When Death Comes: The Extraordinary Tale Of Two Berkeley Entrepreneurs

by John A. Byrne on

Hansoo Lee graduated from Berkeley's Haas School with passion, drive and a vision for both his co-founder and company, Magoosh

Hansoo Lee graduated from Berkeley’s Haas School with passion, drive and a vision for both his co-founder and company, Magoosh

It was just a few days before Christmas in 2011 when Bhavin Parikh got the email he will never forget. He was on his way to a family dinner in Massachusetts when the message popped into the inbox on his smartphone. It was from his good friend and business partner Hansoo Lee in Berkeley, CA.

The two were recent MBA graduates from the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley who together founded Magoosh, an online test prep company.

“Hey Bhavin,” wrote Lee, “I’ve been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer…”

With those simple yet startling words, Parikh’s whole world came crashing down. Lee was the last person he could ever imagine falling ill. His 33-year-old partner rarely smoked. He was fit, active, and full of life. From the very first time they met at Haas as incoming MBA students in 2008, Lee impressed him as a bright and daring young man with a driving ambition and a relentless focus on wanting to become an entrepreneur.

LEE WAS THE EXTROVERTED LEADER, PARIKH WAS THE QUIET, CONTEMPLATIVE ONE 

In their fledgling Internet business, Lee was the extroverted leader, an expansive visionary who was always thinking big. In contrast, Parikh was the quiet, contemplative one, the sometimes reluctant, always soft-spoken conservative who often had to be, in his own words, “dragged, kicking and screaming” through the more ambitious objectives pushed by Lee.

By the time Parikh returned to the West Coast, his friend would be forced to give up his active role at their company, and Parikh would be stretched as a leader and as a friend. When Lee was diagnosed, Parikh was deeply concerned about the long-term viability of their business. Magoosh was burning through cash, with month after month of negative cash flow.

And now Parikh was fast losing the friend and partner who convinced him to the startup in the first place. The day-to-day interactions that defined their working relationship would devolve into weekly strolls around Berkeley, then monthly phone calls, and finally an occasional email. Some 15 months later, on March 4, 2013, Lee would pass away, a victim of complications from his Stage IV lung cancer.

THE CO-FOUNDERS MET AT BERKELEY’S HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS 

If Lee were alive today, he would be proud of his partner and the business they created together. He would also be thrilled to know that his friend can still hear his voice, exhorting him to move faster and bolder, to offset his more natural tendency to play it safe.

The pair first met in 2008 at an admit weekend at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Lee, then 30, was about to leave Wal-Mart.com where he was a senior manager of logistics, strategy, and planning to get his MBA degree. An Amherst grad born to Korean parents and raised in Florida, Lee had already been the first employee at an Internet startup and knew he wanted to create his own business. Parikh, then 26, had spent five years as a senior consultant at Deloitte after graduating from Duke University. Parikh, raised in Pittsburgh, wasn’t sure what he would do with his MBA but loved working for Deloitte out of the firm’s offices in Philadelphia.

When the two reported to campus in August of 2008, they found themselves in the same cohort of 60 incoming MBA students. They also ended up working together on a case competition involving technology and healthcare. “We did this case together and it was okay,” recalls Parikh. “Nothing really came of it.” Except one thing: They met another MBA student, Pejman Pour-Moezzi, who would bring them a big idea.

“He said, ‘Hey, I’m working on something,” says Parikh. “”I’d like to show you guys to see if you would be interested.’ That was half way through the first semester.”

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  • http://www.masteradmissions.com/ Betsy Massar

    Touching article. Wow. I am sorry never to have meet Hansoo when Magoosh was upstairs from me at the Addison Street offices in Berkeley. I know how busy everyone was! A whirlwind of activity. These personal stories teach us all so much about our humanity. Bhavin, best to you and the whole team.

  • Bhavin

    Thanks Betsy. I appreciate the well wishes!

  • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham

    Really a story of a wonderful friendship and partnership. May his memory be a blessing and inspiration to you.

  • Bhavin

    Thanks Linda! I appreciate the thoughts.

  • Jennifer Lee

    Poor Lee. So young. Small detail: those were not bandages on his legs. They are pneumatic wrap devices that help prevent blood clots in many hospitalized.

  • John Bennett

    Thank you for sharing this article. I met Hansoo while we were studying abroad in Brisbane Australia and often think fondly of the shenanigans we had (I still have a lot of great photographs of said shenanigans – email me at jbennett@mauldinbennett.com if you want copies). It fills me with great sadness to learn of his death but great joy to learn of the amazing life he had after our time in Australia ended. What a great guy, the world was a better place for him being in it.

  • http://marketing-theories-and-my-theories.blogspot.com/ Arshad Amin

    God where is empathy!!! “When Lee was diagnosed, Parikh was deeply concerned about the long-term viability of their business.”!!

  • http://marketing-theories-and-my-theories.blogspot.com/ Arshad Amin

    You Are Nothing But A Number Of Days, And Whenever A Day Passes Away, A Part Of You
    Passes Away!

  • http://marketing-theories-and-my-theories.blogspot.com/ Arshad Amin

    felt so sad after reading this whole ordeal @disqus_muBLUK55bA:disqus

  • Albert Hartman

    I get the feeling that true founding partners never leave us. Even after death they still are around making small adjustments on the business, offering their advice at critical junctures. They’re just not doing the heavy lifting as before.

  • Bhavin

    @arshad_amin:disqus – I completely understand your sentiment about empathy, however, the sentence you quoted doesn’t represent exactly what happened. When Hansoo was diagnosed, I was first and foremost worried about him. However, we were both worried about the business for a number of other reasons. Hansoo pushed me to focus on the business (instead of him) and to make Magoosh successful. He was the CEO and Magoosh was his professional legacy. I realize the article doesn’t capture all of the nuance. After his passing, I wrote an article here about Hansoo: http://magoosh.com/blog/farewell-hansoo-well-miss-you/

  • Jerome Engel

    Bhavin — This piece is a great testament to the fine entrepreneurial partnership you and Hansoo shared and the company you built together. Those of us that knew Hansoo during those years – can hear in your words the memories we have of his strong and and clear character. A fine memorial to a fine friend. Thank you.

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