Have an extra week with nothing going on this summer? Perhaps a couple thousand dollars you don’t know what to do with? Planning on attending a top b-school in the fall? If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, current first-year Boothie, Daniel Valenti is your man.
Like countless current MBAs, Valenti has already accomplished much. Unlike countless MBAs, he has done it in some of the world’s most remote places. The Fijian highlands? Check. A family ceremony in a hidden village in Laos? Absolutely. Dinner on an island in the middle of a Burmese river? Yep.
After graduating with a degree in psychology from Harvard in 2009, Valenti went to work at Rustic Pathways. He started as a guide for high school students of schools and other youth organizations using the services of Rustic Pathways for organized trips. The experiences usually revolved around service, connection with the communities and adrenaline-pumping activities.
GUIDING TEENAGERS AND THEIR BILLIONAIRE PARENTS
The trips had such an impact on the participating teenagers, their parents started reaching out to Rustic Pathways about organizing family trips. But it’s not your average family sending their children around the world to remote countries and villages. It’s the well-to-do families. Soon Valenti was guiding billionaires and their kids to far off destinations.
“The families heard about how their kids lived in huts and helped build schools or run an orphanage and they soon wanted to be part of it,” says Valenti. “I became the point person to guide these families. We would fly around in private jets and were treated very well. But one thing I learned is it didn’t matter if they were 14-year-old kids or 60-year-old titans of industry—they all wanted to connect with local people.”
Valenti enjoyed what he was doing on a day-to-day basis but he was still an employee of a larger company. “I was not creating my own thing,” Valenti says. “Creating my own thing is something I have always wanted to do. I wanted to move forward and create something.”
THE MBA BECKONED
For Valenti, moving forward and creating something meant an MBA. He started the typical research—internet searches and conversations with friends about different programs. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business popped up on his radar. “The Polsky Center is amazing,” Valenti says about the school’s center for entrepreneurship and innovation. “GrubHub and BrainTree, were both started at Booth. Mark Tebbe is there who started Answers.com. It is a place where you can create.”
It was a phone call from Tebbe early in the first semester that affirmed Valenti’s decision in attending Booth. “I brought up a business idea I had during the first week of classes in Tebbe’s class,” Valenti says. “At about 10 a.m. on the Saturday after the first week, I had a call from an unknown Illinois number. It was Tebbe wanting to hash out some details.”
The details being hashed out were for a business idea that came to Valenti the summer before starting at Booth. Each summer prior to beginning their MBA, Booth students are invited on a Random Walk. It is a program founded in 2001 and named after professor Eugene Fama’s 1965 article, Random Walks in Stock Market Prices. The idea is to organize trips around the world for newbie Boothies to bond and get to know one another.
“Over 80% of incoming students do one of these international trips,” Valenti says. “Everyone in the class was talking about signing up for them on Facebook. I signed up but when I started reading the itinerary and planning around the trip, I saw we were going to be met by English-speaking tour guides and doing touristy things. I decided not to go and lost my deposit.”