Meet Wharton’s MBA Class Of 2018


A.J. Steigman

The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: I’m an international chess champion, investment banker turned entrepreneur, and Lyme disease survivor.

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was an international chess champion growing up. I became the youngest Expert in the U.S. at age 10, beat Bobby Fischer’s record for becoming a Master at age 13, and was ranked #1 for my age in the U.S. for eight years in a row.  I was honored to represent the U.S. in numerous World Youth Championships and other international events and I was a member of several U.S. teams that won gold medals.  My all-time best World Championship performance was 12th in the World in Cannes, France.

Undergraduate School and Major: Emory University Goizueta Business School, B.B.A.; Finance & Management

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

Merrill Lynch; Investment Banking Analyst

A.J.’s Rare Footage; Co-Founder & CFO (one of the top Nike Tier 0 sneaker accounts in the U.S.)

Soletron; Founder & CEO (VC-backed streetwear e-commerce and content platform)

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest career accomplishment was founding and exiting my first VC-backed tech startup Soletron to the industry leader Karmaloop. Soleton began as an e-commerce platform for the streetwear industry before transitioning to a content platform.  Founded in my parents’ garage, the website grew into one of the top 99.7% of all trafficked sites in the world within one year of operation. Soletron’s board consisted of the former CEO of Adobe, the co-founder of AND1 Basketball (a Wharton Alumni), a prominent hedge fund owner, a founder of a private equity fund, a successful entrepreneur and board member of Blackberry, and a professional football player and Super Bowl MVP.  As CEO, I was responsible for managing all aspects of the business.

Even with positive tailwinds, Soletron could not compete with the massive e-commerce scale of Karmaloop, its main competitor. Karmaloop had been around for fourteen years and raised over $100M. To survive, Soletron evolved into a content destination. Once the pivot happened, I was able to create a lean business model by relying on hundreds of freelance writers from all over the world who generated tens-of-thousands of quality articles. Our loyal blogger network allowed Soletron to have the lowest cost structure, turning us into the ultimate cost-effective, premium, content-producing machine. Due to our traffic, we would get press passes to any event you could imagine, and we ended up generating over 30,000 unique articles.  This massive content-generating engine resulted in Karmaloop admiring our traffic generation capabilities and acquiring Soletron.

As with any startup, there were numerous times when Soletron was on the ropes and the easy way out would have been to give up; yet, this is not in my DNA.  I am most proud that I was able to persevere against all probabilities, navigate the business model pivot, and successfully exit my first tech startup to the top company in my industry.

Looking back on your experience, what advice would you give to future business school applicants? To optimize your chances of success, you have to meticulously plan this process out months in advance of any deadlines. This marathon of tasks cannot be successfully accomplished by a last minute “wing it” philosophy. There are numerous layers to this process, and they are all mini-battles in themselves.

Some critical recommendations are:

  1. Be laser focused – Truly understand why the MBA degree and specific school programs will be accretive to your professional career. If you aren’t precise or are wavering, then it will negatively come across in your application.
  1. Don’t ever give up and always believe in yourself – Confidence is key. If you don’t believe that you can achieve that GMAT score, nail that interview, or get into your desired program, then you have already mentally lost. I would recommend surrounding yourself with only positive people who believe in you and cutting out any naysayers. This process has numerous ups and downs and you need to be level-headed to perform at your apex.  No matter what gets thrown at you, always give it your best shot.  As long as you truly give it your all, then no matter what happens, you can walk away with no regrets.
  1. Exercise – Exercise is essential for optimizing mind and body performance. You need to take proper breaks when subjecting yourself to this long and stressful process. I started doing strength and conditioning training with a great personal trainer. Exercise not only increased my physical stamina, but also helped me relax and sleep better at night. My cognitive abilities and test scores dramatically increased after starting my exercise routine.
  1. Make a schedule & efficiently prioritize your time – If you don’t prioritize this process, then you are wasting your time. Time is a finite resource and you have to sacrifice certain things to have the bandwidth for studying, writing these applications, and interviewing. When your friends invite you out to fun social engagements, you may need to occasionally decline to stay focused. Your true friends will understand your situation and be supportive of you throughout this process. You have to stick to a hard schedule or else goals will never materialize.
  1. Pace yourself – The application process is months long, so make sure to compartmentalize each step. Example: after attaining your desired GMAT score, take a mini-break before undertaking the essay process. After pushing the submit button for the applications, take a vacation before starting the interview saga. If you don’t pace yourself, you will burn out.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? As a serial entrepreneur, I considered it very important to attend a school that had a great entrepreneurship culture. Wharton has a rich history of encouraging entrepreneurship, and I wanted to team up with the brightest minds there to identify the next industry disruptor. Wharton has heavily invested in providing fantastic infrastructure to aspiring entrepreneurs. In addition to having the Wharton Business Plan Competition, Venture Initiation Program, Entrepreneur in Residence Program, and several Wharton Startup Labs, Wharton built an entire San Francisco campus. This proximity to Silicon Valley is essential for any entrepreneur wishing to start a tech venture. While some schools are geographically capped in a certain region, Wharton is not. By having the San Francisco campus, Wharton provides its Aaumni and student population with a deeper bench of talent and resources to utilize.

Furthermore, I have seen firsthand the entrepreneurial firepower that Wharton provides to its students. My childhood best friend won the Wharton Business Plan Competition, ended up raising over $30,000,000, and just exited his venture.  While running my VC-backed startup Soletron, several of my key investors and board members were Wharton Alumni. Their strategic advice, technical skills, networks, and general generosity always made a lasting impression on me.

Personally, I am very honored to be attending Wharton, and I truly have always wanted to do so since I was a kid. My mother went to UPENN both for her undergrad and graduate degrees and always taught me the value of a great education. She was a science teacher and always instilled in me that getting an excellent education is a key ingredient for success.  Wharton has the world’s top faculty, and I am humbled to be taking classes from these industry titans. An important skill that I gained from chess is the ability to learn from other top players. To fully optimize oneself, one needs to learn from others, and I can’t think of a better place than Wharton for doing this to help me reach my professional goals.

Finally, I chose this program because I knew that I would enjoy the culture at Wharton. Philadelphia is a fantastic city. The cultural ecosystem has recently changed in Philly, making the city a great environment for startups. From several Philly incubator programs to numerous angel and VC funds investing smart money into the area, the opportunity is ripe to found or get involved with a startup, and I plan to take advantage of these factors.

Coincidentally, the majority of my closest friends all attended Wharton, either undergrad or grad, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Wharton family. The student body was a material reason for why I wanted to get my MBA from Wharton. From my observations, Wharton does a great job of building a diversified class, yet it identifies students with core DNA traits. While Wharton students are exceptionally quantitatively minded, they are very socially gifted as well. It is a highly unique combination to have a student body that has both of these characteristics. The culture at Wharton starts top down, and the admissions team does a stellar review of the applicant pool to create this awesome culture. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else but Wharton, and I am looking forward to making lifelong friends in the program.

Tell us about your dream job or dream employer at this point in your life? Entrepreneurship is what built this great nation. Both of my grandparents were entrepreneurs, and since I was a child, I too have wanted to be an entrepreneur. My desired career path is to be a successful serial entrepreneur who leaves a positive mark on society. I was on the ropes with Lyme disease, and doctors thought that I was going to die or be permanently impaired.  I was very fortunate to be given a second chance at life, and I feel I can give back and provide the most value through entrepreneurship ventures. Thus, my career goals are to found and exit numerous startups and eventually create my own VC fund for investing in innovative technologies and aspiring entrepreneurs. I know that I can best accomplish these aspirations with a Wharton MBA.

What would you like your business school peers to say about you after you graduate from this program?   I would like my peers to remember me as a dependable team player who is strategic, tenacious, resourceful, good humored, and positive minded.



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