Etyan Lerba is a research fanatic. From cameras to running shoes, he scours the web, reviews specs, and learns the product jargon to make the most informed purchase possible. (A legacy, no doubt, of his four years with the Boston Consulting Group). Problem is, all of that research makes selecting the perfect item nearly impossible: He’s paralyzed by potential options. “It drives my loved ones crazy,” Lerba says.
So when it came time to buy a camera for an upcoming trip to South America, the Australian-born tech buff decided to apply one of his favorite childhood games to the problem: 20 Questions. In the game, one person thinks of an object, and players try to guess it by asking questions. Rather than focusing on specifics and technical lingo, like shutter speed and focal length, he homed in on the user experience: Did he want to take pictures at night? Would he be using manual mode? Would he carry it in his pocket?
Lerba designed an algorithm that would point him to the right product based on his answers and was pleasantly surprised by the result. The experiment led him to the Cannon s100 and the idea for his startup, Wizit, a “decision wizard” that helps consumers select the perfect product via a two-minute quiz.
Now an MBA candidate at Oxford’s Said Business School, Lerba has spent the past 11 months plugging away on his idea. He toyed with an earlier iteration as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Australia. Then, he focused on an in-store experience – like having an iPad available to shoppers at Target – but found that retail heavyweights were a hard sell. He needed to go back to the drawing board.
He searched for an MBA program where he could sharpen his entrepreneurial chops and build his idea into a bona fide business. He’s not afraid of change or hard work – he moved from Australia to Israel when he was eight years old and served in the Israeli military for five years after high school.
So far, Lerba’s gamble (and research) has paid off. Wizit soft launched earlier this year with a camera quiz and expects to roll out more consumer quizzes in the coming months. Lerba works on the project part-time alongside two classmates from his undergraduate days at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He plans to move to San Francisco, CA, after he completes his MBA in September.
Here’s his story:
Many of my colleagues from BCG went to Harvard and London Business School. I looked at both of those, but ultimately decided I wanted to study in Europe to have more international exposure. I had a high GMAT score and good grades, so I had a good deal of choice.
I haven’t studied in the U.S., so I can’t say for sure, but I get the impression that people who come to the U.S. for business school want to stay in the U.S. afterward and are less inclined to go back to the countries they came from. Whereas in Europe, most students want to return to their home countries. After living in Australia for five years, I also wanted to be closer to Europe and Israel, where my friends and family are, and I wanted a village experience, where the school isn’t in the center of the city.
I narrowed my choices down to INSEAD and Oxford, and I got accepted to both. It was a very hard decision, and I think I would have been just as well off at either one. I ultimately chose Oxford because I also wanted a general university experience, so I could interact with people from other professions like poets, economists, and not just other MBAs.
Coming in, I had no idea the outcome would lead me to where I am right now. I was more interested in entrepreneurship and less interested in finance and the stuff I had already picked up in consulting. I came to Oxford to gain exposure to new ideas, not just to start a business. So even if I hadn’t created a startup, it wouldn’t have been a failure.
I didn’t think about Oxford initially for entrepreneurship until someone recommended it to me. But there are events and classes on entrepreneurship throughout the whole year. A bunch of us in my class have pursued startups – I can think of six people offhand.
A lot of people don’t see an MBA program as a startup accelerator and a place where you can learn to build a startup, but that’s been my experience. I took my startup idea from course to course and probably spent one-third of my degree program working on it.