experience in this area. I must have it. Hello? What’s That? A Wharton MBA tailor made for me? I’m buyin. Check please!
- The Wharton Brand and Network – There were several things that were high on my broad list of priorities for schools: 1) strong entrepreneurship network 2) the right faculty mentors for my goals 3) a strong brand 4) a deep and wide network in finance and private equity. Wharton shone brightly in each of these areas, and even more so when I considered the aggregate power of its strengths in them all. Check. Check. Check. Check.
- The Wharton Founders Club – Every top business school seems to have an entrepreneurship club, so there isn’t much there that can differentiate one from another. Wharton, however, has a Founders Club (started by Davis Smith) in addition to their entrepreneurship club for those who are sold out and serious about building a company right now. I talked about this in my admit weekend post a bit and have gotten to know a few members of this group. As LadyRoadWarrier (Tuck ’14) and Cheetarah1980 (Booth ’14) would say, these are my people. Check.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Wharton closes the widest gap between where I am/what I need and what I would stand to gain from the overall experience of being a part of that network over my lifetime. DECISION FINALIZED.
Thanks again to Ankur, Tiffany and the entire Wharton MBA admissions staff for choosing me. I neither take lightly nor for granted the significance of being chosen from such a talented and qualified pool of applicants from around the world; and to my Wharton classmates, I’ll see you in August for Pre-Term!
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