My Story: From A Dot-Com Bust To Harvard

So the end of December was a real low. But just a week and a half later, I was watching myself on CNN, as they ran through a previously recorded interview spotlighting the company and our novel offering. The interview was picked up, edited, and re-run by news stations from coast to coast, and it was great to find links online to local newscasts with local commentary/b-roll added to make the story relevant to a variety of audiences. My co-founder and I were in negotiations with the investors over trying to buy them out of their interest. These negotiations continued at a sometimes-fevered pace through early January. At one point, Doug and I thought that we were going to be able to acquire the key assets, raise quick bootstrap funding from an angel we knew well, and focus on moving forward for a proper round of venture funding. While none of this ultimately materialized, we fully believed at the time, as, apparently, did our investors, that happier.com would continue to thrive.

While all of this was happening, I assessed the situation and realized that a good amount of it was outside of my control. I couldn’t necessarily influence the price at which the investor group would be willing to part with the limited assets of the company. And the funding environment was still pretty tough, especially right around the new year. So I spent a few weeks focusing on business school opportunities. I had, months before, ordered GMAT preparation books, which sat untouched in my apartment, like many important-but-not-urgent projects during that time. On Dec.16th, I got up and signed up on the GMAT website and looked for an open test time. I knew time was tight as I wanted to try and make second rounds for applications. I hadn’t yet taken a practice test, so I wasn’t too sure how I’d do, but I figured I had one shot to get a strong score before the second round of apps were due. I found one time slot at 8 a.m. on Dec. 30th, in a suburb of my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Since I was planning on traveling home for break (and we didn’t expect to close any type of funding before the new year), I quickly signed up for that time slot. That gave me about two weeks to crack the books, take some practice tests, and figure out what areas I needed to study to maximize my score. So, while Doug and I and the investors, and our potential angel funder and some other third parties traded faxes, phone calls, and emails, I also settled in to study.

Emotionally, it was a very difficult time: so much of my identity was tied-up with representing happier.com in the media and with our strategic partners. And it’s not like I was able to make a clean break: the interviews airing and press coverage (and ongoing blog and magazine mentions) continued through mid-January.  At the same time, I had to make a very concerted effort to study for the GMATs for those two weeks, and then whole-heartedly apply to business school for early January deadlines at Wharton and Harvard.

When both schools accepted me, it was a tough decision for me because Wharton has a deep expertise in health care and June Kinney, who runs that program is fantastic. June Kinney. She is the kind of administrator who can propel a school forward in an area. Ultimately, though, I had gone to Penn as an undergrad and lived in Philadelphia for eight years. I knew the community and the environment so I was ready to explore a new environment And, I really loved the 100% case-driven teaching at Harvard.

I know that some people think it’s a waste of time to get an MBA if you plan on using it to start a company. They say you should use the time and the money to just go start a company. But I have two reasons for coming to Harvard. As an entrepreneur, I sat in a number of meetings where I felt I was at a disadvantage that could be easily resolved by having an MBA. I had never taken an economics course. I had never taken accounting or finance. With a startup, we had to go over profit and loss statements. We had to talk about finance structure and warrants. I hadn’t learned that. To be able to take a step back and learn these things in an almost risk-free environment where you can make mistakes and learn from peers is a great experience.