He Dropped Out Of High School. Now He’s At HBS

Rahkeem Morris, left. at the regional finals of the 2016 Hult Prize in San Francisco. Courtesy photo

Where did you apply?

Only this school. Only Harvard. I don’t want to say I didn’t consider other schools, but Harvard is Harvard — it’s very hard to beat it. And I also knew I wanted to work in (my) startup, it’s a B2B business and I knew this school would be a really great place to try to launch a B2B business. I worked at Google and I did think about Stanford.

But at Harvard I got in right away. I had a really great interview. Actually my interviewer got a bit emotional. It was a very interesting experience, the interview that I had here at HBS.

Rahkeem Morris. Courtesy photo

In HBS interviews they ask you a lot of questions, they ask you why you did every single position, why you chose to do XYZ. And I hadn’t really thought about my past in-depth in the way they were asking me, and so there were certain situations that I forgot that had happened to me. One example is, when I was in sixth grade my teacher realized I was squinting at the board all the time, so she took me from class, drove me downtown to an optometrist. When I got fitted for the glasses and got my prescription and went down to pay for the glasses, she looked at me and asked me if I had insurance or not. I literally had no idea what the word “insurance” meant. I said “no,” and she went ahead and paid for my eyeglasses. She is an amazing woman that I’ve been trying to reconnect with.

I told that story to my interviewer, and then a ton of other stories came out that I had completely forgotten about growing up when I was younger, and I was recounting those stories to her and I probably got a little emotional myself. But then she really got emotional, and she started to cry, which was interesting. She said it was the first time she’d done that in 10 years of interviews. It was a really great experience.

If I hadn’t gotten into HBS, round 2 I would have probably applied elsewhere. But one of the reasons I wanted to go to HBS is, well, obviously it’s HBS, but it’s also close to my hometown and I wanted to be on the East Coast.

Tell me about your startup Aday, which was a finalist in the business track at this year’s Harvard New Venture Competition. What does Aday do, and how did the idea germinate?

Aday came about with the idea that information technology modulizes the workforce. For a lot of these hourly positions in places like Starbucks, or lower-skilled people in the healthcare field, or mechanics — blue collar jobs in particular — we’re looking to be able to record these different skills on a platform. People can record them over time, and then be able to plug them back into their past employers. The idea is that it’s the future of work.

I worked a couple different odd jobs when I was younger, and the idea (for Aday) came as a result of that. Since I heard from Poets&Quants I went through all the different hourly employers that I’ve had in the past, and there’s actually 11! It surprised me, how many different places I’ve worked at. The jobs are all over the board, but primarily in quick-service restaurants. Taco Bell, for example. But I’ve also worked at table service places like Pizzeria Uno, Houlihan’s. I worked at Kinko’s at one point. I moved refrigerators. I’ve done everything, man.

There are a lot of competitors in this space, but I think I’m looking at it in a slightly different way than other people are, in terms of really getting down to the skills that people are able to do. And then in understanding how different workplaces could benefit from hiring people who have recorded their different positions at whatever places they work. My experience really helps me to think about this in a way that’s different from other people that go to business school and then want to do something in this field. It’s something I have lived and so it’s closer to me than it would be for other people.

You’re almost at the end of your first year at HBS. Do you ever think back on your journey and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how far I’ve come?’

I’ve been learning at the speed of lightning, and everything has been going really well so far.

It’s very bizarre in a way, but things are easier now. You’d think that as you grow older, there responsibility you’ll have to deal with. But it’s been almost the opposite for me. Especially going to Google (where he was a finance business partner from July 2012 to July 2015), where you get free food and massages! (Laughs) Six years ago there was none of that!

There’s a point where I was working two jobs and going to college at the same time, and then suddenly I was starting at GE and making twice as much as my mom ever made. Then going to Google after two years and literally my only expense while living out in California was my rent. Food, rental cars, transportation — I had a car come pick me up at my house every day. It was amazing. So in a very real way, life became easier.

But then, it’s bizarre, but I’ve definitely put a lot of responsibility back on me with this startup. I’ve put the pressure back. It’s a good responsibility, I love it. But it’s a lot of responsibility.


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