MBA Startups: A Yale MBA Wants To Call His Own Shots

Dan Wolchonok (left) working on his startup at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute

Daniel Wolchonok will graduate from the Yale School of Management this spring. And many of his classmates in Yale’s Class of 2013 will be moving on to new management careers with many of the world’s leading companies. Dan will be taking a different path—the path of entrepreneurship.

Prior to business school, Dan worked for Microsoft as a technical lead on several research projects for large, multinational clients. His work was focused on improving the speed and quality of search mechanisms for organizations that experienced millions of search queries per day to their databases. Dan graduated from Tufts University in 2005, where he majored in computer science. Upon graduating, he began work as a technology consultant for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, where he spent 9 months building solutions for a client in Tokyo, Japan.

While at Yale, Dan founded Prepwork, a digital assistant application that aggregates background data from all over the web that applies to each person that you are meeting with during a given day (e.g. alma mater, company news, recent blog posts and tweets, etc.). Then it emails this “intel” to you during the morning prior to your meeting, just like your own personal research assistant.

My Story

I knew that I was interested in entrepreneurship before I came to Yale to earn my MBA.  When I visited the school as an applicant, I spent a great deal of time finding out who was building a company and asking them everything I could about how they were approaching both school and their enterprise.

I was also very clear on the fact that I wanted to become a part of the very selective Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), and I began strategizing how I would make it into the program well before I was even able to apply to it.

While on campus, I spoke both with people who were and were not selected for the institute.  I left no stone unturned in terms of finding out the do’s and don’ts of making it into the program. When I actually became a student at Yale, I made it a point to meet with several students and staff from the YEI every one to two weeks to update them on my progress with my business plan. So naturally, my application was easily distinguished from the stack by the time that I turned it in.

One hiccup I had along the way was that I was not able to find a suitable co-founder. Sole founders are rarely as successful as teams; and when it comes time to raise money, many venture capitalists view a single founder as a liability. Nevertheless, I was able to plead my case and had shown enough commitment to my idea and tremendous follow through. Ultimately, I was selected.

I was confident in my ability to execute my plan because I had spent six years developing similar solutions for various clients in multiple industries.  I learned a ton during that time. I also really enjoyed working for the companies that I was a part of. At the same time, however, I wanted to expand the scope of my work. I wanted to become more of a generalist and touch many parts of the business as opposed to being the specialist that I had been trained to be.

I had strong opinions about how I thought software should be architected. I also had strong opinions about business strategy and which opportunities should be a company’s highest priorities to pursue. I had a difficult time making the level of impact that I desired in my job and wanted to have strategic influence as opposed to merely taking orders from above. Entrepreneurship was the perfect vehicle for me to experience all of the above.

I came up with the idea for PrepWork while on my way to a networking event. Once I got there, I immediately felt that if I had known a bit more about who was in the room I may have been able to do a better job of meeting people who I would have been interested in keeping in touch with. I wish that someone would have just handed me the kind of information that my company now provides.

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