Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis
Tech entrepreneur goes from being nervous to speak in class to being elected as the Student Marshal at graduation.
Hometown: Moshav Beit Herut, Israel.
Undergraduate School and Degree: Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, B.A. degree in Computer Science.
Where did you work before enrolling in business school?
- Team leader and warrior in the Israeli Navy Special Forces (equivalent to the US Navy Unit “Seal Team 6”).
- Software developer engineer at Microsoft R&D center, Herzliya, Israel.
Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? I did not do a summer internship during the summer of 2015. I worked full-time on my startup, Quadzilla, a safe online classifieds platform for university students.
Where will you be working after graduation? Product manager at Google, Mountain View, CA.
Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:
- Selected as a Student Marshal, the top graduating student in the MBA program.
- Helped undergraduate and graduate students to enhance their business plans, presentations, and one-line pitches for their start-ups.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my experience and progress with my startup, Quadzilla. In less than a year, I was able to achieve the following:
- Define and build a web application in which university students can buy and sell used goods and find roommates, sublets, and apartments.
- Without spending money, I was able to get 1,300 Washington University students to sign up and post more than 600 items.
- Partnered with UberX and four local businesses, which provided coupons and gift-cards.
- Hired and managed three full-time unpaid student interns during the summer of 2015.
- Qualified as a finalist in St. Louis Arch Grants start-up competition.
Before Quadzilla, Washington University managed its roommate service for graduate students using Facebook groups and shared spreadsheets. In addition, the University’s various schools did not collaborate, which resulted in fewer roommate options for current and incoming students.
In addition to a buy-sell and housing sections, Quadzilla created an aggregate pool of students who were looking for a roommate, and enabled students to filter and contact potential roommates based on their preferences. The thing that made me the most proud was hearing from students who were able to find a roommate using Quadzilla’s platform. For example, a 2017 MBA student who arrived from Rwanda, personally thanked me after finding a roommate from the U.S (who studied Social Work). Helping students was my motivation for building Quadzilla.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I am most proud of in my professional career is the way I led my team in the Navy Commando.
Before becoming the team lead, I had been with my team of 15 people for four years. We’d been through two years of challenging screenings and trainings and had been operational for two additional years. After that, our team leader was released from the military and I was chosen to take his place and lead the team for the final year of service.
Commanding your best friends after being their peer for four years is not an easy task. But through honesty, transparency, and clear communication, we were able to overcome this challenge, and the 5th year of my service was the one I enjoyed the most.
Who is your favorite professor? My most favorite professor is Sergio Chayet (Supply Chain) because:
- He puts a lot of effort into helping students learn as much as they can. His slides look amazing; his homework assignments are very interesting; he answers all of the questions respectfully and professionally; and he explains the material in a way that anyone can understand.
- He is funny, engaging, and always smiles. It made me really love going to his classes.
- He cares about the students. He is always there to help. He is interested in learning about every student. He puts a lot of effort into connecting with the students (e.g. he made a 5-minute edited video clip of the best class highlights). Lastly, he cares about staying in touch; I’m sure that I will keep in touch with him post-graduation.
Favorite MBA Courses? My favorite MBA course was “The Hatchery,” in which student teams pursue their own business idea or support community entrepreneurs by researching, writing, and pitching business plans for new commercial or social ventures.
I worked together with an undergraduate student and two other MBA students throughout the semester to progress my venture. We won both the midterm and final investor pitch presentation competitions.
Why did you choose this business school? I chose to get my MBA at Washington University in St. Louis in order to participate in its McDonnell International Scholars Academy.
The McDonnell Academy is an exclusive program at Washington University that aims to develop a community of global leaders that will make a positive impact in the world by promoting global awareness and social responsibility.
Each year, a cohort of around fifteen scholars is chosen from around the world to participate in the program. The program offers a scholarship that covers full tuition, a monthly stipend, and other perks. In addition, the scholars get to travel to places such as Washington, D.C. and New York City to meet with leaders in the public and private sectors, including U.S. senators and corporate executives.
Two years ago, a McDonnell Academy ambassador asked me whether I was interested in being a candidate for the McDonnell Academy. I saw this as an amazing opportunity to network with future global leaders and to expand my perspective. I applied to the McDonnell Academy and got accepted. I therefore decided to get my MBA at the Olin Business School.
What did you enjoy most about business school? The people: I was very lucky to meet amazing people from all around the world who were very friendly, inspiring, and interesting. I expanded my perspective on life and was able to learn a lot about different countries and cultures. For example, I had a great talk with a friend from Iran about the Iranian-Israeli relationship in which we each were able to learn more about each other’s perspectives.
What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? The biggest lesson I gained from the business school is that having a diverse team (e.g. country, gender, work experience, and age) can lead to amazing achievements.
In my first semester I was part of a team of five amazing people from Denmark, China, India, and United States (and myself from Israel) and from different business backgrounds. I learned a lot from each of them and together we were able to perform much better than we could have done individually.
What was the most surprising thing about business school? I was surprised that the culture at Olin was more like a family and not strictly professional. Though the business school is very professional, all of the faculty staff and students are very down to earth, friendly, and kind.
What was the hardest part of business school? At the beginning, it was challenging for me to actively participate in class discussion because I was nervous to speak in English, as I was born and raised in Israel. To mitigate that, I decided to participate in every class and presentation and to not care if I sounded funny or struggled to convey my message. That strategy worked out because today I am not shy about speaking in class and I feel confidence and comfortable speaking in English.
What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? I would recommend any student to enjoy his or her time as a student and spend as much time with the fellow MBA students getting to know them and building relationships. Not just to expand their professional network, but rather to expand their life perspective, find great friends, and learn about different cultures. For me this was the best experience during the degree program and I feel that I have made life-long friends here.
“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I felt that I had received enough software development skills at Microsoft and was ready to move on to building my business skills. I love technology, but I love it because of the enormous amount of value that one can create using it. Therefore, after almost three years at Microsoft, I was ready to start my MBA.”
“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…building my own start-up in Israel.”
Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Bill Gates. I admire him for both creating Microsoft and for establishing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I appreciate people who understand how fortunate they are and who give back to the community.
What are your long-term professional goals?
- Build a successful and scalable internet company that has positive impact.
- Create and manage a non-profit company that helps children from poor families get an equal opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would most want to thank my parents for my success because they gave me an enormous amount of love, great education and values, advice and guidance, and the freedom to take risks and explore life.
Fun fact about yourself: I fought against Pirates in the Red Sea while securing a cargo ship.
Favorite book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Favorite movie: Pulp Fiction
Favorite musical performer: Bruno Mars
Favorite television show: House of Cards
Favorite vacation spot: Puerto Escondido, Mexico.
Hobbies? Running, snowboarding, surfing, kitesurfing, diving, travelling, woodwork, and cooking.
What made Shai such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?.
“What Shai has brought to Olin from his native Israel is a passion for new ideas, new businesses and measured risk taking. His enthusiasm for these pursuits has been tangible and has a very positive effect on his classmates.
Shai has been very active academically, socially and in the Olin community in general. He is also well known across the campus (a rarity for MBA students) and is held in high regard by many department and university leaders – primarily because of his startup venture from last summer. Shai has a very “personable personality” with a unique sense of humor and a winning attitude.” — Joe Fox, Associate Dean, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis