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Poets&Quants’ Top-Ranked Startup: Wildfire

Alain Chuard and Victoria Ransom attended separate business schools to expand their networks

Alain Chuard and Victoria Ransom attended separate business schools to expand their networks. Photo by Robert Houser

Before they became the It Couple of Silicon Valley, before they ventured off to Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for their MBAs, and before they sold their social media marketing firm to Google for $450 million, Alain Chuard and Victoria Ransom fell in love–with each other and the idea of starting a business of their own.

The barebones narrative starts in a deceptively simple way–when the two met each other 13 years ago as undergraduate students at Macalester College, a cozy liberal arts college in St. Paul, MN. She had left a hardscrabble youth in a New Zealand farming community to study psychology at Macalester. The Swiss-born Alain was a professional snowboarder who came to Macalester to study economics.

They meet. They fall in love. They move to New York and sign up for a couple of grunt jobs as analyst slaves, Alain for Salomon Smith Barney and Victoria for Morgan Stanley. And then, sufficiently disenchanted with life on Wall Street, they make their big break as entrepreneurs. In 2001, they founded an adventure travel company called Access Travel Ltd. that initially led trips to Victoria’s homeland, New Zealand.PoetsQuants-300x250-MagazineAd2

The company expanded into a global travel network, becoming more challenging to manage as it grew in size and complexity. “We both thought that getting a formal business education would help us scale and learn more about how to operate a larger business,” says Chuard. “That is one of the main reasons why we both did our MBAs.”

Chuard, now 39, went first, going to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in 2005, while Ransom continued to manage the travel business. Then, a year later in 2006, they put a manager in place to run the business, and Ransom, now 37, started her MBA at Harvard Business School.

Even though they were engaged to be married, the two deliberately choose two different business schools by design. Ransom got into Stanford and could have followed her fiancée’ there but instead chose to fly 3,000 miles away to Boston. Explains Chuard: “One of the benefits of going to business school is gaining access to an amazing crowd of people. So we thought having access to the Stanford network and the Harvard network would help us expand our contacts.”

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